The cultured people who read the first chapter were probably saying, well those are primitive people. We have laws and know how to behave. God won’t judge us except the few criminals among us. Now Paul tackles these people. There are two categories of people who know more than the “ignorant savages,” People with some sort of law such as the Babylonians with Hammurabi’s code, and the Jews themselves. Where the people mentioned in Romans chapter one might operate by family ties and have no written code, the “civilized” people lived with unrelated people and needed a code. They and the Jews tended to think of themselves as superior to the “country hicks.” (Note, I am expressing their feeling, not mine or Paul’s) In fact, the Romans called the village hicks, “Pagans,” a derogatory term having nothing to do with a religion. So how does God deal with the people with deeper knowledge than just nature?
Have you ever heard of a politician who gets elected with a moral stand and then is found to break his stand? In my home state, we had a Mayor who was caught having an affair with her bodyguard. Once I had a pastor who preached a very sound but enjoyable message. Then he was found to be having an affair with his secretary. In both cases, they were doing the very thing that they looked down on others for doing. In America, I have heard people condemn “those drug using Blacks” when Whites use drugs at higher rates and are never condemned as a group for drug use. This is exactly what Romans 2:3 is talking about. “When you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?” What is especially bad, is that we tend to do the same sins, but only condemn those people for the sins. God does not want us to be condemning. He is filled with kindness, tolerance and patience. We, though, tend to act superior and condemning. Thus the paragraph focuses on both problems. The people with knowledge are condemned for being selfishly ambitious, which entails putting others down. They are also condemned for doing some of the very things they condemn others for doing.
The end of the paragraph leads us into very murky waters. Many a person has fallen afoul of these verses, because they don’t read them in their greater context, one that includes Romans 3. Let’s look carefully at them. The verses say that all the people, whether ignorant or knowledgeable will be condemned if they obey unrighteousness. It then says that there will be glory, honor and peace to those who does good, that there is no partiality with God. The next paragraph goes on to say, “the doers [l]of the Law will be justified.” Now, this seems to say that one can earn his way to heaven. What about our theme verse, “The righteous man shall live by faith?” If one can be saved by works, then there is no need for faith. When you have a seeming conflict in the Bible, you have to tread more carefully. Let us keep looking to see if the Bible gives an answer.
Now, in the final part of Romans 2, Paul turns to the Jews, instead of the more general category, civilized, “Law abiding” people. He includes a few verses about Jews thinking they were spiritual leaders. They thought that since they had the unique revelation, that they were guides even to Greeks and Romans. He shows that they also break the law. Then he covers a similar logic to the first part of the chapter, ending with, “The name of God is blasphemed among the gentiles because of you.” This is a serious additional charge. Now we have people who sin, people who condemn others for sinning, and people who cause God’s name to be blasphemed. Instead of being the best, they have the most judgement. It is almost appearing that being a Jew is a detriment, not the benefit that they think it is.
Thus, Paul, in the final paragraph covers circumcision. “Circumcision is of value if you practice the law,” he says. Then, he says that it is of no value if you break that same law. Thus, Paul has shown that everyone has some sort of revelation, that God can righteously condemn anyone who disobeys the revelation he has. The Jews were rightly proud that they had been chosen to keep the scriptures, that they were the chosen people, the ones set apart by God through circumcision. Unfortunately, they relied on their status, thinking they didn’t need to obey the law also. Paul shows that those other people, the ones looked down upon could rightly look down upon the Jews. I once, log ago, was talking with a Muslim. I felt superior because the Muslims lied and cheated. He felt superior because the Christians had such loose morals. He tried to seduce ever woman, married or not, while I had my own sins, including judgmental. We both proved the truth of Romans chapter two.
Paul compares the Jews that are circumcised to pagans who have not been so cut in order to show the Jews as condemned also, but he cannot contain himself. He gives us a foretaste of the later chapters. He talks about the circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit. This hearkens to Ezek 11:19-20 “I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.” Also Ezek 36:26-7 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” Notice that we have continued the question of Chapter 1. Again, God will render to each according to his deeds. Those who by perseverance do good, eternal life. Again, is Paul preaching salvation by works? He has said it is possible to be saved by works. What he hasn’t said is how many will get to heaven by this route.