Charge Against The Morally Righteous

Romans 2:1-5

If you recall from my last several blog posts we covered Romans 1:18-32 which was a section that was directed at Gentiles. In that section, we looked at the human race’s fall from grace to judgment and saw how it is up to each of us to choose. We can either choose to go into Hell and eternal darkness, or we can choose to go on to glory with God. God does not send anyone to Hell, all people are given the choice where they wish to go, and God honors their choice. We also saw how the Bible clearly teaches that all humans have all the knowledge that they need, so that everyone is without excuse.

In Romans 2 we see that there is an audience shift in the text. In the prior verses, Paul was directly attacking the masses of Gentiles. He called them out for their sins, but now he turns to a new group. The new group he turns to is the Jews. In Paul’s day, the common understanding of the Jews was that performing certain moral and religious works produced righteousness.[1] That is they could find favor with God by doing good deeds and obeying the Law.

It goes beyond that. Most Jews believed that merely by being born a Jew they were saved from judgment. They believed that there were two standards to which people were judged, one for the Jews, and one for the Gentiles.[2] Some went so far as to teach that Abraham sat outside the gates of hell in order to prevent even the most wicked Jew from entering.[3] These beliefs show us that a Jew listening to this letter when it was being read originally would hear Paul’s words in Romans 1:18-32 and cheer him on. They would think things like “Yeah Paul, you tell those vile Gentile dogs!”

No Jew in that day would have seen Romans 1:18-32 applying to them. That is key to understanding the next section of Romans. The Jews constantly sat in judgment over the Gentiles. They saw themselves as better than everyone else and looked down on everyone. They were God’s special nation, who enjoyed special revelation and protection by God.

With Romans 2:1, Paul shifts his attention and goes after the Jews. He says, “you who pass judgment,” and with that one could easily picture Paul turning to face a new group and point his finger at them and yelling “and you! You do the very things you accuse them of, hypocrites!” He then turns their own understanding of God against them by saying in Romans 2:2 that “God’s judgment is based on truth.” He asks them in the next verse why they think they will escape judgment when they are doing all the same evils they are attacking the Gentiles for. He continues his attack and uses their understanding that the Gentiles are living under the judgment of their own sin, while they live under blessings and favor. He tells them that favor they experienced was to bring about repentance. He then tells them that since they, that is the Jews, have not turned towards repentance and instead hardened their hearts, they will face judgment.

This brings us to what ask, “What is meant by repentance?” The Greek word means “a change of mind, turning about, conversion.”[4] To more fully flesh it out, think of it this way. If a person is heading down the road and at the end of the road is a massive cliff. As they head towards that cliff they are signs saying, “turn back” and “certain death ahead.” Many even have flashing lights, and additionally, there are men and women waving their arms screaming at them to turn back. Meanwhile, the person driving is singing along happily with the radio, chatting on the cell, sending text messages, or checking Facebook. So long as that person is driving and ignoring all the warning signs all seems great to that person. Sure missing their favorite song because they got a phone call or something might put a dark spot on their ride, but for the most part, they are cruising along in the fast lane enjoying life.

That is the very real picture of every lost person out there today. They are speeding along heading towards the cliff of eternity ignoring every warning and option put in their path to redirect them. See repentance is a turning. In our analogy here, repentance would be hitting the breaks, and turning the wheel to avoid the cliff. In turning there are two parts. First, you turn away from something. That something is sin, and rebellion against God. Second, you must turn toward something. That something is Christ and His forgiveness.

At this point, the Christian readers of this blog need to stop and look at themselves. Are you living like those Jews? If I asked you, “How do you know you are going to Heaven when you die?” would you answer with, “I go to church just like my parents did,” or perhaps with “I am Catholic/Baptist/etc.?” The answer I hear often is “I try to do good” or “Well I am not a murder/etc.” Ask yourself, is that any different than the Jews that Paul is now attacking in the scripture? Do you think that you will be judged by a different standard then your neighbor, your co-worker, or some other random person in the world? Perhaps if Paul was writing to your church or social group he would say “Do you not know that being in a Christian home was intended to lead you to repentance?”

The point is, we are just as much sinners needing repentance as everyone else. There are no favorites before God, no shortcuts. Whether you are in a time of blessing or going through hard times, they both should drive you to God. Romans is calling us to repent and follow Christ no matter what station or birthright we might have. Even if you are already following Christ, it is cautioning us to not think of ourselves as better than our fellow humans and sit in judgment over them. Those of us that are Christians are in because of the work of Christ, not because of any good we can do. So we have no grounds to think that we are better somehow than any other, we merely got a “get out of jail” free card that cost God the life of His Son.

[1] John MacArthur, Romans (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996).

[2] Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, Mich.; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 106-07.

[3] John MacArthur, Romans (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996).

[4] William Arndt, Frederick W. Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, 3rd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 640.

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