1Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
Paul has showed that all men have allowed themselves to live out their fleshly desires, and thus the conclusion is that no one can stand in a position of judgment over another. The reason for this is that in which they would condemn somebody else, that very same thing they themselves are condemned by. Very simply put, those who condemn others do the same things themselves. There is none righteous, no not one.
2And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.
It is just and righteous for judgment from God to be put upon those who practice injustice and evil. As Romans 1:31-32 had explained, even those who are given over into the darkest of sins know that they deserve God’s punishment. God’s wrath is perfectly deserved and just, for He has revealed Himself but man has denied the truth.
3But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?
Paul reminds those who are self-righteous, condemning others and passing judgment upon them yet all the while doing the same things themselves, that they will not escape the judgment of God. It is easy to make a relative comparison of one’s righteousness by judging oneself in light of a worse sinner, but God sees all. No amount of self-justification and rationalization over sin will get a person who hides sin in their heart exempt from having to face the judgment of God.
4Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
But it is likely not so much an issue of ignorance over the real state of one’s own heart. Paul asks if maybe the issue is that those in Rome think lightly of the vastness and wealth of the kindness, tolerance, and patience of God. Why would a person continue in sin and not repent? Either they think they are alright as they are or perhaps they do not recognize how kind God is and what He has done in Christ so that they can repent. It is ultimately always a recognition of the grace, mercy, and kindness of God that leads any person to repent. We know that the unsaved know innately in their inner person of the reality of hell. Yet such an eternal destiny does nothing to motivate them to repent. God’s wrath is not what leads somebody to repent. It may cause them to want to see the solution to their problem, namely Christ. In that respect we must share the reality of the wrath of God, especially since the work of Christ on the cross doesn’t serve a purpose without having to satisfy God’s wrath. During the great tribulation, men will continue to shake their fists at God despite facing His intense and ongoing wrath. If only they could realize how merciful and patient God is, not wanting anyone to perish. As believers, when we realize just how much better it is living life filled with the Spirit and enjoying intimate fellowship with God and when we realize how sin is destructive and the real thief of joy, then we will do far better in truly repenting and living perseveringly in a way honoring to Christ.
5But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,
God has been kind in granting to all life and breath. He has made a beautiful, albeit fallen, world for us to enjoy. He has sent His own Son to die in our place so that we could be forgiven and reign with Christ in paradise forever. How much kinder can God be? Yet man has rejected the reality of God and has declared God to be either non-existent or utterly irrelevant and certainly not deserving of their honor, gratitude, attention, or respect. They have not responded to the kindness of God which has been revealed. Their stubbornness and unrepentant heart will keep them destined to face the wrath of God. Some continue to live in sin so that their sin abounds and increases the wrath that they will face. God does not let sin go unpunished, though it may appear that way to us from our earthly perspective. The wicked may think that they are getting away with their evil and thus will use that to justify continuing to live in evil. They will think that God has let them get away with their evil deeds. But God has not. He has a record of how every man has lived, and He will bring His judgment to bear in the day of His return.
6who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS:
According to John 4:26, the work of man is that they believe in the One whom God has sent. They must respond to the revelation of Christ and to the kindness of God in sending His Son as a Redeemer. Yet they do not and in blaspheming the Holy Spirit who draws them by rejecting God, they render up for themselves the wrath of God. Their deeds are evidence of their unredeemed nature, and they will be judged for all that they have done against God. The believer is judged upon His faith in Christ and in how He has served God in light of that faith. Faith alone grants the believer eternity. The deeds that are done in light of saving faith are for storing up eternal rewards and honor.
7to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life;
8but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.
Those who respond in faith and then persevere in doing good (all believers will have fruit) will be granted that which they seek, eternal life, honor, and immortality with God in Christ forever. This does not teach in anyway that doing good earns salvation. It is talking about those who are working out their salvation which is already granted them but has yet to be fully revealed until the day of Christ. We are saved by grace through faith and appointed unto God works which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-10). The good works are evidence of a believer’s saving faith. Those who reject Christ and live as their nature compels them by continuing to serve the flesh and doing all kinds of evil will be judged and must face God’s wrath. Their ambitions are always self-centered. This is what separates the believer from the unbeliever. The believer is able to love others as truly more important than himself. The unbeliever is unable to think of the welfare of others above his own. There is a great difference between love and charity. Love is free while charity is self-inflating. Again, we see that the unsaved are indicted because they rejected the truth and revelation given them. Their punishment in hell is perfectly just. God has been patient, giving them their entire life to respond and calling to them through a variety of channels, most importantly through His Word. Yet they have rather obeyed unrighteousness, wrath, and indignation. They actually follow the beck and call of evil and of the devil. Ultimately, that means they are obeying their own sentencing, sprinting as it were to their own eternal execution.
9There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek,
No one will be exempt from the eternal punishment of hell who does evil. No matter who they are, what their earthly status is, how good they are relative to somebody else, or where they come from, they will be judged.
10but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
But those who by faith in Christ serve Him faithfully will receive glory and honor and peace. The unsaved get eternal pain, torment, dishonor, shame, and never have even a moment of peace. The horror is unimaginable. Just as hell is indiscriminating, so is heaven. Anyone can choose to receive Christ by faith and thus receive eternal life. Race, age, and other manmade dividing factors are not an issue with God.
11For there is no partiality with God.
God is not partial to any man. His only issue is whether or not a person has been declared righteous on the basis of faith in Christ.
12For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law;
It doesn’t matter if a person was a Jew or a Gentile. God is impartial when it comes to giving mercy or pouring out wrath. The Jews had the Mosaic Law (capital “L”)which doesn’t justify any man for no man can keep the totality of the Law. In fact, no one even gets close. Who truly loves God with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength? Naturally it is impossible. It requires faith in a God who is merciful and forgiving. It requires repentance and an obedience to whatever revelation God has given the hearer at the time. The Jews, having had the revelation of the Law, are judged by the Law. Those who did not have the Law are judged apart from the Law, but according to the revelation given them either by other means or by the creation and their own conscience. The Law is not the issue when it comes to salvation. The issue is simply whether a person has repented and believed what God has said. It is on the basis of obedience to the revelation given a person that God will judge them. Having now spoken through Christ and His Word, those who have a knowledge of both (which is most of mankind), will be judged on that basis. Those who do not yet have the gospel preached to them will be judged upon the revelation that they have. They are not free from God’s judgment.
13for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.
The Jews are the ones who heard the Law. Gentiles had no idea about the Law for the most part. Yet just because the Jews had the Law and heard it on a Sabbath day did not mean that they were justified. It is those who keep the Law in its fullness who are justified, which alone was Christ. We are justified when we are grafted in to His righteousness by being crucified with Him, buried with Him, and raised to new life through Him. He is our only hope. Before His coming, God granted righteousness based upon faith in what was known, which varied depending upon the time, place, and individual.
14For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves,
The Gentiles did not have the Mosaic Law, yet some did instinctively by the working of God’s grace in their hearts the will of God anyway. Mankind has a moral conscience. If somebody repents of their sin and by faith in God does what they know He wants, they can be justified. If they have access to Christ and the Word of God, they must put their faith in Him and in His work on the cross. We don’t have to sort out who knows what and what they have to know because we can trust God that those who practice the truth (respond to the law of God in their hearts) come to the Light (John 3:21).
15in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,
God is concerned about our hearts, the real us. The work of the Mosaic Law is to break us of our pride and to show us that we cannot keep it of ourselves. We need faith in God who will grant us grace and give us the ability to follow after Him. The law of God can only be written on our hearts when we are saved by grace through faith. The conscience confirms within a person’s heart whether or not they have been saved. We can know if the law is written on our hearts or not. Good works, true love for others, and increasing understanding of God are all evidences. The inner thoughts of man will either defend their righteousness or condemn them in their evil.
16on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
The day of judgment (which is part of Paul’s gospel and it ought to be part of ours) will reveal the true state of the heart of man and the reality of the innermost thoughts and secrets. Who a person really is and where they have put their trust and hope for eternal life and being declared righteous before God will all come to light on the day before the God who sees all. It is appointed unto man once to die and after this the judgment (Hebrews 9:27). We should remind people of this reality in our witnessing.
17But if you bear the name "Jew" and rely upon the Law and boast in God,
Paul then addresses the Jews in particular who rely upon the Law as the means of their justification before God. They boast that they are God’s people and that they know God while the rest of the world does not and must be therefore condemned, which is not true.
18and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law,
The Jews Paul addressed thought that they knew the will of God and what was essential for righteousness because they had the Law to teach them.
19and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,
They were confident that others needed their insight in order to find God, know God, be righteous, and be saved. They viewed themselves as guides to the blind and as lights to those in darkness, i.e. the Gentiles.
20a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth,
They saw themselves as superior and not having to be introspective. That they had the Law was their boast and their reliance for salvation. They saw themselves as the wise teaching the fools and as the mature teaching the immature and simple. Just their having the Law was enough to convince them that they themselves possessed the full embodiment of knowledge and of the truth. The rest of the world was inferior and needed their insight.
21you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal?
Yet there is a great difference between having the Law and doing it. It is not good enough to be merely a hearer of it but one must be a doer of it. They taught others how to live but didn’t keep the Law themselves. They would tell someone not to steal according to the Law but go on and steal themselves, yet all the while vindicating themselves because they had the Law. Keeping it is the issue, not possessing it as a Jew.
22You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?
Just as they broke the commandment to not steal, they also committed adultery (multiple divorces was common practice at this time as women were treated as far inferior to men), and they robbed temples by keeping the tithes for their own uses or by not giving to God in the first place as they should have. They hated the idolatry around them of the Gentiles but they made an idol of their own finances.
23You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God?
Paul is trying to show the Jews that they, too, left to themselves are sinners needing redemption. Their boasts in the Law was not going to make them righteous because they broke it. They needed to see and admit that they weren’t keeping the Law and that they dishonored God by that fact.
24For "THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU," just as it is written.
Quoting from Isaiah 52:5, Paul says that, just as it was then, the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of their failure to keep the Law and have transformed hearts and lives by faith in God. They boast in the Law and live lives that are utterly dishonoring to God all the while to such an extent that even the corrupted and pagan Gentiles are appalled. The testimony of the Jews was terrible, and it kept others from being interested in their God and in His worship and ways.
25For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.
Circumcision is of value if a person keeps the Law. It is a sign between Israel and God just like baptism is a sign and symbol testifying to a Christian’s rebirth in Christ. It has value to remind a person of where they stand in their faith in God. It is a testimony to others as well. There is value in the ordinances that God has ordained. However, the Jews were relying on circumcision in the same way that they were boasting in the Law. They thought if they just had one or the other that they were righteous and better than those who were not circumcised and who did not have the Law. Paul tells them that circumcision is worthless and has become uncircumcision (this is a painful indictment telling the Jews that they are no better than the Gentiles whom they despised) because they do not keep the Law through faith in God.
26So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
Paul then goes a step further in saying that the person who is not physically circumcised is considered spiritually circumcised, having the identification as a person of God, if they keep the Law through faith. The issue is how a person is in their heart and how they are spiritually rather than physically and outwardly.
27And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?
The one who is physically uncircumcised if he keeps the Law is the one who should stand in judgment over the Jew who, despite having the letter of the Law and circumcision, has broken the Law of God. At the beginning of this chapter, Paul was rebuking those who stood in judgment over others but who did not live up to their own judgment. Here he is saying that even Gentiles who keep the Law will stand in judgment over the Jew who does not. The outward rites are meaningless if there isn’t an inward heart reality. The letter of the Law implies that they added to minutia of the Law and judged others upon it. Yet they missed the forest for the trees and failed to love God and others. They needed faith, but they had none.
28For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.
What Paul is beginning to explain is that there is a difference between being a Jew by descent or by religion and with being a true son or daughter of God. This is why Peter says that we are a chosen race and a holy nation to God (1 Peter 2:9). Anyone who trusts in Christ’s sacrifice by faith is the one who is a spiritual Jew, so to speak. Being a part of God’s holy nation and special people has nothing to do with the outward rites and rituals, though they do have value in themselves. The issue of greater importance is the state of a person’s heart. As Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips but their heart is far from me” (Matthew 15:8). They needed to be circumcised of their hearts.
29But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.
Saving faith is an inward deal and circumcision must be of the heart. God wants people who are obedient to His revealed Word, not those who merely keep external religious rituals while being filthy inwardly in thought and affections. True sonship and priesthood in God is by a rebirth and regeneration of the Spirit, where the heart is changed and the inner man born again. It is not by legalistic rituals and self-gratifying religious performance. Men would praise the pious Jew for keeping the letter of the law, but Paul is saying that it is better to have the approval of God than of men (John 12:42-43). God approves those who repent of their sins and trust in Him by faith.