What Does Romans Chapter 2 Mean – Bible Commentary

Today, we’re taking a down-to-earth look at Romans chapter 2. No frills, no fuss – just straight talk about the stuff that makes us human.

So, what’s in Romans 2? Well, it’s like holding up a mirror to ourselves. The chapter dives into the nitty-gritty of how we judge others and, let’s be honest, ourselves. What’s right, what’s wrong, and how do we figure it out? Let’s take a look at Romans 2 to see what wisdom it might have for our messy, real-world lives.

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Main Point of Romans Chapter 2

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In this commentary of Romans 2, we see that this chapter begins with the word “therefore”. The author is connecting what he is about to say with what he just said at the end of chapter 1. Let’s take a look at that first.

And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a depraved mind, to do those things that are not proper, 29 people having been filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, and evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice; they are gossips, 30 slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, 31 without understanding, untrustworthy, unfeeling, and unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also approve of those who practice them. – Romans 1:28-32 NASB

Paul begins this letter with the gospel. He shared how the resurrection declared Jesus as the Son of God and announced His lordship. 

God has given us a general revelation of Himself through what has been made so that all men are without excuse. He has made Himself known to us.

However, mankind, in general, has rejected this revelation and instead has chosen to worship the creation rather than the Creator. We saw the effects that sin and unrighteousness have on our minds and hearts and how God gave men over to degrading passions and a depraved mind.

He ended chapter 1 saying, “And although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.” – Romans 1:32

Romans Chapter 2:1-11 – God’s Righteous Judgment

This section shows us a vast contrast between mans’ judgment and God’s judgment.

Verses 1

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, everyone of you who passes judgment; for in that matter in which you judge someone else, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. – Romans 2:1 NASB

The word “practice” in this verse is important. We first saw it in Romans 1:32 (above). It means “perform repeatedly or habitually”. This was not just a one-time sin. This was their way of living. They were living in wilful sin. This is yet another example of how the condition of our hearts and minds is directly linked to our actions and decisions.

Not only were the Romans practicing unrighteousness and approving of others who practiced unrighteousness, but they were also judging each other for it!

Really, what the heck, guys?! 

On the outside looking in it seems crazy that they were treating each other this way, but let’s think about it. How often do we do this? How often do we judge others while we do the same things? I believe this is a struggle that is still very alive and active today. 

Seeing sin in others points a mirror back at ourselves. It unveils the ugly that we’d rather not see. It’s much easier to accuse others than it is to humbly confess the sin in our own lives and repent.

Verse 2-3

And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things. But do you suppose this, you foolish person who passes judgment on those who practice such things, and yet does them as well, that you will escape the judgment of God? – Romans 2:2-3

The greek word for judgement in this chapter is krino. It means to decide, consider, as preferring one thing over another or determining the correctness of a matter; by extension: to judge, pass judgment on, condemn in a legal sense:– judge

There is a big difference between man’s judgment and God’s. God’s judgment is rightly executed. Man’s, especially in their present spiritual condition, is not. 

Romans 2:4-5

Romans 2:4

Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and restraint and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance? But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God – Romans 2:4-5

I love this verse. It’s a great reminder that it’s not judgment that leads to repentance, but kindness. It is the kindness of God that leads to repentance.

In the original language the word for repentance is “metanoia”. It means to have a change of mind; a reversal in decision.

To repent means to turn away from sin and towards God. It is an understanding that God’s kindness helps us to have that change of mind. It’s understanding what God has done for us in Christ. God delays in His righteous judgement against unrighteousness because of His kindness and the riches of His goodness

These believers were refusing to turn away from sin; refusing to repent. They were storing up wrath for themselves in the day of wrath and final judgment.

There is a day of wrath coming. We saw back in chapter 1 that the wrath of God is beginning to be revealed. God is giving men over to their depraved minds and an impenitent heart. We see the self-destructive effects of sin.

There is a day coming when the fullness of God’s wrath will be unveiled. What will that day be like? Let’s keep reading.

Verse 6-10

who will repay each person according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, He will give eternal life; but to those who are self-serving and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, He will give wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of mankind who does evil, for the Jew first and also for the Greek, 10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who does what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. – Romans 2:6-10

What is this passage saying? It may seem that those who do good works will be saved and those who do bad works will not. This is why understanding scripture in its context is crucial! We can cherry-pick one or two verses from this passage and make it say something that it’s not.

Verse 6 says those who persevere in doing good will receive eternal life. What does the author mean by “doing good”?

If we keep reading through verse 8 we see another contrast between those who ‘obey the truth’ and those who ‘obey unrighteousness’. These concepts will become more clear as we continue through the book of Romans.

For now, to help us understand this passage it would be beneficial to take a look at Hebrews 6:1.

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God. – Hebrews 6:1

What the author of Hebrews is saying, is that any work done apart from faith in Christ is a dead work. We cannot accomplish anything ‘good’, anything that has eternal value, apart from the help of the indwelling Spirit who we receive through faith in Christ.

To ‘obey the truth’ means to believe in the power of the gospel. It means placing faith, not in our own works, but in His work accomplished on the cross.

Verse 11

11 For there is no partiality with God. – Romans 2:11

This truth applies to everyone. Not just the Gentiles (everyone who isn’t of Jewish descent), but for the Jews also. Every soul of man is subject to God’s judgment. Keeping the will not save the Jews. They need faith in Christ.

Romans Chapter 2:12-16 – The Law Written on the Heart

In this section of Romans 2 we see the fruit of the New Covenant written on our hearts.

Verse 12-14

Romans 2:13

For 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; 13 for it is not the hearers of the Law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the Law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law instinctively perform the requirements of the Law, these, though not having the Law, are a law to themselves – Romans 2:12-14

Paul’s point here is showing us that all human beings, Jews and Gentiles are guilty before God. As we continue on in this chapter, and all the way through chapter 3, this is the point that the apostle Paul is making. The law doesn’t justify the Jews just because they are Jews. Those who are under the law, must keep the law in order to be righteous before a holy God.

For whoever keeps the whole Law, yet stumbles in one point, has become guilty of all. 11 For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but do murder, you have become a violator of the Law. 12 So speak, and so act, as those who are to be judged by the law of freedom. 13 For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. – James 2:10-12

If you keep the whole written law your entire life (which is impossible by the way) but stumble along the way at just one point. You are guilty before God.

Apart from Jesus Christ, no one is good. No one can keep the entire law. If that were possible then Jesus died in vain. He is the only human who lived a sinless life. He traded our sin for His righteousness. It is through Him, and Him alone, that we are justified before God. We will see that more as we get into Romans Chapter 4.

Verse 14-15

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law instinctively perform the requirements of the Law, these, though not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience testifying and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, – Romans 2:14-15

God gave His people a precious and beautiful promise many years ago. During the days of their exile in Babylon, God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah these words:

 “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 “For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord: “I will put My law within them and write it on their heart; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 They will not teach again, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their wrongdoing, and their sin I will no longer remember.” – Jeremiah 31:31-34

During the days of Moses, God made the Old Covenant with the people He brought out of Egypt. God promised there would be a blessing for obedience to His commands and a curse for disobedience. The people agreed. 

Then, for generation after generation – they disobeyed. God after many years of relenting in His judgment towards them, gave them over to their enemies.

Now, while suffering the consequences of a broken covenant, God gives them the promise of a new and better covenant. A covenant that would be for Jews and Gentiles. This covenant is revealed in the New Testament through Christ.

This is what Paul is referring to in this passage. The Roman Gentile believers who were living among the Jews had God’s law written on their hearts. 

Verse 16

on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. – Romans 2:16

When Paul says “according to my gospel” he is referring to the gospel that he preached. Other false teachers among them were preaching a different gospel; one that suggested that righteousness is given through faith, but it’s kept through keeping the law.

This verse is a reminder that God not only sees outward sins, but He also sees and knows our hearts. He knows and will judge the secret thoughts of men. 

Romans 2:17-24 – Jewish People and the Law of Moses

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely upon the Law and boast in God, 18 and know His will and distinguish the things that matter, being instructed from the Law, 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to people who are blind, a light to those in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, possessing in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth— 21 you, therefore, who teach someone else, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one is not to steal, do you steal? 22 You who say that one is not to commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who loathe idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? 24 For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” just as it is written. – Romans 2:17-24

In the previous sections of chapter 2 Paul revealed how all men are subject to face God’s judgement. Now, starting in verse 17, he speaks directly to the Jews. They are not immune to God’s judgment just because they are Jews. 

The law, their wisdom, their knowledge, their ceremonies, and their traditions will not save them.

It’s sad to see how their heritage (God’s chosen people) had become a source of pride in their lives. We must be careful not to allow the gift and grace of God to produce arrogance in our lives.

Romans 2:25-29 – Circumcision of the Heart

For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a violator of the Law, your circumcision has turned into uncircumcision. 26 So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will his uncircumcision not be regarded as circumcision? 27 And 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 violator of the Law? 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from people, but from God. – Romans 2:25-29

This passage addresses the theme of true circumcision and emphasizes that it is not merely a physical act but a matter of the heart and obedience to faith in God. 

Back in Genesis 17, God made the covenant of circumcision with Abraham which would be for himself and his descendants.

Not only will the law and their knowledge not save them; their circumcision will not save them.

Paul discusses how the outward sign of circumcision, which was a prominent ritual in Jewish tradition, is not enough for righteousness. He explains that true circumcision is a spiritual reality that involves a transformed heart. We saw this earlier how God promised a new heart in the New Covenant.

He emphasizes that the true Jew is not one who is merely circumcised outwardly but one who is circumcised in the heart by the Spirit. A real Christian places their faith in the good news of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Again, this is another reminder of how unfit mankind is to attain our own righteousness. Our righteousness is fully dependent on the faithfulness and grace of God and the work he accomplished through Christ on the cross.

As we wrap up our journey through Romans chapter 2, it’s clear that this ancient text is still relevant for us today. Whether it’s navigating moral dilemmas, wrestling with judgment, or simply trying to figure out what’s right, Romans 2 has given us a lot to chew on.

Let’s continue this journey together, acknowledging our imperfections and seeking understanding in the messy, beautiful journey of life. After all, the questions Romans 2 poses are not just historical ponderings but timeless reflections of our shared humanity.

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