Part I: The Gospel of Faith

God’s solution to the sin problem (1:18-4:25)

The Bad News – “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (1:18-3:20)

Paul has just given us an excellent introduction to the content of his letter. In just two verses (1:16-17), he has outlined the good news of God’s salvation which offers us the gift of his righteousness through faith in him. And to live a life of “obedience of faith” because of our gratitude and love of God.  We would now expect that Paul would provide a much fuller explanation of what this means and the blessings we would experience.  But he does nothing like this. Instead, he tells us of God’s wrath and our sin, disobedience, idolatry, debauchery, and judgment. Rather than telling us more about the love of God, he describes in no uncertain terms the wrath of God. 

Why would Paul do this?  No doubt Paul has preached a version of this message many times.  And he understands that the glory and beauty of the gospel can only be understood adequately against a backdrop of sin, evil and judgment.  To diminish this contrast is to lessen the glory of the cross. Only when we fully recognize the depth of human depravity can we realize the danger and trouble that humanity is in.  To take the gospel seriously, we must take our sin seriously. And this remains true even for us who received the gift of Christ’s righteousness. The cross of Christ will remain the foundation of our salvation for all eternity.

The Good News – “while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (3:21-4:25)

This does not mean a person comes to saving faith by first recognizing their alienation from God in every case.  But ultimately, at some point, this must become very clear.  God is amazingly patient, kind and forbearing.  And he will lead us to a complete understanding of our depravity.  Only when we repent of our rebellion against him can we fully grasp the gospel's splendour. We need first to know our need for salvation before the gospel of salvation can be fully appreciated.

When becoming Christians, we often use the phrase; we receive Christ as our “Lord and Saviour.”  Christ becomes our “Saviour” when we receive the gift of his righteousness and are immediately declared just before God. This is our “justification.”  However, for Christ to become our “Lord” often requires a longer process of growing in spiritual maturity, that is, our “progressive sanctification.”  Sanctification means to be set apart for a holy purpose (Leviticus 11:44).  Christ is both our Saviour and Lord (our justification or “positional sanctification”) when we are saved from God’s wrath.  God is already working in us and through us to bring about our sanctification.  However, we will never reach perfect holiness on this side of glory.  Our sanctification is past, present, and future. We have been sanctified, we are being sanctified, and we shall be sanctified.

It is important not to confuse these two aspects of salvation. Progressive sanctification involves our growing and living a life pleasing to God.  However, if we confuse progressive sanctification with justification, we can easily add good works to salvation.[1]  And in fact, this has often been the tendency within churches.  Growing in our Christian life and faith is evidence Christ became both Saviour and Lord of our life at the time of our conversion.


Lesson 3: The Problem of Sin (1:18-3:20)


Paul’s primary purpose of this large section (1:18-3:20) is to clarify that Gentiles and Jews are in the same position; both are under judgment and God’s wrath.  Stated positively, the section supports Paul’s statement, the “righteousness of God” only comes “from faith to faith.” Because of sin, humankind has no righteousness by which they can stand blameless before God. This is true for the pagan Gentile (1:18-32), the self-righteous moralist (2:1-16), or the religious Jew (2:17-3:8). Throughout this passage, the overriding sin is human pride–the most basic sin that takes the place of God.  And the corollary to pride is ungratefulness. The result is a depraved mind. “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (1:21).

Paul first addresses the pagan Gentiles in 1:18-32.  He points out that even though they have not received the written law of Moses, they are still accountable.  The reason is that they were created in the image of God and so are born with an ability to know God from both the creation around them and their own consciences.  This is true for all human beings.  No doubt, the Jews hearing this portion of Paul’s message would very much agree.  They always viewed those outside the covenants as Gentile sinners. And, so they would concur, Gentiles were condemned. However, the Jews did not believe they themselves were condemned because they had the covenant of Abraham and the law and covenant of Moses. So by just keeping the law of Moses, including sacrifices, they would remain in God’s grace. But then Paul addresses the moralist and religious Jews in the section from 2:1-3:8, stating they are no different from the Gentile sinner.

To accurately explain the gospel to the Gentile and the Jew, Paul had to carefully explain how each group relates to the gospel.  Then, after he has finished, he summarizes it all with this short, clear statement: “we have already charged that all, Jews and Gentiles are under sin” (3:9) and again, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23).  Outside the saving gift of Christ’s righteousness, no one is righteous, not even one person, whether Jew or Gentile (3:10).

            This extended passage emphasizes God’s relationship to people; both Gentiles and Jews.

1:18                 Thesis:             God’s wrath again ungodly Gentiles and Jews

                        1:19-32            God’s judgment against pagan Gentiles

                                                1:19-21a          Reason for God’s judgment

                                                1:21b-32         Result of God’s judgment

                        2:1-3:8 God’s judgment on moralists and orthodox Jews

                                                2:1-16              Impartiality of God’s judgment

                                                2:17-29            Failure of the Jews to honour God

                                                3:1-8                Vindication of God’s judgment

3:9-20              Conclusion: Neither Gentile nor Jew are righteous

Gods wrath against pagan Gentiles (1:18-32)

v. 18

Verse 18 is the thesis statement for this entire lesson. It begins by stating that the “wrath of God,” like the “righteousness of God” (1:17), is now being “revealed.”  God’s wrath against unrighteousness is why the saving righteousness of God is needed.  His righteousness saves us from his wrath. Usually, the wrath of God refers to the end-time judgment (2:5), but in this section, Paul states that it is already present.  God inflicts his wrath on all unrepentant sinners on the last day. Still, even today, God punishes the ungodly who reject the knowledge he has given to them either through nature (creation) or special revelation (Old Testament).

The reason the “wrath of God” is revealed is that “the truth” about God is “suppressed” “by their unrighteousness.” How they show, their unrighteousness is by suppressing the truth.[2] The verb “suppress” means to hinder the truth of something by hiding or denying it. That is, to suppress the truth, one must already have some understanding of the truth.  This is particularly the case for those who hear the gospel and then reject it (John 3:17-21). But, as we will see, it also is true for those who have not heard the gospel. Paul makes it clear that the Gentiles do have knowledge of God (vv. 19, 21, 32).

As the psalmist writes:

      The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

      They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;

      there is none who does good. (Psalm 14:1

As well as the prophet Isaiah:

      Woe to those who call evil good

and good evil,

                  who put darkness for light

                              and light for darkness,

                  who put bitter for sweet

                              and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)

Although this section is directed primarily at Gentiles, it is written to all people, including Jews, who reject God.

Special Topic: The Wrath of God and the Love of God

How can we reconcile God's wrath with the love of God shown by Christ’s death on the cross for us?  From this verse and other passages in the New Testament, it is clear we must never underestimate or diminish its intensity.  The wrath of God, like the love of God, includes emotion.

In defining God's wrath, it is helpful to state what it is not. We should never equate human rage with the wrath of God.  God does not lose his temper.  His wrath is not blind rage.  Instead, it is the determined will and deep inward feeling of a holy and righteous God against all who dishonour him, rebel against him, and call him into question.  It includes his will and his emotion, resulting in judgment, condemnation, and death. But, it is a 'secondary' attribute of God.  We cannot say, 'God is wrath' the same way we say, “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).  God is love in his nature.  But wrath is not his nature. Instead, he responds in wrath against rebellion. So, it is a response to human sin and demonic powers external to himself.  If there is no sin or wickedness, then there is no wrath.[3]

There is no fear [judgment, God’s wrath] in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (1 John 4:18)

God responds to me in wrath because of my sin and who I am. And he also responds to me in love not because of who I am but because of who he is. God responds in “wrath and fury” (2:8) against the rebellious sinner.[4]  Christ drained the cup of the wrath of God when he died for you and me on the cross (Matthew 26:39) so that we do not have to experience his wrath (14:9-10). Our sin demanded God’s wrath and fury against us; instead, he inflicted it on his Son. On the cross, Christ not only took on himself our sin but the judgement of our sin.  Paul described the meaning of the cross when he wrote, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus drank the cup of God's wrath for us so that he could offer us the cup of God's blessing and fellowship. The wrath we deserve was taken from us and given to the Son of God.  Yet this is only half the Great Exchange.  Christ, in his love, also gave us his righteousness.[5] Instead of wrath, we receive eternal fellowship with God when we are in union with Jesus Christ. Meditating and contemplating on this Great Exchange should result in our own doxology.

When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:14-21 nlt)

Common Misconceptions of the Old and New Testament

Even among some evangelical Christians, it is a common view that God is a God of wrath and anger in the Old Testament but a God of love in the New Testament. One reason is that in the Old Testament, God deals with his covenant people in earthly ways in the form of famine, plague, siege, war, and slaughter. While in the New Testament, the emphasis seems to be on the love of God.  One of the most famous verses is John 3:16. We are told that God loved the world in this way:  He sent His only Son to die for us and give us eternal life.  Also, Jesus tells us to love our enemies and forgive those who persecute us.  Therefore, it is easy to misunderstand and think of God as described in the Old Testament as quite different from God as revealed in the New Testament. 

However, we should never overlook the many Old Testament passages that stress God’s grace, love and compassion. God’s wrath is always delayed and is meant to bring us to repentance. God continually desires that rebellious Israel would return from wickedness to righteousness.  As Micah, the Old Testament prophet, writes:

Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity

                  and passing over transgression

                  For the remnant of his inheritance?

He does not retain his anger forever,

                  because he delights in steadfast love. (Micah 7:18)

In the Old Testament, God’s judgment primarily occurred in the temporary material world, while in the New Testament, his judgment and punishment are eternal. So rather than moving from wrath in the Old Testament to love in the New Testament, both wrath and love are revealed in a greater and more significant way as Scripture moves from the temporary to the eternal.

At the Cross, the Wrath of God and the Love of God meet

God would not be just or righteous if he simply overlooked our transgressions and sin.  To forgive our sins, the penalty for our sins must be paid. Later in Romans, Paul also writes:

God put forward [Jesus] as a propitiation by his blood [a sacrifice of atonement], to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness [justice], because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.  It was to show his righteousness [justice] at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (3:25-36)

God provided his covenant people with a sacrificial system in the Old Testament. However, we also know that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4).  Therefore, for His righteous justice to be satisfied, he had to provide a way for the full penalty of our sins to be paid (debt - cf. Matthew 6:12 in the Lord’s Prayer).

So, it is only when we see God’s judgment and love working fully together in the New Testament that we can properly understand the significance of the cross. Christ’s substitutionary atonement on the cross for us has as its foundation God’s wrath against all unrighteousness and wickedness. Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath meant for us at the cross. The horror of that moment was so great that three times Jesus asked for the cup to be removed (Matthew 26:37-44; cf. Luke 22:44).

The cup of God’s wrath was a cup of sorrow (Matthew 26:37-38; Mark 14:34), it was a cup of loneliness; he was unaccompanied and completely alone (Matthew 26:36), it was a cup of judgment (Matthew 26:39a, 27:46), and it was a cup of willingness (Matthew 26:39b; cf. Psalm 40:8; Hebrews 19:5-7). In exchange, we are given the cup of blessing; instead of sorrow, we have joy and peace (John 14:27); instead of loneliness, we have fellowship (1 John 1:3); instead of judgment, we have pardon (Romans 8:1), and because Christ was willing, we are made willing (Philippians 2:13).

If we diminish the wrath of God, we also diminish the glory of the cross of Christ. If you want to see God’s love, look at the cross; if you want to see God’s wrath, look at the cross. John, in one of his letters, describes this as follows:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (1 John 4:10)

Today, many people do not want to accept that Christ died in our place.  They no longer believe the cross is where Christ took the penalty we deserved.  They claim such an old view does not show the love of God.  Even in Jesus' day, people did not believe him.  They are so offended by the cross they reject it altogether.  This is still true today.  Yet it is only on the cross that we fully see the love of God and the judgment of God come together in their most significant achievement.

The reason for Gods wrath (1:19-21a)

As mentioned earlier, verse 1:18 acts as a heading or thesis for the entire section on humanity's sinfulness from 1:18 through 3:20. However, Paul breaks this long section by addressing two different people: the pagan Gentiles and the self-righteous, both Jew and Gentile. In 1:18-32, Paul refers primarily to pagan Gentiles who have not heard the gospel, God's special revelation. 

At the end of verse 18, Paul tells us that God’s wrath is revealed to those “who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” It is clear from this statement that such people have access to the truth, but who “suppress” it?  For it is not possible to suppress what one does not have.  Then in verses 19 through 21, Paul points out three ways people should respond to the truth God reveals to them.[6]  

v. 19 “plain to them” “shown” “clearly perceived” “knew.”

First, Paul states in verse 19, it is “plain to them because God made it known to them.”  The reference to “them” is the “ungodly and unrighteous men” stated in verse 18; that is, the ones who suppressed the truth.  Paul clarifies this later when he says, “there is no distinction: for all have sinned” (3:22).  But what has God made plain? And how has he made it plain? Here we distinguish between two types of revelation: special and natural revelation.  Special revelation is God’s direct speech and recorded actions in Scripture. Of course, not everyone has had, or now has, access to the Bible. God has also revealed himself to all people in a general and indirect way but, nonetheless, in a real way. This is called natural or general revelation. Natural revelation includes observing the creation and our conscience – our sense of right and wrong. The psalmist said,

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.  There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)

It is clear from this and other similar statements that creation itself points to the God of glory and that humans are created capable of understanding that creation points to God.  John Calvin writes, “You cannot in one glance survey this most vast and beautiful system of the universe, in its wide expanse, without being completely overwhelmed by the boundless force of its brightness” and goes on to write, “But although we lack the natural ability to mount up unto the pure and clear knowledge of God, all excuse is cut off because the fault of dullness is within us.  And, indeed, we are not allowed thus to pretend ignorance without our conscience itself always convicting us of both baseness and ingratitude”.[7] However, Paul is not speaking here about logical arguments that prove the existence of God. For Paul and the pagan Gentile, God’s existence was a given.  Instead, Paul is saying that everyone is born with some understanding of God and, in particular, what is right and wrong.  This understanding is what the pagan is suppressing and for which they are held accountable and liable. No matter how flawed, society has a general sense of right and wrong. The phrase “plain to them” can also be translated as “manifest in them” (kjv) or “evident within them” (nasb). And the reason why it is “plain” or “evident” is because God has “shown it to them.” Here “it” refers to a knowledge of God identified in the next verse.  This knowledge is an internal witness within humans that either affirms or accuses (2:14-16).

v. 20 “clearly perceived” “in the things that have been made”

Second, in verse 20, Paul states just what has been made plain. Surprisingly, he says that God’s “invisible attributes” are “clearly perceived.”  What are some of these invisible attributes? Paul states that they are “his eternal power and divine nature.” So, these include that God is glorious (Psalm 19:1-3), powerful (Genesis 1:1), kind (Acts 14:15b-17; Matthew 5:44-55; 6:25-34), alive (Acts 17:28-29), and moral (2:14-16). All of these are plain from creation, that is, “the things that have been made.”

Of course, this does not include God’s plan of salvation nor the specific requirements of holiness demanded by God as revealed in Moses’s written law. But that is not Paul’s purpose; he wants to show that all people are under the power of sin, suppressing and distorting even their limited knowledge. Paul preached something similar when he was in Athens.  There he states:

And he [God] made from one man [Adam] every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, […] that they should seek God, and perhaps feel [grope] their way toward him and find him. (Acts 17:26-27)

In these verses, the word “feel” means “to look for something in uncertain fashion, to feel around for, grope for” (bdag), which means to feel about in the darkness for God when the light of special revelation is not shining.  Of course, in Athens, there was much groping around for God in their pagan religions, which always ended in idolatry and ignorance of God (Acts 17:16, 22–23). As Peterson writes, “Nevertheless, God’s purpose for humanity remains, despite the blinding and corrupting effects of sin. The possibility of seeking after God and finding him is based on the fact that God ‘is not far from any one of us’“.[8]

vv. 20b-21a We are “without excuse”

Third, although people cannot understand the gospel of grace from the created world, they are still “without excuse.” Even though natural revelation is limited, it is sufficient to know the essential attributes of God. So, everyone is accountable and liable to God to respond to this knowledge appropriately.  God has created people with the innate ability to instinctively know his existence and power by observing the created world.  It is somewhat surprising that Paul would use the word “knew” (v. 21a).  In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he states that “in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God” (1 Corinthians 121 nasb). Douglas Moo comments, “But this knowledge, Paul also makes clear, is limited, involving the narrow range of understanding of God available in nature.”[9]

The problem is that people do not even respond appropriately to the limited knowledge God has given them, which is to “honor” and “give thanks to him”; that is, to glorify his name.  Instead, they hardened their hearts and so perverted the little knowledge of him.  They distorted their knowledge, changing God into an idol to benefit themselves. Not honouring God is their fundamental sin by which they are condemned. We have to wait until later in the letter for Paul to tell us why they do not worship God (5:12-21).

Clearly, natural revelation is insufficient to produce an understanding of the gospel and God’s actions to accomplish their salvation.  Still, people have enough knowledge that results in their justified condemnation if they suppress it.  This limited knowledge encourages people to seek after God and humbly acknowledge his glory and sovereignty.  However, because people willfully reject the knowledge they are given, they are culpable and remain under God’s wrath.  In this respect, the righteousness of God includes his justice.  God is just condemning those who reject him, even those who have not received special revelation.[10] The sad fact is that we are all under this condemnation since this is the universal power of sin (3:9-20). It is not just that some people are affected by sin; all people are under its domination.  Saving faith can only be received by special revelation through preaching the word (10:14-17).[11] 

One might ask: how can we so easily pervert our knowledge of God and turn to idol worship?  All idol worship is a form of self-worship. It is a way of manipulating a god to do what we want.  Idols do not have to be physical but can also be our desire for health, wealth, and happiness. We place all our energy and hope in obtaining these things.  It is even possible to treat our Lord God in this way.  The 'prosperity gospel' is just such a form of manipulation. Instead of serving and worshipping God for his honour and glory, we try to use him for our own self-serving desires.

The result of Gods wrath (1:21b-32)

vv. 21b-22

What happens when one does not glorify God by giving him thanks and honour? The result is that thinking “became futile” and hearts are “darkened.”  But that is not how those who reject God view themselves.  In fact, it is the very opposite.  They think of themselves as “wise” but God says they are “fools” (Psalm 14:1; 53:1; Proverbs 1:7, 22; 10:23; 12:15; and many more in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes).  The word “heart” in Scripture usually refers to thinking, reasoning and the ability to understand things particularly about God.  So, rather than acknowledging God, a person’s heart has become dark.  A darkness that only the light of Jesus Christ can dispel (John 8:12; 9:5).

vv. 23-28

Paul now describes the destructive effect of this universal rejection of acknowledging God. Three times Paul uses the same pattern where human beings have “exchanged” (vv. 23, 25, 26) what they knew as right for self-seeking falsehood. So suppression of the truth in their heart and mind became the action of exchange. And as a result, “therefore,” God responds (“gave them up” vv. 24, 26, 28) with the consequences of not believing the truth about himself.  They replaced what they knew was right with their own perversion. Paul identifies two of these perversions specially: idolatry (vv. 23, 25) and sexual depravity (vv. 24, 26-27).  These two are often related to one another in Scripture.

The phrase “gave them up” should not be seen as passive permission. That is, where God simply removes his hands and permits seemingly ‘natural’ consequences to occur.  Rather, it is an active judgment in which God sentences people to the sins they themselves have chosen.[12]  They are being punished with the very thing by which they sin.[13] God punishes their sin, with sin. “All experience also teaches us this. We see that sin follows sin as an avenger.”[14] Man’s punishment is to be abandoned by God. But this is exactly what man wants. Man wants to replace God’s authority with his own (Adam and Eve’s rebellion; Jonah; prodigal son parable). This punishment is not a future judgment but a present revelation of “the wrath of God.” The punishment received is the punishment desired. For, the punishment is their own desire for sexual immorality.  However, we should also note that although God gives them up to the sin they desire, he does not give them up to eternal punishment if they turn, repent, and believe in his Son. As Peter writes, God “is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

First exchange (vv. 22-24)

In the first exchange, people replace their knowledge “of the glory of the immortal God” for idols that look like men, birds, animals and reptiles.  This is a perfect example of what Paul called “foolish” but what people thought was “wise” (Psalms 106:20; Jeremiah 2:11). “An unfit mind is the fruit of seeing God unfit.”[15]

In fact, all three exchanges show their foolishness while claiming knowledge and wisdom. Setting up such idols is the height of folly.  However, such idols are not always pagan religion; it can also be human philosophy, technical and scientific advancement, and what is passed off as socially progressive.  This can also include careers, family and even ministry. Anything that replaces knowledge of God and submission to that knowledge is idolatry since it replaces worship of God.

The result of this worship of idols is that they have lost all sensitivity and “have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Ephesians 4:19). Scripture, especially in the Old Testament, associates idolatry with sexual sin.  And so, God has given them over “to the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves.” Idol worship is such a grievous sin because the idol worshiper has failed to honour God by glorifying him (v. 21). Because they did not honour God, God gave their bodies over to “dishonor.” This dishonour has affected God-ordained relationships between man and woman. So, all sexual immorality is a consequence of idolatry and idolatry is simply not honouring God as God.

Second exchange (vv. 25-26a)

This second exchange is similar to the first. Again, they exchanged “the truth about God” for “a lie.” Most of our translations use an indirect article. However, the original Greek has a direct article, “the lie.”  This Big Lie is as old as the world when Satan first tempted Adam and Eve. This Big Lie is: God cannot be trusted to decide what is right and wrong. And the Lie continues to state: we humans are in a much better position to determine what is right and wrong. Satan denied the truth of God's judgment about eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (See Genesis 2:15-16; 3:4). This is the Big Lie Satan still continues to use to deceive us. We have so many ways of suppressing and diminishing this truth. Because of this lie, they “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”  This is, again, idolatry. And again, God gives them over to their sinful passions.  The phrase “dishonorable passions” usually refers to homosexual relations (vv. 26b-27).

Why does Paul emphasize this sin?  The most likely reason is that it provides an obvious mirror to the sin of idolatry. Humans were created to honour God by glorifying him; also, human beings were created to have relations between a man and woman within a marriage covenant (Genesis 2:24). Idolatry regularly leads to sexual immorality.  Although both heterosexual and homosexual sins are identified, neither is described as worse than the other. Sexual immorality in all its forms is a physical reflection of the perversion of idolatry.  As we will see in the vice list of 1:29-31, this does not mean every person who rejects God commits all these sins. In this whole section from 1:18-32, Paul’s main point is that Gentiles who reject God are under the wrath of God and, therefore, the judgement of God.

Third exchange (vv.26b-28)

Paul’s third description is more specific, identifying these passions, including homosexuality.  Men and women exchange “natural relations[16] with unnatural ones.  Jewish teaching, following the Old Testament, understood homosexuality to be against the created order of God (Genesis 1:27-28a; 2:24; 19:1-28; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Deuteronomy 23:17-18). Since “natural” refers to God’s created order, homosexual activity is a rejection of God’s order and so, in essence, idolatry.  Homosexual activity is God’s wrath on those who have rejected even the limited knowledge of him given to them. That is, God “gave them up” to what they already wanted.

As well, those who commit such “shameful acts” therefore “receive in themselves the due penalty” of God’s wrath. Indeed, it is possible to equate all types of sexual diseases as this “penalty.“  However, it is unlikely Paul had this in mind. The penalty is the sin of homosexuality itself. What Paul is emphasizing is that rejecting knowledge of God brings about judgment.  The worst of this judgment is alienation from God in which the heart becomes dark and the mind sees foolishness as wisdom. Foolishness is one thing, but seeing foolishness as wisdom is a hopeless condition.[17]

In verse 28, Paul says that because they “did not see fit to acknowledge God,” therefore God gave them up to a “debased mind.”[18] More than anything else, rejection of God affects our understanding of divine things.  And so, we have minds that cannot think clearly and correctly about God.  In this condition, no one can seek after God.  But thanks be to God that while we were such sinners, Christ died for us and sought us!  Only by his mercy and grace has his light expelled our darkness.

List of vices that humans are guilty of

vv. 29-31

At the end of verse 28 Paul states such people “do what ought not to be done.” He then describes many of these things in verses 29 to 31, listing a wide variety of sins. All this is a result of rejecting the knowledge of God given as part of being human. If we do not relate to the previous sexual sins, we certainly must have a sense of our own sinfulness in this list.  It was common to include vice lists in Roman writings. Paul does this here as well as in his other letters.  However, Paul is not saying these vices are problems in the Roman church. Rather they are a general description of the fallen human condition. Paul, of course, is not stating that every single Gentile does all these sins but that in general, they do.  The list of vices is divided into three sub-lists, but we do not have to make much of the divisions. Other than unbelief, Paul is not ranking one sin greater than another. What he wants us to understand is the full depth of the fallenness of human beings. This is similar to God’s indictment of Noah’s generation: “The Lord saw the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).

v. 32

Paul concludes by reiterating what he already said.  In verse 19 he said it is “plain to them”, in verse 20 he said they “clearly perceived”, and in verse 21 “although they knew they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.” Now again, he says they “know God’s righteous decree” and if these decrees are consistently violated (“practice”), then they “deserve to die.” It is clear that despite human fallen nature and rejection of God, we are very aware of God’s disapproval of this kind of behaviour.  Humans, therefore, are born with an understanding of what is right and wrong and a sense of justice that God is just when he punishes those who consistently violate this knowledge (see notes on 2:14-15).  As Schreiner writes, “It follows, then, that Gentiles, without specifically having the Mosaic law, are aware of the moral requirements contained in that law.”[19]

The passage ends on an even sadder note that sinful humanity finds perverse pleasure in doing and encouraging others to rebel against God.  Tragically, their minds have become so foolish that they view sin as good, natural or even honourable. Paul’s indictment against the pagan Gentiles is complete, so he turns to the Jews. Again, the purpose of this is to show all people have a clear understanding of morality, that they have rejected this knowledge and so have become depraved in their behaviour. As a result, the wrath of God is justified and all people need salvation from his wrath.

Gods judgment against the self-righteous (2:1-3:8)

In the previous section, 1:18-32, Paul charged the pagan Gentiles with sin even though they did not have the special revelation given to Israel.  Now in this section, 2:1-3:8, Paul turns his attention to self-righteous Gentiles and Jews. The self-righteous Gentile believed his good and honourable life was sufficient for salvation. While Jews were most likely to judge Gentile pagan sinners and point to their own covenantal relationship with God as the basis of their righteousness.[20]

The primary theme is neither the moralist Gentile nor the Jew will escape judgment through obedience to the law.  Paul shows that neither could keep the law perfectly and, therefore, both are under the same judgment as the pagan described in 1:20-32. Jews, like Gentiles, need the gospel: which is the “righteousness from God” received by faithGod’s judgment is impartial; both Jew and Gentile are “without excuse” (1:20; 2:1) because both are sinners.

Paul then goes on to state that unless a Jew or a Gentile possesses the Holy Spirit, they are unable to live a faithful life of obedience to God (2:29). And then, even more surprisingly, a Gentile whom the Holy Spirit transforms is also empowered to observe – although not perfectly – the law. Moreover, only such a person should be considered a true Jew (2:26, 29).

The entire argument against those who view their self-righteousness as sufficient for salvation can be divided into three parts:

1.      In 2:1-16, God’s judgment is impartial since both Jew and Gentiles are sinners.

2.      In 2:17-29, Paul shows that despite the covenants, Jews have failed to honour God.

3.      In 3:1-8, Paul shows how God’s faithfulness is upheld despite the unfaithfulness of the Jews.

 We should also note Paul often uses a style of writing called a diatribe. This type of writing was quite common in Paul’s day.  Usually, it takes the form of a dialogue between the writer and a fictional opponent.  The writer presents a question that an opponent might bring up as a challenge and then answers the challenge.

In this passage, Paul seems to be discussing with a moralist (2:1-16) and then a Jew (2:18-3:8).  By the time Paul wrote this letter, he had preached the gospel over twenty years.  Whenever Paul entered a town or city, he always went first to preach the gospel to Jews at their synagogues (see many references in Acts) and then to Gentiles.  He, therefore, would have heard and responded to every conceivable argument made against the gospel.  Paul knows what to expect, and so here, he anticipates and responds to these objections.

1. Gods judgment is impartial against the moralist (2:1-16)

A Gentile who considered himself highly moral or a religious Jew would undoubtedly have agreed with Paul to this point in his letter. There are self-righteous Gentiles who might argue they do none (or at least very few) of the evils Paul mentions in the vice list (1:29-30). Unlike the pagan Gentile Paul referred to in 1:18-32, who only had natural revelation, the Jew had a special revelation.  Jews thought non-Jews without the Torah (first five books of the Bible) were Gentile sinners.  Paul also knew Jews viewed themselves as having a special relationship with God because they had the Torah, the Abrahamic covenant including circumcision, the Law of Moses, and the Mosaic covenant.  Paul clarifies, in this passage, although this is true, these things do not result in righteousness before God.

Paul’s argument is divided into three parts: in 2:1-5, Paul points out self-righteous people commit sin just like a pagan sinner and so are under God’s wrath; then in 2:6-11, Paul clearly states the impartial judgment of God – if one does good works he will be rewarded with eternal life, and if one does evil he will experience God’s final wrath; and third, in 2:12-16, Paul again makes it clear the simple possession of the Torah is not sufficient for salvation – one must keep the law perfectly not just be given it or have possession of it.

Self-righteousness does not remove God’s wrath against sin (2:1-5)

v. 1

Paul ties his indictment by pointing back to his accusation against the pagan Gentiles. In 1:18-21, God’s wrath was revealed against those who suppressed the truth. This truth is that there is judgment for those who disobey God.  “Therefore,” the moralist Jew or Gentile is also without “excuse” (see 1:20) because in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself.”  They have appointed themselves as judge in place of God. Like Adam and Eve, the moralist believes they are the final arbitrator of what is right and wrong. Moralists were no different from the pagan since they had no right to pass judgment on others as sinners themselves.

The reason Paul uses the word “excuse” for both the Gentiles (1:20) and the Jews (2:1) is that this is what so often is done. We seldom take responsibility for our sinful actions; instead, we minimize our sins while enhancing any small good we do while maximizing the sins of others.

The phrase “do the same things” (also v. 3) most likely does not refer to the vice list of 1:29-31. However, it is certainly possible for the moralist to do such things. In general, the moral life of Jews was different from the pagans; however, in a sense, the same sins were committed in different ways. Self-righteousness is an idol of self, and refusing to repent or even see that self-righteousness is a sin while at the same time encouraging others is no different from the pagan. This is also what Jesus taught (Matthew 7:1-4).[21]

vv. 2-3

Paul affirms God is right in his condemnation because God’s judgments are fair (“rightly falls”). Paul states again the Jew, like the Gentile, “practice such things.” The “things” that Paul is referring to are not the same as the Gentiles since Jews were not known to practice homosexuality nor – at least at the time of Paul – to practice overt idolatry.  Paul is more likely referring to the vice list of 1:29-31. Paul identifies self-righteous Jews because of their hypocrisy and self-deception. In God’s judgment, they are no different from pagan Gentiles. Paul also may be thinking about their “preoccupation with the law as a kind of idolatry.”[22]

The argument of verses 1 through 3 can be summarized as follows:

1.    God’s judgment falls on those who do “these things.”

2.      The judgmental self-righteous person does “these things.

3.      Therefore, the self-righteous are under condemnation.

Paul knows there is a great deal of self-deception among self-righteous people.[23] And so, without any compromise, he points out their inconsistent behaviour. 

vv. 4-5

The source of the self-righteous person's problem is given in verses 4 and 5.  They have misunderstood the “kindness,” “forbearance,” and “patience” of God, believing God accepted their behaviour. In fact, they are deceived.  The purpose of God’s kindness was to bring about their repentance. But, instead, because of their “hard and impenitent heart,” they are “storing up wrath” when God’s “righteous judgment would be revealed.” God’s patience is to bring about repentance, but there will come a time when God’s patience will end.

This is what God is seeking. He could have judged the world long ago as he did in the time of Noah.  The reason he does not is, he wants to lead us to repentance.  He holds back his day of judgment so we repent. He wants all to come to a saving knowledge of his Son.

God judges both the Christian Jew and Gentile impartially based on obedience (2:6-11)

At times, in this section, it almost appears as if Paul is teaching justification by works (2:7, 13, 26).  However, it is also clear from 3:28 (as well as his other letters) that Paul teaches justification is received by the grace of God through faith in Christ (1:16-17). Was Paul contradicting himself?  By no means! There have been several ways of addressing this issue.

Some commentators have suggested Paul teaches a two-covenant theology: Gentiles are saved by faith, but that Jews are saved by keeping the law.  However, we reject this position entirely. Another approach is that Paul is stating what pious Jews think about salvation. Such a Jew understands he has a special relationship with God by grace simply because he was born a Jew.  But to remain in God’s grace, he must obey the Mosaic law as best he can. However, it is unlikely this is Paul’s intent since his overall purpose is to show Jews, just like Gentiles, are under God’s wrath. Both Jews and Gentiles can only be saved by receiving justification from God by faith (1:16-17).

However, there are three valid ways of understanding this passage to resolve this tension. The first is that Paul is thinking about the hypothetical case where someone might live their entire life in perfect obedience to the law.  If such a person existed, and Paul makes clear there is no such person (2:13), then they would receive eternal life. This is probably the most dominant interpretation today. However, the main difficulty with this approach is that it does not take seriously that every person is born with the imputed guilt and punishment of Adam’s transgression (See notes on 5:12-21). 

A second approach is to view these people as pre-Christian Jews who try to follow the Mosaic law but know they cannot and offer sacrifices for forgiveness as prescribed by the Law.  Since Paul is speaking to both Jews and Gentiles, it is unlikely this is what was meant.

The third approach is to view the person as a Christian who has received circumcision of the heart “by the Spirit” (2:29) and so is able to “keep the law’s requirement” (2:26 niv, nasb).  This approach understands “works” in this passage to mean good works resulting from being filled with the Spirit.  It does not refer to “works of the law” (3:20) which are done to be righteous before God. Paul teaches good works by the power of the Spirit are a necessary result of justification (14:10-12; 1 Corinthians 4:4-5; 6:9-11; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Galatians 5:21; Ephesians 6:8; 2 Timothy 4:8).  Such good works result from the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. But Paul also teaches no one is justified by their good deeds (3:20). These are two different “works” which should not be confused but often are. 

This third option seems to fit the context best.  We need to keep in mind, though, that this is not the main point of this paragraph: Paul’s purpose is to show God will judge every person either on their faith in Christ which leads to obedience or on their ‘righteousness’ coming from their good deeds.  In the first case, the result is “eternal life,” while the second is “wrath and fury.

This passage (vv. 6-11), is a self-contained unit arranged in a ring structure or chiasm as follows:[24],[25]

A. God will judge everyone equally (v. 6)

            B.         Those who do good will receive eternal life (v. 7)

                        C.         Those who do evil will receive wrath (v. 8)

                        C’. Tribulation and distress for those who do evil (v. 9)

            B’. Glory and honour to those who do good (v. 10)

A’. God judges impartially      (v. 11)

v. 6

Throughout the Old Testament, Scripture states God “will judge everyone according to what they have done” (2:6 nlt) (Psalm 62:12; Hosea 12:2; Proverbs 24:12). And this teaching does not change in the New Testament (Matthew 16:27; 2 Corinthians 3:8, 10-14; 11:15; 2 Timothy 4:14; 1 Peter 1:17 and others).  This is the meaning of retributive justice of God:  God will deal with man, as man has dealt with God. If we repent, he will save us; he will condemn us if we rebel.

As already mentioned, we understand Paul refers to Christians since only those who have received the Holy Spirit can live a life of obedience to Christ (2:26). Only through our union with Christ can we produce works acceptable to God. And ultimately, it is only through our union with Christ that God views the perfect righteousness of Christ as our righteousness.  Such a person has been given a circumcised heart (2:29; Ezekiel 36:26-27). These promises have been fulfilled in the new covenant beginning with Jesus’s death and resurrection and then by the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–41).

The fruit of true faith is good works even though our works are often pathetic. All our works are mixed with sin. But when God looks at our works done in Christ Jesus, he forgives what sinfulness is in them. But he also recognizes his own righteousness in them, so he delights in them. True faith, therefore, seeks after Christ’s glory and honour in everything we do.


There are two possible outcomes: “eternal life” for those who have received the Holy Spirit and so seek Christ’s honour (1:21);[26] but “wrath and fury” for those who persist in disobeying the truth because they are motivated by selfishness (cf. 1:18-19). As in other places in Scripture, there are only two types of people: those who receive eternal life and those who receive eternal wrath. Then, Paul repeats these two contrasting judgments in reverse order in verses 9 and 10. Paul also mentions a reward for those who seek the honour and glory of Christ. They receive honour (God’s approval), glory (revealed splendour of God’s infinite worth), eternal life (the unfading joy of God’s presence), and peace (reconciliation into the Father’s love resulting in being adopted as sons). 

Although this is true, this passage's main point is verse 11: “God shows no partiality.” Paul is trying to instruct both Jews and Gentiles that God is just in all his judgments, so he does not show any partiality by giving preference to Jews concerning eternal life. For Jews, salvation will not be given because they are circumcised and belong to the covenant of Abraham. For Gentiles, salvation will not be given because they have been moral from a human perspective. When it comes to obedience, the motivation of the circumcised heart by the Spirit is what counts (2:29).

Possession of the Torah does not help the Jew (2:12-16)

This paragraph begins with the word “for,” which connects it to God’s impartial judgment, which was the main point of the preceding paragraph.  Here again, Paul defends this principle against any charge by the Jews that they are in a favoured position concerning salvation because they possess the Mosaic law.  Paul’s reason is, it is the doing of the law which is important and not simply its possession. Second, even the Gentiles who do not have the Mosaic law in written form also know what is right and wrong because God has given them this ability “by nature.”  Paul calls this natural law “a law to themselves” (v. 14).

v. 12

Those “without the law” are Gentiles, and those “under the law” are Jews. So, the “law” here refers to the law of Moses.[27] Paul is not condemning Gentiles for being lawless but highlighting the special blessing the Jews experienced.  For a Jew, the only way a Gentile could come into this blessing is to come under the burden of the law since, for them, there is no concept of salvation outside of the law. Paul addresses this head-on.  He makes it clear that from the point of view of human sinfulness, the possession of the Mosaic law makes no difference. Either way, whether outside or under the law, all people are under the condemnation of sin and need the gospel.


This verse returns to the question of whether Paul is talking theoretically or about Christians who, in union with Christ, are able to keep the requirements of the law.  We have decided in favour of the latter. Nowhere does Scripture teach that all one needs to do is give intellectual assent to the gospel to be saved. Saving faith includes believing and obedience to God (Matthew 7:24; Luke 8:21 and 11:28; John 13:17; James 1:22–23, 25). So, when Paul states, “it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God,” he is using the word “hearers” in the narrower sense of those who know the law but do not obey the law.  On the other hand, when he says “the doers of the law will be justified,” he refers to Christians living a life of “obedience of faith.” On the contrast between hearing and doing, see James 1:22-25. Only those who persevere in their faith will be saved in the end.  However, such saving faith is itself a gift of God.  As Paul writes to the Philippian Christians:

I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

It is, therefore, because of what God has done in our hearts through the indwelling Spirit (2:29) – and not our own efforts – that we are able to be obedient to him. As C.E.B. Cranfield comments, “Paul is thinking of that beginning of grateful obedience to be found in those who believe in Christ, which though very weak and faltering and in no way deserving God’s favour, is, as the expression of humble trust in God, well-pleasing in His sight.”[28]

vv. 14-15

Paul again introduces Gentiles to strengthen his argument that mere possession of the law does not give the Jew a saving advantage.  The Gentiles Paul is referring to are unbelievers who occasionally obey the law. However, this partial obedience is also not sufficient for salvation.[29]  We all know of unbelievers who have some knowledge of God’s moral demands as given in the ten commandments.   God has created all people with a sense of right and wrong, an unwritten natural law in their hearts.  If Paul had believers in mind, he would not have used the phrase “by nature” but rather “by grace.”[30]

Paul also states, such unbelieving Gentiles “are a law to themselves.”  While not having the Mosaic law, they have a general sense of morality. For example, they know they should not murder, rob, or even commit adultery.  And because God has given the unbelieving Gentile this ability, they are on the same level as the Jew; both know about doing the will of God.  Although this is true, neither the Jew nor the Gentile does what they know. As Martin Luther writes, “Hence both are sinners, no matter how much good they may have done: the Jews, because they fulfilled the Law only according to its letter; the heathen because they fulfilled the Law only in part and not at all according to its spirit.”[31]

And Paul’s statement that this moral understanding is “written on their hearts” means unbelievers can express love and concern for each other (cf. 13:8-10).  When they do what they know is right, their conscience “even excuses them,” and they think all is right in their relationship with God.  But then, when they violate what they know is right, their consciences “accuse” them. Again, Luther comments, “This witness is favourable when it concerns good deeds, for, in that case, their thoughts excuse or defend them. It is a condemning witness when they do evil works, for then their thoughts accuse them and their conscience torments them.”[32] 

v. 16

Although the Gentile unbelievers have some knowledge of God’s moral requirements, they still do not do them and so are still under God’s judgment. No one does the law they are given perfectly; neither the Jew who has the Mosaic law nor the Gentile who has a general moral sense of right and wrong.  Conformity to whichever law one has is not just external behaviour but includes “the secrets of men.” So even their secret thoughts will condemn them. This teaching echoes Jesus’s own teaching (Matthew 6:4, 6, 18). All one’s external deeds, known or unknown, and all our thoughts will be judged “by Christ Jesus.” This is what Paul has been preaching all along.

Remember, however, Paul is primarily addressing the pious Jew. His main point in this paragraph is that possessing the Mosaic law is no saving advantage to the Jew since unbelieving Gentiles also have a moral law they occasionally obey. The self-righteous Jew would certainly not think this would be of any saving help to such a Gentile.  Paul’s point then is that inconsistent obedience to the Mosaic law, in the same way, is no help to the Jew.

2. Jews have failed to honour God (2:17-29)

Paul now explicitly identifies the self-righteous Jew who thinks possession and best efforts obedience to the Mosaic law will save him.  Again, Paul uses the diatribe style.  The advantage of having the Mosaic covenant – both the law and circumcision – will only benefit them if the law is kept perfectly. In 2:17-24, Paul points out that Jews transgress the Mosaic law, and in 2:25-29, he reminds them that the simple act of circumcision is no benefit without obedience to the law.

Transgression of the Law (2:17-24)

vv. 17-18

Paul gives three privileges of having the Mosaic law in verses 17 and 18.  First, Paul agrees with his representative Jewish debating partner that calling themselves Jews is good.  This is significant since it identifies the person under God’s special favour. They have an advantage because of God’s covenant with Abraham. Jewishness is not a disadvantage, as Paul will state clearly in 3:1-3. And to “reply on the law and boasting in God” – that is, claiming a special relationship with God – is also a good thing (Jeremiah 9:23-24); even Christians should do that (1 Corinthians 1:31; 2 Corinthians 10:17).

The problem is that Jews “relied” on the law as a means of righteousness and, thereby, putting God in one’s debt. The same is true of “boasting.” To boast about the possession of the law and the special relationship Jews had with God ultimately means boasting about one’s own achievements rather than glorifying God.  This underlines Paul’s entire argument that being a Jew – simply being born as one – does not guarantee salvation, no matter how privileged that position is. Later, Paul redefines true ‘Jewishness’ in spiritual terms (2:28-29).

Two more advantages are given in verse 18, for a Jew knows God’s will and believes God’s will is excellent.  That is because, since childhood, he has been taught these things. However, as Paul has already pointed out, knowing God’s will and doing it are two different matters (v. 13).

vv. 19-20

Having identified these spiritual privileges enjoyed in vv. 17 to 18, Paul now lists three blessings the Jew has because of God’s covenant with them. These blessings are to be shared with the Gentile.  For the Jew was given the privilege to be “a guide to the blind,” to be “a light for those in darkness,” and to be an “instructor of the foolish” and “teacher of children.” It was Israel's responsibility to teach the Gentile (Isaiah 42:6-7). Because of all these advantages and blessings, the Jew is without excuse (2:1). 

Interestingly, after Jesus points out that they – the teachers of the law – are blind guides (Matthew 15:14), he commissions Paul “to open their eyes, so they [both Jew and Gentile] may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18).

vv. 21-22

Continuing his diatribe, Paul asks four accusatory rhetorical questions. Paul accuses the self-righteous Jew of profound hypocrisy by these questions, saying one thing but doing another. 

This accusation is found already in the Old Testament (Psalm 50:16-21), and Jesus’s teaching (Matthew 23:3).  The accusation against stealing and adultery is clear enough, but what did Paul mean by robbing temples? There have been many attempts at finding an answer.  A possible solution is that Jews in the diaspora such as in Rome, Corinth or Ephesus, were buying and selling metals used as idols which might have been stolen from the pagan temples.[33] However, it could also be that Paul is referring to the law itself and the traditions surrounding them as effectively being an object of worship. They placed such things above the will of God (Matthew 15:1-9; 23:1-36). In any case, all three of these examples are serious violations of the Mosaic law. Paul is most likely highlighting these, not because they are done frequently but because Jews teach strongly against them. And yet, to some extent, these violations are being done with impunity. In other words, he is contrasting the teaching of the law and the doing of the law, which was Paul’s main point in this chapter; that is, although they had the law, they did not adequately do the law.

vv. 23-24

This contrast between having and doing the Mosaic law is again highlighted in verse 23.  Although the self-righteous Jew is very proud – “boasting” – of the law, the law itself holds them accountable when they “break the law.”  As Moo writes, “It is not boasting in the law that brings honor to God but obedience to it.”[34] Note again the importance of honouring God (1:21). These people were just like the pagan Gentiles they despised.

Circumcision of the heart (2:25-29)

v. 25

Of course, Paul’s debating partner would have objected to all of this.  How, he would claim, can a Jew be treated the same as a Gentile since they not only had the law collectively but, individually, had the sign of the covenant through circumcision? Circumcision, like possession of the Mosaic law, was a sign that the Jew was in a privileged covenant relationship with God.  Circumcision was mandated by God (Genesis 2:25-29) as a sign of the Abrahamic covenant.  Its importance to that covenant cannot be overstated.  After the return from exile in Babylon and at the time of Paul, circumcision had become so important, it was viewed as a sign of salvation.  Douglas Moo commenting on its significance, writes, “Later Judaism claimed that ‘no person who is circumcised will go down to Gehenna [hell]’.”[35]  Paul addresses this teaching by stating, “if you break the [Mosaic] law,” then “your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.” This is a profoundly radical statement. Paul says, if you break the law, you become a non-Jew, outside the covenant promises. Circumcision will not be a shield against the wrath of God; the Jewish lawbreaker is in the same position as the Gentile lawbreaker (1:18; 3:9; compare Matthew 3:9; 23:25-28; John 8:33-41). Both are in desperate need of the gospel – the righteousness from God as a free gift of grace and received by faith.

vv. 26-27

The disobedience of the Jew in v. 25 (and v. 27) is now contrasted with the obedience of the Gentile Christian in v. 26 (and v. 27). Instead of simply being circumcised, he is the one who “keeps the requirements of the law” (nasb), who is now considered a child of God and under God’s covenant blessings. Within the gospel of Christ, circumcision is no longer of any value (1 Corinthians 7:19; Galatians 5:6).  The word translated “keeps” implies devotion as well as obedience. The words “practice” (v. 25 nasb), “keeps” (v. 26) and “fulfills” (v. 27 kjv) all indicate devotion. This genuine obedience comes from the right motives in honouring and glorifying Christ (1:21; 2:7). Once again, as he did in 2:6-10, Paul is referring to Gentile Christians. These are the ones who, through the Holy Spirit, are able to keep “the righteous requirements of the law” because they “walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (8:4).[36]  Here, faith and good works come together.  Those who are justified by the grace of God, through faith in Christ, receive the indwelling Spirit and so are able to please God if they walk by the Spirit (8:4; Galatians 5:4). As Paul has said in his letter to the Galatians, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25).

In verse 27, Paul reverses the standard view of the Jew who believed he would stand in judgment over the Gentile.  Paul radically states, it is the one who does the law – whether Gentile or Jew – who will stand in condemnation over anyone who breaks the law.  And again, this echoes Jesus’s own words in his condemnation (Matthew 12:41-42).

vv. 28-29

Physical circumcision was a sign of covenant devotion to God. It was a symbol that identified a people set apart. Circumcision, as an outward symbol, was to reflect this inward devotion. Sadly, the external seldom reflected the internal (Deuteronomy 10:16).  So, in verse 28, Paul states circumcision on its own has no value concerning salvation (Galatians 5:6). What matters is the “matter of the heart, by the Spirit.”  In the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 10:6; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4), there was an expectation that God would come by his Spirit and circumcise his people's hearts so they could keep the law. Paul’s reference to the law, circumcision of the heart, and the Holy Spirit indicates that this promise is now a reality.

Again, as he states in his letter to the Galatians church, what matters is “faith working through love.”  To be a faithful Christian, a person must be one spiritually through union with Christ (8:9). Without this inner change, no amount of outward activity has any value.  And those who are in union with Christ are able and will genuinely want God’s approval of their behaviour (John 5:44; 12:43).

3. Gods righteousness upheld (3:1-8)

Paul has been particularly hard on the self-righteous Jew who believed he had a saving relationship with God because he was born into a Jewish family and was circumcised on the eighth day. The question then is why God bothered at all with Abraham and Moses.  Since this does not save them, what value is there in Judaism?

At first glance, these verses do not seem too difficult to understand.  However, when we look closer, there are some issues we must address. No doubt, given what Paul has just said about Jews, he has had this argument many times in the synagogues.  I will paraphrase the diatribe as follows:

v. 1 (Jewish objection) Given all Paul has said about the law and circumcision, is there still any advantage to being Jews?

v. 2 (Paul’s response) Yes, of course, because God entrusted Israel with all his commandments, actions and promises of future salvation.

v. 3 (Jewish objection) But what about most Jews who have been unfaithful to God’s instructions?  Does this also mean God has given up on them?

v. 4 (Paul’s response) No, that will never happen. God remains faithful even though Israel has been as sinful as the Gentiles.  (Quoting Psalm 51:4 when David acknowledged God’s righteous judgment on him for his sin with Bathsheba.) So, God’s faithfulness is not just blessings but also includes his righteous judgments.

The Jewish opponent's argument shifts to a broader question: How is God just in judging people when their sin increases his glory?

v. 5 (Jewish objection)             But Paul, if the Jews' unrighteousness resulted in God’s righteousness in the coming of Christ and the cross, how can God now condemn them for bringing about righteousness he had always intended?

v. 6 (Paul's response) No, if that were true, God could not judge anyone. But Scripture states he will (Genesis 18:25).

v. 7-8a (Jewish objection)       [The objector now doubles down on his argument.] Again, if God is glorified in his just (righteous) judgment by our sinning, then why are we condemned? Instead, we should sin even more so that God will be glorified even more!

v. 8b (Paul’s response)            Paul now raises his own question.  It is an accusation Paul has heard many times against the Gospel. If God does not condemn the Jews when they sin because their sin increases God’s glory, then sin is justified if it brings about a greater good. This is the logical conclusion of the objector’s argument. Paul answers his own question by stating that God’s condemnation of sin is always just.

So, in verses 1 to 4, God’s judgment against unfaithful Jews does not mean they have no advantage over Gentiles.  Their great advantage is that despite their unfaithfulness, they are the recipients of the very words of God.  This includes the Old Testament Scriptures, but it also includes Jesus as the living Word of God (John 1:1; Hebrews 1:2; 1 John 1:1). God has continued to remain faithful to Israel despite their unfaithfulness. But God’s faithfulness, as Psalm 51:4 states, also includes his promised judgment on unfaithful Israel. God promised blessings and judgment, and he is true to his word.  The problem for the Jewish objector was that he viewed God’s faithfulness purely in terms of blessings and salvation. Paul points out, God’s faithfulness must also include the promised curses for disobedience (Deuteronomy 28).[37]

The argument shifts in verse 5 into an outrageous accusation of God’s justice. The Jews, Paul addressed in Chapter 2, assumed they were immune from God’s judgment because they were within God’s (Mosaic) covenant.  But this criticism of God, Paul rejects simply because it is incompatible with the biblical doctrine of a just God. The knowledge of God given to them is a two-edged sword; it can bestow blessings and curses (Deuteronomy 28).  Therefore, a Jew should know better than to raise this blasphemous objection in the first place. 

The argument in verse 8 might have been an accusation against Paul’s gospel of grace. A Jew believed he was born a Jew by God’s grace, but he had to obey the Mosaic law to remain in that grace.  The teaching that getting in and staying in God’s grace was all a gift from God was not something with which they would agree; neither for themselves and certainly not for Gentiles.  However, we can change the argument into a positive by saying: The more I understand my sinfulness, the more I understand God’s grace. And so we can praise and thank him with greater devotion. The following table clarifies the position of the pious Jews before and after the gospel. 


Understanding of salvation before the Gospel

Salvation after the Gospel

A ‘Different Gospel’


Jews         Gentiles

Jews  Gentiles

All people

getting in

birth        become a


by grace

by grace

staying in

obedience to Law

by grace

good works


The third column shows that since the gospel, we have often modified the pure gospel to include ‘good works’ in order to remain in a covenant relationship with God.  This was an issue already for Paul.  In his letter to the Galatians, he writes, “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – not that there is another one” (Galatians 1:6-7a).  In Paul’s day, it was forcing Gentiles to be circumcised to keep the Sabbath and the kosher food laws.  But Paul is clear in the gospel: we are saved by grace, and we remain saved by grace.  It is all a work of God.  Even after the church mainly became Gentile this tendency to add pieces to grace has plagued the church. In our day, we also add many things depending on our culture.  It is the primary reason Martin Luther and the other reformers rejected the Catholic teaching of their day.  But even today, within the Protestant church, there has been this tendency.

Of course, this does not mean, as Paul points out repeatedly, we can behave sinfully.  It is because we are saved by grace that we love and are devoted to him and want to live a life pleasing to him. We must never confuse sanctification with justification. Instead, sanctification – growing in spiritual maturity – results from our justification and being filled with the Holy Spirit (2:29).

No one, Gentile or Jew, is righteous before God (3:9-20)

Paul now summarizes all he has taught from 1:18 until 3:8 by reiterating three main points.

1.    First, in 3:9, all people, whether Jew or Gentile, “are under sin.”  And are, therefore, under God’s just condemnation of sin; that is, God’s wrath and need of salvation.

2.    Next, in verses 3:10 through 18, Paul uses a string of Old Testament verses highlighting the universal aspect of sin in all of its varieties.

3.    And third, in verses 19 and 20, Paul states the obvious result of such universal sin: we all stand condemned, and what is more, we are unable to justify ourselves before God through any work or effort of our own, no matter how hard we try to obey the law.

We are under the just judgment of God, and there is nothing we can do about it.  This then prepares us to move to God’s solution to the sin problem beginning in verse 21.

v. 9

Paul denies that Jews are better off than Gentiles concerning salvation in no uncertain terms. This does not contradict what he said in verses 1 and 2.  There he recognizes the advantages of the Jew having been uniquely part of God’s plan of salvation throughout history. But here, in verse 9, Paul refers to salvation; here, the Jew has no advantage.  Both Gentiles and Jews have been given revelation from God, albeit in different forms.  But both have equally been unable to meet the requirements of God’s stipulations.  There is only one conclusion from this universal failure: all “are under the power of sin,” and so all are under God’s judgment. With the emphasis on “under,” we are imprisoned by sin; there is no escape. Without this understanding, the gospel loses its power. But when we contemplate our entirely hopeless situation, the grace and beauty of Christ and his saving work on the cross take on infinite significance.

vv. 10-18

Paul now switches from writing like a Greek–using a diatribe style–to a Jewish rabbi using what they called a “string of pearls” argument. He quotes six different Old Testament texts[38] to illustrate all people are under the power of sin. Although it seems there is no structure to these verses at first glance, this is not the case.  Paul begins by stating, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (niv), and he ends the string by stating, “there is no fear of God before their eyes.”  This is saying the same thing in different words. Note, both begin with “there is no …”.  Then, in verses 11 and 12, this theme of “no one” is repeated several times. Paul is hammering home the truth that all people are sinful. In verses 13 and 14, Paul highlights how sin manifests itself in human speech. And in verses 15 to 17, Paul highlights how sin manifests itself in human violence.

It is worth noting Paul is not proving that all are unrighteous by quoting the Old Testament as if somehow his argument is still in doubt. Instead, he illustrates and describes what he has already proved from the Old Testament.  He shows that all humanity is under sin, which was already known hundreds of years earlier.

Additionally, and equally important, Paul states humanity can never obtain the righteousness necessary to stand in the presence of a holy God. Christians are not like followers of other religions such as Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, or Jains.[39] A Christian does not rely on his own resources and efforts to obtain righteousness.  Christian faith assumes the firm foundation of complete despair in human efforts. Humans do not have it within themselves to find God or even to begin or want to look for God. After eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve were not searching for God; they were hiding from him. And like our first parents, all humanity does the same. This foundational truth of Holy Scripture opposes any optimism about humanity's quest for God. As Patrick Reardon so eloquently states, “Those optimists who entertain the notion that human beings are searching for God are simply neglecting the evidence. C. S. Lewis remarked that speaking of man’s quest for God is something on the order of speaking of the mouse’s quest for the cat. Indeed, in the strict sense, the true God cannot even be searched for; He can be sought only in the measure that He reveals Himself in holy grace. When sinful human beings are left to their own devices, whatever searching for God is undertaken will invariably involve idolatry—the setting up of false gods in human resemblance.”[40]

Even though we cannot find God on our own, we all have a God-given need to worship.  Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, such worship will result in false worship and, ultimately, in a false religion, many of which exist.

vv. 19-20

Paul brings his whole argument to a conclusion. He begins by saying, “whatever the law says”–here referring to the Old Testament string of pearls–it is saying to those “under the law,” referring to Jews. The reference to the “law” is “what binds the reason, the conscience, the heart, and the life, whether it be revealed in our nature, or the Ten Commandments, or in the law of Moses, or the Scripture”[41] (2:15; John 10:34).  Jews, as Paul has previously made clear, are under the condemnation of the Mosaic law because they were unable to obey it.  Paul then states the purpose of the law (“so that”). But its purpose is somewhat surprising. The law was given “so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.” The phrase “every mouth may be stopped” means no one will have a defence on the day of judgment. The law reveals that all humans are sinners. This includes Gentiles and not just Jews.

This is a profound statement. This is the universal aspect of sin; everyone is included. Even though we cannot escape the power of sin, we are still held accountable for it. That everyone is under God’s judgment, and condemnation, both Jew and Gentile, is a significant part of Paul’s gospel (Galatians 2:16; 3:11; cf. Psalm 143:2). Paul has been viewing sinful humanity outside of God’s promise in the gospel.  This is the point he has been addressing from 1:18 through 3:20: without the gospel, there is no hope for anyone.

Paul summarizes his argument by stating we remain under God’s judgment because “works of the law” cannot justify us “in his sight.”  But what does Paul mean when he uses the expression “works of the law”?  The meaning has been a serious concern of commentators and interpreters.  Paul uses this phrase eight times in his letters.[42]  Historically, many interpreters view it to mean obedience to the law of Moses to “stay in” the covenant relationship with God. So “Law” refers to the entire Mosaic law, including circumcision, food laws, Sabbath-keeping, and other commandments. The word “works” refers to doing what the " law demands.” Other interpreters have expanded the reference to “law” to mean moral law; in other words, good works in general. But, Paul’s point would not change in this case since he clarifies that no work merits righteousness before God.  The problem was not the obedience to God’s law but using that obedience.  The Jews believed that adherence to the law resulted in maintaining a covenant righteous before God. For Gentiles doing good works was sufficient to be found acceptable to God.

This broader understanding of “works of the law” is legalism, work that justifies the sinner since work implies wages or obligation for payment. Paul is adamant that this is not possible. The reason “works of the law” cannot justify is that no one can do them perfectly because of their fallen human state (5:12-21). The “law” itself can only teach us what sin is (3:20). 

Most pious Jews would react negatively to this assessment.  They believed it was entirely possible, by one’s own efforts and free will, to have a “righteousness that is based on the law” (10:5). This would have included obedience to commands and sacrifices when they unintentionally violated a command.  And although there is a kind of righteousness (Luke 1:6; Philippians 3:6)[43] for those who were careful to do the law, it was never adequately done to obtain righteousness sufficient for salvation; that is, “righteousness based on faith” (10:6). The sacrifices could never truly atone for their sin (Hebrews 10:1-18). They were a righteousness with respect to the law but not without sin.  And that was what was needed to be in the right relationship with God.

Paul then concludes by highlighting what the law does accomplish.  It gives us “knowledge of sin.”  That is, “The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (nlt).  The word for “knowledge” emphasizes moral and divine concerns (bdag).  So, the first function of the law is to reveal to us we are sinners.  At first, this seems like a negative aspect, but in fact, it is to our ultimate advantage! Because of the law, we understand the depth of our depravity and our need for a Saviour.  It is profoundly easy for us to deceive ourselves into thinking we are good in the sight of God. But as Jesus himself states to the lukewarm Laodicea church, you do not realize “you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:17).

Summary of 1:8 to 3:20

Paul has presented us with two major teachings: first, all people are sinners and cannot stand righteous before God; second, God is just in his condemnation against sinners.

Special Topic: Perfect Obedience to the Law

In our discussion, we understand that in order to be perfectly righteous before God we must obey the law perfectly. We also understand from Paul that this is not possible. However, the question is: is perfect obedience to the law essential to be righteous before God?  Does Scripture teach this?

Throughout the history of the Christian church, the answer to this question has always been “yes.” The question and its answer go to the heart of our understanding of salvation. Perfect obedience was not just what Paul taught but was demanded from the time of Adam and Eve. Israel also required perfect obedience in its adherence to the Mosaic Law.  A violation of the law required atonement through the sacrificial system. The New Testament makes this even clearer. James writes, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” (James 2:10).  And Paul writes, quoting Deuteronomy (27:26; cf. 28:58), “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law and do them” (Galatians 3:10) and again, “I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law” (5:3).

When Paul uses the phrase “works of the law,” he means doing what the Mosaic law commands. And since no one can “keep the whole law” perfectly, Paul says, “a person is not justified by works of the law” (Galatians 2:15) and so remains under the law’s curse. However, “law” can also have a more general meaning, referring to anything God has required or demanded of people (e.g. Adam and Eve or the people during the time of Noah). Paul later stated, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). John, in his letter, agrees with this when he says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). In general, “works of the law” means any attempt to obtain a right standing before God through our good efforts and intentions. And since our efforts are never good enough, by “works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).

When quoting the Old Testament, Paul is not explaining why Israel as a nation went into exile. Instead, he is speaking about the individual's sin (see again Deuteronomy 27:15-26). And although the Mosaic law had sacrifices to atone for sin, Paul would disagree that the Mosaic sacrifices were still valid (3:25-26; 8:3; Galatians 3:13) now that Christ has paid the full price. As the writer of Hebrews says, “but as it is, he [Jesus] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26) and again, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near” (10:1).Jesus also agrees with this teaching when he states in his Sermon on the Mount, “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matth

ew 5:48).  The immediate context of this verse refers to the perfect love of the Father we are to emulate. But because of our sinful condition, this is not possible.  It is only in our union with Christ who becomes our perfection that we are seen to be perfect (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Questions for Reflection

Study it

1.     [2:1] Paul states that the “man” is without excuse.  But that suggests the “man” thinks he has one. What kind of “excuse” do you think he might give to God?

2.     [2:1-16] List the reasons why God will judge.  Who is being judged?

3.     [2:1-5] In these verses, who is Paul addressing?  Could he be addressing self-righteous Christians as well?

4.     [2:6-10] Paul seems to suggest, in these verses, that salvation can come from works. However, from everything else Paul says, this would be a contradiction. How do you understand this passage? Whom do you think Paul is talking about?

5.     [2:1-11] Although there are specific things we can learn in each verse, what is the overall purpose of Paul in including this text? Why is this purpose important to the Roman church? 

6.     [2:16-29] What things did Jews rely on for their salvation?  What is the difference (if any) between “getting in” and “staying in” God’s grace?

7.     [2:17-20] List the privileges of the Jews. How many did you find? Is it surprising that Jews were racial and religiously proud of their heritage?  How could this passage be applied to Christians (substitute the word ‘Christian’ for ‘Jew’ and ‘gospel’ for the law)?

8.     [2:25-29] Jews understood that circumcision was not just a seal of the covenant but a seal of God’s approval of them.  Was God really concerned about an outward physical sign (see Deuteronomy 10:16; 1 Samuel 16:7; Jeremiah 4:4; Psalm 51:15-17)?

9.     [3:1-8] What four objections does the ‘Jew’ make against Paul’s teaching? Do you think Paul's answer is sufficient in each case?

10.   [3:9-20] Identify Paul’s three main points in this passage.

11.   [3:10-19] Do you see the world fitting Paul’s severe condemnation of fallen humanity?  Is this how you see the world? How does v. 18 summarize what he is saying?

12.   [3:11] What does “works of the law” mean for Jews?  What does it mean for Christians?

Live it

1.     Paul chastises the self-righteous Jew for thinking he has an “in” with God.  Do you think we, as Christians, do the same?  Do we have a “us” versus “them” mentality?

2.     How do you know what is and is not sinful? How do you decide about things not explicitly mentioned in the moral law (Ten Commandments)?  Is it easier to state that things are sin in which you have little or no interest but harder for something you really want to like?

3.     What do you think creates the most danger for the Christian church today: legalism or cheap grace?

4.     What does it mean for you to “seek for God” (3:11)?  What does it mean for you to “fear God” (3:18)?

5.     Paul states that God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of the bad behaviour of the Jews.  Does this apply to Christians today? Can you identify ways that we, too, benefit from the sins of others?

6.     Do you believe the grace of God saved you but that you have to be a good Christian to maintain your salvation?

7.     Do you recognize more of your own sinfulness as you mature in your faith? If you do, does this result in being more amazed by God’s grace, or does it result in despair?

8.     It has been said that sin and grace cause a Christian to be the most content of all people and, at the same time, the least content.  To what does this ‘contentment’ refer?  Would you agree or disagree with that statement?

[1] See chapter 6:19, 22 for more on sanctification.

[2] God does not punish his children; those who have put their hope and trust in his Son.  It is true that he disciplines his children (Hebrews 12:5-11) but he does not punish by inflicting pain as the penalty for sin (8:1).  Jesus Christ, his Son, has already born all such punishment on the cross. However, sin is in our lives while on this earth (3:10, 23; 1 John 1:8-10). Therefore, we experience God's discipline for disobedience, and the God-willed consequences resulting from sin. 


[3] There is, however, another sense in which God’s wrath is related to his love. When Scripture tells us, “God is love,” this means that God does all things for his glory (11:36; Colossians 1:16; Philippians 4:20; 2 Peter 3:18; Isaiah 42:8-7; 48:11 and many more). God created the universe, and all everything in it for his glory. His love is his glory revealed in creation and ultimately on the cross.  Of course, even before God created the world God was love. For God to be love did not require humanity and all that is in the world. The Father’s love for his Son and the Son’s love for the Father existed and exist for all eternity. Therefore, God responds with justice and punishment (wrath) against what demises, damages, or corrupts his glory.

[4] The oft stated phrase that God hates the sin but loves the sinner is true only if the sinner responds to God’s love in repentance.  God will judge the unrepentant sinner with wrath on the day of judgement.

[5] See notes on vv. 16-17, “The righteousness of God.”

[6] Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans, 39.

[7] Calvin, Institutes, 52, 68-69.

[8] Peterson, 498.

[9] Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, 106.

[10] This was certainly the view of Jews who believed all Gentiles, outside of the covenant, were destined for condemnation.

[11] Schreiner, Romans, 86.

[12] This is the meaning of “iniquity.”

[13] Moo, Encountering the Book of Romans, 40.

[14] Hodge, 39. See also Ephesians 4:19 where it is viewed as the sinner’s work.

[15] Schreiner, 93.

[16] It is important to remember that when Paul uses the term “natural” he means God’s created order.  Natural or nature in Scripture does not have a secular meaning such as ‘mother nature.’

[17] Today there are many attempts to weaken this position in order to show that homosexual relationships are not always sinful.  One such argument is people can be born as homosexual and, therefore, God created them as such.  So for them “natural relations” (vv. 26-27) would be homosexual.  Nowhere is there such an individualistic or psychological sense in Paul’s writings.  Paul’s contention is that homosexuality is against the created order as given in Genesis.  A second, more important argument, is that Paul is only referring to idolaters and not to Christians who accept Christ and honour God.  In the West, there are now many churches who accept, as valid, the marriage of Christian homosexual couples.  The primary bases for this argument is our understanding of God’s Word advances with our understanding of human sexuality.  Some supporters of this view state Paul, as a first century Jew, had a limited understanding and so his teaching on the subject can safely be replaced with modern concepts of sexuality.  The Bible is then interpreted in light of current thinking rather than the original author’s intention.  Such an interpretation must, therefore, be rejected.

[18] Paul uses a wordplay in the Greek.  “Because people did not approve God in their thinking, God gave them over to minds not approving what is right” (Moo, Encountering the book of Romans, 42).

[19] Schreiner, Romans, 99.

[20] The reference to the law in verse 12 also indicates that Jews are also being addresses in this passage.

[21] Abernathy, 125.

[22] Moo, Epistle to the Romans, 73.

[23] A self-righteous person is one who believes their behaviour is sufficient to stand righteous before God. But it also means they believe others, unlike themselves, are not able.  Such a person could be a Gentile as well.

[24] However, unlike most chiasms whose main point is in the centre, here the main point is at the beginning and the end; that God judges and will judge impartially.

[25] Osborn, 59.

[26] The phrase, “seek for glory and honour and immortality” refers to blessing of the age to come; the new heaven and earth.  But it reflects the attitude of a Christian who is seeking not one’s own glory and honour but the glory and honour of Christ. This is contrasted with the person who is “self-seeking.”

[27] For a Jew, the “law” was not just the Ten Commandments, but the whole “Torah.”  That is, the whole historic teaching of how God chose Abraham right up to entering the Promised Land.  This would include the books of Genesis through to Deuteronomy.  The particular emphasis is that God uniquely chose Israel to be his children, setting them apart from all other peoples and nations.

[28] Cranfield, Romans, Volume I, 155.

[29] Other interpreters view these Gentiles similarly to those included in verses 6 through 10; that is, Gentile Christians who do the law because of their relationship with Jesus Christ.  The reason is that 2:6-10 is similar to 2:13. 2:14-15 follow immediately after with a “For” connecting word. However, we understand the Gentiles to be unbelievers connecting them to the phrase “without the law” in verse 12a (Moo, Epistle to the Romans, 149).

[30] Moo, Epistle to the Romans, 150.

[31] Luther, 59.

[32] Luther, 60.

[33] The general principle is benefiting financially or socially because of the sins of others. We tend to excuse ourselves because we did not commit the original sin. But benefiting from another’s sin makes us liable as well.  An example is American Christians who deplored the slave trade but then benefited from slave labour.  The question remains for us as well. How do we benefit from the sins of others?

[34] Moo, Epistle to the Romans, 166.

[35] Moo, Epistle to the Romans, 167.

[36] And again, others interpret these verses to mean a hypothetical case. However, nothing indicates that this obedience is hypothetical.

[37] Moo, Epistles to the Romans, 180.

[38] Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; 5:9; 140:3; 10:7; Isaiah 59:7-8; Psalm 36:1.

[39] See Reardon’s commentary on Psalm 53, 103-104

[40] Reardon, 104.

[41] Hodge, 75.

[42] In verses 10 and 11 he quotes Psalms 14:1-3; in verse 13a, he quotes Psalms 5:9; in verse 13b he quotes Psalms 140:3; in verse 14 he quotes Psalm 10:7; in verses 15 through 17, he quotes Isiah 59:7 and 8 (although Proverbs 1:16 is also in view here); and finally, in verse 18, he quotes the first part of Psalm 36:1. Although most of these quotes refer to Israel, they equality can be applied to Gentiles. 

[43] God even speaks in such positive words about king David who we know violated the law in many way (1 Kings 9:4).