As we move systematically through the book of Romans studying the Holy Spirit inspired explanation of the gospel, we are seeing that all men are sinners and that they are rightly under the wrath of God and that the only way that God will save anyone is through the gospel. The reason for this is because God cannot forgive sinners apart from the sinner’s penalty for violating God’s Law being paid by a willing and able substitute. This allows God to be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus Christ.
So in explaining that the gospel and it alone is the power of God unto salvation – that it is the only way that God will save – the apostle Paul went on to show that all men everywhere are in need of the gospel because all men everywhere are sinners that are without excuse before a holy God.
So far in our studies we have seen the charge made and the evidence given that the heathen are without excuse because that which is known about God is evident within them for God made it evident to them and because the creation itself clearly reveals the attributes, power, and nature of God. And yet the heathen suppresses the truth about God and instead of worshiping and serving the Creator they become idolaters which leads to defiled hearts, degraded passions, and a depraved mind.
But now in Romans 2:1-29 the apostle Paul turns his attention to the Hebrew and shows that he also is without excuse because he too is under sin. As Paul has developed the sinfulness of the heathen and established the truth that the heathen rightly deserve the wrath of God, he anticipated a loud amen from the Hebrews – from those who had God special revelation and not just His general revelation. This would be what Paul would begin with to establish the truth of the guilt of the Hebrews and that they too needed the gospel.
In Romans 2:1-5 the apostle Paul gave three evidences that established the guilt of the Hebrews before God and therefore they too are without excuse.
The first evidence of the guilt of the Hebrews was hypocrisy (2:1-3).
A judgmental attitude proves the guilt of people who judge others when they don’t even live up to the standards by which they hold others accountable – and yet the judgmental hypocritical person shows that he or she knows enough of God’s standards to have also made an accurate assessment of his or her own condition before God. If one has enough knowledge to judge others he has enough knowledge to judge himself rightly. This is exactly the warning of Matthew 7:1 – “Do not judge lest you be judged.” If men would make it their business to judge themselves rightly and not others then they would see their need for forgiveness, would confess their sins, and receive God’s only remedy for their sin. That’s why the Bible says that if we would judge ourselves rightly then we would not be judged (1 Corinthians 11:31).
But the problem with religious hypocrites is that they want to hold others accountable to God’s standards while exempting themselves. The self-righteous man who knows God’s Law and God’s righteous judgment is amazingly adept at applying it to everyone but himself. The self-righteous hypocrite falsely calculates his own sinfulness and guilt. The word “suppose” means to calculate or estimate. So the apostle Paul nails the self-righteous man (in this case the Hebrew) to the wall and shows him how unreasonable his calculations really are. Here is a man who has the Word of God and can calculate that others are sinners but that he isn’t; he can calculate that God will judge others for the same sins that he commits but that God will not judge him. So we see that here is a man who thinks that God will judge him by a lower standard and show him favor because of who he is. The self-righteous man expects God to show him partiality in judgment.
So those who pass judgment on others and practice the same sins themselves are proven to be sinners because they are proven to be hypocrites. There are sins of the flesh – which were mostly catalogued in chapter one and there are sins of the spirit – hypocrisy which is catalogued here in chapter two. Sins of the spirit bring greater judgment because they are committed under greater knowledge and greater light. Sins of the spirit called down our Lord’s severest condemnations while He was on earth.
The Hebrews were condemning the Gentiles and practicing the very things they condemned in the Gentiles. They thought they were free from God’s judgment because they had God’s Word and were God’s chosen people. However, God’s judgment is righteous and according to truth. He does not have two standards of judgment – one for the Gentiles and another for the Hebrews – so in judging the Gentiles the Hebrews were guaranteeing their own judgment on the same basis.
The second evidence of the guilt of the Hebrews was presumption (2:4).
God had given the Hebrews many blessings and God had been very patient with them and this should have brought the Hebrews to repentance but instead it caused them to become presumptuous. It is not the judgment of God but the goodness of God that leads men to repentance. However men in their sinfulness take the goodness of God as a sign that they are pleasing to Him or that He owes them something.
When we know that we rightly deserve God’s wrath and that He hasn’t given that to us yet but instead has given us His kindness and tolerance and patience, we should be moved to repentance over God’s goodness in light of our badness – and that especially when we see that God in His goodness has given His only Son as an atoning sacrifice to pay our sin debt in order that He can forgive us – while we were yet sinners.
The self-righteous hypocrite thinks lightly of or thinks down on the riches of God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience. This means that because he overestimates his own righteousness, the self-righteous underestimates and presumes upon God’s goodness. The purpose of the kindness of God is not to excuse men of their sin but to convict them of it and lead them to repentance.
The third evidence of the guilt of the Hebrews was unrepentance (2:5).
The person who because of stubbornness and an unrepentant heart, judges others but not himself and presumes upon the goodness of God is storing up wrath for himself in the day of wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God. Stubbornness translates “sklerotes” which literally refers to hardness and is the word from which we get the medical term, “sclerosis.” Arteriosclerosis refers to the hardening of the arteries and so here the Holy Spirit was speaking to the self-righteous, presumptuous Hebrew as a hard-hearted man who refused to repent.
Much more dangerous than clogged and hardened arteries in the physical heart is the clogged and hardened spiritual heart that has become unresponsive and insensitive to God through the hardening by the deceitfulness of sin. Men with bad, hardened, or stubborn hearts need new hearts – and spiritually speaking this is the condition of all men. This is why we must preach the gospel to all men because this is how God removes the heart of stone and gives a heart of flesh in its place.
To stubbornly and unrepentantly refuse God’s gracious pardon of sin through Jesus Christ is to store up wrath for oneself in the day of wrath and righteous judgment of God. The righteous judgment of God is inescapable and men who are not forgiven through Jesus Christ as their substitute can never escape the wrath of God for their sins.
Self-righteous, presumptuous people have a stubborn and unrepentant heart and although they believe that all will be well with them on judgment day – they are wrong!