We have already been studying and learning about the righteous judgment of God based on the deeds of men. How God will render a righteous and accurate judgment based on a person’s lifestyle. We saw how this truth does not establish salvation by works but establishes the truth that those who are saved practice righteousness because of the work of the gospel in their lives. We are saved by faith alone but saving faith is not alone! If we have been saved by the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ then we keep His commandments because of our love for Him as a result of His love for us. We love and obey Him because He first loved us and gave Himself up for us.
Now we come to this next portion in our studies and arrive at the truth that not only is God’s judgment righteous, it is also impartial. Now we must consider the truth that if God’s judgment is righteous that it must also be impartial. How can any judgment be righteous that shows partiality?
This is why in the book of James we read, “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil motives? Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you and personally drag you into court? Do they not blaspheme the fair name by which you have been called? If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors” (James 2:1-9).
Partiality means literally “to receive face,” that is to give consideration to a person because of who he is. So partiality is giving a favorable bias based on some prejudiced motive. God’s judgment is righteous and therefore will be impartial. God isn’t going to give anyone an advantage because of his or her intellectual insight, social standing, economic efficiency, ruling reputation, or highborn heritage. That is why we read this sobering truth – “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds” (Revelation 20:11-12).
Since there is no partiality with God then neither heathen nor Hebrew will be shown any favoritism in either salvation or condemnation. God isn’t going to let the heathen slide because he did not have the Law and neither is He going to let the Hebrew slide because he did have the Law. Now this would come as a shock to many of Paul’s Jewish readers because they would have considered themselves deserving of special treatment because they were God’s chosen people entrusted with special revelation of God’s holy nature as revealed in God’s holy Law given to Moses.
Also to many of Paul’s Gentile readers the news that they would still be guilty before God without having had God’s special revelation of His Law would have come as a shock. They might have wondered how God could hold them responsible and not show them special treatment because of their ignorance of God’s written Law. However, the apostle Paul has already established the truth that all men everywhere are without excuse because they have knowledge of God’s holy character through both what has been created and through the inner conscience.
So let’s take a look at the impartial judgment of God on both groups – the heathen and the Hebrew.
First of all, the heathen who have sinned without the Law will perish without the Law (2:12a).
Paul here was appealing to the truth that the heathen have enough revelation of the Holy character of God through creation as well as the witness of right and wrong in their hearts and consciences and therefore are able to sin and know that it is sin without having God’s written Law. This is the truth that Paul established in 2:14-15 – “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively/by nature the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their consciences bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them.”
Not being able to live up to what they know is right but instead doing that which they know to be wrong makes those without God’s written Law accountable and guilty before God. Wherever you go you find people with an inner sense of right and wrong and a sense of sin because of not always living up to that which is right. Therefore, because of the light that they do have, the heathen who have sinned without the Law will perish without the Law.
The word “perish” pertains to destruction. It is referring to that which is ruined and no longer usable for its intended purpose. Therefore there is only one place suitable for such an object – the garbage dump. This garbage dump was referred to by the Lord Jesus Christ as Hell and the term He used was Gehenna (the garbage dump of Jerusalem where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched –Mark 9:48). It is the place of everlasting ruin, eternal torment, and unending death.
All sinners, whether sinning against a little or a lot of knowledge of God, must be saved through the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ or else perish in their sins. This is why we must proclaim the Gospel for it and it alone is the only remedy for sinful mankind.
Next we read, “And all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law” (2:12b).
The Hebrew who had God’s written Law and sinned knowing God’s righteous character and standards will be judged by the Law. Those who have and know God’s written Law are under greater responsibility and therefore greater condemnation for their greater knowledge. God does not show partiality and therefore those with greater privileges have greater responsibility and will incur a stricter judgment. Though all unbelieving and unrepentant sinners will be in hell, the hottest part of hell will be reserved for those who have wasted the greatest opportunity.
The Hebrews supposed that because they had God’s Law and were hearers of God’s Law listening to it proclaimed and explained that they were better off than their heathen counterparts and that God would show them special favor because of it. However, the apostle made it clear that it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified (2:13). Now don’t let this verse throw you for a loop! Paul is not saying that we are justified by works of the Law – he is establishing the truth that no one can live up to the Law and therefore those who have God’s Law and are under God’s Law will be judged by the Law. This truth should immediately bring anyone who knows God’s Law to know that he or she cannot keep God’s Law and therefore he or she needs a Savior. Therefore the doers of the Law are those who come to God in repentance and faith, realizing that His Law is impossible for them to keep but that His Son did keep it and died to pay our penalty of not keeping it so that we could be justified by faith in His blood.
This is the purpose of God’s Law - to define sin and show that we are sinners and cannot do good because we are not good. If righteousness comes through the Law then Christ died needlessly (Galatians 2:21). And if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed be based on law (Galatians 3:21). So those who have the Law and know the Law should also know beyond any shadow of doubt that they are sinners and in need of a Savior. The Law is to lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24).
And finally we read, “On the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus” (2:16).
Some men may be outwardly moral for the most part but still inwardly immoral. Many do not commit certain sins for fear of the consequences although they would have committed those sins if there had been no consequences. We are told that we are going to be judged by the law of liberty (James 2:12) – what we would have done that our hearts wanted to do if we had been at liberty to do them. God knows our secret intentions and will judge us accordingly.
Do we need a Savior who has never sinned in thought or deed to pay our debt and free us from sin’s penalty?