Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man – you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself – that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. – Romans 2:1-5 ESV
Paul was writing to the church in Rome and, like many of the churches in those days, it was made up of converted Gentiles and Jews. Chapter one seemed to be addressed to the former pagans or Gentiles. He wrote that he wished to come visit them so that he might “reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles” (Romans 1:13 ESV). He made it clear to them that, like all men, prior to their conversion, they had been without excuse. They had been given the natural or general revelation of God in His creation. He had made His “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1:20 ESV) clearly perceived to all men. Yet, like all men, they had rejected God’s revelation of Himself and had chosen to worship the creation rather than the Creator. And it had been the gospel that had revealed to them God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes. They had discovered that the kind of righteousness God requires was available only through faith in His Son. They had once been under God’s wrath for their dishonor and disregard of Him. They had been given up by God to reap the consequences of their darkened hearts and foolish choices. And the city of Rome was still filled with tens of thousands of people living according to “the lie.”
But now, Paul turns his attention to another group within the church. We might just describe them as the self-righteous religious snobs – those who were quick to consider themselves as better than the pagans Paul had described. More than likely, Paul was speaking directly to the Jews who had accepted Christ as their Savior and Messiah. When they heard Paul describe those whom God had given up, they more than likely excluded themselves from that list. They considered themselves God’s chosen people. They were descendants of Abraham, the recipients of the covenant and promises of God. But Paul makes it clear that, they too, are without excuse. In fact, to a certain degree, the Jews were even more culpable because they had been given special revelation from God. He had revealed Himself to Abraham. He had given His covenant promises to Abraham. He had rescued them out of captivity in Egypt. He had given them the law through Moses. He had provided for them the sacrificial system as a means of receiving forgiveness for their sins and to allow them to maintain a right relationship with Him. He had given them the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem as places where His holy presence would dwell and they could meet with Him. And yet, throughout their history, the Jews had continually sinned against Him. They had known, without a shadow of a doubt, that God existed and they were fully aware of His divine expectations on them, but they had been incapable of keeping God’s law or of remaining faithful to Him.
In spite of all of this, the Jews of Paul’s day had become self-righteous and prideful because of their unique relationship with God. Their attitude had become like that of the Pharisee in the parable that Jesus had told. “The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector!’” (Luke 18:11 NLT). Because they were descendants of Abraham, they somehow thought of themselves as better than the rest of humanity. But Paul warns them, “in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” (Romans 2:1 ESV). They stood just as guilty as the pagans. They could not point their fingers and claim to be exempt from the list of sins listed in Romans 1:29-31. They could not afford to consider themselves as somehow better than the rest
We can’t forget the fact that this entire letter is ultimately about the gospel, “the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16 ESV). It is about “the righteousness of God … revealed from faith for faith” (Romans 1:17 ESV). Paul’s whole point in these opening chapters of his letter is to prove that no one stands before God as righteous. They are all without excuse, whether they are Gentiles or Jews. In fact, a little later on in his letter, Paul writes, “Well then, should we conclude that we Jews are better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. As the Scriptures say, ‘No one is righteous – not even one’” (Romans 3:9-10 ESV). Righteousness is not man-made, it is God-given. It is based on faith, not works. It has nothing to do with human merit, but on God’s mercy and grace. Paul wanted the Jews to know that they had been recipients of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience. The fact that they still existed as a people had to do with God’s covenant promises, not their faithfulness or righteousness. He had continually rescued them from their own self-destructive tendencies in order that He might fulfill His promise to send the Messiah as a descendant of David. And when Jesus had showed up on the scene as the Messiah, He had called the people of Israel to repentance. And Paul says that God’s kindness, in the form of the Messiah was meant to lead them to repentance. Yet Paul has to tell them, “But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath” (Romans 2:5 ESV). Why? Because the Jews were failing to recognize their own sinfulness and their need for a Savior. In pointing their finger at the sins of the pagans, they were missing the whole point. No one is righteous, no, not one.