The Unrighteousness of Man

 •  28 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Chapters 1:18–3:20
Chapters 1:18–3:20 form the first sub-division in the epistle. The purpose of the teaching in this section is to prove that all men are hopelessly lost and are in need of a Saviour. Thus, it is occupied with revealing the unrighteousness of man in the most convincing way. The Apostle carefully explains in detail why men need the good news presented in the gospel—which will be unfolded in chapters 3:21–5:11. This sub-division is important because if men do not see their true condition and the danger that they are in, they will not see their need of receiving God's remedy in Christ the Saviour.
Rome was where Caesar’s throne was, and where the empire’s supreme court was located. It was considered the right of every Roman citizen that, if he were under some charge, he could appeal to Caesar, and thus he could have his case tried before the highest court in the empire (Acts 25:11-1211For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar. 12Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? unto Caesar shalt thou go. (Acts 25:11‑12)). Since the people in Rome were familiar with the whole procedure, Paul uses it as a backdrop for his presentation of the gospel that he preached. In the following chapters, he shows that all men are under the charge of having sinned and have been summoned to God's court in regard to how they have lived in this world. In a masterly way, Paul brings the whole world before God’s bar and shows that all are guilty and under the sentence of divine judgment because “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (chap. 3:23).
As mentioned, the Apostle does not begin with the good news of the gospel, which declares what God can do for man's blessing, but begins by emphasizing man’s need of the good news. In these chapters, Paul shows that man has no righteousness of his own. Not only has he ruined himself through sin, but also, there is nothing that he can do to save himself from his ruined condition. Hence, if anyone is going to be saved, it must be by what God does for man—not by what man can do for himself or for God. This part of the epistle, therefore, lays the groundwork for a person’s reception of the good news of the gospel.
Since it is ever the way of God to produce a sense of need in souls before meeting it in grace, Paul proceeds to give us the bad news about the human race before he comes in with the good news of the gospel. Thus, chapters 1:18–3:20 reveal the unrighteousness of man, and then chapters 3:21–5:11 declare the righteousness God.
The Three Great Sectors of the Human Race Are Under the Sentence of Divine Judgment
Chapter 1:18 stands as a heading for this sub-division regarding the unrighteousness of man. It mentions three aspects of man’s depravity, which correlate with the three sectors of the whole human race in which Paul is about to divide mankind. He shows that the wrath of God is against:
•  “All ungodliness”—This is a reference to the morally degraded heathen—i.e. the pagan world. This will be taken up in chapter 1:19-32.
•  “The unrighteousness of men”—This is a reference to the civilized Greek—i.e. the educated, cultured world. This will be taken up in chapter 2:1-16.
•  “Them that hold the truth in unrighteousness”—This is a reference to the enlightened Jew. This will be taken up in chapters 2:17–3:8.
Thus, Paul divides the human race into major categories that correspond to the degree of light that each have had from God. In doing so, he indirectly answers the often-asked question, “What about those who have never heard—will they perish in a lost eternity?” The answer is that there is no such class of persons in the world who have never heard. All have had some light (testimony) from God, regardless of when or where they have lived on earth. Therefore, all men ought to know that there is a God and that they are responsible to Him. Hence, all are “without excuse.” It’s true that not all have been privileged to hear "the Gospel of the Grace of God" which presents Christ the Saviour and His atoning work on the cross (Acts 20:2424But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God. (Acts 20:24)), but all have had some testimony from God, and it makes them accountable to Him (chap. 14:12).
As mentioned, people in these three great sectors of the human race have had varying degrees of light, and therefore, varying degrees of responsibility. He shows that:
•  The “heathen” have the witness of creation (chap. 1:20).
•  The “Greek” has the witness of creation and the witness of an enlightened conscience (chap. 2:15).
•  The “Jew” has the witness of creation, the witness of conscience, and the witness of the oracles of God—the Old Testament Scriptures (chap. 3:2).
(We do not mean to imply that the degraded heathen are without conscience, but because they live in such moral and spiritual darkness, their consciences do not work to any significant degree. The function of a man’s conscience is similar to the function of his eyes—both need light. A person may have 20/20 vision, but if he goes into a dark place where there is no light, his eyes will not work. Similarly, since the degraded heathen live in moral and spiritual darkness, their consciences do not function properly.)
In the following chapters, Paul piles proof upon proof, evidence upon evidence, and Scripture upon Scripture to demonstrate the solemn fact that both, by nature and by practice, the whole human race is utterly ruined and depraved, and consequently, under the sentence of God’s just judgment. If men do not respond to the various witnesses that God has given of Himself—be it in creation or be it in the full light of the gospel of Christ—they will be judged according to the degree of light that they have had. Even within each of these three great sectors, men have had varying degrees of light. For instance, someone who has read much of the Word of God (the Holy Scriptures) but has rejected it, is more responsible than someone who has read only a limited amount of the Word, but also rejects it. Similarly, someone in the Christian profession who has heard the gospel many times, but has rejected it, is certainly more responsible than someone who has heard and rejected it only a few times (Luke 12:47-4847And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:47‑48)). This principle is found throughout Scripture and it shows that God is just.
The Uncivilized Gentiles; The Heathen Are Under the Sentence Of Divine Judgment
Chapter 1:19–32
Since God does not judge unjustly, Paul proceeds to give the reason the heathen (the pagan world) are under the sentence of divine judgment. Put simply, they have ignored the revelation of God in creation.
Chap. 1:19-20—The heathen world is under judgment “because what is known of God is manifest among them, God has manifested it to them—for from the creation of the world the invisible things of Him are perceived, being apprehended by the mind through the things that are made, both His eternal power and divinity—so as to render them inexcusable.” The context here shows that Paul is referring to those who are unreached by the gospel of Christ, and thus, know nothing about the finished work of Christ on the cross. God would be unjust to hold these people responsible for not believing the gospel of His grace when they have never heard it! They are under judgment for a different reason—they have ignored the revelation that God has given to them of Himself in creation.
Paul’s use of the word “world” in verse 20 is “cosmos” in the Greek. It literally means “order.” It indicates that the creation has an orderly design to it (which we see everywhere), and thus testifies of the existence of an orderly Designer. Since the creation proves the existence of a Creator, God has clearly revealed Himself to men. Psalm 19:11<<To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David.>> The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handywork. (Psalm 19:1) states, “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth His handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night showeth knowledge.” This shows that the creation has a voice; it is telling us of the glory of God. By looking at the creation (not only the heavens but also the earth) every honest man and woman will know that God exists. It is a limited revelation of God; nevertheless, it is enough to make men responsible to Him “with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:1313Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do. (Hebrews 4:13)). There are three main things that creation teaches us about God:
•  He is all-powerful (Rom. 1:2020For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: (Romans 1:20)“His eternal power and divinity”). Looking at the universe, every sober person will conclude that only Someone with enormous power could bring something so vast into existence.
•  He is all-wise and intelligent (Psa. 147:4-54He telleth the number of the stars; he calleth them all by their names. 5Great is our Lord, and of great power: his understanding is infinite. (Psalm 147:4‑5)“His understanding is infinite”). Looking at the universe, every sober person will conclude that only Someone with amazing intelligence could ever design something so intricate and make it work so perfectly.
•  He is good (Acts 14:1717Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. (Acts 14:17)“He left not Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness”). Looking at the care God has for His creatures, we can rightly conclude that He is a good God. (There are some exceptions; occasionally He allows natural catastrophes, famines, disease, etc., to occur in specific places for specific reasons, but in the big picture, such is not God's normal activity toward His creatures.)
Creation, however, does not tell us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:1616For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)), which is only known through the gospel of God’s grace. But there is enough of a revelation of God in the creation to cause men to fear Him and turn from their unrighteousness. Peter states this fact in Acts 10:3535But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. (Acts 10:35). Speaking of the un-evangelized Gentiles, he said, “In every nation he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him.” Thus, men can and will be delivered from the eternal judgment of their sins if in faith they simply fear God and work righteousness. All such will be safe among the redeemed in heaven, even though they have not heard of Christ's finished work on the cross. This does not mean that people can get to heaven by doing good works, but that if a person has real faith, his faith will evidence itself in works. These believers would not be part of the Church of God which is a special company of blessed persons who have believed the gospel and have been sealed with the Holy Spirit and thereby are part of the body and bride of Christ. But all who believe through the simple witness of creation are part of God's vast "family" (Eph. 3:1515Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named, (Ephesians 3:15)). They have a place of being friends of the Bridegroom (John 3:2929He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. (John 3:29)).
The King James Version (KJV) says: “eternal power and Godhead,” but more properly it should be translated “eternal power and divinity.” The Godhead refers to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The limited revelation of God in creation does not reveal the three Persons in the Godhead; such required the coming of the Son of God into the world to make known this truth (John 1:1818No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him. (John 1:18)).
Paul’s point here, however, is that the heathen have not responded in faith to this revelation of God, and are, therefore, under the sentence of judgment. They are “without excuse” because they have had the witness of creation.
The Consequences of Ignoring the Revelation Of God in Creation
Paul proceeds to show that there are serious moral and spiritual consequences that result when men willfully ignore the revelation that God has given of Himself in creation. He mentions three devastating things that arise among men who have turned their backs on God. These things explain how the heathen have gotten into their depraved condition.
1) Man Turns to Idolatry
(Chap. 1:21-23)—Since the human heart cannot exist in a state of vacuum (it must have an object), Paul shows that, historically, when men have turned their backs on the revelation of God in creation, they turn to idols (false gods) to fill the void. Paul says, “When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were they thankful; but became vain [fell into folly] in their imaginations [thoughts] and their foolish heart [without understanding] was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like unto corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things [reptiles].”
Man began with a certain degree of knowledge of God and a certain degree of nearness to God, but he turned his back on it and a declension began which has taken him far from God morally and spiritually. “Knew” (verse 21) is translated from “ginosko” in the Greek; it refers to outward, objective knowledge. (It is not “oida”—the other word used in the New Testament translated as “know,” which is an inward conscious knowledge gained by having personal experience with the thing in question.) Hence, the knowledge that these heathen had of God was only a superficial thing. And, because it was not mixed with faith, they gave up what they knew of God, and the downward slide away from God began.
Men like to think that the human race has evolved from lower forms of life, but Paul shows here that man has not evolved, but rather, he has devolved—at least morally and spiritually. Man did not start out in a depraved state; it was the result of a process. The heathen have gotten into their present condition of being far from God because their wills were at work. They did not want to see the truth (about God), and consequently, lost their capacity to see it. This teaches us that we cannot turn our backs on God and the light that He has given us without serious consequences—the mind becomes darkened and the downward slide of ignorance that results in idolatry begins.
The Apostle traces the downward progression in which the heathen have gone in their departure from God:
•  They refused to honour God as God—“glorified Him not as God” (vs. 21).
•  They were unthankful of God’s goodness—“neither were they thankful” (vs. 21).
•  They began to speculate about God—they “fell into folly in their thoughts” (vs. 21).
•  They lost the little knowledge they had of God—“their foolish heart without understanding was darkened” (vs. 21).
•  They were lifted up in pride—“professing themselves to be wise” (vs. 22).
•  They became insensible—“became fools” (vs. 22).
•  They turned to idols—“changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image ... ” (vs. 23).
Even after the heathen world turned to idols, the downward slide continued. In their confused state, their thoughts of God steadily declined. First, they worshipped Him as a “man,” then as “birds,” then as “four-footed beasts,” and lastly as “creeping things.” Psalm 115:4-84Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. 5They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not: 6They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not: 7They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat. 8They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them. (Psalm 115:4‑8) says that a person who worships dumb idols becomes as senseless as his idols; he loses his moral and spiritual sensibility. This is exactly what happened to the heathen world. Thus, they became “alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart” (Eph. 4:1818Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: (Ephesians 4:18)). The seriousness of the sin of idolatry is that it is really worshipping demons (Lev. 17:77And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations. (Leviticus 17:7); Psa. 106:3737Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, (Psalm 106:37); 1 Cor. 10:2020But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. (1 Corinthians 10:20)).
There is no record in Scripture of idolatry being practised before the flood. The first recorded mention of it is in Job 31:26-2726If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness; 27And my heart hath been secretly enticed, or my mouth hath kissed my hand: (Job 31:26‑27), where Job says that he would not worship the sun and moon, as other men were doing. Joshua 24:22And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods. (Joshua 24:2) refers to that same general time. It mentions that Terah worshipped other gods in the days before Abram was called out of it. The first mention of actual idols in Scripture is when Rachel stole her father’s images (Gen. 31:30-3530And now, though thou wouldest needs be gone, because thou sore longedst after thy father's house, yet wherefore hast thou stolen my gods? 31And Jacob answered and said to Laban, Because I was afraid: for I said, Peradventure thou wouldest take by force thy daughters from me. 32With whomsoever thou findest thy gods, let him not live: before our brethren discern thou what is thine with me, and take it to thee. For Jacob knew not that Rachel had stolen them. 33And Laban went into Jacob's tent, and into Leah's tent, and into the two maidservants' tents; but he found them not. Then went he out of Leah's tent, and entered into Rachel's tent. 34Now Rachel had taken the images, and put them in the camel's furniture, and sat upon them. And Laban searched all the tent, but found them not. 35And she said to her father, Let it not displease my lord that I cannot rise up before thee; for the custom of women is upon me. And he searched, but found not the images. (Genesis 31:30‑35)).
2) Man Turns to Immorality
(Chap. 1:24-27)—In an act of governmental judgment, as a direct consequence of turning away from the knowledge of God in creation, “God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves ... .even their women did change their natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men [males] with men [males] working that which is unseemly.” This refers to the sin of homosexuality. Letting man go to such degradation was God’s answer to man’s willful departure from the knowledge of God. He let their fallen sin-natures have control over them, and they have degraded themselves.
This shows that if people try to change the truth of God into a lie, and they worship and “serve the creature rather than the Creator” (i.e. idolatry), the whole order of nature is violated, and a moral slide results. It teaches us that apart from the fear of God, there is nothing that will hold in check the evil desires of the human heart. As a rule, when men turn their backs on the light they have had from God, their morals degenerate. This is what has happened to the heathen world, and it explains how they got into their despicable state.
In these verses, Paul mentions that God “gave them up” in three ways:
•  In their “affections”—their souls (vs. 26).
•  In their “mind” (vs. 28).
Thus man—a tri-part being—has been given up to defile his body, his soul, and his spirit. God has left him to taste of the fruit of his sins which he has brought upon himself—“receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet [fit]” (vs. 27).
3) Man Turns to Violence and Social Injustice
(Chap. 1:28-32)—A third consequence of men turning their backs on the knowledge of God in creation is that they began to commit all manner of anti-social sins against their fellow men—violence and injustice, etc. Paul proceeds to give a definitive list of over 20 of these sins. (“Fornication” is in this list in the KJV, but is not in the Greek text because the previous series of verses have already addressed that. These verses are dealing with anti-social sins—e.g. malice, anger, violence, deceit, etc.). The behaviour that the heathen world has degenerated into shows that practical righteousness will not be found among men who do not “like to retain God in their knowledge.”
The Heathen Have Gone Away From God in Three Ways
•  In their theology (sin against God)—idolatry (vss. 21-23).
•  In their morality (sin against their own bodies)—homosexuality (vss. 24-27).
•  In their social life (sin against their fellow men)—violence and corruption (vss. 28-32).
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Thus, in chapter 1, the Apostle has shown conclusively that the heathen are guilty and need to be saved from the penalty of their sins. The beauty of the gospel message—which we will see—is that while the heathen have put themselves in a seemingly hopeless condition, they are not beyond the reach of the grace of God. "God gave them up" to do those vile things, as a governmental judgment (which has to do with time only), but He has not given up on them as far as eternity is concerned—they can still be saved. Paul proceeds to show (in chapters 3:21 to 5:11) that God loves all sinners and He can and does save people out of this class of men. Some of the Corinthians were once of this character and God in grace saved them (1 Cor. 6:9-119Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, 10Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9‑11)). Even if the gospel does not reach them in their lifetime, the heathen have been given enough witness from God in the creation to cause any who have faith to turn away from their sins and “fear God and work righteousness”—whereupon they would be “accepted with Him” and safe from eternal judgment (Acts 10:34-3534Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him. (Acts 10:34‑35)).
The Cultured Gentiles
The Civilized Gentiles Are Under the Sentence
Of Divine Judgment
Chapter 2:1-16
Taking a cross-sectional view of the Gentiles, we can see that not all of them are uncivilized, as described in chapter 1. A large part of the Gentile world is quite civilized and educated, and seemingly morally upright. Lest any of these should think that they are exempt from judgment because outwardly they look better than those in chapter 1, Paul summons this class of men into God’s courtroom. It is now their turn to be examined under the all-seeing eye of God.
Chap. 2:1-16—This civilized class of people look with disgust and abhorrence upon the lewdness of the ignorant pagan world and seemingly distance themselves from it. However, their private lives (and thought life) are really not any holier or cleaner than those whom they condemn. Paul, therefore, rebukes these Gentiles for thinking that they are better than the degraded Gentiles in chapter 1. He says, “Thou art inexcusable O man, whosoever thou art that judgest; for wherein thou judgest another thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things” (vs. 1). These people were doing the same things as those mentioned in chapter 1, but in a context of refinement and outward respectability! It shows us that education and culture do not preserve a person from the indulgence of the flesh. Recognition of evil and judging it in others does not give a person the power to overcome evil in his own life.
The fact that these people are able to pass judgment on the heathen in chapter 1, shows that they know the difference between right and wrong. This means that their conscience (which gives a person the knowledge of good and evil – Genesis 3:55For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. (Genesis 3:5)) is functioning. That being the case, Paul shows that this class of men is actually more guilty than the heathen in chapter 1, because they not only have the witness of creation, but also the witness of “their conscience” (vs. 15). They are more responsible because they have had more light, and therefore, are in danger of greater judgment if they do not respond in faith to these witnesses.
The great consequence of ignoring these witnesses of God (creation and conscience) is that man not only does the things mentioned in chapter 1, but he also becomes critical and self-righteous. He can criticize others for doing evil things, without taking into consideration that he himself has done "the same things" (vss. 1, 3).
It is important to see in these chapters that Paul is not dividing the Gentile world according to the kinds of sins that men do, because both groups of Gentiles commit the same sins. In fact, some of the Jews (the next class of men Paul considers) were doing those things too (1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:4624And there were also sodomites in the land: and they did according to all the abominations of the nations which the Lord cast out before the children of Israel. (1 Kings 14:24)
12And he took away the sodomites out of the land, and removed all the idols that his fathers had made. (1 Kings 15:12)
46And the remnant of the sodomites, which remained in the days of his father Asa, he took out of the land. (1 Kings 22:46)
). Rather, Paul is dividing mankind according to the degree of light that men have been given. The sinners in chapter 2 commit the very same sins as the sinners in chapter 1—the only difference is that they do them in a seemingly civilized manner. Those in chapter 1, on the other hand, do those things in open shame, and often mixed with the ignorant superstitions of idolatry. (This being the case, we would not place the homo-sexual community in America in chapter 1, but in chapter 2. These people live in the context of having been educated and civilized, and are well able to conduct themselves outwardly in society in a seemingly upright way.) It is also important to understand that Paul is not saying that every last person in these categories does every one of the sins that he mentions; he is speaking of what characterizes these classes of people generally. Even within these classes, some have more light than others.
Facts About the Judgment of God
Since these self-righteous, civilized Gentiles have mistaken ideas about justice and judgment, Paul proceeds to lay out some of the great principles of God's judgment.
Vs. 2a—Firstly, God’s judgment is “according to truth.” That is, the standard on which God measures evil and meets out corresponding judgment is according to the truth of what He is in His holy being. Men measure evil by standards that they have set up—which are always declining—but God measures evil by the holiness of His nature.
Vs. 3—Secondly, God’s judgment is inescapable. Paul says, “Thinkest thou ... .that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?” Unless, a person turns to God in repentance, there is no way to escape judgment. Divine justice demands that all sin must be dealt with a “just recompense of reward” (Heb. 2:22For if the word spoken by angels was stedfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just recompence of reward; (Hebrews 2:2)) because “justice and judgment” are the habitation of His throne (Psa. 89:1414Justice and judgment are the habitation of thy throne: mercy and truth shall go before thy face. (Psalm 89:14)).
Vs. 4—Thirdly, God’s judgment is delayed to give space for men to repent. God acts in “forbearance and longsuffering” in connection with the exercise of His judgment, and this proves that He loves sinners and desires that His “goodness” would lead them to “repentance.” The Apostle Peter confirms this, stating that God is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:99The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)). The delay of judgment should not be taken as a sign that God is indifferent to evil, but rather, as a sign of His longsuffering patience.
Repentance is literally to “re-think.” “Pent,” in the Latin, means to muse or to think. (Words like “pensive,” are derived from that same root.) Re-pent, therefore, is to “re-think.” Hence, repentance in a sinner is to have a change of mind about one's course of sin and the passing of his personal judgment on it. The reality of a person’s repentance will be seen in a change of action in his life. This is called “fruit meet for repentance” (Matt. 3:88Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: (Matthew 3:8)).
Chap. 2:5-10a—Fourthly, the judgment of God is treasured up (piled up) for every unrepentant unbeliever “according to his deeds.” This shows us that God does not deal indiscriminately in judgment; it is according to specific things which each person has done. The point here is that the judgment will fit the crime. Lost sinners will not suffer punishment for things they haven’t done; judgment will be meted out “according to their works” (Rev. 20:1212And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. (Revelation 20:12)).
In verses 7-10, Paul sets before us two lifestyles and their respective destinies among the un-evangelized people of the world. One lifestyle, which is lived with simple Godward faith, leads to “eternal life;” the other lifestyle, lived without faith, ends in “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish.” Since faith evidences itself in works (James 2:17-1817Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. 18Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: show me thy faith without thy works, and I will show thee my faith by my works. (James 2:17‑18)), Paul shows that a man’s deeds will give evidence of whether he has faith or not. Even though he has not been reached with the gospel of God’s grace, he will manifest his faith by “patient continuance of good works.” If such “seek” (or live for) “glory and honor and incorruptibility,” they will be granted “eternal life.” The aspect of eternal life here is that which the believer has when he reaches heaven in the glorified state. As a rule, the Apostle Paul speaks of "eternal life" as something which the believer gets at the end of his path (Rom. 2:7; 5:21; 6:237To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: (Romans 2:7)
21That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:21)
23For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
; 1 Tim. 6:12, 1912Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses. (1 Timothy 6:12)
19Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life. (1 Timothy 6:19)
; Titus 1:2; 3:72In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began; (Titus 1:2)
7That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:7)
). The Apostle John, on the other hand, speaks of "life eternal," which is the present possession of life in the Son of God (1 John 5:11-1311And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. 13These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:11‑13)), which is distinctly a Christian blessing. It is a special character of divine life, which Christians have by faith (John 3:15-16, 3615That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:15‑16)
36He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him. (John 3:36)
) through the indwelling Spirit (John 4:1414But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:14)), by which they enjoy fellowship with the Father and the Son (John 17:33And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 17:3)).
By mentioning “continuance,” Paul is indicating that these "good works" are not an occasional thing (which even an unbeliever may do), but the general character of their lives, as evidence of their faith. Paul is not teaching that a person can get to heaven by doing good works; it would be contrary to the whole tenor of his teaching (See Romans 4:4-54Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. 5But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. (Romans 4:4‑5); Ephesians 2:8-98For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2:8‑9); Titus 3:55Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; (Titus 3:5).) These are not works which a sinner may try to do to be accepted by God, but works that a person who has faith does because he is born again, which give evidence that he has faith. Note: Paul does not say that these people (who have faith) look for a life together with the Lord Jesus Christ in heaven on account of having believed that He died for them on the cross, because he is considering those who are unreached by the gospel of God’s grace. All such do not know the good news concerning Christ, but their end will be eternal life (vs. 7).
He says that those among the un-evangelised Gentiles who are “contentious” and “do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness” will have “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish” executed on them by God. This, he says, will be the portion of “every soul that doeth evil” and will not repent. Again, the “truth” that Paul is referring to here (which these people reject) is not the truth of the gospel of God’s grace, but the truth about God as revealed in creation and in the consciences of men. We see from this that there is enough evidence in the witness of creation and in the witness of man’s conscience to justly condemn men to a lost eternity, if they reject that truth.
Chap. 2:10b-11—Fifthly, the judgment of God is without partiality. Paul says, “There is no respect of persons with God” (vs. 11). Whether a person is a “Jew” or a “Gentile [Greek],” judgment will fall on all who do evil. The Jew will not escape because he is a privileged person (Deut. 7:6-7; 14:26For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth. 7The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: (Deuteronomy 7:6‑7)
2For thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth. (Deuteronomy 14:2)
), nor will the Gentile be able to plead that he is a poor, ignorant person who doesn't know any better, and therefore, he should be excused. These things will not influence God in His just judgment of sinners.
Chap. 2:12-15—Sixth, God’s judgment will be according to the measure of light that a person has received. Paul said, “For as many as have sinned without the law shall also perish without the law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.” Obviously, those who have had God’s Law (the Old Testament Scriptures) have had more light than those who have never read or heard the Word of God. This difference will be taken into account in the day of judgment, and those who have had the Law will be judged by its higher standard. The Lord said, “That servant which knew his lord’s will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes” (Luke 12:47-4847And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. 48But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more. (Luke 12:47‑48)). Thus, in the clearest language, the Lord taught that the judgment of sinners will be graduated according to each person’s degree of guilt.
Then, in a parenthesis in verses 13-15, Paul explains that even though the Gentiles haven’t had the Law, it doesn’t mean that they are excused. He says that when Gentiles “do by nature the things contained in the Law,” they demonstrate the work of the Law written in their hearts. This inward witness, in a sense, is “a law unto themselves.” It is not that the Law of Moses is written in their hearts, but that “the work of the Law” is there because their consciences have given them the knowledge of good and evil. A person, therefore, does not need to have a formal law telling him that it is wrong to murder, steal, and commit adultery, etc., before he knows that those things are wrong. The Creator has written indelibly in their hearts how they ought to live as responsible, moral beings, and their consciences bear witness to it.
Hence, besides having the witness of creation, all such cultured Gentiles also have this inward witness (their conscience) working in their “thoughts” enabling them to know the rightness or the wrongness of their actions. They were “accusing or else excusing one another,” and this proved that their consciences have given them a moral standard to judge each other, as seen in verse 1. This fact proved that their consciences were operating, and it made them more responsible than the heathen in chapter 1 whose consciences did not work to the same degree.
A Summary of Facts Concerning the Judgment of God
•  It is according to the truth (vs. 2).
•  It is inescapable (vs. 3).
•  It is delayed in order to give sinners opportunity to repent (vs. 4).
•  It is accumulated according to the deeds sinners have done (vss. 5-10).
•  It is without partiality (vs. 11).
•  It will be meted out according to the measure of light that a person has had (vss. 12-15).
•  The Judge is the Lord Jesus Christ (vs. 16).
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Thus, in chapter 2:1-16, the Apostle has shown conclusively that the cultured Gentiles in this world (the Greek) are as lost as the uncivilized Gentiles (the heathen). Both are in need of God’s salvation.