Chapter one established why Paul was so eager to preach the gospel of God the Son, Jesus of Nazareth—because God’s just wrath has been poured out, revealed, toward the creature (humans, and the whole created order) because humanity exchanged God’s glory, righteousness and truth for a lie, unrighteousness and perversion. Rebellion is thus justly judged and God unfolds this truth through the behavior in which image bearers choose to revel.
In this section (Vv.1-16) Paul continues to explain why God’s wrath is not only just, but as such, is also impartial (both Jew and Greek—all people—are under condemnation), calling everyone to account. He begins by stating:
“Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.”
First, note that the “therefore” references his previous argument in chapter 1:24 and further to verse 18, where “God’s wrath is revealed”. This wrath, as previously noted, is just because men rebelled knowingly, not in ignorance. That is why the text three times repeats the phrase, “God gave them over” (Vv.24, 26, 28). This seems to demonstrate the culpability of the creature and the rightness of the judge’s sentence.
Second, those passing judgment are justly condemned because they don’t practice what they preach. This is not righteousness but unrighteousness. It’s not the obedience of faith but the disobedience of wickedness. And, it seems to be directed at Jews who pride themselves in having the very Law they break! How? They break it by not bowing to Jesus—the author and fulfillment of that Law.
Paul here assures the reader that merely hearing the word without doing it is unrighteousness and God justly condemns that also. These are storing up wrath for themselves on the day God rewards each person according to their deeds (Vv.3-6). Thus, up to this point, rebellion by the creature has brought just wrath from the Creator and a final day of judgment awaits us all. What will this day bring to people?
“ 7to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; 8 but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.”
In other words, those who submit to the gospel of Christ will receive eternal life, but those who reject it will receive their just damnation. How did I come to that conclusion? Only those who are just (1:17) live by faith or trust in the God of creation. This faith produces the fruit of obedience (however imperfectly) toward the Son of God which is evidenced in the refusal of the creature to exchange the glory of the incorruptible God for a false god (1:23). These obey the truth unlike the unrighteous who suppress it (1:18, 23).
A word on suppressing the truth: while this marks the non-believers bent, even believers at times fall into this pit of sin. It’s not that a believer can’t and won’t from time to time suppress the truth of God in unrighteousness, it’s that now as God’s adopted child, their life is not bent toward this, but toward honoring the one true God and Jesus Christ whom He sent.
Paul explains that the object of our worship determines whether eternal life or wrath awaits. If the Creator is worshipped, then life eternal results, but if the creature is adored, then eternal condemnation is the end. This day awaits all humanity—Jew and Greek alike and each one will be recompensed accordingly by the impartial God of creation (2:9-11).
He continues his thought on our recompense and affirms that whether or not one has the Law, they will be judged for the light they possess (2:12-15):
“16on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.”
The apostle’s gospel is rife with the Day of Judgment. All is not well for the hearer. Much introspection is called for to both Jew and Gentile alike. This reminds us of the obedience of faith (1:5) which is Paul’s aim among the Gentiles. It’s a life energized by the living God which causes a life to be bent toward him.
God is not partial, judgment awaits us all (Jew and Gentile). Therefore, we should take another look at our lives and see if it comports with Paul’s gospel. Here, the lip and life match. If they don’t, we should repent and receive God’s mercy. (SDG)