Romans 2:5-11 Commentary and application
5 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; 6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds: 7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life: 8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, 9 Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; 10 But glory, honour, and peace, to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: 11 For there is no respect of persons with God.
There could be a whole book written about this section of Romans. My goal is to provide you with a brief, simple explanation that would lead you to a deeper understanding of what Paul is saying here and hopefully seeing how this applies to our life as Christians.
We must first of all remember that no scripture is meant to be taken in a vacuum. We are always to consider the context of what is around the verses we are reading and what the bible says as a whole about the topic addressed.
In the previous chapter Paul set out to show how the gentile world, that did not have the scriptures, was still accountable to God for their actions and unbelief. At the beginning of chapter 2 Paul turns his attention to the Jews, or people that do have a bible (and God’s law). Paul has already proven that the gentiles are guilty before God but now he is going to show the Jews, many of whom were puffed up with pride against the gentiles, that they too were guilty before God. He says that they do the very things they judge the gentiles for doing (2:1) and this shows their utter hypocrisy. Paul says that this reveals their prideful and arrogant heart, one that feels no need for repentance before God. A person with a prideful and arrogant heart is one that is continuously storing up wrath against himself. He thinks that his own righteousness will save him when in fact no one will be saved by the deeds of the law, only condemnation comes by the law (Rom 3:20).
There has been a lot of controversy over these verses throughout years. Many of the cults and false sects of “Christianity” have tried to use these verses to say that our salvation comes by a combination of faith and works. This just goes to show how wicked men will try to twist the scriptures in support of any doctrine they come up with. Paul is NOT addressing HOW people come to salvation here but is addressing the coming judgement of all people according to God’s law. He is laying down a foundation for the topic he will address all the way through the end of chapter 3; that ALL are guilty before God, that no one is found righteous by the law, and that the Jews are just as in need of Christ and His salvation as the gentiles are.
Paul lays out here that there are two groups of people on earth, those who are going to be vessels of wrath (which he gets deeper into in Romans 9:18-24) and there are those who by patiently continuing to do well seek glory and honor from God and will receive eternal life (vessels of mercy in Rom 9:23). We must realize that this thought is something that he spends the rest of Romans expanding on. These two groups, vessels of wrath and vessels of mercy, how they are condemned or saved, what is different between them, why God has saved one group and not the other, is not meant to be summed up here. All he is showing here is that there will be a day when these two groups will get what they “deserve”. The wicked will face wrath and the righteous will be rewarded. We know from many other scriptures that the righteous and their works, and their salvation, are all according to the working of God Himself and that God owes no man salvation but has given it as a gift, through Christ, to His elect (Eph 1:1-2:10, Rom 9, Phil 2:13, Rom 3:9-20 just to point out a few).
In the beginning of chapter 2 Paul is just starting to tear down the pride of the Jews. They thought they were saved because they had the scriptures, because they were from Abraham’s lineage, because they were born in Israel, because the Messiah would come from their race, because they were circumcised, etc., etc. but Paul is stripping all that away and showing them that despite all these things their standing before God is not better than the Gentiles. The scriptures show this to be true, they HAD the law BUT they did not follow it (Rom 3:20), they were born in the physical lineage of Abraham but were not the spiritual children of Abraham (John 8:37, 39-41, 44-47), they were circumcised in flesh but not in heart (Rom 2:28-29), and just because you were a part of physical Israel does not make you a part of the Israel of God (Rom 9:6-8). They could not cling to their physical descent because as God says in verse 11 “there is no respect of persons with God”.
The transition from chapter 1 to chapter 2 can be a wake-up call for us as Christians too (not just for the Jews of Paul’s day). When we get to the end of chapter one it is easy for us to be worked into a frenzy of condemnation against the world around us. We can be pointing to all the sins we see around us and lifting up ourselves in pride against those who are lost. As the chapter says we know that God’s judgement rightly falls on these things BUT do we realize that we have done many of those things in our own lives?
The church has many “hot button sins” today, like homosexuality, that we are very loud in condemning but are we just as loud in condemning ALL sin (like adultery, sex outside of marriage for our young Christians, lying, greed, etc.)? In our condemnation of sin are we forgetting that we too are sinners deserving of judgement and it is only by grace we are saved? Are we allowing ourselves to fall into a legalistic Christianity, turning back to the law to show our own righteousness? I am in no way trying to marginalize sin but instead I am trying to show that we must not become prideful and act as if we are better than the rest of humanity in our righteousness by the law but we must always rely on Christ as our righteousness.
Paul is clear that there will be a day of judgement. How should we live in light of this? Should we think that being in Christ means that we will not have to stand before the judgement seat of God? Do we realize that in 2Cor 5:10 it says, “10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” Does this thought scare you? Why or why not?
As Christians do we fall into the same trap the Jews did? Do we think because our children are born in a “Christian household” that they are automatically saved? Do we spend enough time instilling God’s word in them, reading scripture with them, praying with them, teaching them the ways of God, or do we think that their faith will “just happen on its own” because they are our children?
How should we use this day of judgement in our witness to others? When we preach the gospel do we think people need to understand the condemnation they face, the day of wrath coming, to understand what Jesus really did for them?