Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
Introduction and Recap
In the last chapter, we saw that mankind is a wicked and sinful race. Though we have been created by God, blessed with a spirit unique among the creatures of the earth, and shown in both our innermost hearts and our observation of the world the realities of our Lord, we shun him and reject him. Thinking ourselves wise, we have become fools, for we have replaced God in our hearts and minds with those things he has created.
When we displace God, we become depraved creatures. We harm one another, we harm ourselves, and we mock the very God who gives us life and sustains us.
Yet God is merciful, and we have already seen that the Gospel (that is, the good news from our God through Jesus Christ’s teachings, death for our sins, and resurrection to show power over death) is the power of salvation. It gives to us righteousness and understanding that we could not ever have apart from Christ.
So we continue.
1 Therefore 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.
2 But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.
3 And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?
4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
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.
12 For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;
13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
14 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
15 Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
17 Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,
18 And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;
19 And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,
20 An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.
21 Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?
22 Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?
23 Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?
24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.
25 For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.
26 Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?
27 And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?
28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:
29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
We have already seen that we are all wicked and depraved peoples. We do all manner of abominable things, though we do quibble amongst our wicked selves about what is most wicked. But when we see someone doing something wicked, we tend to judge them, which is to not only discern their evil but condemn them for the same.
But they are not alone in that evil, for we do the same things. Though we may not have committed murder, not a one of us has not had such a thought, an impulse from our wicked hearts. We condemn them for the same things that live within us; it’s like excommunicating one girl with herpes while the entire population (including you) has sores on their faces.
Our God, however, is not sinful as we are, and so his judgment is most just. For not only does he have the fullness of the law, but he also has not trespassed against it as we have. He will judge all people according to their sins, and none will stand against that judgment.
Yet, we have been saved, have we not? We have been given a gift of mercy which we could never deserve, for there is no condition we can have to justify our sins against God. Christ alone has bought for us salvation, and Christ alone has given that gift to us freely, while we were still sinners who hated him. We must live in gratitude for this gift and humility in our unworthiness, and so judge not the sinners among us.
Now, this does not mean that we do not discern good from evil. Indeed, we can do no good unless we can know it from evil, and we cannot correct and restore our brothers when they sin unless we can know sin from righteousness. But we do all things in the memory of what Christ has done for wretched sinners – we seek to restore and correct in love, not condemn.
According to their Deeds
God is righteous and just. Whatever we do deserve, that we shall receive If we do good works in His name, He will bless us, but if we do wickedness we will reap destruction.
Psychologists and spiritualists talk about their own versions of karma – often wicked people are plagued by hatred both from without and from within. Self-destruction is a cycle, as is self-improvement. This is but one way God gives to us what we deserve, and it is so often overlooked in today’s world that goodness brings its own rewards, and evil brings its own calamities. The distribution may not be immediate, but it always comes to us because we live under a just God. (However, as all men are wicked, we all suffer justly. This is also justice from God, and while we may not be able to see how he distributes justice we can be certain all will be repaid according to their deeds.
It is important for us all to note that God does not give special protection from justice to anyone. Even in Christ, we do not have special protection because of ourselves but because the destruction for our sins has already been fulfilled in Christ. So it is that the Jew and the non-Jew will be judged on the same standard, and the White and the Black, and the Wise and the Fool. (This is important because the Jews were long “God’s Chosen People,” and so have deluded themselves into thinking their blood protects them from God’s righteousness. This same can easily occur in any nationalist group.)
Judged By the Law
The Jews have had the Law passed down from Moses (and compounded by the rabbis and teachers of the law – Jesus rebuked this practice vociferously), but the Gentiles classically did not. Even without the Law of Moses, the Gentiles had about as much good and evil among them as the Jews, and they suffered in the same ways as the Jews in punishment for transgression. And all men die, which is punishment for original sin and our sinful flesh that continues to live in wickedness.
How can Gentiles live according to the Law without possessing it? It is no accident, for God has written this law on the hearts of men, so that we can know good from evil and righteousness from wickedness. A man does not need the Ten Commandments to know not to murder, steal, or dishonor his parents, because that law is given to all men. (This is why it’s foolish to ask the Atheist why he does good without a God over him – he does not know why he has this law, but he does have it).
It is no salvation to simply know what the Law says; you must obey it. When a heathen does what is good and right, he is rewarded the same as a Christian; when a heathen does wickedness, he is rewarded the same as a Christian. The only protection we have is the mercy of Christ, which protects us from destruction but not from chastisement.
Possessing the Law
To be a Jew is to be more than blood of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (though it is possible that many Jews lack this blood-tie to these sons of Shem). The Jews are given a covenant of the Law, and they are charged with keeping and teaching it. Not only do they have the Law in their hearts (as all men), but they have the law written plainly before them. This Old Testament is their protection and their condemnation, for they live and die under the Law.
They are confident of the covenant. They have studied the Scriptures and know the word of God, most particularly the Law of Moses, which shows to them God’s will. They are guides and teachers for the world, able to dispense God’s command to the fool and the wise.
Yet it is no salvation to know the Law; one must obey that law. If the Jew, having the Law to guide and protect him, commits a sin, he is condemned by that same Law with which he guides and condemns others. This hypocrisy is a greater sin still, for they not only have sinned under the Law but have blasphemed God’s name in the process (for no one has confidence in a hypocrite).
This same condemnation rings true for the Christians, for we also possess the Law. If we condemn others for sins we also commit, we make ourselves hypocrites and liars in the eyes of the believers and unbelievers alike. So it is that we may discern sin, but we must always speak in love and humility. We are sinful creatures with or without the Law, and all we may do is deliver the words of our Lord even if they condemn ourselves as deeply as others. For example, we who say that homosexuality is a sin (which it is) must say only that God says it to be sin, and God has the power to deliver us from both the consequences of and the temptations toward sin. In this way, when challenged on our own sins, we may say without hypocrisy that we are sinners as well, and we need this same salvation to deliver us.
A Jew Inwardly
Much is made in Judaism about circumcision, for it is a keystone to the covenant of Abraham. This act sets the Jew apart for God as surely as the blood of Abraham. But even in circumcision, the Law is not mocked and justice is upheld.
Paul lays out clearly that circumcision is not a ritual that brings salvation, but a symbol of salvation. If a Gentile who is uncircumcised does good, he will profit, and if a Jew who is circumcised does evil, he will reap calamity. There is no power in the removal of a man’s foreskin. (As a side note, some argue that it is wrong to circumcise an infant male. In a religious sense, it resembles the question of infant baptism, but on an ethical level it remains to be deeply debated in a meaningful way.)
Instead, Paul advocates the circumcision of the heart. While he will go into greater detail in the next chapter, what he says here is that circumcision of the heart is like baptism of the Holy Spirit – it is a divine act of God that reforms the spirit of wicked man into Godliness in the process we call sanctification.
Let us Pray
O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, our eternal home. We thank you that You are our God, and we praise you for your justice and mercy to us wretched creatures of sin.
Give us understanding, Lord, for the sake of Your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord, who has made atonement for us and brought us to repentance. We fall prostrate before you in fear and trembling, for we know our wretchedness and wickedness is not hidden from You, the great giver of Justice. We know that we, of ourselves, deserve all punishment and wrath for our continuing assaults on Your will. No act of man can save us from you, for you are above all things and have dominion over all of creation.
Even so, Lord, we know that we have received a great gift from you who we once called our enemy and rejected. For You have sent Your Son to die in our place, and in His death we are redeemed and made to be called Children of God. We who were dead are now alive, and for that you rightly deserve our unending love and devotion.
Forgive our failures to live in accordance with the love you have shown us. Strengthen us to do your will. Reveal to us at all times and places what we are to do, and compel us to do it so that we are not held back by our sinful flesh.
We ask all these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, who now sits at your right hand. For we know that whatever we ask in His name we shall receive in accordance with your will, and not because of our station but because of your love.
If you have any questions or further thoughts on this chapter, write them below. Otherwise, I strongly encourage you to meditate on this Scripture and consider other Scriptures that relate to it.