Romans 2


Romans 2:1-16

A story is told about a fountain pen salesman who spent an hour with a prosperous merchant commending the use of fountain pens. The salesman was so persuasive that the merchant ordered 500 pens for sale in his stores. As the salesman was writing out the order, the merchant exclaimed, “Hold on, sir! I cancel the order!” With that, the merchant turned to wait on a customer. The salesman left in disgust and confusion. Later, the merchant’s book-keeper asked, “Why did you cancel that fountain pen order?” “Why?” asked the merchant, “Because he talked about fountain pens for an hour, using a number of forcible arguments, and the booked my order with a lead pencil. He did not practice his profession.” And so we have the hypocrite who preaches fountain pens but uses pencils!

“Hypocrite!” Even the sound of the word is unnerving. Nobody likes to be called a hypocrite. Webster tells us that a “hypocrite” is a person who pretends to be what he is not or pretends to be better (more pious and virtuous) than he really is without really being so. A hypocrite is a person who has a problem with his heart and with his hands. A hypocrite has a problem with his heart in that he lives a lie. He is like an actor on a stage assuming another identity. He is not genuine. A hypocrite has a problem with his hands in that he is always accusingly pointing his finger at others. The hypocrite never stops to think that every time he points a finger at others, the other three fingers are pointing back at him.

In Romans 1:18-32, Paul built a case against the heathen by showing that they are in desperate need of the righteousness of God. In Romans 2:1-16, Paul continued to build his case against humanity in an effort to show why all men need to embrace the truth of the gospel. Paul’s case in Romans 2:1-16 is against the hypocrite, especially the proud Jew and cultured Gentile who felt they were not as bad as the people Paul had described in Romans 1:18-32. Paul’s intent in these verses was to show that the self-righteous hypocrite needed the righteousness of God just as much as the most depraved and wicked heathen.

What the Hypocrite Feels: Romans 2:1

According to Romans 2:1, the hypocrite feels that other men’s sins are worse than his own. Paul painted a vivid picture of the descent and depravity of man in Romans 1:18-32. There were many in Paul’s day, as in our own, who read Paul’s letter and said to themselves, “That certainly doesn’t describe me. I am not like that, but I know many people who are!” That is what the hypocrite feels. “They are wicked, but I am not.” The hypocrite has a tendency to compare himself with adulterers, drunkards, homosexuals, prostitutes, and rapists, and then pride himself on his morality, church membership, and respectability. He flatters himself with his own comparisons, never realizing that he is measuring himself against the wrong standard. Like the Pharisee who stood praying in the Temple (see Luke 18:9-14), the hypocrite prays, “God, I thank Thee that I am not like other people; swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax-gatherer. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.”

We noted earlier that the hypocrite has a problem with his heart and his hands. We should add that the hypocrite also has a problem with his head. The hypocrite has a problem with his head because he is blind to his own faults. We have a tendency to see the faults of others much more clearly than our own. The hypocrite has a problem with his head because he forgets his own wrongs and weaknesses. The hypocrite has a problem with his head because he cleverly renames his own wrongs. Other people lie but we merely stretch the truth. Other people steal but we borrow. Other people are prejudiced but we have convictions. Other people are stubborn but we stand on our principles. It is interesting that men have a tendency to observe in others the faults that exist in themselves. The hypocrite is quick to say, “People like that ought to be stoned.” Fortunately Jesus is quick to respond, “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone” (see John 8:1-11).

What the Hypocrite Finds: Romans 2:2-3

According to Romans 2:2-3, the hypocrite finds that he too is guilty and faces the judgment of God. The hypocrite has a tendency to think that God will judge others but not him. He has deluded himself into thinking that somehow God will judge him according to a different standard. The hypocrite is quick to wish that others experience the sad consequences of their sin or receive due punishment for their sin, but often fails to realize that he too will be held accountable for his own sin. Paul wrote in Colossians 3:25, “For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.”

What the Hypocrite Forgets: Romans 2:4

According to Romans 2:4, the hypocrite is one who forgets the purpose of God’s goodness. “The riches of [God’s] kindness and forbearance and patience” are designed to lead men to repentance. God’s goodness and patience should not be misinterpreted as license to do wrong but rather as an opportunity to do right and to get right with God. God’s patience should have caused the hypocrite to repent, but instead, the hypocrite responded in stubbornness and an unrepentant heart. The hypocrite disregarded the kind patience of God and continued to point an accusing finger at others while practicing the same things. This did not go unnoticed by God.

What the Hypocrite Faces: Romans 2:5-16

According to Romans 2:5-16, the hypocrite faces the judgment of God, even as the heathen. Paul wrote of the breadth and basis of God’s judgment in Romans 2:6-10. Regarding the breadth of God’s judgment, it is universal. God will render to “every man” according to his deeds. Regarding the basis of God’s judgment, God will render to every man “according to his deeds.” Judgment in the Bible is according to works and salvation is by faith. God will judge each man according to his works and recompense him accordingly (see Romans 2:7-10) and without partiality (see Romans 2:11). Paul concluded this section by indicating that men will be judged according to the truth (see Romans 2:2), according to their deeds (see Romans 2:5-11), and according to the light they have received (see Romans 2:12-16). One day the hypocrite will be exposed for what he really is. Thus Paul once again demonstrated that men desperately need to hear and embrace the truth of the gospel. The depraved heathen and the smug hypocrite alike are in need of the righteousness of God.

Practical Considerations

Men should measure themselves against the right standard.
One of the hypocrite’s greatest problems is that he measures himself against the wrong standard. The hypocrite measures himself against other people and mistakenly flatters himself by thinking that he is better or more righteous or more moral. Phillips comments, “If people are going to measure themselves by somebody else, then they must measure themselves alongside of Christ; and when they do that, all grounds for hypocrisy and smugness will be swept away.”

Men may fool others, but they cannot fool God.
A hypocrite is a person who is not genuine. A hypocrite lives a lie. He is like an actor on a stage assuming a role. A hypocrite may fool others with his pious and moral exterior, but God looks at the heart of a man to determine what is really there

Jesus said, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28).

Jeremiah 17:9 states, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” The answer is found in Jeremiah 17:10, “I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give to each man according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.”

All men face the judgment of God.
The hypocrite mistakenly thinks that he is better than others and will somehow be judged according to a different standard. The hypocrite however, faces the judgment of God even as all men. The hypocrite needs to get his own house in order rather than spending his time condemning and pointing out the condition of other men’s houses.

All men need a friend who will be honest with them about them.
One of the hypocrite’s problems is that he is blind to his own faults. He has a tendency to forget his own wrongs and shortcomings and to cleverly rename his own wrongs. The hypocrite needs a friend who can honestly and lovingly point out his faults. Proverbs 27:6 states, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.”

All men need the righteousness of God.
Paul built a case against the hypocrite to make him aware of a greater need, namely his need for the righteousness of God. All men, regardless of who they are, have sinned against God and need the forgiveness that God offers through the Lord Jesus Christ. This includes heathen and hypocrite alike.


Romans 2:17-29

Someone has rightly stated, “Being born in a Christian home does not make you a Christian any more than being born in the back seat of a car makes you a spare tire!” Humorous, but true. Unfortunately, there are many people who think that they are in right standing with God by virtue of being born in a Christian home or because they are a member of a church. The fact of the matter is a person does not enter into a right relationship with God by virtue of rank, race, riches, or religion, but rather through a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.

One evangelist observed that it is harder to reach “religious” people for Christ than it is to reach “irreligious” people. Religious people are often harder to reach for Christ because they have a tendency to think that the Good News is for bad guys. They tend to see the Good News of the Gospel as addressed to the person who is “down and out” rather than to the person who is “up and out.”

The religious person needs to realize that there is no salvation in church membership, activities, and ordinances. The religious person needs to come to the realization that he is dead in his trespasses and sins and desperately needs new life in Jesus Christ. The religious person needs to understand that the Good News is not just for bad guys. The Good News is for all men, regardless of how good they think they might be.

We noted in a previous lesson that Romans 1:18-3:20 contains the courtroom transcript of God’s case against mankind. Paul, serving as the prosecuting attorney, has built a dramatic and damning case against the heathen (Romans 1:18-32) and the hypocrite (Romans 2:1-16). Paul continues to build his case against mankind, in an effort to show why all men need to embrace the gospel of Christ, by indicting the religious man (in this case, the Jew). We could very easily substitute the title “church member” in place of Jew in these verses and thus apply the message to ourselves. Romans 2:17-3:8 record God’s indictment against all sinners who count on religion to put them in right standing with God.

The Advantages of Being a Jew: Romans 2:17-18

Paul began his case against the religious man by addressing the most religious people of his day, the Jews. He began by citing the advantages that the Jews enjoyed. First, the Jews had the advantage of a Hebrew birth. In a day when men were groping in darkness and worshiping idols made with human hands, the Jew had the benefit of being raised in a home that exposed him to the synagogue and taught him the importance of the Sabbath and of sacrifices. Second, the Jew had the advantage of a Hebrew Bible. One of the greatest advantages of the Jew over the heathen was his possession of the Law (Torah). This helped him to understand the will of God and to develop a keen sense of moral discernment.

The Attitude of the Jew: Romans 2:19-20

Romans 2:19-20 reveals the attitude of the Jew toward others. Because the Jew had been instructed in the Word of God, he saw himself as a guide to the spiritually and morally blind, a light to those in darkness, a corrector of the foolish (stupid or unlearned), and a teacher of babes. In many cases the Jew set himself up as a teacher of others and acted with contemptuous pride and with deep scorn for those less fortunate than himself. On the outside, the Jew acted intellectually and religiously right, but he had some problems on the inside.

The Accountability of the Jew: Romans 2:21-24

Paul charged the Jews with ethical and moral failure in Romans 2:21-24 by using a series of rhetorical questions. Each question draws attention to the shameful inconsistencies in the lives of these religious people. First, Paul charged the Jews with spiritual insincerity. They took great pride in teaching others but did not bother to practice what they taught. Second, Paul charged the Jews with spiritual insensitivity. They preached against stealing, adultery, and idolatry, and yet violated their own teaching at each point. Finally, Paul charged the Jews with spiritual insolvency. Because they boasted in the law and violated that same law, they turned people away from God. The watching world no longer believed their message. They ruined their witness.

The Actions of the Jew: Romans 2:25-29

Having addressed the matter of Jewish pride in the Law, Paul further addressed Jewish pride in the rite of circumcision. Like religious people everywhere, the Jews took pride in observing the ordinances, rites, and rituals of religion, thinking that by so doing they would find favor with God. Paul informed the Jews that observing the rite of circumcision would not put them in a right relationship with God. He told them that a true Jew was one whose heart had been circumcised. Externals do not make one a child of God. A person can be baptized, galvanized, Sanforized, pasteurized, and circumcised, but unless he has placed his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he is not in right standing with God.

Practical Considerations

Being a “Baptist” is not enough!
Even as the Jew took pride in being a Jew, many people today take pride in being a Baptist, or Presbyterian, or Methodist. Many feel they have an inside track with God because they are a Brand X, Y, or Z. We must realize however, that apart from Christ we are hopelessly lost. Someone has said, “If you die and go to heaven your tag will fall off, and if you die and go to hell your tag will burn off!” The important thing is to personally know the Lord Jesus Christ.

Owning a Bible is not enough!
Like the Jew, many today take great pride in the fact that they possess the Word of God. Some even take great pride in the particular translation they possess and look down upon those who use any other translation. Still others take pride in the fact that they have a large family Bible prominently displayed on a coffee table. But owning a Bible is not enough. We must spend time in the pages of the Bible and follow-up by practicing what we read.

Looking good is not enough!
The Jew, which Paul indicted, had a bright and polished exterior. He put on a good show. He could teach others all about the Law and tell them how they should live their lives. He was an intellectual and religious success in every way.

But while the religious Jew looked good on the outside, he was rotten on the inside. He was an ethical and moral failure. He taught other people lessons that he himself did not practice and thus contributed to turning them away from God.

Erdman comments, “So today reproach is often brought upon the name of Christ by the inconsistencies of Christians.” Looking good is not enough. We must be certain that our profession and practice match. We must be genuine and real on the inside.

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