Romansby David Cook
In these verses, Paul shifts attention from the pagan idolater to the self-righteous moralist. He shows that passing judgment on others does not exempt a person from God’s wrath (vv. 1–3). Passing judgment is mentioned five times.
God is kind, tolerant, and patient. Yet, if the moralist interprets this as approval of his or her lifestyle, that attitude builds up cardiac sclerosis—a hardening of the heart (v. 5). God’s kindness and patience are designed to lead the unrepentant to repentance (v. 4). Peter echoes this thought in 2 Peter 3:9.
Additionally, the Lord makes it clear that calamities remind us that we are living in rebellion against God in a post-Garden of Eden environment (Luke 13:1–5). Calamities are meant to lead us to repentance.
Thus, God speaks one message to the world: When things are good, repent; when things are disastrously bad, repent.
Repentance involves a complete change of attitude and action. It means turning away from rebelling against or ignoring God’s claim upon us, and recognising that claim and serving Him in reverence. This is precisely what the self-righteous moralist does not do. He or she has nothing to repent about; he or she is storing up God’s wrath for the day it will be revealed (v. 5). We are lost because God’s justice dispenses punishment on the basis of our sinful acts.
Verses 7 to 11 are the most difficult verses of the letter. This is because they appear to contradict its central message—that we are justified not by works but through faith. But Paul does not contradict himself. Neither does he speak hypothetically.
Paul is clear that God does not have one standard for the Jew and a different one for the Gentile—God does not play favourites (v. 11). Paul gives the following affirmation: Judgment is based on works; it is universal; and it is individual. There is one standard and only one. God will not be fooled by the hypocritical judgments made by self-righteous people on others. He will not be swayed by our moralising or by our condemnation of others. God is interested in what we do (v. 6), for it reveals who we are.
Where do you stand in the light of God’s judgment?
In what ways might you have thought too highly of yourself? What are the things listed at the end of Romans 1 that you think you would never do?