Entering God's Courtroom

Romans 2:1-16

Copyright © 2004 Jeremy Myers


1. The Judgment of Man (v. 1)

2. The Judgment of God (vs. 2-16)

    A. According to Truth (vs. 2-5)

    B. According to Works (vs. 6-10)

    C. According to Impartiality (vs. 11-15)

    D. According to the Gospel (v. 16)


It is nearly impossible to accurately teach any passage in Romans without having worked through the context and argument up to that point. So as we dive into chapter 2 for the purpose of this ongoing study, we start right off with the disability of not having previously studied chapter 1. So let me try to summarize the first chapter of Romans as briefly as possible. The first three chapters of Romans is all about how all people are sinners. He wants to prove that everybody sins, and is therefore, under the condemnation of God. In Romans 1, Paul described the sinful lifestyle of the Gentiles.

He describes a downward spiral into sin that all Gentile nations throughout time have followed. It begins with knowing God, but failing to glorify Him as God. Then refusing to thank Him, which leads to becoming foolish and futile in their thinking (1:20-22).Soon, they are worshipping created things rather than the Creator (1:23-25). They worship animals and nature and possessions and even themselves, rather than God who gave them these things. The depths of depravity, the bottom of the barrel is reached when homosexuality becomes a normal and an accepted part of society (1:26-32).

And you can follow all Gentile civilizations throughout time and discover that this is the pattern they have followed. You can see it with Sodom and Gomorrah in the time of Abraham. You can see it with the Canaanite civilization in the days of Moses. You can see it with the various empires that rose and fell during Israelite history. You can see it quite prominently with the Roman Empire that existed at the time of Christ and during the early years of the church. And you can see it in our own day with nearly every nation in the world. In fact, I am told that some missionaries, when they go into cultures that have never had the Bible, and these missionaries learn the language and then begin to translate Romans, the people in that culture hesitate to believe that it came from the missionaries sacred book written 2000 years ago, but instead, suspect that the missionary had written it himself after living among them and observing their own culture.

Romans 1 is all about the downward sinful spiral of the Gentile nations. And as Jews read this account, they would self-righteously say to themselves, "Yes, that's true. Those Gentile nations are wicked and depraved. God should judge them. God needs to obliterate them. It sure is a good thing that us Jews are not like that. It sure is a good thing that us Jews have the law to obey. Those Gentiles don't have the law, and so that is why they are wicked and that is why they will be judged. But we Jews have the law, and so we are obedient to the law, and so we will not be judged."

So, as we enter into Romans 2, Paul is going to creatively and craftily show that the Jews are not righteous either and that the Jews also are under the condemnation of God. Now, he can't just outright, flat out tell the Jews, "Hey, you're all sinners too" because they would deny it. He has had countless debates with self-righteous Jews over the years of his ministry, and he knows that a different tactic is needed. And by the way, if you are ever trying to witness to somebody who is self-righteous, this is the same tactic you can use. Watch very closely what Paul does.

In chapter 2, he goes in the back door to trap them. In verses 1-16, he takes them into the courtroom of God, and gives them the four principles that God operates by when he judges people. Once he has done this, he goes on in the rest of chapter 2 and on into chapter 3 to show that according to these four principles, everyone is sinful, Jews and Gentiles alike. Which is why Paul says in Romans 3:23, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

So as we enter into chapter 2, you need to imagine yourself in a courtroom. Paul, writing to the Christians in Rome, which was the political and judicial center of the Roman empire, knew that many of them were very familiar with courtroom terminology, and so wrote Romans from that perspective. Romans contains a lot of courtroom language, and in chapter 2, we enter into God's courtroom. That is crucial to correctly understand what Paul is teaching in Romans 2. You are in the courtroom of God, before the judgment seat of Christ, and there are four principles that every person who stands before this throne will be judged by. These four principles are laid out in Romans 2:1-16.

But before we begin, let me go back to chapter 1 and just read the last few verses. Beginning in 1:29, Paul lists several different sins. He says, "being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness, they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful;"

If you are like me, as you read slowly through that list, you cannot help but think of people you know who do some of the things on this list. When we read of sexual immorality, it is natural for a face or a name of somebody to pop into our minds who is known to sleep around, or cheat on their spouse. And we think, "Yeah, that person is sexually immoral."  And then when we read, for example, about whisperers and backbiters, another face, or another name pops into your mind about someone who gossips and slanders others. Maybe that person has spread gossip and slander about you.  Then again, when we read of people who are proud, and boasters, another face, or another name comes to mind of someone who has an ego the size of Texas, and who thinks they are so smart, or so funny, or so spiritual they always talk about themselves and lets everybody know about their latest accomplishment.  Then when we read of those who are disobedient to their parents, we think of somebody's kids and how those children never obey their parents, and parents have horrible discipline.

And that happens all the way through the list. With each description, we think of a name, or a face, or a person who fits that description. Did that happen with you? Maybe I am just critical and judgmental, but I'll admit it - it happened with me.

So it is quite a shock when we come to Romans 2:1.

1Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.

Ouch! Talk about a kick in the gut. Paul has trapped us. He has trapped his readers, whether they were Jews or Gentiles, believers or non-believers.  He says, "So, you condemn others for being a terrible gossip? Who did you talk negatively about this week? So, you condemn others for having an ego? How did your pride rear it's ugly head this week? So, you condemn those who are sexually immoral? What lustful thoughts did you have this week? What did your eyes look at? Remember, Jesus says, 'Whoever looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.'"

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Most often, the things we most critical about in the lives of others are the very things we most frequently fail in ourselves. That is what Paul has said in verse 1.  He knows, however, that all of us humans are masters at making excuses. Though all of us have just been caught red handed judging others, now that we ourselves have been condemned by our own standards, we all start to back peddle.

"Oh, but I would never go as far as they went. I may have a hateful thought about someone from time to time, but I would never actually murder somebody. I may have a lustful thought from time to time, but I would never commit adultery the way they did. They practice those sins much more often than I do. And the difference is that I confess my sin, and they don't."  And on it goes. Making excuses. Justifying our own sin in our own eyes.

So in verse 2 and following, Paul says, "You know what? Let's just forget about judging one another, and trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong, or who is more right and who is more wrong. Let's just talk about the only judgment that really matters - the judgment of God. And in verses 2-16, Paul lays out the four principles God uses when people stand before His throne for judgment.

This first standard is in verse 2. The judgment of God is according to truth.

2But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.

However much we try to deny it, God knows the truth of our hearts and the motives of our actions. However much we try to make ourselves look holy to others, God knows the truth and will judge according to the truth. Paul goes on to apply this first principle in verses 3-5.

3And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? 5But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God,

Whatever lies we may tell ourselves, the truth, according to verse 3, is that we all practice the same things we judge others about. However much you deny it and try to justify it in your own mind, that is the truth. And Paul says in verse 3 that if you are doing the same things you judge others about, do you think you will escape the judgment of God?  Of course not!

He says in verse 4 that the only reason God doesn't just judge all of us right now is because He is patient and longsuffering and wants all people to come to repentance. According to God's first standard of truth, all men, women and children are guilty before God. And when we continue to deny the truth, when we refuse to repent, all we are doing is storing up for ourselves more wrath and judgment before God. So in God's courtroom, the first standard of judgment is truth. And in God's courtroom, when we face the charge of truth, however much we plead innocent, God says we are guilty. According to truth, the verdict is guilty. All of us are guilty.

But there are still three more standards left. Maybe we can squeak by on one of those. The second standard is found in verse 6. This second standard is that we will be judged according to deed, or according to works.

6who "will render to each one according to his deeds":

When humans stand before God, not only will he look at the truth, but we see here, He will look at their works. And despite what every single religion in the world except for Christianity teaches, this judgment is not on the curve. God does not have a sliding scale. You see, all religions except genuine Christianity say that as long as you have more works than the average person, you will get into heaven. As long as you are good as least 51% of the time, as long as your good works outweigh your bad works, God will let you into heaven.

Well, guess what? They are somewhat right. But the target goal is not to be good 51% of the time, but rather 100% of the time. Look at what Paul says in verses 7-10.

7eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, 9tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; 10but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.

These verses are the reason I have chosen to include this passage in our current study of confusing passages in the Bible about salvation. For you see, some read these verses, and especially verse 7, and say, "See? We can work our way to heaven, we can get eternal life, by doing good works. Faith alone in Christ alone is not enough. You need to have good works."  Here is what one writer says about this verse: "Make no mistake about it, there are two grace messages available to choose from…But only one stresses holy living and persistence in doing good to the point where it is necessary to…get eternal life." Elsewhere, he says that according to Romans 2:7, "After initial salvation, we must persist in doing good to get eternal life."

Now that is seemingly what Paul is teaching. But if we remember that this is the courtroom of God, and we really look at the words Paul uses, he is not saying that we have to persist in doing good works through the majority of one's life, or that we have to do good works to the point where it is necessary to get eternal life, but that to get eternal life, we have to do nothing but good works.

What does Paul say? He says that by patient continuance in doing good. What does this mean? It means that you must do good works non-stop, from the day you are born, until the day you die. The word in the Greek for patient continuance is hupomone, and it means absolute perseverance or constancy. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul uses this word of Christ and his steadfast, unceasing care for us. So what do you need to do to get eternal life? You must always and only do good works. There must not be one single sin in your life ever. This is what Paul says in verses 8, 9 and 10 also. Those who do evil, who do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, they will receive condemnation and wrath. But everyone who does what is good, will get glory honor and peace.

So it is true. You can work your way to heaven. But God's standard in God's courtroom is absolute perfection. There is no margin for error. There is no wiggle room. There will be no grading on the curve. There will be no sliding scale. James 2:10 says that whosoever keeps the whole law, and yet stumbles at one point, is guilty of breaking all of it. If you are 99.9% righteous, and only 0.1% sinful, when you stand before God, you will be condemned because God's standard is perfect righteousness. According to truth, standard number 1, everybody will be declared guilty. Will there be anybody throughout history, aside from Jesus Christ, who will pass this standard in God's courtroom?

For the answer, look over to Romans 3:20. "Therefore, by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight." Paul says in chapter 2 that God's second standard is absolute perfection. And Paul says in chapter 3 that absolutely nobody can achieve absolute perfection. Therefore, according to standard number 2, according to our works, God will pronounce everybody guilty. 

Incidentally, that author I quoted before who used Romans 2:7 to teach that we need good works to get to heaven does not refer to Romans 3:20 a single time in his entire 800 page book. He accuses people who teach eternal security of ignoring Romans 2:7, but he has completely ignored Romans 3:20 which clearly contradicts his teaching that good works can earn eternal life for us.

According to truth, all are guilty. According to works, all are guilty. The third principle of God's courtroom is found in verse 11 where we are told that God's judgment is impartial.

11For there is no partiality with God.

There are some who think they have the inside track with God. They have some sort of inside scoop or special blessing that nobody else has, and so God will let them into heaven. There are many such groups. One of these groups are the Jews. They think that simply because they are God's chosen people, they get to go to heaven no matter what. They think that because it was through them that the law and the revelation of God came, that they are God's favorites and will receive special consideration from Him on judgment day.

Paul expands on this in verses 12-15.

12For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law 13(for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; 14for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, 15who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)

You see, the Jews were saying, "Well, the law came through us. We are the keepers of the law. We are students of the law. We can recite the law forward and backward. But those Gentiles, they don't have the law like we do, and so how could they ever be saved? But Paul simply says here that it doesn't really matter whether they have the law or not. The number of Bibles on your shelf is not going to get you in better standing with God. The number of Scripture passages you have memorized is not going to erase any of your sin. The number of times you have read through the Bible is not going to help you on judgment day. God does not play favorites. Nobody has a special in with God.

And besides all of this, Paul shows in verses 14-15 that although the Gentiles don't have the law in paper and ink format the way the Jews do, they do have the law written on their hearts in their conscience. Everybody has the law. But again, it is not having the law that matters, but keeping the law, which nobody can do. So once again, according to standard number 3, everybody is guilty.

According to truth, all are declared guilty. According to works, all are declared guilty. According to impartiality, all are declared guilty. Finally, we come in verse 16 to the fourth standard of God's judgment. This is the standard of the Gospel.

16in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.

Now, Paul doesn't tell us what the pronouncement will be on this one. He just leaves us hanging with the question in our own minds: "What about the fourth standard?" I've been declared guilty three times in a row, what about the fourth? Am I guilty or not?

But Paul doesn't tell us. In verse 17, he goes back to talking about the law and how Jews are guilty under the law. Verse 16 leaves us hanging with a question in our mind: What will the judgment be? What will the sentence be? According to the gospel, am I guilty or not? He goes on and on in the rest of chapter 2, and nearly all the way through chapter 3 talking about sin and condemnation and judgment. He says in verses 17-24 that the Jews are just as guilty as the Gentiles. He says in verses 25-29 that there is no benefit to circumcision either. In chapter 3, he goes on to talk about this idea of favoritism a bit more and whether there was any benefit at all to being a Jew. And he says there is some benefit, but not as far as eternal life is concerned. The only benefit is that the Word of God did come to the world through the Jew.

And then he goes on to summarize everything up to this point. In 3:9 he says that he has charged both Jews and Gentiles that they are all under sin. He quotes from the Old Testament to prove this. And then in 3:20, he reminds us that according to the law, nobody will be justified, because God demands perfect righteousness. And we are still wondering about that fourth standard. I stand condemned three out of three times so far. This is truly according to God's just standards, but isn't there any way for me to be justified? Is there no hope for me? Is there no way out for me? How can I be justified but still allow God to remain just? Is there any way to receive eternal life?

In the fourth standard, Paul mentioned the gospel, which means "Good news" but I haven't heard any good news yet. All I've heard is judgment and condemnation and wrath. Where is the good news? All Paul has done is pound into our minds over and over the word "guilty, guilty, guilty." So now we come to Romans 3:21.

But now. Oh, there are no two sweeter words in the entire New Testament. One of these years, I am going to do a lesson just on these two words. But now. Paul also uses these two words in Ephesians 2 to explain what God has done for us, though we were dead in our trespasses and sins.

But now the righteousness of God. This grabs our attention. The righteousness of God. What kind of righteousness is the righteousness of God? It is perfect righteousness. 100% sinless perfection. This is the kind of righteousness we need to get eternal life. And Paul told us in chapter 2 that we could get this if we never sinned but we always obeyed the law. But then in 3:20, he told us this was completely impossible. But look what we read in 3:21.

But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed. What? Righteousness of God apart from the law? You mean to tell me Paul, that there is another way to get the righteousness of God? You mean to tell me Paul, that there is a way to become as righteous as God that doesn't require me to obey the entire law, which is impossible anyway? Oh, this is good news! What could it be? What glimmer of hope is now before my eyes? And you say it is revealed? Where is it revealed? How can I find it? What must I do to learn of this righteousness of God apart from the law? How can God be just and I become justified?

Paul continues, But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets. What is this? The law and the prophets which I have studied and learned and tried to obey my whole life, which only left me condemned and helpless before God is where this good news is found? I've never seen it there. You're not tricking us, are you Paul? I'm a student of the Word. I'm a scholar. I've been trained by scholars. I've never seen any other message in the law and the prophets that told me how to receive the righteousness of God apart from the law. But you say you've found it, huh? Well, I'm a little skeptical now.  But I'm also quite curious. I've never boasted that I know everything the law and prophets teach. So tell me now what you've found, and then you can tell me later where you found it.

Romans 3:22. Even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. That's it? Faith alone in Christ alone? Believe in Jesus for eternal life? Believe in Jesus to receive the righteousness of God?If that is true, that is good news!

And now that I think about it, it makes sense! I don't have an inside track with God because of principle number 3. His judgment is not partial. For that is what Paul has said. There is no difference. And according to standard number 2, I can't keep the law. That's what Paul has said too. For all have sinned. And according to standard number 1, the standard of truth, I can never achieve the righteousness or glory of God. This is what Paul has said also. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

Wow! So if I can't get an inside track with God, and I can't work my way to heaven, and God's judgments are always according to truth, then there must be some other way to get to heaven, and Paul, you're telling me that way in Jesus Christ? That's right! He did say, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, but through me." And Paul, don't I have to pay anything or do anything for this eternal life?

Paul continues in 3:24, being justified freely by His grace. Freely! No strings attached. No fine print. Freely by his grace. This is a free gift of God that we didn't deserve. And how can He offer this to us again?  Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Jesus bought us and paid the penalty of our sin for us. He paid for it, verse 25, by his blood, and we can receive this free gift of His grace through faith.

Yes! In this way, and only in this way, God can remain the just and righteous judge - he can condemn us as guilty according to the truth, guilty according to our works, and guilty according to impartiality, but at the same time, we can be justified in Christ. In this way alone, God can be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Romans 3:28 says is again. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. What a glorious truth that Paul masterfully presents in these first three chapters of Romans. These priceless gems are clearly visible for those who will dig them out. One such person was Martin Luther.

Here is what he wrote about his conversion. Early in his career as a Catholic monk, he was teaching in the university. He had already taught through Romans, Galatians and Hebrews, and was now teaching the Psalms. But one phrase out of Romans continued to haunt his studies. Here is what he writes:

…up till then it was…a single word in Chapter 1, "In it the righteousness of God is revealed," that had stood in my way. For I hated that word "righteousness of God,"…

Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience….I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners, and secretly, if not blasphemously, certainly murmuring greatly, I was angry with God, and said, "As if…it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the [Ten Commandments], without having God add pain to pain by the gospel and also by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!" Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat [unceasingly] upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.

At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, "In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.'"

[Then I began to understand.]

I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me. Thereupon I ran through the Scripture from memory….

And I extolled my sweetest word with a love as great as the hatred with which I had before hated the word "righteousness of God." Thus that place in Paul was for me truly the gate to paradise.

How do you get eternal life? It is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. By works shall no flesh be justified in the sight of God.