With the start of Romans 2, Paul began specifically speaking to Jews and Greeks, not just the pagans of Romans 1. He stated four main truths of God in chapter two and emphasized them with rhetorical questions. The four main truths are in verses two, eleven, sixteen, and twenty-nine. Paul said in verse two, “And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.” In verse eleven, he wrote, “For there is no partiality with God.” With verse sixteen, Paul emphasized God’s omniscience by saying, “God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” He concluded this chapter, but not the thought, by saying in verse twenty-nine, “Circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, and not by the letter; and his [the righteous person] praise is not from men, but from God.”
In the previous Bible study of Romans 2:1-4, we learned from Paul God’s truths and judgment, and truths about humankind. The four basic truths in this chapter speak of God’s righteousness, justice, and impartiality, the unrighteousness of each person, and God’s mercy and grace. In verses one through four, two statements of fact/truth occur-God bases His judgment on truth and all people are sinners. Verse one speaks on the unrighteousness of people while verse two tells about the righteousness of God and His judgments. Paul’s rhetorical questions of verses three and four point out the truths of verses one and two. The first question asks, will you or anyone escape judgment? The second question, which comes from verse four, asks, do you disregard the riches of God’s kindness? In these four verses, Paul taught the Roman saints and other hearers and readers that each person sins and those sins separate him/her from God. He explained God sees the sins of each person. This sinfulness disqualifies anyone from judging or condemning another person for his/her sins. Only a righteous person can judge and condemn and no one is righteous except God. This means God is the only one qualified to judge, and His judgments are right. Yet, Paul said, God wants every person to receive salvation. He said in verse four, “The kindness of God leads you to repentance.” God wants no one to perish and be separated permanently from Him because of his/her sins.
These truths led Paul to continue to lay a theological foundation in verses five through eleven. With verse five, Paul explained God’s judgment occurs because of stubbornness and the unrepentant hearts of people. He then taught God judges based on the deeds of people in verses six through ten. With verse eleven, Paul instructed again that God is righteous and impartial. God is the only qualified Judge because He is righteous. With the next Bible study, in verses twelve and thirteen, Paul explained God’s judgment is fair. He bases His judgment of each person on the revelation given to him/her. This laid the groundwork for understanding hearing God’s Laws does not make a person righteous, but instead doing them out of obedience and love, with the heart. This statement meant the Jews were not the only ones for whom God gives His grace and mercy through the Messiah. The Jews would be accountable to the Law God gave them, which they continually failed to follow. God would hold the pagans and Greeks accountable to the revelation given them through nature and God’s continual active creative process and the conscience He gives each person. Paul will finally arrive at the point where he says no person can keep the Law, or follow the natural laws and ethics God gives without a changed heart. With this overview of Romans 2:5-11, let’s delve into these verses.
In Romans 2:5, Paul said,
But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.
[Note: All Bible passages are from the New American Standard Bible unless otherwise noted.]
Understand that in Romans 2:1-4, Paul said God’s judgment comes on people because of truth. The truths he spoke of are God is righteous and able to judge with fairness, and humanity is unrighteous and cannot be an impartial judge. In the next verses, he said the judgment of God comes on people because of their works/deeds. Because of something people do, Paul said people will receive God’s wrath. The actions of the people come from a stubborn and unrepentant heart, he said. Remember, Jesus said what comes from the heart of a person makes him/her unclean. A stubborn and unrepentant heart does not act righteously.
The word “stubbornness” Paul used in verse five comes from the Greek word sklerotes. Sklerotes means hardness of heart, obstinacy, and perverseness. The literal meaning of this word is “hard from being dry.” Paul gave the word greater meaning by adding the word “unrepentant” or “impenitent.” The word “unrepentant” comes from the Greek word ametanoetos. Ametanoetos means no repenting or changing of the inner man, no changing of the mind, and thinking differently. For Hebrews, hardness of heart-stubbornness-was what the rabbis and teachers preached and taught against. In Deuteronomy 10:16, Moses taught the Israelites not to be stubborn. Instead, he told them to circumcise their hearts. In Romans 2:5, Paul aligned himself with this thought. Actions against God come not just from stubbornness, but from an unrepentant or unchanged inner being-an unchanged heart. The Law of God required the circumcision of the Jews’ flesh. To be a child of God, the Holy Spirit must circumcise a person’s heart. Moses spoke of circumcision of the heart in Leviticus 26:4, too. Jeremiah said in Jeremiah 4:4, “Circumcise yourself to the LORD and remove the foreskins of your heart.” Paul joined these men with Romans 2:5 when he said the people had stubborn and unrepentant hearts. Circumcising the flesh according to the Law of God does not save a person from God’s wrath. Circumcision of the heart, that is being a child of God like Abraham by faith, saves a person. This shows itself by obedience to God that comes from love of Him by a person. Jesus said this in John 14:15 when He said, “If you love Me keep My commandments.” John the apostle said in 2 John 1:6, “And this is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, just as you have heard from the beginning, that you should walk in it.”
Paul continued with this thought of verse five and said because of their stubborn and unrepentant hearts, they stored up wrath for themselves in the day of judgment. The listeners and readers of Paul’s letter, he said, built up layer upon layer of judgment for themselves because of their unrepentant and stubborn hearts shown through their actions. The judgment for their stubbornness and unrepentant hearts is God’s wrath that comes through His righteousness. This word “wrath” comes from the Greek word orge. It means anger, passion, punishment, and vengeance. Orge is a settled anger proceeding from swelled anger that built up. It’s not an outburst, but a controlled, passionate feeling against sin. God’s mercy and kindness kept Him from punishing the sinners hoping they would turn to Him for forgiveness and salvation. People continue to sin and God’s judgment of those multiplied sins amasses and swells His anger against sin. This is God’s righteous wrath. This wrath against sin will be His righteous judgment against each person.
Paul told them when this judgment for their stubborn and unrepentant hearts would come. He said it would come on the day of wrath and revelation. The Hebrews looked forward to the day of the Lord when God would defeat their enemies and save them. They often forgot the day of the Lord would come upon all people, not just their enemies. People forget they deserve judgment, too. God will judge all people on the day of the Lord, the day of wrath and revelation. This day of revelation, Paul said, would be a revealing, an uncovering. The Greek word for “revelation” is apokalupsis. It means an unveiling, uncovering, revealing. Bible authors primarily used this word for the revelation of Jesus Christ and especially God’s will. David used it in Psalm 110:5. Paul used it in 2 Corinthians 5:10 and 2 Thessalonians 1:5. Jude spoke of it in Jude 1:6. This day of wrath and revelation would not be a time for God’s anger to run rampant like that of humans or how people imagined their false gods would punish. It would come from God’s righteous judgment, the judgment Paul spoke of in Romans 2:2. Remember, in Romans 2:2, Paul said, “And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.” God bases His judgment on His standard of right and wrong considering His eternal morality known through natural laws, conscience, and His Laws, that is through His revelation of them and Himself.
In Romans 2:5, Paul turned the thoughts about the day of judgment and righteousness upon its head. He turned the Jews ideas backwards. Paul said, instead of them storing up treasures/rewards for themselves in heaven, their failure to recognize the need for a more radical repentance and total turning to God caused them to store up not “good” things in heaven, but “wrath.” The day of God’s judgment would bring judgment upon themselves and not just their enemies. The Jews and others who thought they did “good enough” would show their supposed “righteous” works did not meet the mark of God’s standards. People will understand they can do nothing of their own merit to earn reward in God’s kingdom. Everyone is unrighteous. Righteousness requires a heart turned toward God.
Questions for Reflection:
In verse five, Paul said God will judge a person based upon his/her heart. In the next five verses, he returns to teaching God will also judge people based on their actions/deeds. Paul said in verses six through ten,
Who will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immorality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Verse six carries forward from verse five. Paul said, God, by His righteous judgment, will give according to each person’s deeds. The two-word verb “will render” comes from the Greek word apodidomi. It means to give from as a payment in relation to the source of the giving back, like an award. People get from God what they deserve. Based on a person’s actions/deeds, God will give to him/her what he/she earned on judgment day-either wrath or treasures. We understand this better when we understand the Greek word behind our English word “according.” This word, “according,” comes from the Greek word kata. Kata is something that comes down from a higher plane to a lower plane. It is a reward given from someone higher to someone lower based on his/her actions, words, and thoughts. Paul said God will give back as payment right rewards for each persons’ deeds from His righteous judgment right rewards-either wrath and indignation, or treasures. David, Solomon, and Jesus each taught this idea. David said in Psalm 62:12, “You reward everyone according to what they have done.” Solomon said in Proverbs 24:12, “If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not He who weighs the heart perceive of it? Does not He who guards your life know it? Will He not repay everyone according to what they have done?” Jesus said in Matthew 16:27, “For the Son of Man is going to come in His Father’s glory with His angels, and then He will reward each person according to what they have done.” God sees each person, their deeds and heart, and will render the reward according to them.
Questions for reflection:
Paul continued with verse seven explaining what God would give back to a person for his/her actions. He said, “To those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.” This word “perseverance” comes from the Greek word hupomone. It means endurance, patient waiting for, and unswerved from a person’s deliberate purpose and loyalty to faith and piety by even the greatest trials and sufferings. A person who perseveres to God’s righteous laws in his/her heart by action and word will do good and receive a righteous reward from Him. This “doing going” describes a person’s thoughts, actions, and words that originate with God and which He empowered in the person’s life. Jesus spoke of this in parable form in Luke 8:15 when teaching about planting seeds on good soil. The writer of Hebrews spoke of this perseverance in doing God’s will and receiving His promised reward in Hebrews 10:36.
For the person who steadfastly stands for what God calls righteous, seeks out His righteous will, and seeks to bring glory and honor to Him, God will give the reward He promised, eternal life. In seeking to bring glory and honor to God, this person brings glory and honor to him/herself (Romans 2:10 & Hebrews 2:7). This person seeks God’s approval, not man’s. Peter spoke about the willingness to go through trials saying that proves their faith. He said in 1 Peter 1:7, “That the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
The reward for this steadfastness to God and His righteousness, Paul said, is eternal life. Eternal life is ageless and unending. Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:10, Christ destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. Jesus’ destruction of death by His resurrection means He has power over death and can reward it to the children of God. Though people by nature have perishable bodies, God can raise them to imperishable bodies. This means flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, but must put on the imperishable that God gives through His forgiveness of a person’s sins when they repent and believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. When a person does this, he/she inherits an imperishable body through Christ (1 Corinthians 15:42).
The reward for following God and seeking His righteousness is eternal life. Seeking God and His will in thought, action, and word is living by God’s moral standard. What people think is best may not be what God considers is best. When we seek God’s way and are God’s children, we reap the reward of eternal life.
Whenever Paul taught about living God’s ways, he always juxtaposed it against the ways of sinful humanity. In verse seven, he taught about the reward for persevering in doing good and seeking God’s glory and honor. With verse eight, Paul taught about seeking to do things that puts one’s self first and God’s resultant judgment of those people who do. He said, “But to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.”
Contrasted to verse seven’s teaching about seeking to do good according to God, Paul taught about selfish ambition. “Selfish ambition” comes from the Greek word eritheia. It means seeking followers or adherents by giving gifts. A person who does this seeks fame and followers, notoriety from people. This person does not seek to bring God glory and honor, but to bring him or herself glory and honor. He or she puts his/her self-interest ahead of what the Lord declares is right or best for people. Often, this scramble for fame or followers results in harm to one or more people. Each of us has heard of people who seek fame and followers not caring that they are twisting the truth of God or potentially harming people physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. Paul spoke of this selfish ambition in 2 Corinthians 12:20, Galatians 5:20, and Philippians 1:17 & 2:3. James spoke of it in James 3:14-16. He said it does not come down from heaven but is “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.” Seeking to promote self and not seeking God’s will brings God’s judgment, the opposite of the reward Paul taught in verse seven.
Paul continued to define this person who will receive the opposite reward of eternal life. He said these people “do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness.” “Obey” comes from the Greek word apeitheo (ap-i-theh-o) and means disobey, rebel, disloyal. Its literal meaning is to refuse to allow the Lord to persuade you. These people who do not obey choose purposely to rebel against what they know the Lord wants. They turn their backs on Him and His truths. These truths of God are divine truths revealed to humankind through God’s creation and continuing creative process, through the human conscience, through the Law, and through Jesus Christ. These rebellious, disobedient people choose not to believe, to turn their backs on God, and to delight in wickedness. God will condemn them, Paul said in 2 Thessalonians 2:12. The people who seek selfish ambition obey unrighteousness. They violate God’s standards and cause His divine disapproval.
For these selfishly ambitious people, Paul taught God’s judgment would come. Just as God rightly judges the people seeking His ways, He rightly judges the selfishly ambitious. Those who seek what they want without caring about other people or God store up wrath and indignation instead of treasures in heaven for the day of judgment. Though God pours kindness on these selfishly ambitious people to lead them to repentance (Romans 2:4), they continue to walk in unrighteousness. While God in His forbearance showed these unrighteous people His kindness, they chose to live by seeking self. On God’s day of judgment, unrighteous-selfishly ambitious-people will receive His wrath and indignation. This wrath will pour out passionately against their sins in indignation that is in intense opposition against sin. God jealousy loves each person and fights for each person by battling sin. He loves us so much He battles sin for us to give us the chance to seek Him and receive His forgiveness, and eternal life with Him.
With verses nine and ten, Paul reiterated for clarity what God’s judgment would be for people who seek Him and those who choose to turn away from Him. He said in verses nine and ten, “There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to every man who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”
The "tribulation" Paul spoke of in verse nine comes from the Greek word thlipsis. It means feeling hemmed in especially by internal pressure so that a person feels confined and restricted without options. The "distress" Paul spoke of is a difficult circumstance that God authorized and it causes anguish. Remember, nothing can come against a person without God’s permission. He will allow it to grow a person closer to Him or, if a person chooses to walk away from God, it appears to be punishment. Paul said in this verse, for every person who does evil (malice that flows outward in action and word from a morally rotten character), times of feeling hemmed in without options will come. God will also allow times of distress to come to lead a person back to Him or to punish the person who does evil. Paul dictated later in Romans 8:35-39, even when people go through distressing times and times of trial, nothing can separate a person from the love of God through Jesus Christ. He is there ready to fight the battle for you and give you rest as you go through them with Him.
Notice Paul added a dependent clause to verses nine and ten. He said these judgments of God would come on the Jew first then also the Greek. Just as God’s salvation came to the Jews first then spread to non-Jews by proclamation of the gospel, so God’s judgment will fall first on the Jews then the Greeks. Peter said in 1 Peter 4:17 “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel?” God will judge every person, those to whom God revealed Himself first through the gospel, then to the others. No one will be exempt from God’s judgment. Paul explained the person who did evil and did not repent and turn to God will go through tribulation and distress.
With verse ten, Paul explained God’s judgment of the person who does good-what is upright, honorable, and acceptable to Him. To these people, He will give glory, honor, and peace. For the people who sought glory while on earth, they would not have it forever. For those who sought to do God’s righteous will, He would give them glory for eternity. Besides that, God would give honor to the person of righteous living. He would show them respect. To have righteous God give you honor would be like the president of a nation bowing down to you. This means you have value and respect from God and from people. The person who does good would also receive the peace of God. This peace is peace of mind and welfare. Nothing can separate you from God and His love. This peace is also a wholeness that comes from God making that person complete in and through Him. It results from God’s uniting with the person so he/she receives cleansing physically, emotionally, and mentally, and joins spiritually with Him into a wholeness. This honor, glory, and peace of God upon a person is for all who do good, the good of God empowered by Him through faith.
Once again, this judgment and reward for those who do God’s good is for the Jew first and also the Greek. Paul said this because the gospel went to the Jew first and then to the Greek, the rest of the world. God wants all people to return to Him through forgiveness and faith. He does not look at one nation, tribe, or language group and condemn them because of some characteristic. God calls all people to come to Him. Paul made this clear in 2 Timothy 2:3b-4 when he said, “God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” God wants all people (anthropos) to receive salvation and be in a relationship with Him, the truth.
The second main truth of Romans 2 becomes clear after Paul taught on what God considers righteous and unrighteous actions and thoughts. Paul ensured the Romans addressed by this letter understood God will judge people who did and did not have His Laws because of their actions and their hearts. Neither Jew nor Greek is exempt. With verse eleven, Paul stated unequivocally how God judged. He said, “For there is no partiality with God.”
For the people to whom Paul wrote in this letter, this truth was very significant. Remember, the Roman emperors persecuted the Jews. Later, Nero persecuted the Christians and blamed them for the great fire of Rome in July 63 A.D. The Jews of Rome bickered with the God-followers and later the Jesus-followers. The Jewish-background believers debated with the Gentile-background believers. The people of Rome who treasured peace (pax Romana) felt they had to live with no peace from these monotheistic worshipers. Each group of people felt they were more right, and judged the others. Paul said no person can judge another because each person has sinned. Only God is righteous and can judge. Therefore, God will judge all people because everyone sins.
With this section, understanding the mindset of “us” and “them” in Rome, Paul stated God judges impartially. The word “partiality” comes from the Greek word prosopolempsia. It means favoritism where the outward circumstances of a person, not his/her inner merits, determines the judgment. With God, no person would be worthier of favoritism because of being rich, high-born, or powerful. A person without these statuses are not less worthy than the rich, high-born, or powerful. With the truth about God in this verse, Paul said God would not look at the outward appearance of a person, and what he/she does or owns when making His judgment. He would look at each person’s heart. God would have no favorites-would not be prejudiced-because He loves all people and shows kindness to lead them to repentance. Moses spoke of this in Deuteronomy 10:17 when he said God does not show partiality, nor take a bribe. Luke said this in Acts 10:34 when he recorded Peter saying, “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality.”
God is impartial. He does not show favoritism. God judges each person according to his/her heart and actions. To the person who does good, He gives glory, honor, peace, and eternal life. For the person who does evil, God will give tribulation and distress. Why does God judge this way? He wants everyone to come to know Him and be in a right relationship with Him. God rewards people who do good and righteous deeds and wants to reward all people with good things from Himself-glory, honor, peace, and eternal life.
In verses five through eleven, Paul taught God is impartial in His judgment. God’s judgment is righteous and that of humanity is flawed because each person is sinful. Paul said people who sin have stubborn and unrepentant hearts. They seek to serve themselves instead of considering God’s best. This can cause harm to one’s self and other people, and it causes a chasm to rise between God and that person.
Paul said God will judge each person on the day of judgment and wrath according to his/her deeds. For people who persevere in doing good and seeking to bring glory and honor to God, God will reward eternal life. The people who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but instead are unrighteousness, will receive wrath and indignation. This wrath and indignation of God will come about as tribulation and distress. In case the Jews who prided themselves on following God’s Law thought themselves better than other people and considered themselves above God’s judgment, Paul said God would judge the Jews first. God is impartial and will judge all people according to the revelation they received from Him. No one will be exempt from God’s judgment. The Jews understood this if they recalled Moses’ teaching. God looks at the heart of a person.
Circumcision of the heart as Paul spoke of in Romans 2:29 is a heart that is pure and separated unto God for His will and service. Moses taught about it in Deuteronomy 30:6 when he said, “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love Him with all your heart and with all your soul and live.” The Jewish man circumcised his foreskin to show his agreement to the old covenant of Israel with God. Circumcision of the heart indicates being set apart to love God fully, inside and out. The Pharisees took pride in their physical heritage boasting about circumcision. John the Baptist warned them if they did not circumcise their hearts, God could raise up children for Abraham, those who were non-Jews (Matthew 3:9). Paul told the Galatians in Galatians 3:29 the true seed of Abraham are the ones who follow Abraham’s example and believe in God. Physical circumcision does not make a person a child of God. Faith does. It was why God called Abraham His child. God reckoned his faith to him as righteousness. Jeremiah told the Israelites to circumcise their hearts or God’s wrath would break out and burn like fire because of the evil they did.
Each of us does wrong, we go against God’s moral laws. No one can hide from Him. God sees everyone and everything they do. He knows where you are and knows your heart, actions, and words. After Paul wrote each section to the pagans, Greeks, and Jews, he quoted King David in Romans 3:10-12. He said, “There is none righteous, not even one. There is none who understands. There is none who seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become useless. There is none who does good. There is not even one.”
Not one person is sinless. We each sin. Yet, God loves us. He made a way for us to be in a right relationship with Him. That way was the perfect sacrifice for sins. It was not a pure white lamb or dove, but the death of His sinless Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus loves us so much, He took our penalty, God’s judgment, and paid the price for our sins. He chose to die in our places so we could live forever with God in His kingdom. This was God’s plan from the beginning of time. He wanted nothing to separate us from Him and provided the way for the cleansing and justification of each person. This way caused Him pain. It caused Jesus much agony, but He loves us so much He willingly died for all people. When a person turns toward God, repents, and believes in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit circumcises his/her heart.
Paul put it this way in Romans 5:6-8
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
you are Sinful
God Loves you
Jesus Died to pay for your judgment
What will you do –
Harden your heart or
Repent and turn toward God through faith in Jesus Christ?