Paul begins chapter 2 addressing the moralist Jews, even though his words in the previous chapter applied to Gentiles and Jews. He wrote that every one of them that judges another was without excuse (v. 1). They were judging others for what they, themselves, were doing. God’s judgment is on those who do such things, and His judgment is just and based on truth. The seemingly moral lives the Jews were living would not escape God’s judgement (vs. 2-3). They thought themselves as superior, entitled to privilege, having high moral standards, yet they were rebellious, unrighteous, and committing the same sins Paul mentions in Romans 1:28-31. Judgement already falls on those who practice these things, but it also falls on the Jews who were judging others hypocritically. If they thought themselves exempt from God’s judgement, they were mistaken.
God’s kindness, restraint, patience, and His overall common grace was to lead them to repentance. But because of their unrepentant hearts, they were storing up wrath for God’s righteous judgement (vs. 4-5). If the moralistic Jews were condemning others for their actions, then they had sufficient knowledge of their own sin, so they condemned themselves while condemning others. Their self-righteousness overlooked their own sinful hearts and behavior. Because they were self-seeking, minimizing God’s moral standards by assuming they were somehow exempt, they were going to face wrath and indignation instead of eternal life. And though Paul was speaking to the Jews, this, essentially, was for Jew or Gentile, for there is no favoritism with God (vs. 6-11).
Repentance is turning away from sin to Christ. They could either continue with their unrepentant hearts and receive the just reward of wrath and indignation, or repent and receive the just reward of eternal life. Although salvation is not earned by the basis of works, God’s judgement is always according to a person’s deeds or works.
In verses 12 and 13, Paul first mentions the Mosaic Law. All those who sinned without the law would also perish without the law. Gentiles who had never heard the law were still going to be judged on their disobedience according to the limited knowledge they did know. Those who sinned under the law would be judged by the law. The Jews (and some Gentiles) who had knowledge of God’s moral law were going to be held accountable for the greater knowledge they had. Jews and Gentiles, alike, all stand under God’s condemnation. Just because one knew the law did not make one righteous. And just because one didn’t know the law, did not make one exempt. The work of the law was written on the hearts of all men. There is an innate knowledge, the conscience bears witness, and their thoughts accuse them. They had these to guide them, even if they didn’t have the law (vs. 14-15). God judges the motives of the hearts of men, and He judges what they have kept secret (vs. 16).
Paul then turns his argument to the Jews again. Having shown them that Jews and Gentiles will stand condemned before God for their sins, despite their outward moral behaviors, he questions their hypocrisy. The Jews were boasting in God. They were prideful, vain, and felt superior; therefore, they thought themselves capable of teaching others and instructing others on being spiritually mature. They were preaching against theft and adultery yet were committing the same sins. They boasted in the law yet dishonored God by breaking the law, causing His name to be blasphemed (vs. 17-24). The Jews thought their heritage, knowledge of the law, and ceremonies – specifically circumcision – would protect them from God’s judgement. Circumcision was valuable only if the law was obeyed. We already know they were living in disobedience to the law. A Jew, who continually disobeyed the law, was no more saved, no more out from under God’s condemnation, than an uncircumcised Gentile (vs. 25-27).
Paul finishes by telling them circumcision was of the heart, which is what the Jews failed to realize. The inward heart condition matters more than the outward visible sign of their circumcision. A true child of God has had a circumcision of the heart, by the work of God’s Spirit (vs. 28-29).