Jews No Better Than Gentiles
This leads us to Paul’s next important point. While it is not certain exactly who Paul means in verse one, it becomes apparent he is speaking primarily to Jews; although in hindsight, we can see this being applicable to all those who see themselves as over and above the Gentile pagan world. The bottom line is that Paul does not want his hearers of the last points made in the previous chapter to shout “amen!” and “shame on those pagan Gentiles!” without first examining our own hearts. Surely we ought to empathize with them, since, according to Paul, we all have come from such a debased world (Ephesians 2:1-5).
We are in no place to presume on the grace of God towards us because we call ourselves followers of Christ. In Paul’s day, this would have been primarily aimed at the Jews who claimed to be followers of Jesus, and felt themselves entitled to the gifts found in the gospel because they were born Jews. Paul is saying this is not so, and probes the hearers now to ask themselves if they practice the things they condemn of the Gentiles. Is there anything we see the pagan world around us doing that we condemn but in private adore?
This doesn’t mean that if we are found with any sin in our life that we must never proclaim the truth of Scripture. This is meant to call ourselves into examination to see if we speak from a two-sided mouth.
The whole point of Romans 2 can be summed up in this way: Paul had just gotten done rendering the pagan Gentile world without excuse; they do not get off because they do not worship the God of the Bible. At the same time, neither do the Jews for their refusal to come in their heart and spirit; all men everywhere are commanded to repent and believe in Christ. This is not simply a new religion among the pantheon of religions in the Roman Empire–this is the truth, which Paul proclaimed in Athens to the philosophers (Acts 17:22-31).
Those who have sinned without the law (the Gentiles) will perish–without the law. Those who sinned under the law are no better; the only difference is they have the law, and are judged by it. Hence they go down the same pit as the one without the law. Having the law and the oracles of God does not make you better and put you in favor with God. In fact, as Paul tells us in Romans 2, that makes you even more accountable to God.
By the end of chapter 2, if we have not come to realize that we are among the guilty of God’s law and standard, and that we are in no place to set ourselves as God’s arbiter to men, we have missed the gospel completely. There are many even to our day, who use the Bible to try and silence and force others into submission under their own rules. These are men and women who are not truly born of God, but use God’s word as a weapon to control others. The truth believer approaches the world of sinners with this as his or her presupposition: I was among the damned, brought out by the grace of God, and as His grace was what it took to save me, so it must be for them, and that is what I preach to them.