Romans Part 2: Sin and Law

February 2, 2007

Paul wrote Romans to address attitudes between Jews and Gentiles in Rome. Were the Jews in some way superior to the Gentiles? Did the Gentiles need to obey Jewish law? Paul’s answer revolved around the issue of righteousness. In chapter 1, Paul introduced the problem of unrighteous living, and the resulting wrath of God. By the end of chapter one, the Jewish audience may have been feeling pretty good about where this was headed. Of course, they may have thought, the Gentiles deserved the wrath of God. After all, think of all the sins they commit! Every sin listed by Paul in chapter 1 was widely practiced in Roman culture. Paul was indicting the Gentile culture in Rome. He was saying just what these Jews had been thinking all along.

But the careful Jewish listener would have realized that the message was deeper than that. Paul helped the rest to catch up, in chapter 2.

Rom 2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.

Jews were not innocent. A review of the sins Paul had mentioned in chapter 1 would make that clear. Maybe they were not guilty of some of the “greater” (in their eyes) sins on that list, but they certainly were not innocent. Even the Pharisees were known for being hypocrites, not practicing what they preached. And it will be the practice, not the preaching, that will be judged in the last day:

Rom 2:6-8 He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.

But what about the law? Wouldn’t the law save the Jew? Not a chance:

Rom 2:12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.

Even the Gentiles had a conscience, and a sense of right and wrong. Yet they were not innocent, and would therefore perish for their sin. The Jews had too a conscience, but they had a much better-trained sense of right and wrong. Yet they still sinned, and would perish for their sin. Paul gets right to the point about the Jews’ hypocrisy:

Rom 2:17-24 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth– you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Yes, the Jews had an advantage by possessing the law. But they did not obey the law and therefore forfeited the advantage. Jews and Gentiles were all alike under sin. If anything, the Jews were in worse position than the Gentiles. Although they knew God and knew his commands, they chose instead to sin.

How about us?

As Christians we possess the scriptures. We serve God. We give our money. We sing “O How I Love Jesus.” We don’t steal, drink, smoke, or cuss (at least some of us don’t…) Doesn’t that make us better than the unbelievers who live for their own pleasure?

Hopefully we know the basics of God’s commands. Yet we still sin. When we judge another we condemn ourselves, since we are also guilty. When we seek to justify ourselves by our long list of service and our supposed goodness, we are confusing the cause and the effect. We cannot save ourselves. We owe God a perfect life, and we have already blown it. We are guilty, and there is nothing we can do about that. We need to be rescued. More on that subject in part 3.


  1. Excellent! This is very well done. Keep up the good work.Grace and Peace,Royce Ogle

  2. Good post Alan. You lft a comment over at my blog I was going to respond to you but I don’t have an email address for you. if you send it to me at cohoon@earthlink.net I will give you a reply.Good post and keep up the good work.Bobby

  3. I look forward to reading all these posts on Romans. I appreciate the work you have put into it. God bless with your study.

  4. […] addressing man’s unrighteousness, and God’s wrath towards that unrighteousness. Then in Part 2 (Rom 2:1-3:18) we saw Paul show that Jews and Gentiles are equally entrenched in that […]

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