Having offered a substantive list of heinous sins against a holy God, Paul puts his own audience under the righteous condemnation. No one is without excuse, for though all men willingly and frequently pass their own finite judgment upon others for various sins, they condemn themselves in their judgment, for they too have committed like sins; and those against an infinite God. Therefore, he says, there is no escape from condemnation upon the merits of those who cannot but sin by their very nature.
Paul may be arguing from the lesser to the greater in that the universal judgment of men upon men confirms to our conscience that the judgment of God who is without sin is just upon those who have sinned. In any case, God’s judgment upon sinfulness is righteous because it is God who determines what is right, and there is not a soul whose allegiance and fidelity are not required of him to worship and obey as God has ordained. Therefore even the so-called good men among us who withhold even a thought of thankfulness owed to God have fallen short of His holy standard.
But if there were any yet who still thought themselves able to escape the judgment of God, perhaps because of their position of self-righteousness, or perhaps hoping that their judgments against others have been slight or insignificant, Paul asks a first rhetorical question, the answer to which has been clearly stated already. All who pass judgment are under judgment, because they have transgressed in the very same ways as those they judge and condemn. If we, as sinners, have no qualms about condemning those who sin against us, how much more worthy is God to judge we who sin against Him; He who is without defect?
But unless Paul crushes without consideration of the new nature of his audience in Christ Jesus, he asks a second rhetorical question to lead them into further humility before God, and one that should spark thankfulness in their hearts. For though Christians may know the truth and rest in God’s grace, we have no boast before God, save to boast in His kindness, longsuffering, and patience with us—for by these attributes He has been pleased to draw us to the repentance He makes available through His Son. The Christian should not, therefore, be quick to judge, lest they forget the mercies of God that bought them from destruction and presently uphold them in righteousness before God.
Yet if there were any yet unrepentant in his audience, Paul reminds them of the wages of their sinfulness. For stubborn and unrepentant hearts store up daily the eternal righteous judgment and wrath of God upon sin. For every soul that enters the first death and has not the faith to plead the blood of Christ before the sentence of judgment shall surely be condemned to the second death, which is eternal punishment of their sin in pain and anguish. On the other hand, the Christian with faith in Christ’s atoning work ought to be reminded of the kindness of God every time he stumbles into sin and approaches the Father for forgiveness.
Paul quotes a common theme from the Scriptures, that God recompenses everyone according to the deeds of their doing. The deeds of the flesh and the deeds of the Spirit comprise the whole of human work in this world. There is no work that is not of faith or of disobedience, for as we work each work, we also will with one will; and that willing must be born of the nature of our federal head: either Adam the sinful, or Christ the righteous, as Paul will later clarify.
Paul lists the reward of faithfulness to Christ in seeking to persevere in His goodness (which is made ours), in His honor (which is made ours), and in His immortality (which is made ours)—eternal life in the presence and favor of God.
Next listed is the reward for faithlessness to Christ in seeking our own ambitions, our own standard of truth (which is not truth), our own righteousness (which is unrighteousness)—wrath and indignation in the presence and disfavor of God. For what is more appropriate to sinning against eternal God? Is it eternity apart from His presence, or eternity in the presence of His disfavor? For now we do not see Him clearly, but then we shall see Him with unveiled eyes, and this too includes those in sin. For those in Christ they shall see God through Christ, and He through Christ shall see them. But those in sin who have no mediated shall see God in His holiness and be consumed by it forever, for His wrath upon sin is relentless and perfect. Remember that He who became our sin bore upon Himself the wrath of God in order that we might find favor in His sight. Shall sinners who are not purchased by Christ’s blood escape what He bore upon Himself?
Here Paul introduces for the first time the distinctions of Jew and Greek. Though he is not yet transitioning into the guilt of the Jew, he foreshadows the topic of their own unrighteousness in his acknowledgment that tribulation and distress await all classes of men who are evil, including and foremost the Jew, then followed by the Greek. As those of choice preference, the Jews who reject Christ shall also be the first partakers in judgment, which was partially fulfilled in the destruction of the Temple only a generation after Christ’s crucifixion.
But if the Jew is first to face the judgment of God, followed by the Greek (or gentile), then the Jew is also first to find the glory and honor and peace of God in Christ, followed by the Greek. Christ, the Messiah, was of the Jews and came to the Jews, and His first disciples were of the Jews. Moreover, it was from the Jews that Christ chose His apostles. We may also expect that the Jews will be honored first at Christ’s final return and then shall the Gentiles follow so that all may thus be satisfied in Christ for eternity.
The reason for Paul’s mention of classes is made clear in this verse. Although the Jews experienced God’s special favor in being His chosen people, and though the Christ came from their midst; Christ came so that all classes of men would be saved and that all classes of men would be judged according to God’s good pleasure. It is not due to anything in humanity, whether Jew or Gentile, that God has chosen them for redemption or condemnation. God’s partiality is not set upon any man, or class of men, but rather upon His own glory. Therefore neither the Jews nor the Greek have reason to boast of their position, for their position is one and the same in Christ, as well as it is one in the same apart from Christ.
Paul expounds upon this theme of impartiality by concerning himself with the Law of God. Gentiles, to whom God did not reveal His Law are under the penalty of death according to the Law, though they have it not. This condemnation occurs according to the Law, yet without their having the Law, by virtue of all that has been said already regarding the testimony of conscience and Creation. Jews, to whom God graciously revealed His Law, are under the penalty of death according to the Law, for all men are sinful, including Jews who have the Law. The judgment of the Law falls upon the Jews because in their knowledge of it they were yet obstinate in their sin. The judgment of God falls upon the Gentiles because in their knowledge of Him they were yet obstinate in their sin. So over those with the Law or without the Law, God is the impartial judge of all sinners.
The reason why all are condemned regardless of being given the Law is detailed in this and the next verse. Righteousness is not accomplished by having been given the Law, that is, in hearing it and being able to understand its commands, but in performing it perfectly. God’s justice requires not simply that the Law be understood in all its precepts, but that is also be accomplished and obeyed in all its precepts. James has so pointedly said that he who stumbles at the least of the commandments of God is held guilty before them all. For though the Law is made of many and various components, it is yet one Law, God’s Law, and its transgression at any point is a transgression against the perfect God, who cannot bear any sin to have a part with Him.
Continuing his exposition, Paul shows that the Gentiles follow the Law and recognize its virtue even though they have not been given the Law by the divine revelation. When the Law forbids murder and the Gentiles, by way of their own laws also condemn murder, the Gentiles have confirmed what the Law commands. When the Law requires society to be ordered such that children are under their parents’s authority and the Gentiles so order their society in the same fashion, the Gentiles have confirmed what the Law commands. Thus, although the Gentiles were not given the Law in all its varied parts as were the Jews, Gentiles nonetheless recognizes the authority of the Law in its essential principles, that is, the Ten Commandments.
How is it that the Gentiles, who are without the Law of Moses, are able to confirm the Law of Moses in their own laws? It is because the work of the Law is upon their conscience by virtue of being created in God’s image. The Law is within us because we are God’s image, reflecting His rational mind and His moral understanding. The animals are neither reasoning beings, nor are they bound by any knowledge of proper relationship, for they are no created in the image of God. Yet all men possess both the power of reasoning and the knowledge of moral relationships such that their own consciences bear witness to the validity of God’s Law. When a man appeals to conscience for wrongs done against him he appeals to God’s Law. When a man appeals to conscience to excuse himself from wrong he recognizes a Law bearing upon him. The Law is inescapable because it is bound up in our very being.
The relationship of the Gentile to the Law having been made evidently clear, Paul closes his thought on the matter of Gentiles and the Law with an authoritative remark. The judgment of the Law upon the Gentiles, who know its validity implicitly, shall, according to the gospel Paul has received from Christ, be accomplished by God, their true Judge. Knowledge of the Law and its condemnation, which is kept secret in their hearts according to their foolish suppression, shall be laid bare before God and He shall judge them through the agency of the One they have rejected, who was and is their only hope of righteousness, Christ Jesus.