What does Romans 2:2 mean?
ESV: We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.
NIV: Now we know that God's judgment against those who do such things is based on truth.
NASB: And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.
CSB: Now we know that God's judgment on those who do such things is based on the truth.
NLT: And we know that God, in his justice, will punish anyone who does such things.
KJV: But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things.
Paul has sprung a kind of trap on his religious readers. He is especially targeting those Jewish people who think that following the law of Moses has made them right with God, and therefore free from His judgment. In the previous chapter, Paul described how humanity on the whole rejects God and indulges in all kinds of sinful words, actions, and lifestyles (Romans 1:18–32). Paul concluded that argument by saying that such sinful living earns a death sentence from God. Paul's trap was this: He knew many of his Jewish readers assumed that list of sins and the resulting judgment of God did not apply to them. After all, they were God's special people. He would not condemn them.
Paul does condemn them, though, starting with their judgment of other sinners. Now he declares that we all know God is justified in condemning those who sin in the ways previously described. God judges sin. Period. This even applies to sins practiced by faithful Jewish followers of the law. They should not assume they are immune from God's judgment.
Paul is beginning to lay the groundwork for the central theme of this letter, and his entire ministry: everyone, even Jewish people, must be saved by faith in Christ.
Romans 2:1–11 springs a trap, of sorts, for every reader who thought that Paul's devastating list of sins at the end of Romans 1 was about other people. In truth, everyone is guilty of sin. Those who judge others are guilty, also, of hypocrisy. Nobody will escape God's judgment for personal sin, including religious Jews and Gentiles. God will absolutely judge each person according to what he or she has done. If someone has lived sinlessly, doing only good, he will receive rewards and eternal life. If not, he deserves wrath and fury. This point sets up Paul's explanation of how we can, in fact, obtain salvation: by grace through faith.
Romans 2 springs a trap on any religious person who read Paul's lists of sins at the end of Romans 1 and thought it wasn't about them. Paul calls them out for making themselves judges when they are also guilty. He shows that God will judge everyone, including those under the law, based on their works. This prefaces this letter's theme of salvation by grace, through faith, rather than by works. Many benefits come with having the law, but only if those under the law keep it. Jewishness—circumcision—must be an inner state, not just an outer one. Paul will show in the following chapter that none of us really meets those conditions.
Having just concluded a list of terrible sins humanity indulges in as a result of rejecting God, Paul turns to religious people and says, ''This applies to you, too.'' Nobody can judge arrogantly, because we are all guilty. Even God's people the Jews will stand before Him in judgment based on their works. Having the law only matters if someone can keep the law. Paul asks his Jewish readers why they don't and shows that they must be Jewish and circumcised in their hearts for it to matter. In the following chapter, he will show that nobody can keep the law.
The book of Romans is the New Testament's longest, most structured, and most detailed description of Christian theology. Paul lays out the core of the gospel message: salvation by grace alone through faith alone. His intent is to explain the good news of Jesus Christ in accurate and clear terms. As part of this effort, Paul addresses the conflicts between law and grace, between Jews and Gentiles, and between sin and righteousness. As is common in his writing, Paul closes out his letter with a series of practical applications.
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