Pastor David B. Curtis


Judgment Is Impartial

Romans 2:11-16

Delivered 01/30/2011

We are studying Romans verse-by-verse, and we are in chapter 2. Romans 2:1-16, sets forth the principles of divine judgment. We see in these verses that God judges according to truth or reality; Paul points this out in the first 4 verses. We also see that God judges according to works; he points this out in verse 5 through verse 11. And he concludes the section by pointing out that God judges impartially. So He judges according to reality. He judges according to works. He judges impartially.

If you want to know what God is like, where do you go? The Scriptures! Where else can you go? Nowhere! It is only in the Scriptures that we can learn about God and what He is like. The Bible tells us that He is Holy, Loving, Just, Wise, Omnipotent--all powerful, Omniscient--all knowing, Omnipresent--all of God is everywhere, Immutable--He never changes, Sovereign, Gracious, Merciful, and Faithful; just to name a few of His attributes.

One attribute of God that we don't hear much about is that He is Impartial. God is absolutely and totally impartial in dealing with people. I'm afraid it isn't so with us; we are very partial. We have a virtual cast system that is based on popularity, looks, race, social status, and wealth.

When the tragedy of the sinking of the Titanic in 1912 was published in The American, a New York newspaper, the article focused almost entirely upon John Jacob Astor, a millionaire who had drowned. Eighteen hundred other people drowned, but, typically, the world is only interested in the rich and famous. The public doesn't care much about Joe Average, and, let's face it, most of us are just average people; but I want you to understand that God does! God cares about the little and seemingly insignificant people just as much as He does the "beautiful" people of society.

A person's education, economic status, looks, clothes, social status, job, fame, prestige, and earthly honor all mean nothing to God:

"For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. "He executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and shows His love for the alien by giving him food and clothing. "So show your love for the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt. "You shall fear the LORD your God; you shall serve Him and cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name. Deuteronomy 10:17-20 NASB

God tells us that He is impartial, and says that His people are to also be impartial:

"Now then let the fear of the LORD be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the LORD our God will have no part in unrighteousness or partiality or the taking of a bribe." 2 Chronicles 19:7 NASB

Because God is impartial, He calls His people to be impartial, and disciplines them when they are not:

"So I also have made you despised and abased before all the people, just as you are not keeping My ways but are showing partiality in the instruction. Malachi 2:9 NASB

Because of Israel's partiality, God was disciplining them. The Scriptures repeatedly speak of God's impartiality. God is impartial in salvation. Speaking about God calling him to share the Gospel with the Gentile, Cornelius, Peter said:

Opening his mouth, Peter said: "I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. Acts 10:34-35 NASB

Peter perceived that God is impartial in the act of salvation. God doesn't care what race you are, or what your bank account is, or what your education level is, or your social standing. God calls all types of men and women to salvation.

who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:4 NASB

In the context "all men" here, does not mean every single man, but all types of men:

First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 1 Timothy 2:1-2 NASB

God saves all types of individuals; kings and common men, rich and poor, handsome and ugly.

Our text in Romans this morning shows us that God is impartial in judgment:

There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God. Romans 2:9-11 NASB

God judges the Jew as well as the Greek. He judges the slave and the master, the rich and the poor. God's standard is always the same, He judges on the basis of works:

but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, "YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY." If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one's work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth; 1 Peter 1:15-17 NASB

We tend to be very partial. We are impressed by people's cars, homes, clothes, jobs, degrees, and social standing. But none of these impress God; none of them. God judges simply and totally on the basis of our works.

There is a vivid illustration of this in 1 Samuel 16. There was a time in the history of Israel when God rejected Saul as king and commissioned Samuel to anoint his successor. Samuel was led by the Lord to the family of Jesse. As he was looking at Jesse's sons, his eyes alighted upon Eliab, the eldest. Eliab must have been a very big, impressive, handsome young man, and Samuel thought, "Surely this must be the Lord's choice. He has all the marks of kingship about him." He should have learned from Saul that such was not necessarily the case, for Saul certainly had a stature befitting a king:

When they entered, he looked at Eliab and thought, "Surely the LORD'S anointed is before Him." But the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." 1 Samuel 16:6-7 NASB

God is not interested in us because of what we have, and God is not disinterested in us because of what we lack. He is impartial! And He expects His people to be impartial:

'You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor nor defer to the great, but you are to judge your neighbor fairly. Leviticus 19:15 NASB
"Then I charged your judges at that time, saying, 'Hear the cases between your fellow countrymen, and judge righteously between a man and his fellow countryman, or the alien who is with him. 'You shall not show partiality in judgment; you shall hear the small and the great alike. You shall not fear man, for the judgment is God's. The case that is too hard for you, you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.' Deuteronomy 1:16-17 NASB
These also are sayings of the wise. To show partiality in judgment is not good. Proverbs 24:23 NASB

Alright, so we see that God is impartial, and He expects the same from us. Let's go back to our text:

For there is no partiality with God. Romans 2:11 NASB

The word translated "partiality" is a Greek verb prosopolepsia, which is a combination of the word "face," and the word to "receive." It means: "to receive by face," i.e., to judge on the basis of some external or superficial factor. God doesn't receive your face is what it really says. God is not in the business of receiving anybody's face.

Before the New Testament there are no instances of the word prosopolepsia. The idea was there in the First Testament as we have already seen, but the New Testament writers coined this word.

This Greek word is used a number of other times in the New Testament, and in every other case except one God is the subject of the sentence and it is expressed negatively. "God does not show partiality." "God is not a respecter of persons." "God does not receive people by face." God doesn't judge by externals; He judges the heart.

The one time that it is not used of God is in James. James tells believers, "Do not show partiality. Do not receive a man by face." We are not to judge a man by the color of his skin, physical appearance, the kind of clothes he wears, the sort of academic credentials he carries, or his economic status. God is impartial, and so are we to be.

The traditional visual symbol of "Justice" is a blindfolded woman holding scales and a sword. The scales are for weighing right and wrong; the sword is to punish the guilty; the blindfold is to show that she is impartial. This idea that justice is blind simply means that justice does not want to take into account anyone's looks or anyone's position in life or anything other than the truth itself.

I read a story about a traffic policeman who pulled a motorist over to the side of a road, and asked to see his license. When he showed his license to him, the cop said, "This license says you have to wear glasses while you are driving. Where are your glasses?" The man said, "I have contacts." The cop said, "I don't care who you know, you are going to get a ticket anyway."

There are many of us who think that if we have contacts in the right places, this will buy off the judgment we deserve, which in the human realm is pretty much true, but this doesn't work with God.

God is without partiality. This was not good news for the Jew. God is not impressed by breeding, or by ancestry. No one will escape judgment because Abraham was his father, or because he was circumcised. The Jews thought that because they had been chosen by God, and given so much from God, that they would escape His judgment. Speaking to Israel God said:

"You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth; Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." Amos 3:2 NASB

Israel was the family that God had made His own. God tells them "You only have I loved as My own of all the families of the earth." And then He says, "Therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities." God's judgment of men is impartial. He doesn't care whether your ancestors came over on the Mayflower, or whether they met it when it arrived--it makes no difference to Him.

Now before we go any farther in our text, let me ask you a very important question,

"Who is Paul talking to in this section?" He is talking to a Jewish interlocutor. He is using a well known style of teaching called diatribe?

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; Romans 2:12 NASB

The "for" here is the Greek word "gar." When Paul says "for" he is explaining what has just gone before. Verses 12-16 further explain verses 7-11. God will judge Jew and Greek alike. The "Law" here is the Torah, the Jewish Law of Moses, the Writings and the Prophets. "All who have sinned without the Law"--simply means Gentiles. And "All who have sinned under the Law"--refers to the Jews. The Gentiles did not have Torah. They had no prophets, they had no biblical writers, they did not have the written revelation of God, the Law of God, only the Jews did.

Let me ask you a question here, "How can you sin without the Law?"

for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Romans 5:13 NASB

Paul says: Sin is not put to your account when there is not law. So how had the Gentiles sinned?

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned-- Romans 5:12 NASB

They had sinned in Adam, their federal head. They were in fact guilty--in Adam.

The Jew has the Law, the Gentile does not have the Law. If a man has the Law, he'll be judged on that basis. If he doesn't, he'll be judged on that basis. The Law of Moses will not be brought in to condemn those who sinned with no access to the Law of Moses. It will be used only to judge those who had access to it. This is justice!

Paul's imaginary opponent, the Jewish interlocutor, is going to ask a question; he's going to say, "Now wait a minute, Paul, we who have been the guardians of the Law, we who have been the agents by which God has revealed the Law, we who have written it and rewritten it and preserved it, we should have the higher honor, not the greater condemnation. We who have possessed the Law should be protected from God's wrath." To this Paul responds:

for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. Romans 2:13 NASB

This verse further shows God's impartiality. The word for "hearers" is not the usual word. It is not the normal word for hear, which would be akouo. The word here is akroates and it's used specifically of pupils who hear because they're constantly in the educational process. Vincent, translates it, "Those whose business is hearing." That's exactly what the Jews did in the synagogues. They heard and heard and heard and heard, it was read to them week after week after week, it was explained to them, and they were literally professional hearers.

It was not the hearer who was just, but the doer. Here again we see that God judges on the basis of works.

Paul says, "The doers of the Law will be justified"--Paul here introduces us to the term "justified," dikaioo for the first of fourteen usages in Romans. It is from the legal realm and means: "a declaration of righteousness." To be justified by God is to be declared righteous in regard to His Law.

Paul says the doers of the Law will be justified--does that bother anybody? It should if you are familiar with the book of Romans. Later in the book Paul says:

But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness, Romans 4:5 NASB

Here it clearly says that it is faith that justifies, but he seems to be saying we are justified by works in 2:13. Is he contradicting himself? No, there are no contradictions in the Bible.

There are several explanations of what Paul is saying in verse 13. Some explain, doing or practicing the Law as the way to find acceptance with God. Hopefully, you understand that this isn't true.

John Stott says, "This is a theoretical or hypothetical statement, of course, since no human being has ever fully obeyed the law (cf. 3:20)" (Romans: God's Good News for the World [Downer's Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994], (p.86).

So some take it as a verification of a works righteousness and other like Stott take it as hypothetical. Look at the verse:

for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. Romans 2:13 NASB

Paul clearly says the doers of the Law will be justified. What does he mean? We know he is not pushing a works righteousness. And I don't see it as hypothetical. So, who are the "doers" of the Law? Is it the Jews? Notice what Peter says:

"He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone. "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." Acts 4:11-12 NASB

Peter sites here from Psalm 118:22 with a slight difference. He adds "by you"--referring to the Jewish leaders. The rulers, the "builders" of Israel, have rejected Jesus, therefore, they were NOT doers of the Law. They rejected the Christ, but God has made Him the cornerstone of the new Israel, which holds the whole building together.

Listen carefully, to be a doer of the Law is to believe in Jesus Christ. Listen to what Moses told the Israelites:

"The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him. Deuteronomy 18:15 NASB

Moses urged the Israelites to accept and believe in the promised Messiah. Faith is required by the Law, and faith is the sole means of union with Christ whose righteousness vindicates us at the judgment. Peter, quoting this verse in Acts, says:

"Moses said, 'THE LORD GOD WILL RAISE UP FOR YOU A PROPHET LIKE ME FROM YOUR BRETHREN; TO HIM YOU SHALL GIVE HEED to everything He says to you. 'And it will be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.' Acts 3:22-23 NASB

Peter identifies the true Israel, the true Law doers. It is those who follow Messiah. If you reject the Messiah, you will no longer be "the people"; that is a technical designation for Israel. If you reject Christ, you are not a doer of the Law.

Paul, in the early parts of Romans, throws things out as teasers that he will fully develop later. Let's jump ahead to help our understanding here:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4 NASB

There is no judgment for those in Christ. To believe in Christ is to be a doer of the Law. The Law speaks of the coming Christ:

Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. Luke 24:27 NASB

Notice carefully what Paul says in Romans 8:4:

so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:4 NASB

The requirement of the Law is fulfilled in Christians. All the Law required I did in Christ. To walk according to the Spirit is to be a doer of the Law and to be justified.

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, Romans 2:14 NASB

The misinterpretation of this verse has led to great misunderstanding. Many see this verse as saying that God has written on the heart of every man a basic moral code. That code is similar to the things contained in the Ten Commandments. This universal moral code consists of things like "Do not steal," "Do not cheat," "Tell the truth," "Honor your parents," "Keep your word," "Help the poor," "Do not kill," and so on.

John Piper writes, "All human beings have the moral law of God stamped on their hearts. Paul is teaching something enormously important here about human nature. The 'instinctively' is literally 'by nature.' In other words, Paul is telling us something fundamental here about human nature." Then to reinforce his point, Piper says, "We have seen this teaching before in 1:21 ("They knew God"). Every human soul, as it comes to consciousness, knows that it is created by God, and dependent on God, and should honor and thank God (1:20-21)."

Another commentator writes, "He has written His moral standards into the human DNA so that even remote tribal groups understand something of God's law." Is that true? Do all men know God's law? I sure don't see this. From what I understand, this verse in Romans is the proof verse for this teaching. Many take this verse to mean that the Gentiles "by nature" do some things the law requires. They take it to mean that there is something inside the heart of man which compels him to keep the moral standards that God laid down in the Ten Commandments.

The key to understanding this verse is translation. All the major translations have missed it here and their mistake has led to a faulty view of innate knowledge of God.

N.T. Wright says, "The phrase 'by nature' goes with the possession of the Law, not with the doing of the Law." That is those who do not have the Law by nature--in other words Gentiles. Paul is here distinguishing between Jews who are born with Torah, and Gentiles who by nature or birth do not have the Law. Yet these Gentiles are doing the things of the Law.

The NASB's "instinctively" and the KJV's and NIV's "by nature" are from the Greek word phusis (fo-zees). That Paul uses this word to refer to the possession of the Law is clear from his use of phusis in:

And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? Romans 2:27 NASB

The word "physically" here is phusis. This is almost identical to the point that Paul makes in verse 14. Here the "physically uncircumcised" who keep the Torah refers to Gentiles. This cannot refer to people who are "naturally" or "innately" circumcised, but to those who don't physically have the Law. And in verse 14 we could translate it, "To those who do not physically have the Law, do the things of the Law."

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, Romans 2:14 NASB

Who are these Gentile Law keepers? If you have been listening, you should know this. They are Gentile Christians! Cranfield says, "This view [that they are Gentile Christians] is found in Augustine and in the earliest Latin commentary which has come down to us."

The gar at the beginning of verse 14 is linked with the last clause of verse 13, "but the doers of the Law will be justified." The doing of the Law by the Gentiles in verse 14 is directly linked with verse 13b, which speaks of a law keeping that involves justification.

We could translate it, "For when Gentiles who by nature do not have the Law, do what the Law requires, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves."They don't have the Law, but they do the things of the Law. How is that possible? They are Christian Gentiles, they have trusted Christ, and the requirement of the Law is fulfilled in them. How? The next verse tells us:

in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, Romans 2:15 NASB

"Work of the Law written in their hearts"--the requirement of the Law is fulfilled in them because it has been written on their hearts. Where do we find the promise of the Law being written on the hearts:

"Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah..."But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people... "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." Jeremiah 31:31-34 NASB

The verbal similarity between "Work of the Law written in their hearts" in Romans 2:15 and the Septuagint version of Jeremiah 31:33 is so close that it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Paul has the Jeremiah passage in mind.

Let me say a word or two here about conscience. Conscience means co-knowledge; its that inner voice that tells us how to behave based on what we have learned. The Webster dictionary says, "Conscience is the sense or consciousness of the moral goodness or blameworthiness of one's own conduct, intentions, or character together with a feeling of obligation to do right or be good. A faculty, power, or principle enjoining good acts."

The Greek word that Paul uses here is suneidesis, which simply means: "co-knowledge." And I guess we could say that it means: "co-knowledge with oneself." The etymology of the word basically comes whether it's in Greek or Latin or English from the same root, the idea is: "to know along with."

Do you understand that conscience does not always tell you to do what is right? It tells you to do that which you have been told is right. It tells us how to behave based on what we have learned. Your conscience may render you guilty when you're really not; or not render you guilty when you really are.

The New Testament presents the human conscience as a computer-like faculty. It has no pre-programmed data in it, but whatever a person experiences programs his or her conscience. If he learns that lying is wrong, for example, his conscience will from then on bring that information to his mind in appropriate situations. Therefore, some individuals who grow up in cultures that value a particular practice that other cultures abhor, such as deception or treachery, have no conscience about being deceptive or practicing treachery. All people grow up learning that some things that are truly bad are bad and other things that are truly good are good.

For a long time in Paul's life his conscience was fouled up, and his conscience was telling him what he was doing was right--killing Christians; trying to stomp out Christianity. Our conscience must be informed by God's Word, or it will be a faulty guide. Paul was acting in good conscience when he persecuted the church, but he was terribly wrong, because his conscience was informed more by his Jewish culture than by the Scriptures.

Today a Christian may feel guilty because they are not tithing. This is only because they have been taught that they must tithe. But the New Testament nowhere commands the believer to tithe. Tithing is Jewish, not Christian. But if you are taught wrong, you will feel guilty for doing things that are not wrong.

Many people do things that are wrong, but don't feel guilty because they have been taught they are right. The woman in India who takes her baby and throws it to drown in the Ganges River thinks she is serving her God. She looks at that god as some great fearful ogre who must be appeased.

on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. Romans 2:16 NASB

"On that day"--God had set a day in which he would judge the world.

because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead." Acts 17:31 NASB

And Paul said that the judgment was "about to be." This judgment will be the Day of the Lord.

"According to my gospel"--means that the Gospel Paul preached included the judgment to those who rejected it.

"God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus"--if men are to be judged through Jesus Christ, if the secrets of men's hearts are to be unfolded and revealed by Jesus Christ, it's obvious that Jesus Christ must be God, because only God knows the secrets of men's hearts.

So Paul has given us the principles of divine judgment in these 16 verses. God judges according to reality. He judges according to works. He judges impartially.

Our God is impartial, and He calls us, His children, to be impartial also:

My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. James 2:1 NASB

The word translated "personal favoritism" is the Greek word prosopolepsia; it's the same word in our text in Romans. This is the one time that it is not used of God. It means to judge on the basis of some external or superficial factor--to judge a man by the color of his skin or physical appearance or the kind of clothes he wears or the sort of academic credentials he carries or his economic status. This is what James is talking about when he says, "Do not receive a man by face."

The way we behave toward people indicates what we really believe about God. We cannot and dare not separate human relationships from divine fellowship:

If someone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also. 1 John 4:20-21 NASB

God is not a respecter of persons, and if Jesus Christ is Lord of our lives, then we cannot be respecters of persons either:

If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. James 2:8-9 NASB

Everything that we do, James says, ought to be controlled by the law of love. This is the law that sums up all the First Testament laws. If Jesus is Lord of our lives, then there will be a change in our lives. He will be our source of love. And we will be motivated by that source of love to reach out toward other people--even if they're not "our kind of people," even if they don't wear the right clothes, or aren't one of the "beautiful" people, or don't have the kind of background we would prefer. We love them anyway.

Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. Romans 15:7 NASB

How did Christ receive us? Without partiality! We are to receive one another the same way. If you are partial, if you accept or reject people on the basis of the outward, you are not walking in love.

Our media and culture may focus on the rich and famous, but God does not, and neither should we. As believers, let's strive to deal with the sin of partiality in our lives that we may live lives that honor God and reflect His character.

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