The Righteous Judgment of God (2:1-11)
The Great Apostle now launches a direct attack upon our pride. How natural it is to read the previous list of sinful vices and presume that we stand apart from them. Paul, we imagine, is surely talking about the evil people, not about nice people like ourselves. We imagine ourselves to be a distinctly better sort, and therefore can participate with God in rendering judgment against those bad others!
Therefore you have no excuse, O man, whoever you are, when you judge another; for in passing judgment upon him you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who do such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God?
There is massive confusion in Christianity about the issue of judgment. The moral relativity of our times encourages us to interpret a passage such as this in the “live and let live” sense. That is, Christians shouldn’t judge anyone’s beliefs or behavior or we’ll be hypocritical.
However, as is clearly demonstrated elsewhere in this letter and in Scripture, we are called upon to make judgments. So, how to interpret this passage?
I think that Paul is here discussing judgment regarding righteousness before God as opposed to that before men. He’s addressing those of us who imagine ourselves to be of a “better” sort who thus are able to judge others with respect to their ultimate worth. We see our “works” as having earned a level of righteousness that separates us from the stain of sin.
But none of us has earned such a position in God’s economy. When we imagine that, because of our superior morality from whatever source, we are empowered to separate the goats from the sheep, we lie to ourselves and usurp God’s glory.
4 Or do you presume upon the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not know that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
But we can never be led to repentance if we are taught that there is no such thing as sin that corrupts our every thought and action, and that separates us from God.
5 But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
Progressive Christianity simply rejects passages such as this. Since God is a construct of their own making, he is not allowed to operate beyond their control.
6 For he will render to every man according to his works: 7 to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; 8 but for those who are factious and do not obey the truth, but obey wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. 9 There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for every one who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.
Here we have another passage that creates bewilderment. For, taken in isolation it appears to be about salvation by works. And, the dominant philosophy of Scriptural interpretation is to treat each passage in isolation and then show how it conflicts with other isolated passages. The clear purpose is to convince ourselves and others that Scripture is such a mess of contradiction that it can mean everything and anything. We are thus freed to think and live as we please.
There was a time when issues like this were resolved under the assumption that Scripture is not contradictory. Thus, if Scripture clearly teaches that salvation cannot be earned by works (which it does) then passages such as this cannot be interpreted to teach that false doctrine.
Note that the Apostle here does not identify the source of those good and bad works. Rather, he simply comments on the fact that there is a difference in works that God will judge in the end. We know that, through the process of sanctification, the elect will be drawn away from their sinful nature and towards likeness to Christ. This process will include the increase in that which pleases God and a decrease in that which does not.
The elect can cooperate more or less with this external impulse due to the operation of their free will. However, they are powerless to contradict God’s eternal act of providence. So, Paul is here describing the consequence of God’s work in the elect (and the lack of same in the non-elect) as opposed to a works earned salvation.
Were we to conclude the opposite then we would have to say that the Apostle Paul in particular and Scripture in general teaches both salvation by works and salvation by grace. This is a useful position if your goal is to do whatever happens to please you today. It is a horrific error if your goal is to glorify God.