Romans 2:3–5, “Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of 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.”
Many first-century Jews had a particular issue with pride, believing themselves to be far and away more righteous than the Gentiles around them and therefore deserving of God’s favor. For example, recall that Peter separated himself from Gentile Christians because of the influence of Judaizers in Antioch (Gal. 2:11–14). In regard to our present study of Romans, Paul’s harsh words for the Jews in chapter 2 make sense only in a context where Jewish readers thought themselves innocent of the sins of the Gentiles, or at least assured of a presence in the kingdom simply because they were descendants of Abraham.
The Apostle will have none of this, and he goes out of his way to show Jewish readers who put stock in their own righteousness before the Lord that they, too, have no hope outside of the righteousness from God available only in the gospel. Romans 2:3 is particularly strong in its contention that Jews will not be exempt from judgment according to the same standard by which our Creator will judge the Gentiles simply because they are Jews. His rhetorical question is designed, beyond a shadow of a doubt, to convince us of the foolishness of thinking that anyone can escape God’s justice. Justice will be done against all sin, which is bad news for sinners in Adam. Thankfully, the good news of the gospel is that those who are in Christ do not feel this justice, for Jesus bears it in their place (3:21–26).
Paul teaches in Romans 2:5 that God’s justice will be satisfied, referring to the day of wrath to come in which the Lord’s ire against sin will reach its full and final consummation (see also Zeph. 1:7–18). But His mercy is seen in that this day is yet future. Our Maker does not wipe us off the map the moment we sin, but He is patient with people so that they might see the folly of their transgressions and turn to Him in repentance (v. 4). God has always worked this way, beginning with Adam and Eve, whom He did not destroy but clothed after they ate the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3). Hundreds of years passed between God’s announcement of the Amorites’ destruction and its fulfillment (chap. 15). The Lord did not cast Israel and Judah out of their land immediately when they began worshiping idols, but He sent prophet after prophet to call them to turn from their sin (2 Chron. 36:15–16).
Sinners often mistake God’s patience and kindness with permissiveness, as if there will be no recompense for our evil. We do this at our peril, for if we do not embrace His mercy now, we are only making things worse for ourselves on judgment day (Rom. 2:5).
Martin Luther comments on today’s passage that “so great is the blindness of the sinner that he abuses to his own harm the things that have been given to him for his own benefit.” Though Paul has the Jews in mind primarily in Romans 2:3–5, we are all, without a doubt, inclined to misinterpret divine patience as laxity in regard to sin. We must not think that God will give us forever to trust in His promises. There comes a day for us all when we will meet our Maker. Are you ready?