Romans 2:1–2, “Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.”
His indictment of Gentiles complete, Paul in today’s passages shifts gears and begins addressing a second group of people, and he will conclude that these individuals are no better off than those he described in Romans 1. The abrupt shift in Romans 2:1–2 to new objects of his condemnation illustrates the Apostle’s rhetorical talents. Clearly, he expects this new group of people to have been giving their “amens,” as it were, to his evaluation of the Gentiles’ condition. But he now turns the tables on them, bringing them under the same judgment that they were giving to the people described in Romans 1.
Although today’s passage has application for virtuous pagans who lead outwardly ethical lives and hate the sins of their countrymen, we must conclude that Paul is primarily talking about the Jews in Romans 2. There are a number of allusions to extrabiblical Jewish literature in verse 4, and since Paul declares that the gospel is for the Jews and the Greeks in 1:16–17, it makes sense that he would address Jews after having looked at Gentile sins. In any case, the Apostle appeals to the Jews’ own moral sensibilities and knowledge of the Lord’s standards to convince them of what they considered unthinkable, namely, that being a child of Israel is not enough to give them any salvific advantage before God.
Romans 2:1 looks at the act of judging. Paul tells the Jews that their condemnation of Gentile transgressions proves that they know that such evil merits only eternal death. They are without excuse when they practice the same sins because if they can recognize wickedness in others, they can certainly identify it in themselves. First-century Jews may not have been known for sins such as the worship of images or sexual immorality, but that does not mean they were any less sinful than the Gentiles. Like the rest of humanity, first-century Jews indulged in boastfulness, gossip, and the other things the Apostle condemns in 1:28–32. They took too far their pride in being God’s chosen nation, presuming upon this favor and taking it to mean that they were safe before His judgment (Luke 3:7–9).
The Jews in Paul’s day should have known better. God is an impartial judge and perfect in righteousness, so His judgment rightly falls upon all of those who practice wickedness (Rom. 2:2). With that fact, first-century Judaism agreed. Where the Jews needed convincing was in the fact that they themselves were as guilty of evil as their Gentile neighbors. Paul sets out in Romans 2 to convince them of that fact.
Regardless of whether we are Jews by birth, we can all recognize the truth of Paul’s words from our own experience. If we are honest, we see how often we judge others for the very same sins that we practice ourselves. The solution is not to stop judging altogether, but to see that our own judgment means that we cannot be excused for our sin before God. Thus, we must run to the gospel and be careful to apply to ourselves the same standards by which we judge others.