A woman in authority once said, “Nobody likes to be told their baby is ugly.” In like manner, nobody likes to be told that their conduct brings them before God’s judgment seat without any reasonable defense. But there is incredible value in knowing that fatal weakness in advance when we may seek the one remedy that can put us on God’s side.
(ESV) Romans 2:1–3 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. 3 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?
A natural reaction to what Paul has said in Romans 1 is: “You are right, Paul, that those bad people — not me of course! — are just as wicked as you say they are.” Paul was not born at night, so he is prepared for that counter to his argument. In short, his statement is: each of you does the very same thing (2:1). Jesus spoke similarly in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 7:1–5).
Paul was likely writing from Corinth to people whom he has never met, but he knows that among these Christians in Rome is a strong contingent of Jewish-Christians. Most scholars think this not-me type of pushback will come chiefly from these Jews. The Jews had argued for centuries that they were superior to the godless Gentiles because God had chosen them as his own people, Abraham’s children. Of course, there will also be some Gentiles who jump on the bandwagon to condemn someone else. In this game, everyone plays.
In Romans 2, Paul ramps up his rhetorical power in several ways. Douglas Moo describes one element: “Paul utilizes here, and sporadically throughout the letter, a literary style called diatribe. Diatribe style . . . uses the literary device of an imaginary dialogue with a student or opponent.” In keeping with this device, Paul addresses his argument to you (second-person singular). That is more forceful. The third device is the “O man” (2:1; 2:3) direct address, which Daniel Wallace says “is used in contexts where deep emotion is to be found.” Clearly the verbal intensity is increasing.
In saying the objectors “have no excuse” (2:1), we have the same Greek adjective used in 1:20 for those who have knowledge of God but suppress it. This adjective is part of a serious change in vocabulary that begins in 2:1. In Romans 1, Paul spoke of God’s wrath (1:18), but now we begin to see the verb krin? (“to judge”), used seven times in Romans 2:1–16, and the noun krima (“judgment”), used in 2:2 and 2:3 to refer to God’s verdict of guilt. In 2:1 we have one person judging another, but Paul says in 2:1–2 that we all stand under God’s judgment because of our individual guilt.
(NET Bible) Romans 2:2 “Now we know that God’s judgment is in accordance with truth against those who practice such things.”
The ESV gets unusually metaphorical in saying “the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things” (2:2), but NET has the better translation here by replacing the italicized phrase with “in accordance with truth.” God is not confused by arguments over which humans are more sinful; they all are! C.E.B. Cranfield explains, “What is being said of the divine judgment is not that it truly is (that there truly is such a thing), but that it is in accordance with the facts (i.e., is just).”
In Romans 2:3 an important Greek verb makes its first appearance: logizomai, here meaning “to hold a view about something, think, believe, be of the opinion.” Since the verb primarily is used for calculating costs and debts, it involves a serious kind of thinking. Even though Paul is asking a rhetorical question, he effectively states that no one is going to be a special exception when it comes to sin, guilt and judgment before God.
In relation to Paul’s question in 2:3, Moo says: “Such a question is legitimately put to the Gentile moralist or philosopher who thinks he or she can please God by his or her good life, but it is particularly the Jew who would be likely to make such an assumption.” None will escape!
Denial is futile
God is saying through Paul that every human being is guilty of acts that put us under his judgment; we are all without excuse.
1. World history is replete with those who fought for high status as proof they were better than others. But such denial of the truth about humanity does not work before God. What role has self-justification played in your own spiritual journey?
2. How does admitting our guilt before God free us to seek God’s solution to the problem?
In itself our sin and guilt before God cannot be considered good news, yet it forms a critical pillar of the gospel. Just as accurate diagnosis must precede effective medical treatment, so our spiritual condition must be accurately described so that God’s mercy in Jesus Christ is all the more clear.
Copyright © 2012 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials developed for Christ Fellowship (McKinney, Texas). Used by permission.
 Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 125.
 Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996) 68.
 C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 143.
 BDAG-3, logizomai, be of the opinion, q.v.
 Moo, Romans, 132.