Daily Devotional: Romans 2:9-16

Paul is unclear, here, about what and when the day of judgment will be (v. 5, 16). What we know for sure is that on the day of judgment, it is a person’s conscience and thoughts that bear witness against him or her. Those who keep the Law will be justified. The person’s soul will experience tribulation and distress if he does not keep the Law—the Jew first and also the Gentile. 

Justification by works is, then, hypothetically possible. If you can go your whole life without transgressing God’s Law, you can earn eternal life. Notice that it is not merely your actions that are measured when Christ judges. Your conscience and very thoughts testify against you. Paul is clear. Since every person is a sinner, our consciences and thoughts always bear witness against us. Sin begins in the heart. Many times, someone’s piety, as Paul explained in the first part of Romans 1, is itself sin.

There is no mention of Satan, here. Paul’s vision of the judgment has our own thoughts and consciences as our prosecutors. Doubtless Satan is an accuser. His words have no merit. God will examine our thoughts and hearts—which is a much more horrifying prospect. It’s horrifying because I know the selfishness that has been in my own heart.

God is the just judge and shows no partiality in judgment. All people will receive their fair wages according to their works, not the works themselves but the motive behind those works. Paul has already revealed that everyone is self-condemning in their works because they all do the same things—pursue their own desires and lusts. Eventually, Paul will get around to saying that the wages of sin is death (6:23), leaving no question about his position. Justification by works is hypothetically possible. Since everyone has broken the Law of God from his youth, everyone earns tribulation and distress for his soul. According to Paul, here, it is not the body but the soul that receives the wrath of God. This torment is worse than physical pain, deeper, and longer lasting. The body dies. The soul continues on in torment. God will judge the secret motives of people impartially and justly. No one will escape justice.

There must be a way to escape the judgment of God. If our works are selfish and we have transgressed God’s Law, what way can there possibly be?


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