God Shows No Partiality
Paul has thus far focused his attention on the ancient pagan world, the Gentiles of his day who did not know God and so practiced every form of lewdness the godless human heart can imagine. In chapter two he will now turn his attention to the Jew, though that is not entirely clear until later in the chapter. Indeed in the beginning of the chapter, Paul seems to be addressing the self-righteous believer at large.
The theme of this passage is that God shows no partiality, no favoritism, to the religious person or to the moralist who deems himself better than unbelieving pagans. Why is this? Because the religionist and the moralist are just as guilty as the pagan, so that when they pass judgment, they themselves are condemned for doing the same things. The religious person may think that he escapes judgment because he is God’s man, God’s chosen one, and member of the covenant community. He has the “A Ticket” and so is in the clear. The moralist supposes that he is not as bad as the pagan; granted, he is a sinner to be sure but still a step or two above his immoral neighbor. Each considers himself beyond the criticism due to others.
But God judges differently. He sees beyond the deed to the wicked human heart. Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Or perhaps the religious person is shameless enough to believe that though he has committed adultery he is guiltless because of his religion. In harboring such abhorrent beliefs, these only presume upon God’s kindness to them, a kindness which should lead them to repentance, not self-righteousness and vanity. God will have the final say and judgment day will be no less dreadful for these as it will be for the idolaters.
Verses six through eleven must be read within the context of the whole letter. Paul is not suggesting that there are some who earn eternal life by patience in well-doing; indeed, Paul will later say that “by works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight” (3:20). For certain, the one who does right will be rewarded salvation and the one who doesn’t will be rewarded damnation, for that is what one would expect of a just and impartial God. The problem is that no one fits the former description but only the latter; Paul was only showing the religionist and moralist their own precarious condition before an impartial God. As Christians we must never forget: We are no longer under the law, but neither are we ever above it.