Tod Kennedy, September 2013
After Paul explains his reason for wanting to go to Rome (Romans 1.1-13), he gives his motives for spreading the gospel and states that God's righteousness is revealed in the gospel when one believes it (Romans 1.14-17). He then says that God's wrath is revealed against those who reject God and God's revelation of himself. God will judge those people for their sins (Romans 1.18-32). Paul then warns self righteous people, those who think they seldom sin, not to judge others. They are also guilty and God will also judge them, though he wants them to repent (Romans 2.1-5). At this point Paul needs to explain God's judgment, since he has introduced that topic in Romans 1 and 2. He explains that God is the ultimate judge of all people, those who persist in good and those who persist in sin (Romans 2.6-16). The judgment spoken of seems to be the last judgment called the Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20.11-15. Jesus Christ will be the judge (Romans 2.5,6,16). Paul mentions God's judgment (Romans 2.2,3,) the day of wrath and righteous judgment of God (Romans 2.5), God will render to each (Romans 2.6), and judged by the Law (Romans 2.12). God judges according to truth (κατα αληθειαν kata aletheian Romans 2.2), according to deeds (κατα τα εργα kata ta erga Romans 2.6), and there is no partiality with God (ου...προσωπολεμψια ou...prosopolempsia Romans 2.11). The conclusion Paul implies is directed to all people, but especially to the self righteous person of Romans 2.1-5. If one does good and does not sin God will grant that person eternal life. But that person must meet God's standard. Man's sinful nature and sin imputed from Adam are not in Paul's discussion at this point since he is dealing with personal sin and those who think they are righteous. He is setting the stage for chapter 3 in which he says that no one is sinless. Furthermore, no one perseveres in doing good to God's standard with the result that all people are under God's judgment.
Jesus covered this question about doing good to gain eternal life with the rich young ruler (Matthew 19.16-26, Mark 10.17-27, and Luke 18.1-30). The conclusion in each narrative was that eternal salvation was impossible with man, but with God all things are possible. Jesus said that mankind can do nothing to gain eternal salvation—eternal salvation is impossible with people, but with God all things are possible. Therefore eternal salvation is only by grace through faith just as Paul wrote in Ephesians 2.8-9.
Further insight on Romans 2.6-16. Do good works result in gaining everlasting life? No! Matthew 19.16-26, Mark 10.17-27, and Luke 18.1-30 demonstrate that no one completely keeps God's law.
Is mankind able to gain eternal salvation by keeping the law or by any good works? No. This same main point is expressed in each synoptic gospel. Jesus said mankind can do nothing to gain eternal salvation. Eternal salvation is impossible with people, but with God all things are possible (Matthew 19.25-26, Mark 10.26-27, and Luke 18.26-27). John expressed the same in his gospel (John 3.16-18; 11.24-27; 20.31). This is also what the apostles taught (Acts 10.43, Acts 16.31, Romans 3.19-31, Romans 4.1-5, Galatians 2.16, Ephesians 2.8-9, 1 John 5.11-13).
- A rich young man asked Jesus what he should do to obtain eternal life (Matthew 19.16).
- Jesus questions him about "what good thing." He then tells him that only God is good in order to set the standard for good (Matthew 19.17).
- Then Jesus brings up a requirement, "keep the commandments," which means God's Mosaic Law (Matthew 19.17).
- The young man asks which commands must he keep. Jesus list commands 5-10. Loving your neighbor summarizes commandment 10 in a positive statement (Matthew 19.18-19).
- The man said he kept these commandments, so Jesus went a little farther with him to demonstrate that he really did not keep the commandments. Jesus told him to sell his possessions and give money to the poor. At this point the rich young man failed to keep the Law. And, he realized that (Matthew 19.21-22).
- Finally, the question of who can enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus said that with people it is impossible, but with God it is possible(Matthew 16.23-25).
- The conclusion is that eternal salvation is only possible by God's grace. Nothing people can do will gain eternal salvation (Matthew 16.25-26).
- Peter follows up on this conversation and wants to know what the disciples will get for following Jesus, even though they have no money. Jesus answered that they will receive rewards for service. The do not earn eternal life (Matthew 16.27-30).
- A man ran to Jesus and called him Good Teacher. He asked what should he do to inherit eternal life (Mark 10.17).
- Jesus brought up “good.” Only God is good to introduce the distinction between God's character and mankind's character (Mark 10.18).
- He then used the Law as a measure of good (Mark 10.19).
- The man thought he had kept the law (Mark 10.20) so Jesus went a step farther when he mentioned “possessions in order to point out 1) he has violated law #1 by placing money over God 2) there always is something ungodlike or ungood in everyone (Mark 10.21).
- The man would not give up his wealth, and by that demonstrated that he did not keep all the Law. He would not trust Jesus instead of his wealth (Mark 10.22).
- Jesus then remarks that it is hard for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. The point is that if people expect to inherit the kingdom of God by keeping the Law, they are less righteous than the Law demanded (Mark 10.23-25).
- Therefore Jesus said that it was impossible to be saved by mans’ efforts, but God can save anyone (Mark 10.26-27).
- Therefore salvation is by grace through faith. Mankind is unable to do enough.
- The lead into Luke's record of the ruler was that some persisted in asking for justice, and that when the Son of Man comes for judgment he will bring justice for those waiting for him by faith. Faith is a central part of this story (Luke 18.1-8).
- The next parable brings out self righteousness in a Pharisee, and a tax collector who humbled himself and sought God's mercy. The prayer of each shows each man's thinking. The Pharisee thought he earned God's blessing (Luke 18.9-12). The tax collector humbled himself. He recognized that he could not work for God's blessing. He needed God's mercy (Luke 18.13-14 and see Romans 3.24-25).
- Luke then moves to the incident about babies. Babies (βρεφος brephos, baby, infant) and young children (παιδιον paidion child) cannot provide for themselves. They depend upon others; this dependence is faith. Jesus received the children and said that one must be like a child—humbly depend on another, believe what one says—to enter the kingdom of heaven (Luke 18.15-17).
- Next, Luke writes about the rich young ruler. He is opposite of the child. He thinks he can do it all. He does not need someone else. He called Jesus "Good Teacher," not recognizing that he is actually God in the flesh. He wanted to know what he had to do to inherit eternal life. Before Jesus deals with his question, he wants the young ruler to consider what he said and who is really good. He did this to help the ruler begin to related Jesus to God. Only God is good (Luke 18.18-19).
- Jesus brought up Moses' Law, commands 5-9 which cover personal relationships (Exodus 20.12-16). The ruler said he had kept them—probably as Paul also kept them as an unbeliever (Philippians 3.1-7). The man's self righteousness and distinction from the tax collector and the young child is evident (Luke 18.20-21).
- Then Jesus got to the heart of the question. He told the young man to sell all his possessions and give them to the poor, and then to follow Jesus. Jesus has brought up the ideas of commandments 1 and 10, have not other gods and do not covet, both of which the young man refused to obey. No matter how righteous he was, he was not righteous enough. His works did not merit eternal life (Luke 18.22-23).
- The onlookers were stunned. The asked who can be saved. Jesus said "the things that are impossible with people are possible with God" (Luke 18.26-27). Compare Ephesians 2.8-9.
- Note that faith is the point in Luke 18.35-43, and that Zaccheus, a tax collector got it right (Luke 19.1-10). He humbly came to Jesus for mercy, and called him Lord. He returned the "stolen" money to make things right with the people, not to earn eternal life.