Romans Studies 4: Presumptuous Righteousness

Romans 2:1-16
Presumptuous Righteousness

Just the sound of the word “presumptuous” tells you that something isn’t right. To “presume” can mean to come to a conclusion without adequate evidence, to take liberties with the truth, or to force your own bias on the facts. One who is presumptuous is perceived as taking too much for granted, being audacious, and  proceeding  with their own course of action without consideration of verifiable facts and what the impact his actions will have on others.  Wow!


When the Jews read Paul’s declaration in Romans 1:18-32, they likely were emboldened, “go get ’em Paul!”, confident that “those other people” were deep in sin while their own Jewish heritage enabled them to stand high in righteousness.  In 1:18-32, Paul was preaching to “those sinners”. However, in chapter 2, Paul addresses his words to “you”, his fellow Jewish countrymen (see 2:17), and he is going to make it clear to them that they have been presumptuous,  trusting temporary actions with no lasting value to accomplish their righteousness.  They were in reality being presumptuous about God’s offering of His righteousness to the individual, assuming they had some “inside edge” on God’s favor & blessing!

The best way to see what Paul was trying to get across to the Jewish reader in 2:1-16 is to read vv. 17-21… You (Jews) who are so confident… “…do you teach yourself?”  He knows (and they know) that they don’t apply what they teach to their own lives.
In verses 1-16, Paul establishes the principles of divine judgment that the Jew is condemned along with all the rebellious humanity condemned in chapter 1.  But he doesn’t name them, he just sets the trap. Then in verses 17-32, the trap snaps shut.  The bottom line: Every individual must either determine to accomplish his own righteousness, or they fall the mercy of God and accept His free gift of salvation through Christ.
  • Note that this isn’t the last time in Romans that he turns the microscope on his Jewish brethren – chapters 9-11 are a major doctrinal passage in which Paul declares not only the sentence of God on the Jews’ superficial worship,  but also their hope of true redemption through Jesus Christ.
If you compare 1:18-32 and chapter 2, what begins to be evident is that both the heathen and the Jews are both really in the same situation before God: condemned!  It’s just that each has come up with their own substitution for God’s demand of holiness.
presumptionPaul declares in 2:1 that everyone has “no excuse” – what a striking conclusion (the “therefore” links to the previous verses) from the dramatic bad news in chapter 1!  “No excuse” is translating an interesting Greek word – “anapologeitos” – you can see our word “apologetics”, which means a solid, logical case for a taken belief, but then the prefix “ana” negates the word, that is, to have no solid case for a belief.
As the Jewish listener begins to realize that he is included in that “everyone”, he begins to get uncomfortable.  He is guilty of passing judgment but in truth has nothing to stand on himself.  What judgment is he passing?  The condemnation of the heathen of chapter 1 – arms crossed, righteous eyebrows raised, above and apart from those poor sinners.  Paul knew they needed to hear the truth.

In 2:4, we read that the abundant kindness of God leads to repentance – but the Jews are caught “thinking lightly” about these things.  And Paul proceeds in the next verses to outline the stubbornness of the Jewish faith.  The Jew needs to agree that he is as guilty in his sin as that “poor sinner” out there in the jungle.  The Jew is faced with either accepting the righteousness accomplished in Christ, or standing on the righteousness they hope to accomplish with their works.

Further Study:

  • Read on through 2:1-16 and write down the words Paul uses to describe the Jew’s guilt.
  • Take a few minutes and review 2:18-32 and write down every place where Paul makes his point by asking a question.  You might even try writing down the answer to each question!
  • Do you know people today who proudly think they have life by the tail, yet in truth they are hopelessly lost in sin? How do they demonstrate their lost condition? How can you express the hope of Christ to them?