Romans chapter 2 follows Romans chapter 1. That fact is quite obvious, but it is also quite important. Our tendency when reading about the depths of sin and human depravity (1:24-32) is to turn into judges, sitting in condemnation of the people who commit such terrible sins. But here in chapter 2 we are reminded that no one escapes God’s wrath and judgment because when it comes to sin, we are all without excuse (v.1). We have all sinned — repeatedly — and apart from the gospel of Christ we would all be doomed and damned.
The hope of the gospel is that God is kind (v.4). He has every right to throw us into hell the moment we commit our first sin, but in His kindness and mercy He leads us to acknowledge our sin so that we may repent and be saved. He has given each person the gift of “free moral agency” (as it is often called), the free will to either seek Him for salvation, which leads to eternal life, or to seek our own way, which leads to judgment (v.6-10). “God shows no partiality” in this regard: whoever obeys the truth (the gospel) is forgiven, no matter who they are; whoever does not is condemned, no matter who they are (v.8, 11).
Verses 12-15 teach an important truth: people are not condemned as lost sinners for what they don’t know, but for how they respond to what they do know. Those who have the privilege of owning a copy of the Bible or hearing the truth of Scripture will be judged by the truth they know. But those who have never heard a word of Scripture will be judged by their conscience, that innate knowledge of God that every person has as a result of being created in God’s image. Someday, both groups will be judged by Jesus and according to how they responded to the measure of truth they had (v.16).
As a Jew, Paul used his race as an example of this truth (v.17-29). The Jews had the advantage of the revelation of God in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Law, the Old Testament), and so if they did not repent and turn to Jesus, they would be judged by all the laws they had memorized, taught, and bragged about keeping. Hypocrisy and empty religious symbols will come back to condemn all those who do not place their faith in Jesus (v.21-27). God looks at the heart, not outward religious activity (v.29).
As you attend worship today, singing songs and hearing truth, pay attention to your heart. God is more concerned with your attitude than your attendance. Other people may be impressed with how holy you look, but God knows how holy you are. He values genuine faith and obedience, not religious pretending.