If we ever go before a judge, one of the things we want most is for the justice he administers to be impartial. We are looking for judges to make their ruling based solely on the evidence at hand and not to show favoritism to our accuser. Sadly, we know that this desire is not always realized. There are corrupt judges even in the best systems of justice devised by human beings.
We can be sure, however, that one Judge is always impartial and deals only with the facts, namely, our God and Creator. As Paul says at the conclusion of today’s passage on the coming day of judgment, “God shows no partiality” (Rom. 2:11).
That might appear to be good news, but if we read further in Romans, we see that God’s impartiality should instill fear in human beings. Paul says that God will give “glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good” (2:10), but then in 3:9–20 he makes it clear that no one (except Christ) fulfills that condition. “None is righteous, no, not one” (3:10). When we go before God on the day of judgment, we know He will be impartial, and our only hope will be if we are covered in the righteousness of Christ (vv. 21–26; 2 Cor. 5:21). The Lord will take works into account when issuing His verdict of eternal life or eternal punishment. If we rest on our own works, eternal punishment will be our end. But if we rest on the works of Christ by faith alone, we will enjoy eternal life.
That some will receive eternal punishment does not mean everyone in hell endures the same punishment. God is just, and He will judge people based on the revelation they know. The person who dies never having heard of Christ will be punished for sinning against God’s revelation in nature, not because he never heard of Jesus. Those who had heard of Christ but rejected Him will be judged also for that sin. Throughout Romans 1–2, Paul drives home the point that we are judged by the revelation we have.
People will also be judged according to the degree of their sin. Although the slightest sin is enough to merit eternal punishment, the degree of suffering is not the same for all who receive eternal punishment. Scripture assumes degrees of sin and punishment. For example, in the Mosaic law, some sins merit the death penalty and some do not. In the New Testament, there is a love that covers a multitude of sins—a multitude of transgressions. Other sins, however, can merit excommunication (Matt. 18:15–20; 1 Peter 4:8).