In the first section of Romans 2, Paul gives a harsh warning against judging other people. In verses 5-12, the theme of judgment continues but shifts to the righteous judgment of God. The passage helps to provide the necessary balance between two equally true, though somewhat paradoxical realities: People can only receive eternal salvation by the grace of God, through faith in him—not by one’s good works, but that people are also responsible for their actions and that the decisions to which they are held accountable do make a difference in determining their eternal destiny.
Attitudes of obstinacy and refusal of repentance are condemned at the outset of this passage as the prerequisites for God’s wrath and judgment. This in no way interferes with the biblical teaching that eternal life cannot be earned. Salvation is the gift of God that is free to mankind (though very costly to God who gave everything—his Son as a sacrifice to the world to cruelly die on the cross for the forgiveness of mankind’s sinfulness). There is often a statement thrown around the church, including once in the title of a song that was once popular in worship services: “I’m just a sinner saved by grace.” The problem with this statement is that it lacks a biblical interpretation of what the two identifications means. Biblically, there are two kinds of people: sinners and saints. Saints are the people who are saved by grace; they are absolutely opposite in nature to sinners (though because they have not been perfected yet, they will still relapse into sinful behaviors, but that does not make them a sinner or in any way undermine their identity as a saint).
Sainthood is a reality for all who receive the gift of salvation through faith. Faith, however, is not a mental ascent that accepts that Jesus historically lived, died, and even rose from the dead (even the demons believe that according to James 2:19). Faith, rather, is a dependence upon God that trusts that he is who he says he is in his Word and that he will do what he says he will do. Salvation is by grace through faith—not by works, but the only way faith can be tested and determined is through a genuine change in one’s life (James 2:14-26). Faith, therefore, is the opposite of stubbornness and un-repentance; it desires God to shape one’s life into what he sees fit, trusting that to be for the best. The lifestyle of a person of faith is not one free of sin, but it is one that desires to please God and to partner with him in his will as opposed to the stubborn desire of one’s way apart from God. Whichever of these two desires a person chooses to follow is the one that will motivate their actions on earth and determine the state of their relationship with God both in this present age and for all eternity.