Chapter two shifts slightly from the blatant paganism of the world to a more sophisticated rejection of God, like in a civilized Gentile society. These citizens would scoff at the notion that they were like “those pagans” Paul described in chapter one. Yet Paul would not let them off the hook: “you are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge someone else.” The fact that a person may not engage in the depravity of a pagan nation does not mean he is not equally sinful and separated from God. In fact, the more civilized a person or nation is, the more their “self-goodness” reveals their “contempt for the wealth of [God’s] kindness” that would lead them to repentance and salvation (Romans 2:1-4). Instead, no matter their background or ethnicity or civilization, their continued rejection of God will only heap additional condemnation on them as well, “for there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:5-12). The reason is because God gave not only creation as a witness to himself (Romans 1:19-20) but the human conscience as well (Romans 2:13-16). For those not yet given over to their self-destruction, the moral conscience continues to point to an Absolute Morality and the Giver of morals. Thus, the “civilized” nations, so proud of their superiority over the “pagan” nations, also suppress the truth by claiming their morality as their own rather than a gift from God “written in their hearts.”
Beginning with Romans 2:17, Paul shifts to the final group of people in this world, the Jewish people. If the civilized Gentiles could look down on their pagan brothers, how much more did the Jews look down on all Gentiles “and boast of [their] relationship to God” (Romans 2:17-24)? Because they had received their law directly from God, they considered themselves far superior – a guide, a light, a teacher! Yet they violated that law, doing the same things as the Gentiles, proving to be no better and, in fact, dishonoring God even more because of their relationship to him. The people who thought they were the closest to God – even having the physical mark of circumcision to prove it – are just as far away as everyone else (Romans 2:25-29). It requires an inward change, not an outward change, to actually be in relationship with God.
Thus, in the first two chapters, Paul placed everyone in the human race – Gentile and Jew, civilized and pagan – into the same spiritual sinking ship.