Art Toombs Ministries 

Online Bible Commentary

Filthy Rags

Romans 2:6 who "will render to each one according to his deeds": 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; 8 but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness--indignation and wrath, 9 tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; 10 but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 11 For there is no partiality with God. (NKJV)

The Apostle Paul wrote the letter of Romans to the church in Rome while in Corinth, Greece for three months in A.D. 56-57.  The letter was written to both Jew and Gentile believers.

Proper interpretation of any verse in the Bible is dependent upon context. We must look at a verse’s context in the passage, in the book, and in the entirety of the Bible.

In the preceding passage Paul wrote of the judgment of God upon those who practice sin. Paul was referencing non-Christians, not Christians.

Non-Christians are those who reject God, the God of the Bible. If they continue in this rejection, and die as non-Christians after reaching their own unique age of accountability, they will experience the wrath of God’s judgment.

On the other hand, Christians do not experience God’s wrath. Instead, they are subject to God’s discipline, just as a good parent disciplines their child. Only Christians are children of God.

So, in this passage, Paul is addressing non-Christians. That fact makes all the difference in interpreting this passage.

This passage begins by stating that God "will render to each one according to his deeds" (v. 6). This means that non-Christians will receive the wrath of God for their deeds, while Christians will receive rewards, or not, in Heaven for the deeds they do on earth. 

You see, God looks first at our standing with Him, and then at our deeds. Scripture tells us that “we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

Even the righteous deeds of unbelievers are as filthy rags in the eyes of God. God judges our righteous deeds not on how righteous the deeds are, but on how righteous the one doing the deed is.

No matter what we do in life, we cannot please God until we first receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and become a Christian. Non-Christians can never please God, because of their standing. They are rejecting God, therefore they can never please Him.

God looks upon good deeds differently than man. God’s ways are not man’s ways.

God grants “eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality” (v. 7). In over 150 passages in the Bible we are told that salvation is by the grace of God through faith, not by good works.

So, doing good works does not get us eternal life in Heaven. Instead, good works are the result of first becoming a Christian.

The good works of non-Christians do not glorify and honor God. Instead, they “are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness” (v. 8a). They are intended to honor themselves, not God. Non-Christians do not obey the truth of God but instead obey the unrighteousness of Satan. Our first obedience to the truth of God is to accept Him.

God’s judgment upon these non-Christians is “indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil” (vv. 8b-9a). A non-Christian does not normally see himself as doing evil, but God sees all his works as “filthy rags”, evil, no matter how moral they may appear to be to men.

This evil was “of the Jew first and also of the Greek” (v. 9b). The Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ, was first presented to the Jews and then to the Greeks, or Gentiles, non-Jews.

Jews were the first to have the opportunity to become Christians. Therefore, some of them were also the first to reject the Gospel, thereby the first to accept evil.

We cannot sit on the fence with God. We are either with Him or against Him. We are either accepting of righteousness or evil.

There is a spiritual battle always on earth. The forces of Satan are in battle with the forces of God. We must choose a side. If we are not on God’s side, we are on Satan’s side.

The Bible tells us that God has already won the war, on the cross. But Satan, even though he knows he has lost the war, is still winning battles with individuals. Individuals are rejecting God, and thereby accepting Satan.

But to those who accept God, there is “glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek, for there is no partiality with God” (vv. 10-11). Whether Jew or Gentile, God does not play favorites. Even though the Gospel was first presented to Jews, it has also been presented to Gentiles.

So, this passage is not so much about good works, but salvation. Without salvation we are incapable of good works in the eyes of God. Salvation comes first, and then good works are the product of that salvation.

We must first become a Christian before we can please God. All of the good works of non-Christians are as filthy rags to God.