Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.
There is a perception in the world, and in the church, that the wrath and judgment of God is meant to lead people to repent. People on street corners hold up signs declaring that the world will be judged and to avoid this judgment, people must repent. Sunday school teachers teach children that to get out of going to hell (experiencing God’s wrath and judgment) we need to repent and be saved. And well meaning evangelists make movies about the horrors of God’s judgment for those who do not repent.
Now, before someone stones me, let me affirm that judgment indeed falls upon those who do not trust in Jesus. Romans 1 teaches us that God’s wrath is revealed all the unrighteousness and sin of men. This is not the question I’m addressing.
What Paul says in Romans 2 (the above passage) however, is that God’s wrath and judgment is not meant to be the catalyst for our repentance. It is God’s kindness, mercy, and love that is meant to lead us to the recognition of our sinful condition and turn toward our Savior.
Think of it as positive reinforcement.
In order to help us see our sinfulness, God holds before our eyes the image of perfection, Jesus in His life, and pours on Him all the wrath against our sin. In other words, God displays for us His great mercy and kindness by NOT judging us according to our sin and NOT revealing from heaven his wrath against us.
God’s wrath is reserved for judgment against persistent unrepentant hearts. This is displayed in Exodus 9 and 10 as God pours plagues upon the nation of Egypt, not because they were somehow worse sinners that the Israelites, but because they were in opposition to God and His people, in the same way that Satan has always been. Because of this, God judged Egypt, not in hopes of their repentance, but in order that God might rescue His people from slavery and death.
God showed kindness toward Israel but sparing them from His wrath and securing their salvation. He does the same for all who trust in Jesus. Instead of scaring us into repentance by flexing His biceps of wrath, God spares us judgment through the Gospel and displays His kindness in receiving sinners into His perfect Kingdom.
God does not want us to come to him in repentance because of what we’d like to avoid, He wants us to come because of what we will receive: Eternal mercy and kindness and grace from the God of perfect love and unending glory.