Romans 2:6–8 says: "He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury." At first glance, this passage may seem to imply that we are saved by our own good works. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout the rest of the New Testament, Paul's epistles, and more specifically, even, the rest of Romans, we read over and over that salvation is by grace through faith: "For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8–9).
Paul repeatedly mentions that salvation is a gift (Romans 3:22, 24; 6:23). Other New Testament writers, and Jesus Himself, confirm that there is nothing we can do to earn salvation (John 3:16–18; 6:28–29; 1 Peter 1:3–9; 1 John 3:1–5; 5:1–12). True righteousness comes by faith, not the law. Paul reiterates this fact multiple times throughout Romans, as well as in his other epistles (Romans 3:20, 28; 4:5; 11:6; Galatians 2:21). Titus 3:5–6 says: "he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior."
Romans 1 ended with Paul talking about the unrighteous and how they know God exists yet persist in going their own way. But in Romans 2, Paul speaks against the self-righteous. How can we condemn others for the same things we do and expect God not to judge us? In Romans 2:6–8 Paul is stating that God judges every one of us. He goes on to explain the relationship between God's judgment and the law. He makes the point that no one can obey the law perfectly. In Romans 2:28–29 he writes, "For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God." Salvation is not earned by following the law, rather it is a matter of receiving a new heart. Paul explains salvation in detail as the letter of Romans continues. There simply is not a way to work for our salvation; it is a free gift given by God to all who put their faith in Jesus (Romans 5:1–21).
Taken in context of the entire letter and the full counsel of Scripture, the point of Romans 2:7 is not that we have to work to earn our salvation. Rather, it describes the righteous actions that will follow the heart change accompanying salvation. If one has not been spiritually renewed, their actions will not be godly—this is the point of verse 8. Godly behavior is the outward proof of the inward transformation and indwelling of the Holy Spirit that comes from receiving the free gift of eternal life (John 14:17; Romans 8:9–11). Salvation is by God's grace alone, received through faith. The result of salvation is a transformed life (2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:8–10).
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