Romans 2:12-13 – Doers Are Justified

Romans 2:12–13 (ESV) — 12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

 

Look at that again!

  • “the doers of the law who will be justified” (vs. 13).
  • This is Paul’s first use in Romans of justify.
  • And he uses it in context of works.

 

 

Paul and Justification:

We know Paul teaches justification comes by faith and not by works.

  • Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV) — 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
  • In Romans, justification is huge theme for Paul.

 

What is justification by faith?

  • If you remember, justification by faith is how God’s righteousness (another of Paul’s major themes) is made ours.
  • By faith in Christ we are imputed with a righteousness alien to us.
    • The righteousness of Christ.
  • A righteousness by which we are given a new status in God’s law court.
  • N.T. Wright says simply justification is how we are “declared to be in the right”.

 

Yet, in spite of teaching justification by faith, Paul keeps busting out this apparent justification by works language.

  • He seems determined to appeal to the legalist and moralist in us all.

 

Last week Paul said God will reward eternal life to those who do good works.

  • He will render to each one according to his works” – Romans 2:6.

 

Today he says that the “doers of the law” are justified and righteous.

  • But that is not all!

 

Later in Romans he will say:

  • Romans 14:10–12 (ESV) — 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

 

And look at what he says in other letters:

  • 2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV) — 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
  • Ephesians 6:8 (ESV) — 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.
  • 2 Timothy 4:1 (ESV) — 1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:

 

Then how about this text:

  • Revelation 20:12–13 (ESV) — 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.

 

So what’s the deal?

  • Is Paul contradicting himself?
  • Are we missing something?
  • Are there different kinds of justification?

 

We are going to look at two views on what Paul means with his justification by works language.

 

View 1:

Many suggest that what Paul must being doing is stating a theoretical/theological possibility.

  • Paul is stating in the abstract that perfect “doers of the law” will be justified.

 

But, he knows full well that this type of obedience is impossible.

“Paul would not have thought for a moment that such people could actually live the kind of sinless, holy life which a total keeping of the law would produce” – N.T. Wright.

  • In other words, he believes it to be true, but knows that it is not possible.

 

The inability to perfectly obey is not new to Paul.

  • Psalm 143:2 (ESV) — 2 Enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is righteous before you.

 

So why would he say something he knows can’t happen anyway?

  • The reason Paul puts forward this theoretical possibility of being justified by works is…
  • To setup the need for his Gospel of Jesus Christ for both Jew and Gentile.
  • We need to obey the law, but we can’t, so we need someone who can in our stead.

 

After all, the logic goes, Paul will say in Romans 3:

  • Romans 3:23–24 (ESV) — 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,

 

And in Romans 4:

  • Romans 4:2–5 (ESV) — 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 4 Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. 5 And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,

 

Both of these texts point to Jesus.

  • Justification only comes through being united to Christ by faith.

 

N.T. Wright sums up this view:

Some “have suggested that maybe he is setting it up as a theoretical possibility which he will then show to be, in fact, impossible. They envisage him saying, in effect, ‘In theory, God would like to be able to judge people according to how they behave, but since in fact nobody would pass that test he has introduced a different scheme’” – N.T. Wright.

  • The different scheme is of course, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

This approach makes sense.

  • The idea that Paul is using justification through works language to point to our need for Christ seems to work.

 

 

View 2:

However, there are those that say this approach flattens out Paul’s teaching.

  • How so?

 

Some think Paul’s view of justification is larger than just justification by faith.

  • In fact, attempts to frame his justification by works language as view 1 does is to miss out on some important distinctions Paul is making in justification.
  • There is more than one kind of justification.

 

N.T. Wright will help us here.

“The contrast between judgment according to works and justification by faith is not between a system God might have liked to operate and a system he has chosen to operate instead. It is the contrast between the future judgment, which will indeed be in accordance with works, and the present anticipation of that verdict, which is simply…on the basis of faith” – N.T. Wright.

 

Did you catch that?

  • The idea behind this view is that Paul is teaching two kinds of justification.
  • Present justification – justification by faith.
  • Future justification – the future judgment according to works.

 

Present justification is justification by faith.

  • “Those who believe in Jesus as the risen Lord of the world are declared already, on the basis of that faith, to belong to God’s people. They are already marked out as the people whose sins are forgiven” – N.T. Wright.
  • Just as Paul teaches in many places, we have been imputed with Jesus’ alien righteousness and have a new status – right now.

 

But, in our text today, the context is future judgment.

  • God’s eschatological wrath to come.
  • on that day…God judges” (vs. 16).

 

Therefore Paul is speaking of a different kind of justification – future justification.

  • And “the future judgment will take place on the basis of the entire life a person has led” – N.T. Wright.
  • It is a judgment based on our works.

 

Even Douglas Moo says:

“Paul might then be thinking here not of the entry into salvation [present] but of the ultimate vindication at the last judgment [future]” – Douglas Moo.

 

Wright describes Paul’s future justification in terms of a final courtroom scene:

“Within the lawcourt setting, ‘justify’ is what the judge does at the end of the trial [final judgment]: he declares that one party in the lawsuit is ‘in the right’. The case [their life lived] has gone their way. The judge has found in their favour” – N.T. Wright.

 

Wright says that Paul’s future justification has three parts:

  • (1) Judicial – Though Paul clearly speaks of a now justification in Christ, he and the Bible also speak of a final courtroom scene of judgment on the last day of not guilty for those in Christ.
    • The scene we just described.
  • (2) Covenantal – This courtroom scene “is also the declaration that they are part of the [covenant] family promised to Abraham” – N.T. Wright.
  • (3) Event – “God’s people will be resurrected and will share the promised inheritance, the renewed creation” through their bodily resurrection.

 

View 2 seems to make sense of the verses we mentioned earlier.

  • They all link our works with final judgment.

 

Let’s look at them again.

  • 2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV) — 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
  • Ephesians 6:8 (ESV) — 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free.
  • 2 Timothy 4:1 (ESV) — 1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:
  • Revelation 20:12–13 (ESV) — 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.

 

And it also seems to make sense of even Jesus’ own words to the Pharisees:

  • Matthew 12:35–37 (ESV) — 35 The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. 36 I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

 

And view 2 seems to make sense of the fact that there even is a future judgment described in the Bible.

  • Since we are justified and declared righteous right now by our faith in Christ…
  • Why do these verses even exist if there is also not a future justification?
  • In other words, if present justification by faith is all there is, then what are these verses all about?
  • For what are we being judged?

 

 

View 1 or View 2:

So which one?

  • My question is this.
  • And it goes back to the idea from View 1 that Paul actually believed works could justify.

 

First off, it doesn’t seem he actually really believed that works could justify.

  • Romans 3:20 (ESV) — 20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

 

Moreover, Paul teaches in Romans 5:12 that we are dead in Adam.

  • This is why a historical Adam is so important – Paul’s theology rests on it.
  • This is why our default state is under God’s wrath, condemned.
  • It is what we are.
  • This fact obtains whether we obey the law perfectly or not.

 

We can also use the language from our Genesis lesson on Romans 5:12 of Garden Exile.

  • All of us are in Garden Exile.
  • Because of Adam, all are born outside of the Garden and the life it contained.
  • So excluded from the tree of life, all of us will die – and death is part of the problem.
  • Even if we were to obey the law perfectly, we would still be in this exile and thus still die.

 

Paul obviously knew this truth – he taught it.

  • So…why would he think that perfect obedience could save – something needed for view 1 – knowing the Romans 5:12/Genesis connection he himself taught?

 

Obedience to the law does not overcome death and Garden Exile.

  • To say that Paul would think so seems to raise some problems.
  • However, if his works justification/future justification is a separate thing from present justification, then the Romans 5:12 problem goes away.

 

 

My Take:

As I understand it, View 2 plays out as follows:

  • At our future judgment, God can look at our good works and rightly declare that our Union with Christ was real and efficacious – it bore fruit.
    • Our striving, out of profound gratitude, to do what God wants of us.
  • In other words, those justified by faith in Christ lived as those justified by faith in Christ.

 

Wright says it helps to think about it like we think of marriage.

  • In effect, at our future judgment, God declares that those pronounced “married” lived as “married”.
  • To live a life faithful to one’s spouse, one has to be married.
    • A pronouncement and change in status – justification by faith.
  • And to faithfully live a married life one has to “do/not do” things.
    • The things that flow out of the change in status – justification by works.

 

This makes sense.

  • We are born again, in Union with Christ, and participate in the fellowship of the Trinity.
  • Our life lived will inevitably flow out of this thick foundation of the Gospel.

 

In a way, this view glorifies Christ all the more.

  • We could never be “doers of the law” if not for the reality of our Union with Christ…
  • In other words, if we weren’t justified by faith – present justification – we would be incapable of good works.
  • So if future justification is legit, it doesn’t seem to locate the basis for justified status in us at all.
  • It seems to assume our present justification.

 

There is much more to be said on this.

  • Certainly there are critics and supporters of both views.
  • I will keep an open mind to both.

 

 

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