Romans 2:12-16 – By Nature Law

Review:

Last week we tackled what appeared to be clear references to a justification by works taught by Paul.

  • In 2:6 Paul told us that God will “apodidomi” “to each one according to works”.
  • In 2:13 Paul told us that it is “the doers of the law who will be justified”.

 

We saw that there are 2 basic views on how to deal with these texts.

  • (1) Paul teaches and believes in only one kind of justification – justification by faith.
    • Therefore he doesn’t mean what it sounds like he means.
  • (2) Paul teaches and believes in at least two kinds of justification – a present justification by faith and a future justification by works.
    • Therefore he does mean what it sounds like it means.
    • And how it plays out is the rub.

 

An easy way to think of these two views and any hybrid between them is this:

  • View 1 – One Justification with One Basis
    • We are justified solely on the basis of Union with Christ by faith.
  • View 2 – Two Justifications with Two Basis’
    • We are presently justified on the basis of Union with Christ by faith.
    • We are “future justified” on the basis of our works – the life lived.
  • Hybrid View – Two Justifications with One Basis
    • We are presently justified on the basis of Union with Christ by faith.
    • Our good works – possible only through our Union with Christ – “future justify” us because they vindicate Christ’s work as the basis for any justification we might have.

 

Justification, how we are made right with God, is an incredibly important aspect of Paul’s theology.

  • So it is worth your time to read over lasts weeks lesson.

 

 

Intro:

In our text today, Paul shows how the impartiality of God he has been discussing plays out.

  • Specifically, how God can be impartial in judgment given the differences between Jews and Gentiles.
  • Romans 2:11 – “For God shows no partiality”.

 

To do this, it is inevitable that he contend with the law – Sinai – the Mosaic covenant.

  • The law is seen as the thing that sets apart the Jew as God’s favored and privileged people.
  • In other words, the events at Sinai set apart the Jews from all other nations as God’s chosen.
  • At Sinai, the Jew was given the inside track to favor and righteousness.

 

Paul begins his bit on the law with a few generalizations about the law.

  • He then pokes at the bees nest of Jewish privilege.
  • He does this by suggesting that the Gentiles, in fact, do have a law.
  • A law that equally joins them in accountability to God.

 

 

Romans 2:12–16 (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. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

 

 

Verses 12-13:

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.

 

Paul contrasts a couple of different scenarios concerning the law.

  • (1) He speaks about those who are “without the law” (vs. 12) and those who are “under the law” (vs. 12).
  • (2) He speaks about the “hearers of the law” (vs. 13) and the “doers of the law” (vs. 13).

 

We need to know something about this “law”.

  • “When Paul talks about ‘the law’ he means the Jewish law, the Torah, the law given to Moses on Mount Sinai as the way of life for the people redeemed at the Exodus” – N.T. Wright.
  • “The ‘law’ in question is the law of Moses, the body of commandments given by God through Moses to the people of Israel at Mt. Sinai” – Douglas Moo.

 

 

First Contrast:

In the first contrast – without/under – Paul is careful to show one important thread that runs through both.

  • The existence of sin.
  • All who have sinned without the law” (vs. 12)
  • All who have sinned under the law” (vs. 12)

 

Whether one is under the law or not (Jewish or Gentile), sin is present.

  • Paul is, to the dismay of the Jew, showing that in spite of their differences with the Gentile, they are the same – both are in sin.

 

Paul also makes clear that in either circumstance – sin w/o law or sin under law – the consequence is the same.

  • Those who sin without the law will perish (vs. 12).
  • Those who sin “under the law” will be judged by the law (vs. 12).

 

To be judged by the law is actually not an advantage.

  • It is to be found wanting.
  • 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.

 

So the end result of sin lived out in either circumstance is to come under…

  • The three things Paul has been discussing for sometime now.
  • God’s wrath
  • God’s judging righteousness
  • God’s condemnation

 

Now, if being “under the law” doesn’t insulate one from the effects of sin…

  • The obvious question is, “what keeps one from the eternal consequences of sin?
  • Paul’s second contrast answers this question.

 

 

Second Contrast:

In the second contrast – hearers/doers – Paul teaches that what keeps one from the consequences of sin is to be “doers of the law” (vs. 13).

  • To merely be “hearers of the law” (vs. 13) does not make anyone “righteous” (vs. 13).
  • Hearers of the law” are not under God’s saving righteousness.
  • It is only “doers of the law” that are “justified” or righteous (vs. 13).

 

In saying this, Paul blows to pieces the Jewish idea of who is in and who is out.

  • Here is how.

 

The “hearers of the law” are the Jews – those who received God’s law at Sinai.

  • Though this fact accords them some privileges (Paul will speak of them later), it offers no privilege when it comes to achieving righteousness.

 

Why would this be such a shock to the Jew?

“Outside Israel, the sphere of the law, there is no salvation. The Jews who live within the domain of law…often considered themselves virtually assured of salvation” – Douglas Moo.

  • Paul is contradicting this commonly held view.

 

Merely being part of the God’s chosen people – “hearers of the law” – does not a righteous man make.

  • What makes a man justified and righteous is to be “doers of the law” (vs. 13).
  • We dealt with how doing justifies last week.

 

The question a Jew might have at this point would simply be:

  • How can a Gentile be a doer of the law?
  • They aren’t even “hearers of the law”.
  • They weren’t the recipients of the law at Sinai.

 

 

Verses 14-16:

14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

 

Paul says that “by nature” (vs. 14) Gentiles can be in effect “doers of the law”.

  • Whatever this “by nature” (vs. 14) stuff is, Paul sees it as “a law to themselves”.
  • Even though they never received the law at Sinai – they are not “hearers of the law”.
  • In other words, Gentiles do have a law so they can be a “doer of the law”.

 

Then expecting a question about this “by nature” stuff, Paul expands on it.

  • He speaks of “the work of the law” (vs. 15).
    • Moo calls this knowledge of the demands of God.
  • He speaks of it being “written on their hearts” (vs. 15).
    • Possible reference to Jeremiah 31.
  • He says that with this “their conscience also bears witness” (vs. 15).
  • And layered in with all of this, “their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (vs. 15).
    • This is accountability to their knowledge of the demands of God.

 

What is Paul talking about with respect to the by nature law of the Gentiles?

  • And is Paul suggesting here that justification is possible outside of the special revelation of Christ?

 

Roger Mohrlang says that Paul is simply trying to say:

  • “[Gentiles] have an intuitive sense of the distinction between right and wrong; in other words, they have a conscience” – Roger Mohrlang.
  • And though it isn’t the law at Sinai, it will often lead them to the same prohibitions.

As Douglas Moo says, Gentiles are without the law but not without law.

 

This means God can fairly and impartially judge them.

  • It does not mean that perfect obedience to their conscience can deliver them from being in Adam.
  • Conscience or no, they are still in Garden Exile and need Christ to lead them out of it.

 

All of these things (vss. 14-15) give insight into how the Gentiles have a “law” by which they are judged.

  • They explain how a Gentile – though not part of Sinai – is not disadvantaged “on that day” of God’s future judgment.
  • Or, for that matter, why the Jew is not at an advantage – not privileged.

 

Wright helpfully frames verses 14-15 as follows:

  • “Surely God’s own people, the Jews, have a head start? Hasn’t God given them his law? Doesn’t that mean they have a far better chance of doing what he wants? Isn’t that unfair on everybody else?” – N.T. Wright.
  • “His answer is No: God will judge everyone according to where they are [the “law” they have], not according to where they are not [Sinai]” – N.T. Wright.

 

And all of these things explain how God’s judgment is impartial.

  • In other words, it is not the differences between Jew and Gentile that make the difference.
  • It is, in fact, what they in have in common that brings it all home.

 

John Piper explains:

“God’s impartiality means that he judges not on the assumption that we all have access to the same amount of truth, but that we all have the truth we need to be held accountable, and that we will be judged by our response to what we do have, not what we don’t have” – John Piper.

 

So all – Jew and Gentile – have all they need to be accountable.

  • And all – Jew and Gentile – will be judged based on what they do have not what they don’t have.
  • The people of Sinai law and the people of the “by nature” law are in the same boat.

 

Importantly, this also means…

  • “Not hearing the Law of Moses will not condemn anyone” because “all human beings have the moral law of God stamped on their hearts” – John Piper.
  • One more reason why all are “without excuse”.

 

 

Addendum:

Are the Gentiles in our text Christians or unbelievers?

 

In other words are they (from Douglas Moo)…

  • (1) “Gentiles who do some part of the law but who are not saved.”
  • (2) “Gentile Christians who fulfill the law by virtue of their relationship to Christ.”

 

I don’t have a clue.

  • Schreiner and Moo favor the first option.
  • However, each recognizes the strengths textually of the second option.

 

N.T. Wright says he goes back and forth between the two, but appears to favor the second option.

Paul may be speaking of “…a new category of Gentiles…being created by the gospel itself, a category of Gentiles who have God’s law written on their hearts by the Holy Spirit, and who are thus coming to know in a new way what the law requires” – N.T. Wright.

  • Or, “Gentile Christians who manifest the new life of the Spirit by their obedience to the law” – Schreiner.

 

My question is one of context.

  • Paul’s context appears to be future judgment and justification.

 

Why?

  • Paul has already said, “doers of the law who will be justified” (vs. 13).
  • And in verse 16 he tells us he is talking about “on that day when…God judges” (vs. 16).

 

We saw last week that justification and future judgment are Paul’s future justification.

  • And, as we saw, future justification assumes present justification.
    • If there is not present justification, there can be no future one.
  • Therefore it makes since that these Gentiles are Christians – they have presently be justified by faith in Christ.
  • You can’t have a future justification of a non-believer.

 

Whatever the case…

“The main point of the passage, though, is not in doubt, and it is one of great ultimate comfort. The world is not in the hands of blind chance, or of a capricious God who will play favourites and leave everyone feeling the way people do after an unsatisfactory court hearing. True justice—the sort that people long for, plead for, thirst for around the world to this day—true justice will be done, and will be seen and known to be done. God will judge all human secrets through the Messiah, Jesus. That is good news for a world in which true justice is still hard to find” – N.T. Wright.

 

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