“Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (Romans 2:14-15)
If the purpose of Law is to bring the realization that we need a savior because its standards were impossible to fulfill (Gal. 3:24), what happens when someone is not familiar with the Law, the Prophets, or even the Bible? How do they come to the same realization?
What happens when someone is not familiar with the Law, the Prophets, or even the Bible?
This is an important question, and one Paul must address as he is writing to a wide audience, most of whom are unfamiliar with the requirements of the Jewish Law. This passage is specifically speaking about Gentiles, people outside of the Jewish faith with no knowledge of the Law, the Prophets, or even of God. Paul observes that even though they may have no knowledge of the Law, its requirements are written on their hearts through their conscience.
“All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous” (Romans 2:12-13)
There is a subtle, toxic doctrine that permeates the Church today that says Jesus plus something else is required. Jesus plus works. Jesus plus obedience to the Law. Jesus plus…fill in the blank.
To be declared righteous before God one must obey the Law. But the misconception is that one’s obedience to the Law means following rules and commandments.
This is why so many people struggle with understanding the differences between the Old and New Covenants. The result is a hybrid of the two where we trust in Jesus to save us, but then start working at everything else.
"For God does not show favoritism" (Romans 2:11)
Have you ever struggled to be noticed or valued for your strengths and abilities? Growing up being the youngest of four, sometimes I struggled to be noticed. All the great accomplishments and milestones had already been achieved by each sibling who came before me.
It’s easy to look around at another’s talents and abilities and assume that person is better or more loved by God because, as humans, we assign value to ability.
The same is true within the kingdom of God. It’s easy to look around at another’s talents and abilities and assume that person is better or more loved by God because, as humans, we assign value to ability. However, God does not show favoritism in this way. This verse stresses the fact that God does not consider one person better than another, regardless of who they are, what they’ve done, or what talents they possess. God shows no partiality between people. In fact, what He offers to one, He willingly offers to all.
“God ‘will give to each person according to what he has done.’ To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 2:6-10)
A passage such as this can be quite confusing. At first glance, it appears that eternal life is dependent on what we do. If we persist in doing good, we can expect eternal life. However, if we continually reject the truth and do evil, we can expect God’s wrath. And while this is true, it is only part of the truth, and so we must look at this passage within the context of the Book of Romans to fully understand it.
What Paul is describing as the behavior rewarded by eternal life is faith as an action.
Throughout this letter, Paul is building the case for faith in Jesus. One of his main points is that the Law (or trying to do good) could never save us, as this was never its purpose (Rom. 3:20). Therefore, the only action that will be rewarded with eternal life is the action of faith not of works. Here’s why: At the pinnacle turning point of this letter in Chapter 3, Paul maintains that we are saved by grace (Rom. 3:23-24) and we are saved through faith (Rom. 3:22). No one will be declared righteous by only observing the Law (Rom. 3:19-20). And finally, the only way we are justified is through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:27-28).
“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5)
A while back, I was struggling with changes that were taking place within my department at work. These changes caused a lot of internal struggles. Finally it got to the point one day, my boss stopped by planning to offer me a raise, but because I was so consumed in self-pity, half way through our conversation I kicked him out of my office.
I was hurt and unwilling to accept the changes because I felt overlooked and underappreciated.
Needless to say, weeks later I got the raise, but only after a sincere apology and a change in attitude. The issue was my heart, which had been misguided and left unchecked during all of the changes. During this time, I saw only what I wanted to see and dwelt on it. My perception had gotten skewed, I was hurt and unwilling to accept the changes because I felt overlooked and underappreciated.
“So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” (Romans 2:3-4)
During the winter months, I looked down at my keychain and realized that I had lost the key to my Harley. I had it on a quick release loop so I could remove it from the rest of my keys for ease when riding. I looked everywhere for it—in all of my jackets, purses, and pockets—but because I couldn’t pinpoint the time-frame in which I lost it, I had no hope of finding it.
Here is a foundational truth: God is a God of kindness, tolerance, and patience, and His kindness is what brings us to repentance.
After I had given up the search, I dreaded telling my husband that the key was gone, as I expected him to be angry, even though it was an accident. When I finally worked up the courage to tell him, he dismissed it with a shrug, commenting, “These things happen.” I was so relieved. Not only was he not angry, he was sympathetic knowing this could have happened to anyone.
Do you know why I was nervous he’d be angry? Because I would have been angry. I might have even accused him of being careless, or questioned how he didn’t notice it falling off the keyring. Many times, we do not like to extend grace to others. We like it for ourselves, but when others are concerned, we want them to get what we believe they deserve.
“Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth” (Romans 2:2)
In the court system, to be a judge, several requirements must be met. First, judges must be experts in our laws, they must be citizens, and they must meet certain residency requirements to serve. Then, when performing their duty, judges must be impartial and fair. Their decisions are rendered based on facts alone, and there is no room for opinion, favoritism, or ignorance of the law. A lot of requirements must be met before a person is qualified to be a judge in our court system.
If we leave judgment to God, we will fully benefit from His mercy.
The same is true in the heavenly realm. There are many requirements for being qualified to render judgment. In the previous verse, Paul has just disqualified mankind from this role. “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” (Rom. 2:1). Our participation in sin excludes us from being qualified to judge anyone fairly.
"You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things" (Romans 2:1)
Recently, my cousin commented that she had a hard time believing I struggle with the same sins she does because I have been a Christian for a long time. In her mind, my relationship with God somehow makes me more holy and less likely to sin. Sometimes, the longer we are believers, the easier it is to adopt this attitude and start judging others by comparing them to ourselves.
When we judge others, we prove that we have awareness of right from wrong and this knowledge makes us liable for our actions.
At the end of Romans 1, Paul is building a case to prove the Gentiles (those outside of God’s Covenant people) were guilty before God because of their refusal to acknowledge Him. In this chapter, he turns the table and focuses on the Jews. The Jews were God’s special people, and because of this relationship, they thought had the right to judge and condemn others. Paul is showing them that they are just as guilty, if not guiltier, than the Gentiles. Paul’s assertion is that the Jews had no right to pass judgment on others because they were just as guilty of exactly the same things.
"Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them" (Romans 1:32)
Have you ever been guilty by association? I remember in high school our teacher gave us a work day but warned that talking during class would get us kicked out for the next two periods. So for the next two days, while I was sitting in the library, I remembered evaluating my choice of who I sat with, and I thought to myself, perhaps I haven’t chosen very wisely.
Humanity blatantly does things that go against God.
Although I wasn’t the instigator, I participated and by that gave my approval to it. When the teacher followed through with the punishment, I was both guilty of disobedience and guilty by association. One could debate that giving approval to sin is just as contemptible as participating in it.
"Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless" (Romans 1:28-31)
It’s interesting that out of the laundry list of transgressions, most of these wouldn’t make our top 10 list of what we consider to be a grievous sin. Some of these, such as arrogance or being boastful, seem very minor compared to murder. Worst of all, we probably remember the last time we participated in a few of these things such as gossip.
Unthankfulness is the root issue
But Paul starts to wrap up his accusation against the whole of humanity by saying that “they have become filled with every kind of wickedness,” the Amplified Bible says we are permeated and saturated with every kind of unrighteousness. The fruit of this lifestyle is listed: envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice…and the list goes on and on.
When you boil it down, all of this unrighteousness comes back to Paul’s main accusation that we did not recognize God as God, we didn’t glorify Him and we were not thankful of Him (Rom. 1:21). This is the root issue throughout this charge in Romans 1, as it’s an issue of the heart.