Declared Righteous—Romans 2:12-13
“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.
This misunderstanding could be attributed to not comprehending this passage of scripture. At first glance, it appears that Paul is saying that 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, but this not the obedience Paul means. Paul is talking about obeying the righteousness of the Law (Rom. 2:26), which is an entirely separate thing.
What Is the Righteousness of the Law?
How could Gentiles, in their subconscious know and follow over 600 commandments? They couldn’t. You and I cannot either.
In the previous sentence, Paul said that those who sin apart from the Law, or without knowledge of the Law, perish without being judged by it. The very next verses go on to say that Gentiles (those outside of God’s covenant people), do by nature what the Law requires because it is written on their heart (Rom. 2:14-15). If the law he’s referring to is the Jewish Law, how could Gentiles, in their subconscious know and follow over 600 commandments? (i.e., The Ten Commandments, dietary and sacrificial laws, etc.). They couldn’t. You and I cannot either. In other words, the Jewish Law (or Ten Commandments, to generalize) is not used as the standard by which everyone is judged.
This is not what is written on our hearts, nor can it be what the Jewish people are trying to accomplish by obeying the Law given by Moses. Paul is talking about obeying the intent or purpose of the Law—what the Law intended and the righteousness of what the Law points to.
Here is the purpose of the Law:
- To show us what sin is (Rom 3:20, 7:7, 7:13).
- To arouse sin within us (Rom 7:8-9, Gal 3:19).
- To condemn us (Rom 7:10, Gal 3:10, 23).
- To crucify the sin nature so we can live for God (Gal 2:20).
- To bring us to Christ (Gal 2:19, 3:24).
The main purpose of the Law was to point us to Christ (Gal. 3:24). The Law showed the righteous requirements of God. The Law showed what sin was. The Law showed that we are completely incapable of obtaining a right standing with God by our deeds alone. It shows us that we are hopeless and in need of God’s mercy. This was the intent of the Law from the beginning.
Therefore, this is how to obey the Law, by looking to what the Law points to—Jesus! By accepting Christ’s provision for our sin, the entire Law is fulfilled in us (Gal. 3:25). By obeying the righteousness of the law, we are declared righteous (Rom. 2:13).
Understanding this is the key to understanding and unlocking the truth of God’s word. Today, may you obey the righteousness of the Law and trust in Jesus to save you.
Original article published June 7, 2009.