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Romans 2:13 PDF Print E-mail
Written by Mike Montgomery   

"For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified"

Here are my thoughts on Romans 2:13 and its immediately surrounding context.

I think that the Apostle Paul is setting forth a premise based on a commonly held supposition, which is that God will eternally judge men on account of their works. Now, the Apostle Paul did not agree with this supposition but apparently many who lived then did (and obviously many still do now). We know that he believed in salvation by grace and by grace alone. But to get to the point where it is irrefutably proved that salvation is only by the grace of God, he must first prove that we are totally depraved and undone before God because of our sins. So from Romans 1:18 through 2:4, he proves that all humanity lies in wickedness and that (apart from the grace of God which is the great theme he developes later in this great epistle), no one’s works will save them. Again, he is here laying the foundation for proving salvation by grace by first showing the total depravity of man and now showing the certain doom that awaits mankind at the day of reckoning. In 2:5-11, he shows that the only ones who will not suffer eternal punishment are those who live a life above and beyond sin. He writes as if this were possible; although, he has already proved that this is not the case and will later prove again (in Romans 3) that this is impossible for mortal man.

He here writes without thought of the vicarious work of Jesus Christ; however, he is building the case for it in this section of this epistle by showing that we are all totally depraved, that the standard for obtaining eternal life is impossibly high for any of us, and therefore we are all eternally doomed to indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish because we earned it by the evil that we are and the evil that we have done.

The certainty of our doom is further heightened by the expression that "there is no respect of persons with God." This statement is certainly true when it comes to God judging us based on our works apart from the work of Christ. Jew and Gentile will be judged alike and lest the Jew should think he was exempt simply because he was a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Apostle Paul presents a withering condemnation of the fallacy of that idea. The Jews knew that they were sinners although they did not like to admit it and tried desperately to appear to others to have risen above it. They even thought that they were exempt from the penalty of sin because of their natural descent from the fathers. With this erroneous belief firmly entrenched in their minds, they could and would look with contempt upon the Gentiles and believe that they (the Jews) were better than them (the Gentiles).

In verse 13, he continues to analyze the logic of this supposition (and it was one dearly held to by the Jews) that they would escape the coming judgment of God upon mankind and that they would escape because they were Jews and had the Law. He uses this confidence that the Jews had within themselves and turns it against them. It’s almost as if he was saying, “If it is true that God will render to every man according to his deeds, then only those who maintain the standard that God has set will enjoy the bliss of eternal life. Those who are disobedient will suffer the eternal consequences. Of course, the Law is that standard that God has set, and it is true that only the Jews have it, yet God will judge all according to their works whether they were Jew or Gentile. So when it comes time for God to render judgment, it won’t matter whether you were Jew or Gentile but whether or not you kept the Law. But even if you have the Law, as only the Jews do, it matters not if you have it unless you do the things contained in it, and you must do them like God expects them to be done. Otherwise, judgment will befall you even if you are a Jew. Therefore, the only ones who will be justified before God are the doers of the Law.”

This is my thinking on what the Apostle Paul is saying in Romans 2:6-13. Following on with that, he then shows the Jews something that they knew but did not want to admit and that was that there were Gentiles who, though they did not have the Law by right of natural descent as did the Jews, did by nature (which can only mean that they had a spiritual nature and a spiritual descent) those things contained in the Law. Of course the Apostle Paul is not here saying that these Gentiles would be truly justified before God on account of their keeping the Law. Just because the word “justified” is used, I don’t think that justification by faith is what is at issue here, but rather he is still dealing with the supposition that we are proved to be innocent or guilty before God on account of our works.

In Romans 3 especially, he will certainly prove that all mankind, both Jews and Gentiles, are all under sin and have sinned and because of this no one can possibly say that they will escape God’s wrath if we are indeed judged on account of our works. But here in Romans 2:14-15, he simply takes to task the confidence the Jews had in themselves and, by exposing them to the awful truth, he destroys the basis for that confidence. What more horrific and terrifying thought to the Jew than to know that there were Gentiles (who the Jews felt were subhuman to them and certainly beneath them in status with God) that did a better job of keeping the Law than they themselves did? And because these “good” Gentiles did what the Jews knew they themselves should have done but didn’t, these Gentiles would obtain the very thing that the Jews believed to be theirs by right of inheritance: eternal life in the paradise of God.

The rest of Romans 2 drives the point home that the Jews were not exempt from the judgment of God or the wrath of God because they were guilty of breaking the Law and in breaking it, they did more damage to it than any Gentile because they should have known better and, indeed, they claimed that they did know better. Finally, the Apostle Paul presents the most amazing of truths to the Jews and this truth surely horrified and terrified them. Natural circumcision means nothing to God. Natural descent from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (although important and with it came many blessings naturally) was not what made you a child of God. You had to be circumcised in the heart and you had to be a Jew inwardly. How startling a fact that must have been to the Jew who grew up with the idea that you were God’s special people simply because you were a Jew?

Mike Montgomery

Last Updated ( Friday, 20 October 2006 )
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