Romans 2:12-29

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. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 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. 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 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

Observation

  • Sin brings judgment rather or not you have the law.
  • Not having the law will not excuse sin.
  • Those who sin without the law will perish
  • Those who sin with the law will be judged by the law.
  • Simply knowing the law will not cause one to be righteous before God.
  • Those who do the law will be justified.
  • Gentiles do not have the law.
  • Gentiles know what the law requires by nature.
  • When Gentiles do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves.
  • Gentiles demonstrate knowledge of the law by their conscience.
  • The work of the law is written on the Gentiles’ hearts.
  • The Gentiles’ conflicting thoughts both accuse and excuse them when God judges.
  • God will judge the secrets of men.
  • God will judge by Christ Jesus.
  • You are to teach yourself the law if:
    • You call yourself a Jew
    • Rely on the law
    • Boast in God
    • Know God’s will
    • Approve what is excellent
    • You are a guide those who do not know
  • If you are instructed in the law you should obey the law.
  • Hypocrisy causes God’s name to be blasphemed.
  • Our hypocrisy causes others to blaspheme God’s name.
  • Circumcision is valuable only if the law is obeyed.
  • If we break the law it is just the same as if you were not circumcised.
  • Keeping the law will make an uncircumcised man be regarded as circumcised.
  • Those who keep the law will condemn those who do not keep the law regardless of physical circumcision.
  • Merely being a Jew physically does not make one a true Jew.
  • Being a Jew is a matter of the heart.
  • A true Jew is praised by God rather than men.

Interpretation

Paul has just said that we are all in danger of the judgment of God. You can hear the first objection. “But, I did not know any better.” Paul remind us of what he has already said in chapter 1, that is, God has clearly revealed himself to everyone (v 19). There is no excuse. The written law was not given to everyone, only to the Jews. And those who sin while they have the written law will receive the wrath of God. So logically that only means that those who sin will out the law receive the wrath of God without the law. And those who sin with the law will receive the wrath of God with the law. It is just as those who sin without a blue shirt will receive the wrath of God without a blue shirt. And those who sin with a blue shirt will receive the wrath of God with a blue shirt. Paul is simply stating a logical conclusion from the previously presented truths. The conclusion of this is no sin escapes the wrath of God.

Some have tried to use this section of scripture to justify a works based righteousness. Paul does say, “Doers of the law who will be justified.” What is important to note is that if righteousness is sought by the law then the law must be fulfilled, that is, the righteousness of the law is in the perfection of works. In there is no one perfect other than Christ. But, we are saved by works of the law. We are saved by Christ’s works. Christ fulfilled the law perfectly and then sacrificed Himself for our redemption.

Paul does give a small peak into how God has reveals Himself in nature. The law is written on the heart. Our conscience is a witness to us of the law of God. But what of those who no longer have a conscience. To put in our vernacular, they have seared their conscience. As Paul has already stated in chapter 1 God has given them over to their reprobate mind. In other words, God has let you do what you want to do. When we do by nature what the law contains we are obeying the law and demonstrating we have the law. We can distinguish between just and unjust, between honest and dishonest. We are ashamed of adultery and theft. Throughout history man has created religious institutions which show that man understood God was to be worshiped. These all speak not only of the power of the law but knowledge of it. It does not matter how men have imagined God or how many gods they created. It simply demonstrates men thought there is a God and honor and worship are due Him.

After Paul completed with the Gentiles Paul lays into the Jews. He says that the Jews are doubly guilty because they had the written law. They knew the written law. And they were condemning the Gentiles for not obeying the law while they were not keeping the law either. So they doubled down on their sin and were guilty of hypocrisy also. Their hypocrisy lead to God’s name being blasphemed by the Gentiles. They were persuaded that the oracles of God belonged the them. They felt they had a special dispensation from God. After all they were descendant of Abraham. They were God promise to Abraham.

Paul does concede they do have knowledge of the law. But that is to their condemnation. They know the law. They even teach the law to others but they do not obey the law. Righteousness is more than knowledge. It is right doing, right living.

Paul says, “You who boasting in the law and dishonor God by breaking the law.” In the same manner, those who today proclaim the name of Jesus, and claim His name, and live in opposition to the gospel dishonor God and cause His name to be blasphemed.

Paul concludes this chapter with the climax of circumcision. The Jews would say, “We are God’s chosen we bear the mark of being His children, circumcision.” Paul says, circumcision is of great value, if you obey the law. But if you break the law, then it is of no value. It is the same as if you were not circumcised.  And oh by the way, if a Gentile, who is not circumcised keeps the law he gets all the benefits of being circumcised. So which is more important circumcision or obeying the law? You guessed it, obeying the law.

In the new covenant baptism is the new circumcision. So the same can be said of anyone who relies on water baptism alone and thinks he is justified. Baptism, without obedience, has no more value than getting wet.

Application

While Paul is chastising the Jews in the first century, we would be remiss if we did not realize how this applied to us. We can easily rely on our own ability to do good, i.e. keeping the law. We can take pride in knowing the scripture and yet partake in all types of sin. After all we are under grace and presume on God’s kindness and patience, as if the gospel were not a rule of life.

Paul warns us not to flatter ourselves and condemn others when we keep a part of the law. Secondly, Paul warns us not to glory in overcoming a temptation while there is still sin within us.

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