Thursday, October 2, 2014
What Can I Make the Bible Say? Romans 2:13
#3: “For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified,” Romans 2:13.
To consider this verse more thoughtfully, we must draw back as it were to contemplate the first 3 chapters of Romans in a very truncated synopsis. After Paul’s lengthy introduction (1:1-15) he emphasizes the saving nature of the gospel and who the gospel is intended for: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it (the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith,’” Romans 1:16-17; also Habakkuk 2:4.
Here we have the explanation of what saves us (namely the gospel) and how we are saved (by faith in this gospel); we are also told that the gospel is as impartial in its application as God is: it is for both the Jews (God’s earthly people) and the Greeks or Gentiles. The Gentiles indeed were not a part of God’s covenant people when He made His covenant with Israel at Sinai: “Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world,” Ephesians 2:11-12.
The rest of chapter 1 of Romans details what I have dubbed “the downward spiral;” how man knew God at the first but rejected Him and set up their own gods, though the witness of creation stood against them which ultimately led to moral and spiritual corruption and darkness, Romans 1:18-32. The next chapter opens with an indictment, entirely universal in its application, since we recall that Paul is addressing both Jews and Greeks (or Gentiles), Romans 1:13-14, 16; 2:9-10, 17. “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things,” Romans 2:1. When we see a “therefore” in Paul’s writing, as the saying goes, we need to see what it’s “there for.” Paul concluded his former thought by describing God’s judgment against sinful thought and conduct, and how man has turned so far in his rebellion that he is now sympathetic with flagrant sinners instead of an offended Creator. According to this passage our culpability has destroyed our ability to condemn another (the truer sense of what “judge” means in this case) since we do not practice complete impartiality.
This is the essence of what our Lord taught in Matthew 7:1-5 when He said, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
The crux of Romans chapter 2 details the moral law, contained both in men’s hearts and given by verbal revelation to the Jews, that all humanity possesses and operates by to varying degrees. We know that the law, as given to Israel, entered to increase our understanding of sin’s nature, God’s wrath against it, and our need of a Savior, Romans 5:20; 7:7-13; Galatians 3:24. The hinge of the chapter lies in verses 11 and 12, which predicates verse 13 (our present text). “For there is no partiality with God. For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law,” Romans 2:11-12. So we must determine if Romans chapter 2 teaches salvation by works (Gentile works apart from the law or Jewish law-keeping) or if Paul intended something else.
Chapter 2 breaks into two sections. Romans 2:1-16 bring us along the path of hypocritical judgments since everyone fails to consistently live up to even what conscience reveals to be right. Bear in mind the universal condemnation begun in chapter 1 in how all mankind went astray, and continued in Romans chapter 2 as we progress from the revelation of creation to the revelation of conscience. The moral law is impressed on the hearts of Jews and Gentiles, Romans 2:14-15. Much of the Mosaic Law given to Israel was moral in nature; nine of the famous Ten Commandments were moral injunctions. The famous Code of Hammurabi, which supposedly predates the Sinaitic covenant reveals quite clearly man’s ability to grasp and understand moral offense and penal repercussion.
Paul is very telling when he writes “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to reach one according to his deeds,” Romans 2:5-6. Continuing along with this train of thought the apostle informs us that those who by “patient endurance” do what is good will receive eternal life, verse 7. The Greek for “patient continuance” is actually one word: “hupomone” and is literally translated “an abiding under.” If we turn to Oxford we learn that “abide” and all its derivatives (abides, abiding, abided) means “accept or obey a rule or decision; last for a long time; enduring.” What manner of “long time” could be intended? The rich young man from our earlier study believed that he had kept all the law from his youth, but it was clear that he had not. James writes “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all,” James 2:10. The word “point” is in italics in the NKJV, meaning that the word is added for clarification but was not in the original manuscript. James writes that whoever stumbles in one of the laws given has become guilty of all the law; it is apparently an entirely complete unit, indivisible and therefore the same judgment is made about transgressing it regardless of the trespass. Paul adds to James’ thought by penning “For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law,” Galatians 3:21.
One would then have to abide in their doing good from conception to death to merit eternal life via the works of the law. Let’s skip again to Romans 2:12 and remove the parenthetical verses (13-15) to read the apostle’s uninterrupted thought: “For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law…in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel,” Romans 2:12, 16. This returns us to the apostle’s natural emphasis on the gospel and saving faith in Jesus Christ, quoting from the OT prophet Habakkuk “the just shall live by faith,” Romans 1:17; Habakkuk 2:4. There will be a time of coming judgment for the spiritually dead, but the deeds recorded won’t be the good being weighed against the bad. We have been given a record of the event as a warning against such erroneous and dangerous thinking. “And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and the books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books…and they were judged, each one according to his works…and anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire; this is the second death,” Revelation 20:12-15.
Romans 2:17-29 considers the Jewish nation especially. They had the greater revelation: “to them were committed the oracles of God…to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises,” Romans 3:2; 9:4. “He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His judgments, they have not known them,” Psalm 147:20. As we approach the end of chapter 2 Paul strikes on the contrast between external obedience verses inward transformation, “in the Spirit” rather than in the letter. True obedience stems from the nature of the Law Giver as we contemplate who is behind the law of conscience and revelation, and why He gave them to us. It is to protect us from ourselves and one another; clearly out of love for mankind: “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law…love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law,” Romans 13:8, 10.
To conclude this brief synopsis we must plunge into Romans chapter 3, which is where Paul is leading his audience. Romans 3:9 captures the essence of the first two chapters by stating “For we have previously (already) charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.” Following is a brief and graphic depiction of OT passages linked together to demonstrate man’s perverse nature, and that no man, not even a “good man” is righteous before God, Romans 3:9-19. Verse 20 informs us that the law gives us, not righteousness, but the knowledge of sin. Romans 3:21-31 succinctly provide the remedy in a sharp contrast to man’s efforts either through Gentile works or Jewish law-keeping. Thank God there is a third option!
The righteousness of God apart from the law is now revealed; its witnesses are the very Law and Prophets of the Old Testament, Romans 3:21. This same language is employed to describe the gospel of Jesus Christ: “For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith,” Romans 1:17. The universality of the gospel’s saving power is highlighted (verse 22) followed quickly by a terse indictment that everyone on earth has sinned and forfeited the glory, honor and immortality they sought, Romans 3:23; 2:7, 10. Verse 24 reiterates the good news by telling us that all mankind is justified freely by God’s grace (unmerited favor) through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ. God set forth our Lord as a propitiation (satisfactory payment for sin, verse 25) passing over the sins of the Old Testament saints by looking at the consummation in Christ, that He might be just (fair and impartial) but still the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus Christ, whichever side of the cross one was born on, verse 26. All boasting is excluded, which Paul may have reckoned would be the natural state of a man who thought he was doing well earning his way to Heaven. This he declares that the law of faith, not works, excludes such boasting because Christ did the work and it is then our trust in Him and His accomplished act that saves, not any effort on our part, verse 27. Elsewhere we read the exact same testimony: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that (salvation) not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast,” Ephesians 2:8-9. Ephesians 2:10 declares that works have their place, but they are done in love, out of faith, AFTER one is saved, see also Titus 2:14; 1st John 3:18; 4:10-11.
The conclusion is inescapable, and a swift answer to those who would say “where does it say that one is saved by faith alone?” “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law,” Romans 3:28. The apostle finishes by touching on the universal nature of God; that He is God of all the earth, both to Jews and Gentiles, verse 29. Both will He justify apart from works, by faith, verse 30. Better, our Lord makes both one Christ, Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians 3:10-11. Verse 31 states that the Christian does not make void the law through faith, but rather establishes it. What then does this mean? If we look ahead we receive some illumination: “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin; He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit,” Romans 8:3-4. That is, those who are in Christ Jesus have received the righteousness required for eternal life.
We will conclude this study of Romans 2:13 with this final Scripture quote: “What shall we say then? That Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness of faith; but Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but, as it were, by the works of the law,” Romans 9:30-32. I believe it is clear that Paul did not intend for Romans 2:13 (or any portion of that chapter) to be misused in an effort to teach law/works.