We’ve all heard, and maybe said, “Because I told you so.” It is not a very good reason, but, we all know what it means. It means we were told something to do and it did not get done. Maybe it was a parent or family member. Maybe it was a boss. Really it could be anybody talking to most anyone else.
At this moment you can probably think of at least one time you heard those words directed at you. You might also think of times when you have said those words to others. The reality is that what awaited on the other side of those words was not going to be pleasant. But, in a sense, in many (most?) cases, the issue was ours. We were told to do something and it was not done. Whether the task was fair or not is another matter as is whether the punishment was just.
But we can all relate because we have all been told to do something and we did not get done what we were told to do. Why? Because we are independently minded. We don’t like to take direction from others. We know what we are to do, but we choose not to because, ultimately, we are sinful people – not just towards God, but towards others.
The desire for self-autonomy is nothing new. It started in the Garden of Eden and it continues to this day. And in between Paul wrote a lot about it, including to the Romans. But knowing to do something and not doing it has consequences as Adam and Eve found out. And that knowledge has been passed down to every generation since.
The consequences of our inaction may be different depending upon the persons and the circumstances involved. But related to God, the consequences of our sin demand justice. And God’s holiness demands justice – and thus, we have the series title, “And Justice for All.”
Proposition: But even as God administers justice impartially, He does not do so equally.
Question: Is that possible? Can justice be impartial and yet evaluated by different considerations? Please understand, the overall standard is the same. This idea may not make sense now, I hope to clarify the matter using Paul’s words in the remainder of this post.
Romans 2 is about judgment. It begins (vv. 1-11, last week’s post) with Paul showing God’s righteousness allows God to judge in ways that man never could. God is objective in His use of truth and in His execution of justice against all people. In today’s passage (vv. 12-16), Paul shows that both Jew and Gentile are judged by one standard, but part of the initial comparison is different. Then, in the final part of the chapter (which we will review in two weeks), Paul challenges the assumption of the Jews regarding their understanding of salvation.
We can think of last week’s message and this week’s message as a two-way mirror, with verse 11 being the actual mirror. Romans 2.11 says that God shows no partiality (in His judgment). Verses 1-10 are primarily written to the Jew who thinks that their knowledge of the Law is sufficient. Verses 12-16 is written about the Gentile who was not given the Law and thus is judged apart from the Law. Thus, verse 11 is the actual mirror with one side reflecting back the Law and the other reflecting back something else (which I will get to in a moment).
Now, it is important to note that when I say “Law” I am not talking about the law of man. I am talking about the laws of God, and specifically in this context, Paul means the Law of Moses. That is, Paul is referring to the 613 laws God gave to Moses for the people of Israel. So, two points we must understand about this.
- God gave the laws to the people of Israel.
- God did not give those laws to anyone else (i.e. the Gentiles).
The implications of those two points are as follows:
- Implication for the Israelites
The Israelites were given the Law. They were to know the Law. And they were to live by the Law.
As per Paul (e.g. Romans 2.12), James (James 2.10), and Jesus (Matthew 5.17-18), breaking one of the given laws was equal to breaking every law. Again, this truth covered all 613 laws known as the Law of Moses. But let’s break it down to just The Big 10 – that is, the Ten Commandments (which are part of the 613, in fact, they summarize them in a way).
So, let’s say that someone commits adultery, even if by only lusting after someone (see Jesus words in Matthew 5.27-28), that one sins can lead to a multitude of others. In committing adultery (Commandment 7, Exodus 20.14):
- they have likely dishonored their parents (Commandment 5, Exodus 20.12),
- obviously coveted (Commandment 10, Exodus 20.17),
- which could have stolen the spouse from another (or at least someone’s virtue, stealing being Commandment 8, Exodus 20.15),
- may have lied about it (Commandment 9, Exodus 20.16),
- and caused someone to become bitterly angry and commit murder (maybe not in the literal sense – Commandment 6, Exodus 20.13, but in the figurative sense as Jesus said in Matthew 5.21-22),
- and in doing any (or all) of these made him/herself a god above God, thus breaking Commandment 1, Exodus 20.3.
Thus, in the act of committing adultery, the person has broken commandments 1, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10. That is 6 of the 10, and we could easily extend this example to make the person guilty of all ten.
The problem, as we shall see more clearly in a couple of weeks is that the Israelites thought the Law gave them privileged status. As God’s Chosen People (in part because God chose to give them the Law), they thought that provided some degree of certainty towards salvation. Thus, Paul had to write that it was not enough to simply hear the Law (Romans 2.13), the righteous must do the Law (see also James 1.22-25), and to be truly saved, the Law must be kept perfectly. Thus, hearing the Law (which would have been common) was not an advantage towards salvation as many Jews thought.
On the other side of the mirror, we have the implication for the Gentiles.
- Implication for the Gentiles
Only the nation of Israel was given the Law. Now, the Law was not for the Israelites/Jews to keep to themselves necessarily, but people cannot be held accountable for that which they do not know. Thus, how could the Gentiles, a people “far off” from God (Ephesians 2.13), be held accountable for something they did not know.
Because the Jews had the Law, they believed the only way for a Gentile to receive salvation was to bear the yoke of the Law (cf. Acts 15.10). So, Paul says that those who are “without the law” are judged “without the law” as well (Romans 2.12).
Paul does not mean that the Law does not count or is unimportant. It also does not mean that all Gentiles were wildly heathens like some Jews thought (of course, some Gentiles were). We must remember Paul’s background as a Pharisee (Phil 2.5) who trained under the great Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22.3). Paul knew the Law and knew it to be important. But God revealed something more to Paul about Gentiles. Although the Gentiles were “without the Law” they were not without law. That distinction is important. And Romans 2.14-15 makes this point clear.
In this case, “when” means “whenever.” So, whenever a Gentile does something that the Law commands, they are showing that it is not about receiving the written Law that Moses gave to the Israelites, but rather it is the work of the law that is written on their hearts. (1)
What’s the point?
Well, before I give the point, I shared an example of breaking one law by a Jew. So, let me share an example from a Gentile. If a Gentile is tempted to steal and does not do so, why would he not do it? It is not because he has the law, but because the works of the law are evident. We know inherently that it is wrong to take from someone else. But the Law goes further than what to do and what not to do. The Law – the Law of Moses – includes God. That is the difference.
A Gentile might honor his or her parents (Commandment 5, see verse above), never have murdered (Commandment 6) or committed adultery (Commandment 7). In the example I just shared, the person did not break Commandment 8, although at some point, s/he has likely lied (Commandment 9), but usually s/he tells the truth. And maybe some coveting (Commandment 10) is a part of this person’s nature, but s/he exhibits self-control which mitigates the effects of the sin.
However, the Gentile (in this example) would not know the specifics of God’s commands about God. The Gentile was not delivered from Egypt (Exodus 20.1-2) so s/he does not know to worship the one true God (Commandment 1, Exodus 20.3), might have many graven images (Commandment 2, Exodus 20.4), may use God’s name inappropriately (Commandment 3, Exodus 20.7) and would not have any reason to know about the Sabbath (Commandment 4, Exodus 20.8-11).
But let me restate what I said a moment ago: The Gentile would not know the specifics of God’s commands about God. That is true. But that does not mean that they cannot know God. Nor does it mean that they should not know God. Paul has already made this truth abundantly clear in Romans 1.18-23. Many Gentiles were guilty of suppressing the truth about God (v. 18), not honoring or thanking God who had clearly showed Himself to them (vv. 19-21), and actually worshipping idols instead of worshipping God (vv. 22-23). Thus, Gentiles may not have the Law, but they do not have any excuse for not knowing of God, which should lead to truly knowing God.
Having shared that example, now we are ready to look at Paul’s point. The point is this:
All of us know what we are to do. In doing what we are to do, we are not necessarily fulfilling the Law – how can we fulfill what we do not know exists – but it is being done anyway. Thus, something above the Law must be true. That is, people may not be under the Law of Moses, but they still operate by the principles of that law because we are all made in the image of God (Genesis 1.26-27). In other words, we are all without excuse.
In verse 15, Paul mentions the conscience. We have to be careful when we think about the affects of the conscience. I have more to say about this than time allows today, but I will share more about our conscience in Monday’s YouTube video. For now, I will say that the conscience is not a good judge – sometimes it accuses us and sometimes excuses us – even on the same matter. Thus, our conscience cannot be a good judge at all.
- The Implication for All of Us
So, we have seen that Law is important in judgment toward the Jew. We have shown that Gentiles are not judged by the Law, but have the effects of God’s law within them. Thus, both are held accountable by God. The exact manner for measuring righteousness may be different depending upon what we know (i.e. do we know the Law), but the ultimate standard for that measurement is not in what we know or even what we do; rather, that standard is Who we know. Here, we have the answer to our question at the beginning. God may have differing expectations of us based upon our knowledge of His Law, but we all become equal at the foot of the cross.
Notice verse 16 says that God judges by one standard – by Jesus Christ. And the judgment is made not only by what others see in us, but in what we desire to keep secret. That is why I have said throughout this series (and in times past) that we are not able to make adequate judgments. We will never know the whole story about others and we will never admit the full story about ourselves. But God, who sees what is done in secret (see Matthew 6. 4, 6, 18), will judge according to the only Person who was not only perfect in hearing, but also in doing (Romans 2.13; 3.26; 5.19; Hebrews 4.15; see also Matthew 5.17-18 and John 19.30).
This truth is so personal for Paul, so ingrained within him that he calls it “my gospel.” He desires to preach it. How can he do it unless he believes it. And if he believes it, how can he not do it? Again, Paul knew the importance of the Law. But he also knew of a greater importance – the work of Jesus on the cross to cover what we could never do on our own?
What about you?
Have you made the gospel your own? Or are you still trying to earn your way into heaven because of some special insight or something you think you have done? Or perhaps you believe anything religious is petty and immaterial? If that is you, check your heart and see why you do what you do.
Most people consider the greatest of life’s questions to be: What am I doing here? Well, I don’t have your answer for you. But God does. And the gospel that Paul made His own, I have made my own. I know God knows me. And I want to know Him better. And God offers us all the same opportunity, not based upon who we are, but as Romans 2.16 tells us, by Jesus. He judges us by one standard – the standard of Jesus. And if you do not know Him, nothing else matters.
But if you do, you can soon discover the real answer to your question about your purpose in life. So, if you are thinking about it, even a little, do not just be a hearer, do something. Send a comment. Send an email. Send a text. Do something – now, before you get distracted with something else.
Our JOURNEY letter for today is J – JESUS.
It really could be O, for OBEY because we are to be doers, not just hearers. But none of us can OBEY perfectly. But Jesus did. And thus, once again, the letter is J and the word is Jesus. Remember, He is the standard. Nothing else matters. We will be judged – even our secrets – by Jesus.
LIVE. Be doers of the Law and not hearers only (James 1.22). Choose one thing, just one, that you know you are to do and do it this week. Maybe it is something you should be doing regularly, then start this week. Maybe it is just something you are to do and be done. Then do it and be done with it. We all have something we know we could or should be doing. So this week, choose that one thing (at least) and do it.
(1) This comment is similar to Jeremiah 31.33, but it is not the same. That verse says God will write the “law” on hearts. This verse says the “work of the law” is written there. The difference is subtle in wording, but important in principle. The “work of the law” primarily relates to the commandments related to one another whereas “the Law” relates to all commandments (including those that pertain to our relationship with God).