Background Scripture: Romans 2:1-29
Lesson Context: Paul wrote the letter to the church at Rome in about AD 58, near the end of his third missionary journey. He had not visited Rome but hoped to do so in the near future (Romans 1:10). Despite this lack of firsthand familiarity, Paul was quite knowledgeable about issues causing dissention in the church of Rome. Conflict between Christians of Jewish and Gentile backgrounds was one of these issues.
Just Judgment (Romans 2:12-16):
A. With or Without the Law (v. 12).
12. “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law.” The Jews thought themselves a holy people entitled to their privileges by right, while they were unthankful, rebellious, and unrighteous. But all who act thus, of every nation, age, and description, must be reminded that the judgment of God will be according to their real character. The Jews knew their law very well. It was the basis for their faith, having been studied and practiced for centuries. Yet they had knowingly broken that law, and they could not avoid being judged according to those violations.
The Gentiles, for their part, had been given the special revelation of law from God. Even so, Romans 1:18-21 establishes that Gentiles could not escape judgment by pleading ignorance.
B. Hearers or Doers (vv. 13-15).
13. “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” These terms come from the legal arena-the world of courtrooms and laws. To be justified in this sense means to be free from penalty for breaking the law. The Bible sees the Lord as the always-righteous judge and humans as always unrighteous and guilty of sin, thereby incurring the wrath of God (Romans 2:8; 3:23). We are declared righteous because Christ has paid the penalty for our sin (3:21-26; 4:25; 5:18).
14. (“For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.”
In so doing, Gentiles are keeping the Law of Moses by nature. The Law of God as given to the nation of Israel was not the imposition of unnatural, unreasonable, or unnecessary requirements for living. Rather, God’s laws gave instructions for living according to His created plan. Sin has distorted and thwarted this divine blueprint for holy living.
15. “Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.”) Even without having the Law of Moses, everyone has a built-in sense of right and wrong-a moral compass.
C. Secret or Public Violators? (v. 16).
16. “In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.” Both Jews with the Law of Moses and Gentiles with the law written on their hearts will stand as guilty on the day when God shall judge the secrets of men. People may get away with hidden acts of sin under human judicial systems, but that is not so with God. The function of eternal judgment is entrusted to the Son, Jesus Christ. God knows what we believe to be hidden (Psalm 139:1-3; Matthew 6:4). He is the omniscient (all-knowing) judge who never lacks evidence.
References: Matthew-Henry Bible Commentary, Standard Lesson Commentary, KJV 2023-2024, International Sunday School Lessons