Rom 2:12-16 “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; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. 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: 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;) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.”
As we look at these verses of scripture, it may be beneficial to start by looking at the twelfth and sixteenth verses together. These to verses comprise the foundation of what Paul is saying. That is not to say that the parenthetical verses are not important. They may be more clearly understood by looking at the main statement.
“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 (v.12) in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel (v.16).” Remember that in verse eleven, Paul has told us that God is not a respecter of persons. Paul further clarifies that statement in this statement. We cannot use either ignorance or our legal efforts as an excuse once we have heard the gospel.
There was a time when the Gentiles were literally outside the covenant of God’s law. The law service belonged only to the Jews. The Gentiles were not concerned about the morality, the dietary restrictions, or the manner of worship taught by the law. However, not having had the law would not excuse them once Christ had torn down the middle wall of partition, the Holy Spirit had moved among them, and they had learned of His death, burial, and resurrection through the preaching of the gospel.
The Jews had at one time felt themselves superior to the Gentile world because they had the law of Moses. They read it, they quoted it, they heard it, and they made a public display of it. Yet, no matter how diligent they may have thought they were, they could not meet the perfect demands of the law. The law would not save them from the judgment of God: the gospel of Jesus Christ says all have sinned and come short of God’s glory.
Hearing the truth, whether it be the truth of the law (as in the old covenant) or the truth of the gospel (as in the new covenant) does not make us just. Going to church on Sunday morning, or turning on the TV or YouTube and hearing a preacher does not give us a pass for sinful living the rest of the week. We must be doers of the truth of God as taught by the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, we must also recognize that the work of the Holy Spirit has to take place before anything else applies.
When Paul speaks of them doing “by nature” the things contained in the law, he was not implying that the natural man would do godly things. He goes on to explain that they “shew the work of the law written in their hearts.” There is only one power that can write in the hearts of men. Until God writes His law in our hearts, we do not have a “nature” that will allow us to access His law.
May we rest in the assurance that God judges the things that men think they have kept secret through Jesus Christ according to the gospel!