A Question I Was Asked:

Doesn't Romans 2:13 Go Contrary to Your Anti-Law Teachings?

You have written some very interesting and persuasive things on the law recently but does not Romans 2:13 go contrary to your anti-law teachings?

UK Apologetics Reply:

First off, I don't seek to uphold my own teachings, nor even "anti-law teachings." I am only interested in getting as close as possible to the teachings of the Bible. Since most of us reading these things are either Christians, or are prepared to be persuaded in that direction, I admit my main focus is the New Testament which is that section of the Bible which is there to teach Christians all about Jesus, the New Covenant, and the Gospel.

So let us look at Romans 2:

12. All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16. This will take place on the day when God judges people's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares. (Romans 2:12-16, my emphasis in verse 13, NIV throughout).

And here we have a marvellous example of the danger of pulling one verse completely out of context because, just reading this one verse (verse 13), one can gain an incorrect impression of the point Paul is making. Verse 13 here: 'For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous' is frequently picked up by legalists who want us all to keep, or to turn back to the law, indeed, this was one of the very few verses in Romans which Herbert W. Armstrong used to love quoting (he ignored most of Romans for obvious reasons). Paul sometimes uses irony and even sarcasm to make a point. With this Apostle you can never just pick out one isolated verse, one has to read an entire section to get his point.

Firsly, we have to understand that although this is the 'Book of Romans,' Paul was addressing Jews here. We know this from verse 17:

17. Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God;

Those of Israelitish descent often judged and critiqued the Gentiles, but Paul the Apostle points them to their own Law (their accepted standard of judgment) and tells them that only the doers of the Law are justified before God (verse 13). The standard which some of them wanted to keep was this Law, and Paul was telling them that they could indeed be justified before God by keeping it. Paul's point is: if that's your approach, just go ahead and keep the Law, but keep all of it, because if you don't, you're in trouble. It is the doers of the Law who are justified before God. He explains to them that the Gentiles who didn't have the Law were often instinctively keeping the Law (verse 14) and will be judged accordingly.

Paul was showing some of the self-righteous Jews who judged the Gentiles (verses 1-5), that they were not able to keep a perfect standard. They were effectively hypocrites. This is why Paul tells us in the very next chapter in Romans 3:28 that we are justified by faith apart - I repeat 'apart' - from the works of the Law. Yet no one is able to fully keep the Law (whatever certain people may claim), because If you fail even once, then you become guilty of it all!

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10).

10. For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law." 11. Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because "the righteous will live by faith." 12. The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, "The person who does these things will live by them." 13. Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole." 14. He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. (Galatians 3:10-14).

So it is true that the Jews can be justified before God by keeping the Law, but he or she has to be absolutely perfect and unblemished. A person could not fail - not even just once - ever! This might be 'justification' of a sort but it still could not save us for three reasons:

1. This stubbornly refuses to recognise that all fail, the law is, therefore, insuffucient to save us.
2. This would be stubbornly and rebelliously refusing to come under Christ's grace and refusing to recognise that He kept the law perfectly for us! So we would be stubbornly refusing the grace of Christ which is able to cover for our failures.
3. It would be setting up our own "righteousness" as a standard sufficient for salvation, which it can never be. That is idolatry.

So this could be "justification" of a sort, but not sufficient to save anyone.

To ensure that we really understand all of this let us conclude the chapter:

17. Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; 18. if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19. if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20. an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth - 21. you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22. You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23. You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24. As it is written: "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." 25. Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26. So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27. The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker. 28. A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person's praise is not from other people, but from God.

Okay. Two Scriptures to sum all of this up:

For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed - a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith." (Romans 1:17).

21. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23. for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24. and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood - to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished - 26. he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26, my emphasis).

I think all of this should now make this matter really clear.

Robin A. Brace. April 21st, 2016.