Romans 2:12-13 meaning

Verses covered in this passage:

  • Romans 2:12
  • Romans 2:13

If someone depends on the law, they will be judged by the law. So, if you have disobeyed the law (e.g. sinned) you will be condemned by the law. But if we place our faith in Christ and follow God’s will, glory and honor await us in heaven.

The word “Law” appears fifty times in Romans, but this is the first verse where the word “law” appears. To this point, Paul has made clear to his audience of Gentile Roman believers, whose faith is being proclaimed throughout the entire world (1:8), that a just or righteous life comes through living a resurrected life by daily faith. We receive power for effective living by faith in Jesus’ blood and we gain the experience and reward of living His life in resurrection power through walking by faith. The contrast is to live an unjust or unrighteous life, and that life brings wrath and adverse consequences both in this life as well as at the Judgment of Christ.

In 2:1 Paul began to address anyone who judges others for the same or similar things they themselves do, and is still speaking to any such person when Paul here introduces the word “law” for the first time. For any person to judge another, it requires a set of rules or laws. Paul will develop from this point a stark contrast between a life lived under law and a life lived by faith. Paul will culminate this contrast in 9:30-10:13 where he contrasts the “righteousness of faith” versus the “righteousness of the law” and asserts that seeking righteousness or justice via the law does not result in righteousness, while living by faith produces righteousness or just living.

The main point from the culminating passage of 9:30-10:13 is found in 10:5-10, which quotes Deuteronomy, is summed up in Deuteronomy 30:14 that we all know in our heart what is right, so we ought to believe what God teaches us is for our best and we ought to do it. That is what brings just living, or righteousness. Sadly, however, human nature is to be self-seeking as well as self-justifying, and the primary means to self-justify is via laws or rules.

The primary way we condemn others is by a law, pronouncing them unjust because they violate some standard. But Paul will make clear that there is no human standard by which we can actually be justified, for in whatever way we condemn others we condemn ourselves, for we all do the same things, perhaps in different ways.

Paul is setting up a defense for the slandering of his message of good news by certain Jewish authorities who have set themselves up as judges, and are using condemnation to gain authority over others (a very common human trait at all levels and at all times). Paul is making clear in this passage that there is only one true authority who will judge deeds, and that is Jesus Christ. Paul will emphasize that God accepts us as His children solely because He chooses to. His acceptance is without condition. He then judges our deeds to reward our behavior on earth and grants approval based on what we have done. In each case, it is God who decides, not man.

However, Jesus tells us in Matt 7:2 that whatever standard we measure others to, God will use that standard to measure us, so if we apply the law or a set of rules to others, those rules will, in turn be applied to us. Even without laws or rules we are still accountable, because God has placed the knowledge of right and wrong in the heart of every man, and man has witnessed that knowledge by His presence in all of nature (1:19-20).

The Apostle Paul has made clear that every person knows right and wrong; it is implanted in their hearts. In order to be just in the sight of God via the law requires actual performance of the law, not mere knowledge of the law. Paul will tell us in 3:20 that this means no human can be justified by the law because no human can fully keep the law, other than one human and that is Jesus, who is also God. It is His sacrifice on our behalf by which we are accepted in the sight of God.

Again, Paul is setting up an argument against some Jewish authorities who claim Paul is teaching wrongly and have slandered his message (3:8). These Jewish authorities are claiming that righteousness or justice before God comes by adherence to the law, so Paul is setting up an argument demonstrating that these authorities not only are wrong but don’t even adhere to their own teaching. For it is the doing, not the saying, that matters when it comes to rules and keeping rules. Anyone can say they keep the rules, but the nature of the law is that in order to be justified before the law one must actually keep the law—not just claim that they keep it.

Biblical Text

12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; 13 for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.

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