Romans 2:12-29

Wednesday Evening Bible Study

November 11, 1998

Vote count:

Aye (Lease) 94 Nay (Lease) 8

Aye (Move) 100 Nay (Move) 3


Paul has been setting up his letter by talking about what has become of the secular world as they have exchanged the truth about God for lies. Mankind is by nature a worshipper, and if he gives up the worship of the True God, then he will worship the next thing that comes around. Man resorts to worshipping the creation rather than the Creator.

When this happens, God "gives up" people over to their sins. Paul gave a huge list of sins that all come from a rejection of God.

Now while he’s pointing his finger at these horrible, pagan Gentiles, the Jew who is reading the letter is nodding his head and saying, "Yes, yes, they are despicable people!" Paul then turns on the reader and says that they too are without excuse because they do the very same things. He is now going to move into a section where he is going to lay a foundation about how God is righteous to judge those who don’t have the Law of Moses.

:12-16 God’s just judgment of the Gentiles

: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;

God, in His impartiality, is going to judge everyone based their works, whether or not they knew the Mosaic Law or not.

He’s going to explain how God can be just in judging those who don’t have the Law.

Robertson: "The heathen who sin are lost, because they do not keep the law which they have, not because they do not have the Mosaic Law or Christianity."

:13 (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.

The Jews took great pride as being the people of the world chosen to receive the Law of God from Moses.

But Paul is saying that just because you have been exposed to the Law doesn’t mean that you’re going to be right before God. It’s those who obey the Law that are right before God.


Don’t just listen, obey.

As a Christian, the same principle applies. Exposure to the teachings of Jesus isn’t going to help you at all. It’s when you get the teachings of Jesus translated into real changes in your life that you will see the blessings of following Him.

Mat 7:24-27 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock: {25} And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock. {26} And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand: {27} And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.

Don’t be deceived by getting a "good feeling" by going to Bible Study. The real, solid benefits aren’t going to come until you put what you’ve learned into practice.


When the Coalinga quake occurred a couple of years ago, a lot of things were discovered. Houses that were built and were bolted to their foundation withstood that 8.2-on-the-Richter-Scale quake. The structure would sway, but if it was bolted to the foundation, it withstood. Now on the other hand, the houses that were built in a period when they did not bolt them to the foundation--again, a perfectly good house--when the horizontal earth movement occurred, the house moved maybe six or seven inches off its foundation. And that's what caused the house to collapse. And so that was a great discovery made at Coalinga: Houses should be bolted to their foundation.

It’s your obedience to what Jesus says that bolts you to the foundation, to Jesus.


Andrew Murray in With Christ in the School of Obedience:

The true pupil, say of some great musician or painter, yields his master a wholehearted and unhesitating submission. In practicing his scales or mixing the colors, in the slow and patient study of the elements of his art, he knows that it is wisdom simply and fully to obey.

It is this wholehearted surrender to His guidance, this implicit submission to His authority, which Christ asks. We come to Him asking Him to teach us the lost art of obeying God as He did. ... The only way of learning to do a thing is to do it. The only way of learning obedience from Christ is to give up your will to Him and to make the doing of His will the one desire and delight of your heart.


On July 20, 1993, while cutting down oaks in a Pennsylvania forest, Don Wyman got his leg pinned beneath a fallen tree. No one could hear his yells for help. After digging for more than an hour to try to free his bleeding, shattered leg, he hit stone. He would bleed to death unless he did something drastic. Wyman made his decision. Using a wrench and the starter cord from his chain saw as a torniquet, he cut off the flow of blood to his shin. Somehow he had the fortitude to amputate his own leg below the knee with his pocket knife. He crawled to his vehicle and drove to a farmer's home. The farmer got him the help that saved his life. Like Don Wyman, men who want to follow Christ face tough choices. We have sinful habits we want to keep as badly as our leg. We also have a Lord and Savior who calls us to repent. It takes strength to cut off our wickedness.

-- Craig Brian Larson, pastor in Chicago. Men of Integrity, Vol. 1, no. 1.

: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:

by naturephusis – nature; what a person does "instinctively".

Other non-Jewish influenced cultures still have a rule of law to some extent. And the points where their laws become parallel to the Law of Moses, they have their own standard of judgment set up for them. They will be judged by their own law, and still be found guilty.

Note: It’s not just the conscience of a person that becomes their own law, but the places where their conscience intersects with the Law of God, the Law of Moses.

:15 Which show 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;)

showendeiknumi – to point out; to show, demonstrate. They demonstrate a law written on their hearts by doing it.

thoughtslogismos – a reckoning, computation; decision: such as conscience passes

accusingkategoreo – to accuse before a judge: to make an accusation

excusingapologeomai – to defend one's self, make one's defence

To the extent that their conscience is not too seared or callused, a pagan person’s conscience is going to either make them feel good about doing good, or feel guilty about doing wrong.

Paul isn’t saying that it’s possible for a pagan person’s conscience to always be telling them they’re doing the right thing. For a person to be right with God, they would have to always do what their conscience says, and never be condemned by it. That is impossible. This is what Jesus died for, to pay the price of our condemnation, to cleanse our consciences.

:16 In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.

secretskruptos – hidden, concealed, secret

The King James has this picking up the thought of verse 12. Verses 13-15 were a parenthesis explaining how God would judge those who didn’t have the Law.


There’s no hiding from Him.

He’s going to judge our secrets. Charles Spurgeon wrote,

Coals of fire cannot be concealed beneath the most sumptuous apparel, they will betray themselves with smoke and flame. Neither can pet sins be long hidden beneath the most ostentatious profession of faith; they will sooner or later discover themselves, and burn sad holes in a person's reputation. Sin needs quenching in the Savior's blood, not concealing under the garb of religion.

It’s a pretty scary thing to go through life feeling like you have to cover certain secrets up about yourself. It’s pretty liberating to come to the place where your life is an open book, and it’s a good book at that. To be able to honestly say, "I have nothing to hide".


A son, who had gone to military service, wrote to his father: "I am sending you all my keys except the front-door key; some day when I get leave, I may walk in unexpectedly and give you a surprise." When the parents read the letter, they thought, "This is a good son. He has no secrets from us, nothing to hide, no bluebeard chamber that must not be entered, no forgotten corner where old shameful things lie. He knows himself and he trusts us. He gives us the run of all his affairs. He sends us all his keys. He knows us, too . He knows he will always be welcome; that he can always walk in without waiting; that he has full right of entry into his father's house. Our house is open to him, and his heart is open to us." Give God all your keys, and He will always give you access to Himself and all blessing. -- Donald Grey Barnhouse, Let Me Illustrate (Revell, 1967), p. 16.

:17-29 The true Jew

:17 Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,

calledeponomazo – to put a name upon, name

Though this section is addressed to those who call themselves "Jews", there are many principles that apply to us Gentiles as well.

Paul is going to describe a person who feels confident before God not based on a relationship with God, but based upon their rituals.


Don’t have a false hope.

It’s like the person who has grown up in a church, was baptized as an infant, and feels like they don’t have to worry about going to heaven because they were born and raised in the church. Warning Will Robinson!!! Don’t base your hope for eternity upon anything other than what God says.

God doesn’t say that infant baptism saves you. He says that trusting in Jesus saves you:

(John 1:12 KJV) But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name:

(John 3:14-18 KJV) And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: {15} That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. {16} For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. {17} For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. {18} He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Your hope of spending eternity in heaven should be based only on the fact that you are trusting Jesus to take you to heaven.

(1 John 5:11-13 KJV) And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. {12} He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. {13} These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

:18 And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;

Here’s some excellent qualities that the Jews claimed for themselves:

knowestginosko – to learn to know, knowledge based on personal experience.

willthelema – what one wishes or has determined shall be done; of what God wishes to be done by us

They knew what God desired of them.

approvestdokimazo – to test, examine, prove, scrutinize (to see whether a thing is genuine or not), as metals; to recognize as genuine after examination, to approve, deem worthy

Originally, "test the things that differ." The verb was used for assaying metals. You run all the metals through the test, but only the things that survive the test are the ones that you accept, the "excellent" ones.

In other words, the Jews knew how to discern right from wrong. They knew how to say, "This is a good thing". That’s something we all need help with, as Paul prayed:

(Phil 1:9-10 KJV) And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment; {10} That ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;

being instructedkatecheo ("catechism") – to sound towards; to teach orally, to instruct. They had been taught the Law of God.

:19 And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,

art confidentpeitho – persuade; to trust, have confidence

guidehodegos – a leader of the way, a guide; a teacher of the ignorant and inexperienced

It had been God’s desire that the nation of Israel to be a "light to the Gentiles" (Is.42:6; 49:6; 60:3), but rather than being a light that leads people in the right way, they were just proud that they were "better" than "those pagan Gentiles".

:20 An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.

instructorpaideutes – an instructor, preceptor, teacher; from paideuo – to train children

foolishaphron – without reason; senseless, foolish, stupid

babesnepios – an infant, little child

This was the belittling way that some of the Jews looked down on those who converted to Judaism. In a way, a new believer is indeed a "babe" in Christ, but we shouldn’t be looking down at them in any way.

:21 Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?

Do you pay attention to your own teachings?

:22 Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery?

Jesus said,

(Mat 5:27-28 KJV) Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: {28} But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.

:22 thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?

abhorrestbdelusso – to render foul, to cause to be abhorred; to turn one's self away from on account of the stench

commit sacrilegehierosuleo – to commit sacrilege, to rob a temple. Apparently some Jews had plundered pagan temples, even though coming in contact with the idols would make them unclean.

:23 Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?

breakingparabasis – a going over; metaph. a disregarding, violating; stepping over the line

This is similar to the person who finds confidence in outward, religious rituals like baptism, going to particular "spiritual" churches, even putting bumper stickers on their cars, but whose lives are so contrary to God’s ways that God is actually dishonored by their lives.


Let your actions prove your words.

Richard C. Halverson (in No Greater Power. Christian Reader, Vol. 25, no. 1.) writes,

Sure we believe in freedom of speech. You've got the right to say anything you like. But others don't have to listen! They're under no obligation to tune you in; when they do, they can also tune you out anytime they wish. Your right to speak is guaranteed--but you must earn the right to be listened to. It depends solely on your integrity. Integrity is the prerequisite to acceptance. If you expect to be paid attention to, back it up with your life. Let your walk correspond to your talk. This is fundamental to your witness for Christ. Many so-called Christians listen too little, talk too much, and live lives that contradict what they say. Their "witness" betrays Christ-and alienates those to whom they speak. Jesus said, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" (Luke 6:46).

:24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.

It is thought that Paul is probably quoting:

Isaiah 52:5 Now therefore, what have I here, saith the LORD, that my people is taken away for nought? they that rule over them make them to howl, saith the LORD; and my name continually every day [is] blasphemed.

But there’s another parallel in Scripture, where the concept started. It was when David had committed adultery with Bathsheba. He tried to cover it up by having her husband come home from the war and trying to get him to make love to his wife. When that didn’t work, he had the husband killed. When the baby was born, David was confronted about his sin by the prophet Nathan:

(2 Sam 12:13-14 KJV) And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the LORD. And Nathan said unto David, The LORD also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die. {14} Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.

:25 For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law:

profitethopheleo – to assist, to be useful or advantageous, to profit

keepprasso – to exercise, practice, to be busy with, carry on

Circumcision is a valuable thing to a Jew if he lives a life of real obedience. Then the thing that identifies him as a Jew (circumcision) becomes a testimony of what God’s ways are like.

:25 but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.

A Jew who is boasting that he is a circumcised son of Abraham, yet lives like the devil, is really no better than an uncircumcised heathen Gentile.

I’ve heard some people say that if you’re going to break the law while you’re driving, then you shouldn’t have a Christian sticker on the back of your car. I would like to adjust that a little and say that if you have a Christian sticker on your car, then drive like a Christian should. Don’t take off the sticker, change your driving.

:26 Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?

keepphulasso – to guard; to guard for one's self (i.e. for one's safety's sake) so as not to violate, i.e. to keep, observe (the precepts of the Mosaic law)

be countedlogizomai – to reckon, count, compute, calculate, count over

This would be a hard thing for a Jew who trusts in his circumcision to swallow.

:27 And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?

by naturephusis – nature; by instinct.

fulfilteleo – to bring to a close, to finish, to end; to perform, execute, complete, fulfil, (so that the thing done corresponds to what has been said, the order, command etc.)

He’s saying that a person who wasn’t a Jew, but obeyed the Law, would stand in judgment over a Jew who trusted in their circumcision, but didn’t obey the law.

I think that in practicality, he would have to be talking about us Gentile Christians.

It’s only through trusting in Jesus that anyone can fulfill the requirement of the Law.

(2 Cor 5:21 KJV) For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

(Rom 3:21-22 KJV) But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; {22} Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference:

As we are putting our faith in Jesus, God puts His righteousness on us by exchanging our sins for Jesus’ righteousness.

:28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:

outwardlyphaneros – apparent, manifest, evident, known; from phaino – to bring forth into the light, cause to shine, shed light

Likewise, going to church, carrying a Bible, putting a bumper sticker on your car, these don’t make you a Christian any more than driving through MacDonalds makes you a hamburger.

:29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

inwardlykruptos – hidden, concealed, secret

praiseepainos – approbation, commendation, praise. This is a play on words: the word "Jew" comes from the name of the main tribe of the Jews, the tribe of Judah. The name "Judah" means "praise".


Whose praise are you after?

Ultimately, it isn’t what people think of you that counts, it’s what God thinks of you.

Yet in our society, all we care about is what others think. Just like the Jewish rulers in Jesus’ day:

(John 12:42-43 KJV) Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: {43} For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.


Our age finds it difficult to come to grips with figures like Winston Churchill. The political leaders with whom we are familiar generally aspire to be superstars rather than heroes. The distinction is crucial. Superstars strive for approbation; heroes walk alone. Superstars crave consensus; heroes define themselves by the judgment of a future they see it as their task to bring about. Superstars seek success in a technique for eliciting support; heroes pursue success as the outgrowth of inner values.

The modern political leader rarely ventures to comment in public without having tested his views on focus groups, if indeed he does not derive them from a focus group. To a man like Churchill, the very concept of focus groups would have been unimaginable. Thus in the space of a generation, Churchill, the quintessential hero, has been transformed from the mythic to the nearly incomprehensible.

-- Henry Kissinger in the New York Times Book Review, from his review of Churchill, by Norman Rose (July 16, 1995). Christianity Today, Vol. 39, no. 11.

Be careful to not live your life for the applause of others.

Martin Luther wrote,

If you perhaps look for praise and would sulk or quit what you are doing if you did not get it--if you are of that stripe, dear friend--then take yourself by the ears, and if you do this in the right way, you will find a beautiful pair of big, long, shaggy donkey hears. Affliction is the best book in my library.

There’s one set of clapping hands we ought to be yearning to hear:

(Mat 25:21 KJV) His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord.