The book of Romans is about the gospel. In the second half of chapter 2, there is a contrast being made between the Jews and the Gentiles. If you have not read previous studies, you can find them in the following links:
In the first part of Romans 2, Paul writes that there is no partiality with God (Rom. 2.11). If you are a Jew and are guilty of sin just like the Gentiles, you are also subject to the wrath of God, for there is no partiality with God. The Gentiles need the gospel because of their sin. The Jews also need the gospel because of their sin. There’s no partiality with God.
In the rest of the chapter, Paul expands on this concept by comparing and contrasting the Jews with the Gentiles.
The Gentiles had their law described as the law of nature. There were some Gentiles who lived faithfully by that law, and God saw then as being righteous. In contrast, the Jews had their law which was the Law of Moses. There were some Jews who did not live faithfully by the law, and God saw then as unrighteous.
The point being made is that one is not right with God by virtue of being a Jew. One is right with God by obeying His laws. Many of the Jews believed that they were righteous on the basis of their being Jews. However, Paul explains that if you break God’s laws, it does not make a difference if you are a Jew or a Gentile because there is no partiality with God.
The Ten Commandments were given exclusively to the Jews. Gentiles who sinned were going to be condemned outside of the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses. In contrast, those Jews who were bound by the Ten Commandments will be judged by the Law of Moses.
Notice the word “just” and “justified” in verse 13. It is a word that carries the idea of being made right. You and I have committed sin and have severed our relationship with God. When that relationship is repaired through the gospel, I am justified or made right. From that point on, God treats me as though I had never sinned.
To be treated by God as if you had never sinned, you must be a doer of the Law and not just a hearer. If I want to be right with God, I need to do more than just hear the law. I need to obey the law.
Having established that one is right with God by obeying the law, Paul then shows that the Jews and the Gentiles were governed by two different laws. There was a standard of conduct that governed the way the Gentiles were to live, and there was a standard of conduct that governed the way the Jews were to live.
The Gentiles lived by a code of ethics or morals. There is embedded in our nature, a code of right and wrong. I don’t need to be told that it is wrong to murder. There is something in my nature that tells me that it is wrong to take a life. There is something within me that tells me that it is wrong for me to steal another man’s wife. There is a sense of morality built into us. We know that there is a difference between taking the life of a chicken and taking the life of a human being.
This is one of the ways that we can prove that God exists. Where did that sense of morality originate? It came from our being made like God. We still make bad decisions because we allow our desires cloud what we know inherently. But inherently, there are things that we know are right, and things that we know are wrong.
The Gentiles were never given a written law as was given to the Jews. They lived by a code of morality. There were some Gentiles who were very good people. There were some Gentiles who were very immoral people is explained in chapter 1. There were some who chose to live by that moral code. There were some who chose to ignore that moral code.
In verse 14, we are being told that the Gentiles did not have the Ten Commandments, but by following this moral code of conduct, they were living their lives the way the Ten Commandments dictated. As a result, they were living the way God wanted them to live.
The things they did (work) as well as their hearts and minds, were all exemplifying what the Old Testament Law taught even though they were never given the Law. Some of the Gentiles lived good lives such that it appeared as if they were following the Ten Commandments. Even though they did not have the Law, they were living as if they did, and so they became a law unto themselves.
In contrast to the Gentiles, the Jews were given the Law of Moses.
In Ephesians 2 beginning at verse 14, we are told that the Jews and the Gentiles were separated and distinguished by the Law of Moses. The Jews had it, and the Gentiles did not. When Jesus came, He “abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace” (Eph. 2.15).
This Law of Moses is a Law of commandments contained in ordinances. Imagine the hub of a wheel which is the Law, and from the hub extends all these spokes which are the various ordinances. There were the Ten Commandments, and then there were all these other ordinances that elaborated and expanded upon the Ten Commandments. This is what God gave to the Jews.
The Gentiles lived by a code of morality. The Jews lived by the commandments that were given to them through Moses. If we skip down to Romans 2.27, we can see how this Law of Moses is referenced.
Romans 2.17 tells us that they “rest on the law.” The idea is that they laid back in rest as people who were of the Law. They believed that because they were Jews and had the Law of Moses, they were special and could coast into heaven.
The Jews were instructed out of the law. They took the Law of Moses and used it as a way to learn how they were to live. Then they would take this Law and were quick to show it to others and instruct them.
The Jews had the perception that they were perpetually right with God, and the Gentiles were perpetually separated from God. They boasted in the Law. They considered themselves a guide to the blind, and light to those in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes.
But many of those teaching the law and boasting about themselves being the people of God, were not following the law.
As a result of the way the Jews lived, the Gentiles looked at the Jews and saw them for what they were. They were hypocrites. The Gentiles looked at how the Jews lived and said that they don’t want any part of the God of the Jews or the Law that God gave them. It resulted in the Gentiles blaspheming God. The Jews in their smug arrogance thought they were better than the Gentiles. In reality, they were just as immoral.
Summary: The Gentiles never had the Law of Moses, but some of them were good, moral people who lived as though they did have it. These Gentiles are going to be judged as being right with God because of their adhering to the moral code. In contrast, the Jews had the Law of Moses, but some of them were living immoral lives acting as though they did not have it.
Have you ever known Christians who live their lives in a way that makes you wonder if they ever even read the New Testament? There were some Jews that way. These Jews who broke the Law of Moses were going to be condemned as people who did not keep their written code. The Jews had the Law of Moses, but many of them were law-breakers and were not considered right with God.
This contrast was set before us to show that there is no partiality with God. The Jews who were condemning the Gentiles and practicing the same things get no special treatment from God. It does not matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile. If you obey God, you will be blessed. If you sin, you will be condemned. That is true regardless of whether you are a Jew or a Gentile.
In Old Testament times, the Jews were commanded to be circumcised as a symbol of their relationship with God (Gen. 17.9-11). God established a relationship with Abraham and the generations that will come after him, the Jewish nation. This covenant would involve circumcision. God says that it will be a sign of that relationship between God and the Jews. In other words, people will know that the Jews have a relationship with God because of their circumcision.
Take this idea of circumcision back to Romans 2. The Jews thought that they were right with God and pointed to their circumcision as a sign of having that relationship with God. Paul says that if you do not keep the Law of Moses, then God views you as if you are one of the uncircumcised (Gentile). Even if a Jew is circumcised, if he breaks the Law of Moses, his relationship with God is severed.
Here is a Jew who had the Ten Commandments. He had been given the Law of Moses. However, he did not keep the Law. God considers him as no different than an uncircumcised Gentile.
Here is a Gentile who did not have the Ten Commandments. He did not have the Law of Moses. However, by keeping the natural law, the moral code, he was doing what the Law commanded (Rom. 2.14). He was keeping the righteous requirements of the Law. The way he was living his life was consistent with what the Law of Moses taught. They were living as if they had the Law. God considers him as if he were a Jew.
Here is this comparison between the Jew who did not keep the Law and the Gentile who did, and how that affected their relationship with God. All of this to make the point that the Jews did not have an automatic ticket to heaven just because they were Jews. They needed the gospel just as much as the Gentiles because there is no partiality with God.
If you were born to a Jewish family, you were by heritage, a Jew. If your mother is an American and your father is an American, then you are an American regardless of where you were born. You can be a military family stationed in another country, and if you have a child born another country, that child who is born to an American family is an American.
In Old Testament times, if your mother is a Jew and your father is a Jew, then you were a Jew. If you were a Jew, you believed that you were right with God because you born as a Jew. When Jesus came, we are told that this isn’t true anymore. Verses 28,29 tells us that not everyone who is born into a Jewish family is a Jew. In other words, not everyone who is born into a Jewish family has a relationship with God.
Your relationship with God isn’t because you were born a Jew. God does not see you as being a Jew just because your mother and father were Jews. Today, one is a Jew inwardly. You have to obey the gospel if you want to have a relationship with God today. Now, you are a Jew because of your heart. Now, it is the circumcision of the heart that makes you a Jew inwardly.
If being born a Jew and being physically circumcised is no longer how one has a relationship with God, how does one enter into a relationship with God today? How does one become symbolically circumcised to become a spiritual Jew and be in a relationship with God today?
The circumcision takes place is not by means of the letter of the Law of Moses. You are not considered circumcised in the eyes of God because you obeyed the law of circumcision in the Old Testament. The circumcision of the heart comes by following the direction of the Holy Spirit (Col. 2.11,12).
Summary: Chapter 2 tells us that the Jews need the gospel just as much as the Gentiles. There is no partiality with God. Just because you are a Jew and have been circumcised does not mean that you are right with God and have a free pass to heaven. Those who are right with God are those who have been circumcised in their hearts. The Gentiles need the gospel. They don’t have the law, and they will be judged outside of the Law of Moses. The Jews need the gospel just as much as the Gentiles. They had the Law, and even though they had the law, they broke the law. Everyone needs the gospel. In chapter 3, the inspired writer puts this all together.
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