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Romans 2:12-24
The assemblies in Rome had been listening to this letter sent to them by the apostle Paul. They learned that
it was his intention to share the gospel with them, to establish them in the faith (Rm 1:11); to remind them
of what it says, and what it means (Rm 15:15).
Partly this was due to the fact that there were false teachers afoot (Rm 3:8), and Paul wanted to ensure that
the believers in Rome knew the truth. In addition, the Holy Spirit had revealed to Paul that he would be
going to Rome soon (Acts 19:21), and he wanted to initiate contact with them.
But there was one other reason why Paul was communicating his gospel with them: to heal the sore
division between Jewish and Gentile members of the Body in Rome. Paul knew that the gospel would
enable the believers there to be like-minded toward one another according to Christ Jesus (Rm 15:5).
The Roman assemblies continued to listen, as Paul made his case against mankind in general, in their
unrighteousness, and then followed along with Paul as he specifically zeroed in on the unrighteous
Gentiles. The Gentiles werent named, but both Jew and Gentile in the assemblies would have recognized
them, by Pauls description of their sins.
But then Paul turned to the Jews also unnamed and he issued an indictment for them, as well. On what
basis? On the basis of their unrighteousness.
Now, thats something that a self-righteous, religious Jew would have a very hard time believing. But Paul
develops a very powerful argument in chapter two to convince his Jewish listeners in the assemblies that
the unbelieving Jew is no different than the unbelieving Gentile; both are equally under the wrath of God,
and will be equally subject to His judgment.
Paul began by indicating the very fact that the Jew judges the Gentiles shows his knowledge of the Law of
Moses. And in that the Jew sins in an equally reprehensible manner, violating Gods Law, he brings
condemnation upon himself all the while that he is judging the Gentiles.
The Jew could not help but acknowledge that he does sin. But the Jew believed that he would not be
judged by God as severely for his sin as the Gentile would be. Some Jews even believed they would
escape judgment entirely.
Why? Because most Jews believed that Israels election as Gods nation ensured their salvation; that is,
they thought their birth as sons of Abraham secured their place in heaven. But Paul made it plain that they
were gravely mistaken; sin is sin, and a holy and righteous God must judge it.
The Jew knew the Law, but he did not know the God who gave it. Not only did the Jew misconstrue Gods
justice, thinking that God would show partiality toward him, and would let him off the hook concerning his
sin.
The Jew additionally misconstrued Gods mercy. Whereas God restrained His judgment for a time, to give
the Jew time to repent, the Jew took this to be Gods favoritism toward him, as one of His chosen people.
But Paul makes it clear that this is the skewed thinking of a heart that has been hardened through unbelief.
Instead, the Jew will get back from God exactly what he has been storing up for himself; wrath in the day
of wrath at the Great White Throne Judgment.

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The only men present at this judgment will be unbelievers those who did not receive the work of Jesus
Christ, on their behalf. As they did not receive His work, they will be judged on their work.
Paul brings out that the so-called good work of the religious Jew will not save him. Why? Because he is
still in his sins; and since his heart is still unrighteous, those works are tainted by the fact that his motive for
doing them is completely self-serving.
In the sight of God, who looks on the heart, the Jews good works are evil; just as evil as the out-and-out sin
of the unrighteous Gentiles. Both Jew and Gentile now identified by Paul will receive a just
recompense for their evil works in the Lake of Fire.
Paul contrasts this with the reward that awaits those who have made peace with God through Jesus Christ.
It makes no difference whether they are Jew, or Gentile both can be reconciled to God, their Creator and
Redeemer. And once they are, both will have a heavenly destiny as glorified sons of God.
In this way, Paul is showing the Jewish and Gentile members of the assembly in Rome that God views
them on an equal basis. They are both born as unrighteous sinners under the wrath of God, and destined for
judgment; but they both have the opportunity to become the righteousness of God, in Christ; and partake of
the same heavenly destiny.
But Paul is a former Jew. He knows the Jewish mind, and the arguments that it would tend to raise against
thought that God views Jews and Gentiles in the same light, and weighs them on the same scale of justice.
Paul has begun to unravel the myth that the Jews birth into the nation of Israel gives them an edge over the
Gentile nations. And as we continue in chapter 2 today, we will see that Paul touches upon the subject of
their birth again, as he addresses another key aspect in which the Jew saw himself as superior to the
Gentile; in that the Jews were given the Law of Moses. Next week, we will look at the last key aspect in
which the Jew saw himself as superior in his circumcision.
Lets read through our passage together first. I want to include verse 11 again, as it is a transition verse
between the previous and the current passage.
[Romans 2:11-24]
As mentioned last week, Paul begins chapter 2 with his sharp address to the unbelieving Jew (vv. 1-5).
Then he breaks off, writing of the judgment on both unbelieving Jew and Gentile (vv. 6-9), and the reward
for the believing Jew and Gentile (v. 10), citing the impartiality of God; He will be absolutely just toward
both (v. 11).
Verse 12 begins Pauls discussion of why the Law will not save the Jew; it will instead judge him. He
includes the Gentiles in his argument, demonstrating that they also have a law, by which they will be
judged (vv. 13-16).
Then Paul resumes his address to the unbelieving Jew, demonstrating how the Jew prides himself in the
Law of Moses (vv. 17-20), but then goes ahead and breaks it by which the Jew dishonors God, who gave
it to him, and tarnishes Gods good name among the Gentiles, as they react to the hypocrisy of the Jew (vv.
21-24).
Now lets go back and look at Pauls line of thinking here.

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v. 11-12 Verse 12 begins with for meaning Paul is explaining what he has just said that God is no
respecter of persons; that He is impartial toward men, here meaning both Jews and Gentiles.
What Paul is saying is that in His impartiality, God will condemn both the Jew and the Gentile for their sin;
and Gods judgment will be just, on both.
Look at the first part of verse 12. Who are the many who have sinned without the Law? That would
refer to the lawless Gentiles, as the Jews called them; lawless, not referring to their unrighteousness, but
lawless in the respect that the Gentiles did not have the Law of Moses.
The pagan Gentiles sin, in ignorance of the Law of Moses. Yet Paul says that they will perish in that state.
Is that just of God to condemn them to everlasting destruction, when they dont know the Law of Moses?
Paul will explain why it is absolutely just, in verses 14 and 15. Well look at that shortly.
At the end of verse 12, who are the many who have sinned in the Law? The Jews they have the Law of
Moses, and have transgressed it. They know the Law of Moses yet knowing what it says, they violate it.
Because they transgress the Law, the Law brings upon them condemnation; it acts as a witness against
them, before God. And the Jews thought that it was through the Law, that they could be saved! Paul
explains why this is not true in the next verse.
v. 13 Verses 13-15 are shown as a parenthetical statement in my NKJV like an aside as if Pauls
thoughts in verses 12 and 16 are connected; but I think Pauls argument is linear straight through from verse
11 to verse 16.
In verse 13, Paul explains why the Jews will not be saved, but judged, by the Law the Law of Moses. Its
true that the Jews had been given this special revelation from God the Law, the expressed will of God.
They heard it. They studied it. They knew what it said. Now, most Jews believed that as long as a man
intended to obey the Law, as a son of Abraham, that man would be saved.
But Paul makes it clear that this is not so. In this sentence, Paul does not choose the most general word for
hearer a man who hears. The word he chose is used in the NT for a man who just listens without
practicing what he hears. The man who just takes the Law in his ear, perhaps intending to obey the Law,
but not actually doing so cannot be justified in the sight of God.
Remember that to be justified is to be freed of all charges of sin and guilt, and to be declared righteous.
Being justified is how a man is saved from condemnation. He must become righteous in the eyes of a holy
God.
So knowledge was not enough; just having the Word of God in their minds. Nor was intent; knowing the
Law is right and good, and that they should follow what is says. They had to actually do what it said; they
had to obey the Law. Paul says that only doers of the Law will be justified.
Now, what does Paul mean by that? Is Paul saying men can be justified by the works of the Law? No; he
will say they cannot a little later in his letter (3:20). Paul is speaking only theoretically here.
Since the Law is the revealed will of God, in theory, if a man could keep it perfectly, he would be justified
before God by the Law. But has anyone ever been justified by the Law? No. Why not? Because in
practice, no one has ever obeyed the Law perfectly; its impossible for unrighteous men to do that.

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In fact, God gave the Law for that very reason to show unrighteous men that they cant be justified that
way. This redirects men to the one and only way to be saved through Christ.
Having explained why the unbelieving Jews will be condemned by their Law, Paul next goes back to
explain why the unbelieving Gentiles will perish without the Law the Law of Moses.
v. 14-16 Paul is explaining why it is just of God to condemn the Gentiles, who never had the Law of
Moses. The Gentiles were not given the Law of Moses, but by nature that is, innately, instinctively they
do the things in the Law of Moses. They dont have the Law of Moses, but they are a law to themselves.
What is Paul talking about? We can understand by just considering mankind, in general.
Every man is born with an innate knowledge of right and wrong in his mind. We can see this across all
cultures, in all men, in those without any knowledge of the Law of Moses. Their societies reflect it. Their
civil laws reflect it. Their philosophies reflect it. For example, murdering and stealing are universally
condemned. Justice, honesty and compassion are universally esteemed.
This innate law that men are born with is not as detailed as the Law of Moses, but it is still in perfect
synchrony with it; it reflects the Law of Moses. Where does this innate law come from? From mans
Creator God. We might call this the divine law, which God writes in mens hearts, as Paul says here. All
men have this standard in their minds, showing them Gods righteous requirements of them.
In addition to this innate knowledge that all men have in their minds, God has given all men a conscience.
The conscience is a reflective mechanism in the mind of man, which judges whether the mans thought or
conduct is right or wrong. We have all experienced a guilty conscience, havent we? And hopefully, we
have experienced a clear conscience, as well!
Unless a man has violated his conscience to the point of rendering it insensitive (1 Tim 4:2, the seared
conscience), the conscience provides a very faithful witness to all men concerning right and wrong; that is,
concerning Gods righteous requirements, that He has placed in their minds.
So every man has this innate knowledge given by God His divine law, in their minds and they have a
conscience like a judge also in their minds. It is a law to themselves.
Like a judge, the conscience informs the man when his thoughts are in violation of that law, written in his
heart Thats wrong! Thats wrong! And then in the ongoing thoughts of the mans heart, he cannot
help but acknowledge this what Im doing is sin! The mans own reasoning makes the accusation
against him, bearing witness to what the judge has declared.
But theres also a witness for the defense. In his mind, the man attempts to defend his thoughts or his
conduct; he excuses himself, rationalizing what he is doing, trying to allay his guilty conscience, and get
that inner judge to back off so he can do what he pleases. We all have had this experience; it is universal.
In verse 16, Paul makes it clear that these secret counsels of the heart, which other men cannot see, will be
revealed at the final judgment the day when they will be submitted to the Judge, Jesus Christ, as
evidence against the sinner. Man will be judged, not only for his actions, but for the thoughts and intents of
his heart.

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The fact that the Gentiles do the things in the Law (v. 14) meaning here some of the things in the Law
of Moses manifests that this universal law is at work in their hearts. Paul is certainly not saying the
Gentiles are doers of the law in their hearts, any more than the Jews are the doers of the Law of Moses.
The catalog of Gentile sin in chapter 1 disproves that!
Pauls point is that, just like the Jews, the Gentiles have a knowledge of the law, which God has given to
them. And because of this, the unbelieving Gentile, without the Law of Moses, will perish in his sin (v. 12)
because God has revealed his righteous requirements to the Gentile also, and he also has failed to meet
them.
Paul is demonstrating that God will be just and impartial in His judgment of both the Jew and the Gentile.
This judgment will be according to Pauls gospel. If men do not become righteous by putting their faith in
Jesus Christ as their Savior, they must be judged by Him according to their works and they will perish.
Paul now transitions back to his direct address to the unbelieving Jew from verse 5, coming off the thoughts
of God judging the secrets of men all men in the final judgment.
Paul begins by citing all of the privileges that the Jew enjoys as one of Gods chosen people, and then
records how the Jew perceives himself.
v. 17-20 What Paul has recorded here are the privileges that a Jew possesses, as a member of the nation
Israel; they reflect the Jews relationship with God (vv. 17-18) and his relationship with others (v. 19-20).
Although these are truly privileges of Israel, keep in mind that Paul is laying them out from the Jews
perspective of his privileges. This is how the Jew sees his privileges.
Paul begins with their name you are called a Jew. The name Jew is derived from Judah, the royal tribe
of Israel, from whom the Messiah came the Anointed One, who would establish Davids throne forever.
The name Judah means praise. The Jews were to be to the praise of God; honoring Him, as His special
called-out people; a witness to the other nations. But the Jew saw in his name, not the idea of praise, so
much as pride pride to be a member of Gods chosen nation, Israel.
Paul says the Jew rests on the Law the Law of Moses. This means that the Jew trusted in the Law; he was
relying upon it for his being accepted by God. After all, God had shown favor to the Jew by giving him the
Law; surely that meant that God would grant him special status, and exempt him from judgment!
And Paul says that the Jew makes his boast in God. Israel is the nation that God made for Himself; the
Jews had the true and living God, as opposed to all those false gods out there. But did the Jews have God?
Time and again, the nation rejected God; and when God sent His Son, they rejected Him their Messiah.
In what way did the Jews have God? Only in their imagination.
And the Jew had a knowledge of Gods will. The commandments, and statutes, and judgments in the Law
of Moses informed the Jew as to the will of God. Of course, having it, and doing it, are different things.
And the Jew approved the things that are excellent. This means that the Jew could discern what the most
important things are. The Jew could easily determine these from the Law, simply by looking at the penalty
incurred for a transgression. But we have the sense from Paul that this discernment was another source of
pride to the Jew.

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Finally, Paul says that the Jew is instructed out of the Law. He is saying the Jew KNOWS; and of course,
the Jew would agree!
So based on his surpassing knowledge, the Jew was confident. He was self-assured and puffed up.
Being in the know, he saw himself as occupying the very position that the Lord intended for Israel to be
His Servant, bringing the light of truth to the Gentile nations those who had no light (Is 41:8-9, 42:18-25).
Paul alludes to the Jew and the Gentile under a series of metaphors here. The Jew was the guide, the light,
the instructor, the teacher. So superior! The Gentile was the blind, in darkness, the foolish, the babe
meaning an unenlightened infant, one with no understanding. Contemptible!
This description of the Jew would certainly strike a nerve with the assembly in Rome, for even the Jewish
believers, with their knowledge of the Law, would have considered themselves to be superior to their
Gentile brethren. But perhaps Paul was already beginning to introduce to them a new perspective Gods
perspective.
Finally, in verse 20, Paul says that the Jew has the form of knowledge and truth in the Law. Now, Paul was
not trying to say here that the Jew had the form, but lacked the substance.
He is instead saying that, in having the Law, the Jew had the embodiment of knowledge and truth; it was
Gods revelation to them of knowledge and truth. And where in the Law did knowledge and truth find its
greatest embodiment? In the ceremonial Law, which pictured Christ.
Jesus said to the Pharisees, You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have everlasting life; and
these are they which testify of Me (Jn 5:39).
The Jews had the picture of the Christ, in their Law. Of course, their religion of Judaism had marred His
picture through their traditions, so that Christ could no longer be clearly seen. But the religious Jew
delighted in his rituals.
Did you notice how many things Paul named, in this list of the Jews privileges and position? Count them.
There are ten. In Scripture, ten is the number of responsibility. There were ten commandments given by the
LORD to Israel, which told them their requirements toward God and toward men.
Perhaps Paul is emphasizing to the Jew that with the special privilege they have received, in being given
the Law of Moses, comes added responsibility. And if that responsibility is disregarded, that would incur
greater judgment.
Having shown how the religious Jew regards himself, now Paul reveals how the Lord sees him.
v. 21-24 What Paul is asking is, do you practice what you preach? And Pauls quotation of the OT text in
verse 24 indicates that the answer to that is a resounding, no! The religious Jews were hypocrites. The
very thing they instructed the Gentiles to do, they did not do themselves.
Paul chooses three representative sins in his indictment of the Jew: stealing, a sin against another;
committing adultery, a sin against ones own body (1 Cor 6:18), that is, oneself; and robbing temples, or
more accurately translated, committing sacrilege a sin against God. These three are chosen by Paul to
represent the whole realm of sin.

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It is interesting to note that Paul also covered these three arenas in his catalog of Gentile sin, beginning
with sin against God (1:21-23), sin against self (homosexuality, 1:24-27), and finally, sin against others
(1:28-31). With the Jew, the order is reversed, ending with the sin which a religious Jew would regard as
the most heinous: sin against God.
What is curious about the sins that Paul names is that these were not sins which would be on the top of the
list for most people if they were to name characteristic sins of the religious Jews. Why wouldnt Paul have
chosen sins with which his Jewish and Gentile readers would immediately identify?
I think what Paul is doing here is showing what he was saying in the first verse of this chapter the Jews,
who judge the Gentiles, are practicing the same sins as the Gentiles; sins that are just as evil, in the sight of
God.
Paul chooses three sins that are common among the Gentiles, that would not be considered Jewish sins,
per se. But what has Paul just said, back in verse 16? That God will judge the secrets of men.
The Jews certainly did practice these sins. They just didnt do so openly; they covered them up under the
guise of their religion.
Paul asked the Jew, Do you steal? Jesus said they did. Turn to Mark chapter 11. Jesus had made His
triumphal entry into Jerusalem in fulfillment of Zechariahs prophecy (Zech 9:9). The next day, He went
into the temple.
[Mark 11:15-18]
v. 15-16 in that day, the rulers insisted that people who intended to tithe do so using a dedicated temple
coin. The temple moneychangers would exchange ordinary currency for this temple coin and charge a
fee for this service, earning the temple a profit.
Likewise, worshippers who wished to offer a sacrifice were urged to purchase their animals right on the
temple grounds another money-making venture, for the rulers. This was all done right in the court of the
Gentiles the place where the Gentiles were supposed to be allowed to come to worship the God of Israel.
So Jesus cleansed the temple His Fathers house of worship. And this is what he taught the people,
concerning it.
v. 17 Jesus said the Jews had made the LORDs house a den of thieves. The rulers had desecrated the temple
with their merchandizing. But note also, in Jesus calling the rulers thieves, He was saying that they were
stealing from the people; a flagrant abuse of their position, as rulers.
But they were operating under the guise of religion; they would just say that they were just helping meet
the peoples needs for their acts of worship. Woe to them; hypocrites!
And Paul asked of the Jew, Do you commit adultery? Jesus said that they did. Turn to Mark chapter 10.
Some Pharisees came to Jesus with a question to test Him.
[Mark 10:1-12]

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v. 1-2 In this day, there was a debate raging over the issue of divorce among the Jews. The more liberal
faction, loosely interpreting the Law of Moses, said that a Jew could divorce his wife for any reason. The
other camp, with their conservative interpretation, said he could do so only in the case of adultery.
v. 3-5 Jesus inquired what the Law of Moses said; the Pharisees indicate it says that divorce was permitted
by written certificate (Deut 24:1-4).
But thats not really what the Law means. It is speaking about a man divorcing his wife for some
uncleanness, which is alluding to illicit sexual relations (literally, nakedness). Then the Law goes on to
say that if a man divorces his wife, and gives her a written certificate, and she remarries, and that man
divorces her, her first husband cannot remarry her.
The Jew was already initiating the divorce. The Law simply said he could not remarry the one whom he
had already divorced, if she had remarried; it was an abomination to the LORD.
Now Jesus gives them Gods perspective on marriage, which predates the Law of Moses; it goes all the way
back to the beginning.
v. 6-9 They are no longer two; God has made them one flesh. A sacred union, that no man has the right to
dissolve.
Later, Jesus disciples asked about divorce again, for it was a common occurrence in that day, for a man to
divorce his wife with little reason.
v. 10-12 Jesus made it very clear that God does not recognize mens divorces. So did the Jews practice
adultery? According to Jesus, they certainly did.
Finally, Paul said that the Jew abhors idols; that is to say, then, that the Jew loves the true and living God,
right? But then Paul asked him, Do you commit sacrilege? That is, does the Jew take to his own private
use what is consecrated to God, robbing God of what was rightfully his?
The LORD convicts His nation of exactly this through the prophet Malachi. Turn to Malachi chapter 3; the
last book of the OT.
The time is the period after the Jews have returned to the land following their exile in Babylon. The temple
and the wall have been rebuilt. But the heart of the people is still far from God.
The prophecy is laid out with the LORD questioning His people, and their answering Him, which brings out
the LORDs love for them, but the hardness and impenitence of their hearts toward Him. Much of the
prophecy is directed at the priests, who represent the people to God.
[Malachi 3:8-10]
v. 8-9 The sense is that the priests have been taking the tithes and offerings that the people have brought to
them for the LORD, and used it for their own purposes clearly committing sacrilege.
v. 10 The LORD is offering them an opportunity to repent.

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We can find a more contemporary example of sacrilege in the gospels. Turn to Matthew chapter 6. This
was part of the Sermon on the Mount.
[Matthew 6:1-6] What is it that the Pharisees took, that rightfully belongs only to God? His glory; they
were receiving the praise of men. To take praise from men is to rob God of the glory that rightfully belongs
only to Him.
[Return to Romans 2]
These are all subtle sins of the Jews; they were well masked under the guise of religion; but they were just
as evil in the sight of God as the sins of the Gentiles. Paul sums it up in verse 23; they make their boast in
the Law, and then dishonor the God who gave it to them by breaking it.
And the fact that the Jew was a law-breaker was well known by the Gentiles; men have a keen eye for
hypocrisy. The student is always watching to see if the teacher practices what he preaches.
Therefore, instead of being a true Jew meaning one who is to the praise of God the unbelieving,
religious Jew blasphemes the name of God among the Gentiles they tarnish Gods good name and
reputation, by their disobedience to His Law. He who is called a Jew (v. 17), proves himself to be no Jew at
all.
The Jew saw the Law of Moses as his boast, a sign of Gods favor, which would ultimately save him from
wrath. What Paul has proven here is that the man who takes on the Law as his way to God takes on a
burden of responsibility which will ultimately crush him.
Paul will wait until a later point in his letter to explain how the Jew is made free from the Law (Rm 7). But
here, Paul wants the Jew to understand that the Law does not give him a standing before God; it is the very
witness who will point the accusing finger, at his judgment.
As we continue Pauls letter next week, we will see him make the case that the Jew cannot be saved
through his circumcision, either.
Next week: Rm 2-3; Jer 4:1-4, Jer 9:25-26, Deut 10:12-16.