Anyone remember the children’s poem Casey at the Bat? It’s no doubt one of my childhood favorites. It begins like this. “The outlook wasn’t brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day, the score stood four to two with but one more inning to play…” fast-forwarding a bit… “Then from 5,000 throats and more there rose a lusty yell; it rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell; it knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat, for Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat. There was ease in Casey’s manner as he stepped into his place; there was pride in Casey’s bearing and a smile on Casey’s face. And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat, no stranger in the crowd could doubt ’twas Casey at the bat…” Spoiler alert, the poem goes on and Casey arrogantly lets the first two pitches go by without even paying attention to them, but at the third pitch the poem ends like this, “And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go, and now the air is shattered by the force of Casey’s blow. Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright; the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light, and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout; but there is no joy in Mudville—for mighty Casey has struck out.”

Why begin with this? Because Mighty Casey proudly believed that because of who he was that he’d be ok in the end, which made him very careless in the present. But when the end came it was clear that his confidence was misplaced, for it was placed in himself. Our text today gets at this very reality and forces us to ask a question. The reality is that there is coming a day when the Lord Jesus will judge all, Jew and Gentile alike. On this day He will reveal all hearts and expose all secrets. Knowing this, the question I think we’re moved to ask is this, ‘Where is my confidence? What am I banking on to be found righteous on this coming Day?’ 

We’ll return to this question in the end, so keep it in your mind and hearts as we move into the text.

As we begin, remember where we are in Romans. We’ve seen thick gospel language in the first seventeen verses of chapter 1 to launch us out. But in v18 we began descending into the cavernous depths of man’s sin and we’re still descending now in the middle of chapter 2, and we’ll keep descending until we get to 3:21. Knowing that we’re still descending now, helps us a great deal in interpreting this passage before us. And we need that help because Paul says things were not used to here. He says Jews could be saved if they kept the Law in v13, and that Gentiles could be saved even if they never knew of God’s Law if they do by nature what God’s Law requires in v14-15. So, is Paul really teaching there is another way to be saved besides faith in Christ? Not at all. Remember, we know Paul’s aim in this section is not to tell us how we can be saved but that we all – Jew and Gentile alike – are sinners by nature and therefore guilty before God.[1] I think Paul is anxious here in this first section of Romans to describe sin, to describe our disease step by step or symptom by symptom, so that we’ll be eager to grab ahold of the remedy of the gospel once it comes later on.[2]

God’s Impartial Judgment (v11-12)

I begin this week with v11, because while it was the end of last week’s text (2:1-11) it is also the launching point for what comes next in v12-16. We’ve seen what Paul says in chapter 1. How mankind knows God but rejects God, how they make sad exchanges, how they give themselves to all manner of idolatrous sinful deeds, and how God gives them over to the sins they so desire. As chapter 1 ends the Jews, the religious people, would’ve likely been applauding Paul agreeing with him that those pagan Gentiles are as bad as Paul says they are.[3] But then, Paul turns to them and calls them out for their self-righteousness and hypocrisy in chapter 2. So, Paul has lumped Jew and Gentile and said in v11, “For God shows no partiality.” But at this point I wonder how the Jew would’ve responded to this. They likely would’ve objected and said something like, ‘God shows no partiality? That’s not true. We’re the chosen people of God, we received the promises, the Law, and the prophets. We’re altogether different from everyone else because not everyone else has what God has given us. What about our favored status Paul?’[4]

Paul shows he’s aware of this kind of reaction to what he has said. Because beginning in v12 Paul all of the sudden begins a discussion of the Law, which is a something he hasn’t brought up in Romans so far.[5] Look at v12, “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.”

Here we have two groups of people, those without the Law and those with the Law. We know these two groups, we’ve already heard them mentioned a few times in Romans so far. The group without the Law is the Gentiles, and the group with the Law is the Jews.[6] And we know what it means for the Jews to have the Law or be under the Law. It simply means they’re the people God gave His Law to on Mt. Sinai. We get that. But what does it mean for the Gentiles to be those who are without the Law? Well, it means the opposite, that Gentiles are the people who did not receive the Law on Mt. Sinai. Or to put it as Paul does in Ephesians 2:12, the Gentiles were “…alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” The Gentiles then, are those who have always been far off and distant from God while the Jews enjoyed a privileged position of nearness to God.

So we have Jews and Gentiles in view here in v12, now we can ask a new question. What does Paul say about these two groups in v12? He’s speaking about sin, about the consequences of that sin, and how the problem of sin isn’t just a Gentile problem or a Jewish problem, it’s a human problem. For Gentiles who sin without the Law still perish without the Law while Jews who have the Law will be judged by that Law. In other words, the sins of the Jews will not be overlooked by God because they’re Jews, or because they have the Law, no. They won’t be judged differently than Gentiles. Why? v11, “For God shows no partiality.” Ok Paul, we hear you. But this does raise more questions. For the Jew, how then does the Law hold them accountable when they sin? And for the Gentile, how can they perish when they don’t know the standard they’ll be judged by? Paul now turns to answer these questions in v13-16.

Jews: Judged by the Law They Have (v13)

“For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”

Anyone remember the show The Biggest Loser? We haven’t seen it in a while but for a time Holly and I would often watch it and enjoy seeing the transformations from beginning to end. But there was one element to the show I found curious. Every now and then when someone won a competition for that week they would be granted immunity, which meant they were safe from elimination that week. Well, more often than not, the person who had been granted immunity wouldn’t work as hard or would fudge on their diet that week and when it came time to weigh in the lack of effort was clear. Immunity, while keeping them on the show for another week, didn’t do them any real favors.

Something of that mentality is in view here in v13. The Jews did receive a great gift when God gave them His Law at Mt. Sinai. But overtime the Jews began to believe the mere possession of the Law gave them a kind of immunity from the judgment of God.[7] They believed immunity was theirs to enjoy even if their lives weren’t in line with the Law. Notice how Paul puts it in v13, he speaks of hearing the Law vs. doing the Law. He brings up hearing because that’s how they received it. Moses received it from God and spoke or preached it to Israel. Then after that the prophets again and again preached the Law of God to the people of God. In this sense they heard the Law again and again. But did they do it? That’s how Paul challenges them here in v13. Possessing the Law is not enough, hearing the Law is not enough, only the doers of the Law will be…what? Justified, or declared righteous in God’s sight.

But wait, can a Jew really be declared righteous by doing the Law? Don’t we believe it’s only in the gospel that one is made righteous? That’s what 1:16-17 says, right? That in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed and received by faith alone in Christ alone. Is Paul now taking that back? Not at all. What then is he up to here? Would you be surprised if I told you Paul is simply saying what the Law says? In Deuteronomy 6:25 we read this, “And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as He commanded us.” Hear it Church, a person can truly be made righteous, saved, if they keep all of God’s Law, all the time, in all ways. Or like Paul says here in v13, one will be justified if they are a doer of the Law. That’s true! But don’t miss it: because of our sinful nature no one can keep God’s Law, no one can ever be a doer of the Law. It demands perfection and no one can never offer a perfect obedience. Where then does this leave the Jew who boasts of having the Law in v13? It leaves them condemned and deeply humbled because they can never be justified before God by law-keeping. And more so, the Law they boast of will be the Law they’re judged by in the end. So, the Jews must look to another, to One who is able, One who can, and One who did keep the Law. More on this in a moment.

Remember v12 brought up questions. We asked for the Jew, how then does the Law hold them accountable when they sin? That’s now been answered in v13. But there was another question v12 brought up about the Gentiles. If the Gentiles are not under Law, or without Law as Paul puts it in v12, how can they still be regarded as sinners? Or, what standard are they held to if they don’t have the Law? Paul will now answer that question.

Gentiles: Judged by the Law They Know (v14-15)

“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them…”

We’ve seen Paul say in v12 that the Gentiles are without Law, but here he explains what he means in that statement. Sure, the Gentiles are without Law in the sense that they never received God’s Law at Mt. Sinai like Israel did. But while they’re without Law in that sense, are they apart from God’s Law totally and fully? No. God’s Law is driven home to them in another sense. How so? “…the work of the Law is written on their hearts…” Remember what we learned back in Romans 1:18-21? That God truly reveals Himself, His divine power and eternal nature, through the world He has made? And that all men are without excuse because of this? If we hold that reality together with what we see here in v14-15 we see more of how God reveals Himself to man. God reveals Himself to man and all around man in creation, that’s what we saw in chapter 1. Now in 2:14-15 we find that God also reveals Himself not just to or around man but within man, in the conscience. What does this mean? The book of Ecclesiastes helps. Ecc. 3:11 tells us that God has put eternity into man’s heart. That’s why we sense deep within that there is more to this life than we currently experience. It’s as if God has given us an inward sense of exile, a homesickness, for the place we’re truly meant to be. “Or, it’s as if God has programmed His address into our inner GPS, and even when we try to turn away from that destination, it keeps rerouting and trying to get us there.”[8] C.S. Lewis put the same idea like this, “Human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it.”[9]

See how Paul explains this in v14-15 as he describes the Gentile and the Law within. Because we have this inner GPS ever turning us heavenward we’re led to behave in certain ways and led to reject other kinds of behavior. So he says the Gentiles, who are without Law, do what the Law requires. See that? Let me explain further. God’s Law condemns theft, lying, adultery, murder, etc. Which means contentment, honesty, faithfulness, and life are good and virtuous realities. Well, it just so happens that Gentiles, without ever having heard God’s Law, live in line with it. And it’s true, civilizations and cultures throughout history who reject God altogether curiously know these virtuous realities and use them as the foundation for how they ought to relate to one another as they make their own laws. In this sense, Paul says the Gentiles, who are without Law, are a law to themselves.

He even adds that the conscience bears witness to this. The word ‘conscience’ means ‘with knowledge’, con = with & science = knowledge. So, when one does wrong by lying or committing adultery, our built in GPS, the conscience, awakens and sounds the alarm telling us a boundary has been crossed, giving us knowledge of right and wrong. This conscience of then, will either accuse (if wrong is done) or excuse (if right is done).

But wait, is Paul really saying a Gentile can be excused by their conscience if they’ve lived in line with God’s Law written within? Like we asked before, don’t we believe it’s only in the gospel that one is made right with God? Again, Paul isn’t taking Romans 1:16-17 back, not at all. Paul’s point is not that God will judge Gentiles on their own apart from the gospel based on ‘the light within them’, no. Many use this passage to say such things.[10] We must remember Paul’s point so far about sin in chapters 1-3. Yes, God has put a GPS within all men, and yes this is how the human conscience operates. But will man ever listen to or obey the GPS within? No they won’t. Paul’s point is that sinful man won’t live in line with the Law written within but will instead ever be suppressing the truth in unrighteousness, seeking to go their own way so they can feel free to sin to their hearts content. By doing this man sears and hardens the conscience so they no longer feel its warnings. Where then does this leave the Gentile who is without the Law in v14-15? It leaves them where the Jews were left in v13, condemned and deeply humbled. God’s Law has been written on their heart, they know it, their conscience proves it, and God will judge them by it.

We’ve asked Paul a lot of questions today, let’s ask one more. When will all of this come to pass? When will the Jew be judged by the Law and when will the Gentile be judged by the Law within? This question is answered as we conclude our passage.

Christ Jesus the Judge (v16)

Look at v16. When will God judge Jew and Gentile? “…on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

There is a coming day when the Lord Jesus will judge all men, reveal all hearts, and expose all secrets. Both Jew and Gentile will be judged. According to what? Paul says “…according to my gospel…” It’s his gospel, not in the sense that this is his own teaching, but the one gospel Paul has been entrusted with to proclaim to the nations.[11] Notice also Paul says “…according to my gospel…” It’s as if even here in the midst of a section about sin Paul wants us to remember gospel grace. Yes, Christ will judge both Jew and Gentile and on that day no preferential treatment will be given, the ground will be level. But remember 1:16? “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes…” for…” who???? “…both Jew and Gentile.”[12]

Church, don’t miss the big point of v16. We all will come to this day. How will you fare? We’re Gentiles, and God has planted His Law deep within us and our inner GPS is constantly rerouting us to Christ, our ultimate destination. Are you submitting to this, listening to this, following this? Or are you suppressing this and going off on your own way even though you know better?

But, though we’re Gentiles, we’re also like the Jews in this this passage. They’ve received God’s Law, we’ve received the Word of God. Full and final divine revelation from God to us. They thought they were ok just by having the Law, hearing the Law, being near the Law. Do you think you’ll be given special treatment because you have the Bible and read it every now and then? Do you think because you go to church God will overlook your sins? Do you think because you pray God will usher you into glory? Do you think because you’ve been baptized, teach Sunday school, sing on the worship team, raise kids in a godly manner, only have Christian friends, only listen to Christian music, vote republican, behave well in public, or do a million other things Christians are supposed to do that everything will be ok in the end. If you’re banking on any of these things to save you in the end you’re just as condemned as the lost person who’s never read the Bible, never heard the gospel, and never walked into worship.

Church…we, all of us, will be uncovered on this final day. If you think you will, like Mighty Casey “…have ease in our manner or pride in our bearing…” you’re mistaken. No will walk into the judgment with a strut or swagger. The only hope we have is to be covered with the righteousness of Christ, revealed in the gospel and received by faith alone.

Praise God, this righteousness God requires of us God freely gives to us by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. To Him be glory alone!

[1] John Murray, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1968), 69.

[2] Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, vol. 2 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 1985), 101.

[3] Douglas Moo, Romans, NICNT (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2018), 138.

[4] J. V. Fesko, Romans (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Reformation Heritage Books, 2018), 47.

[5] Douglas Moo, Romans, NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2000), 84.

[6] Moo, Romans, 2018, 155.

[7] Murray, Romans, 71.

[8] Barry Cooper, The Eternity of God,, 9.22.2020.

[9] C.S. Lewis, The Quotable Lewis: An Encyclopedic Selection of Quotes from the Complete Published Works of C.S. Lewis, ed. Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale, 1989) 438.

[10] Moo, Romans, 2018, 163–64.

[11] Moo, 165.

[12] Fesko, Romans, 51.

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