Romans 2:12-16 God judges not just what we do, but why we do them

Romans 2:12-16  God judges not just what we do, but why we do them

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. 14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.

Background

In this passage, Paul lays down God’s criteria for judgment for both the Jews and the Gentiles: the secrets of man’s heart and his works. Jesus Christ will judge a man by his response when the truth is made known either through the Law or man’s conscience. For a Gentile who endeavours to live according to the good conscience of his heart will eventually come to acknowledge Christ as Saviour and Lord of his life. For a Jew who is committed to love God and love others as written in the Law will invariably come to acknowledge Christ as Saviour and Lord. On the other hand, one who is self-serving, hypocritical, who takes pleasure in doing evil and oppressing others will most inevitably reject Christ and His truth. By a man’s response upon hearing the Word and the promptings of his conscience, he will be judged. In today’s devotion, Paul reveals to us the criteria of God’s judgment: it is not just about what we do, but more importantly, why we do them.

Observation

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, for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. 

The “Law” refers to the Old Testament scriptures that the Jews possess. Paul says that if both Jews (all under the Law) and Gentiles (all without the Law) do not repent will perish; for God judges the heart and the works that flow from it. The Jews seems to be in a privileged position having known the truth through the Law, whereas the Gentiles only had their conscience to depend on. Nevertheless, the Jews having been taught the Law in their youth will only benefit from this privilege if they obey the truth written in it: for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. Having in their possession the knowledge of the Law will only benefit them if they live by its precepts. Therefore, Jews and non-Jews alike will be judged by the deeds done in their lifetime.

For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them. 

The Gentiles who do not have the scriptures do possess a form of the Law in their conscience. The things of the Law refers to the lifestyle of serving God, putting the interests of others before self, helping the poor, and being faithful to their spouses etc. By their lifestyle, the Gentiles approve or reject the workings of the Law in their hearts. The work of the Law operates within a man’s conscience, it functions as a moral compass for him: their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them. However, the conscience is susceptible to corruption unless it is rooted in the truth of the Law and protected by the Spirit of Christ. A man cannot depend on his conscience alone to live a perfect life that is fully pleasing to God. Nevertheless, the Gentiles having the work of the law in their conscience will be judged by the things they do in response to its prompting.

On the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. 

The “gospel” in essence is the Law preached and lived out by Jesus. The way Jesus lives demonstrates the truth that He stands for, and is the true interpretation and full manifestation of the Law. Jesus says, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.” Matthew 5:17. The gospel that details the life of Christ is the true and ultimate revelation of the Law. And it is based on this revelation that men and their works are judged (John 12:47-48). Having said, men put on a kind of religious facade to veil what is in their hearts. But, we know that nothing can be hidden as men’s hearts are fully exposed before God who sees their true intentions.

Truth

Knowledge of God’s word must lead to the regeneration of the heart.

The knowledge of God’s word is meant to change a man’s heart and his lifestyle – knowledge by itself does not make one purer or more holy; the truth must be received with the regeneration of heart (faith) and obedience leading to a new life. However, if a man responds to the word continually with unbelief and disobedience, his heart becomes irreparably hardened to the point of divine judgement.

Hence, the evidence of faith is a lifestyle lived out of a regenerated heart. In other words, godliness justifies us as children of God. Knowledge by itself may even deceive people into having a false sense of security; it veils them from seeing the true state of their hearts. Hence, we must always use the truth of the word as a mirror to see ourselves. The Jews in Paul’s days uses the Law as eyeglasses to see others, to condemn others for their sins. Therefore, the more we know the Law, the more it is required of us to be transformed according to its truths so that we may live them out. Having said, we must also give others permission to speak into our lives, to encourage us and shed light on our hidden flaws.

Works, by themselves can never save or condemn, they only reveal the state of man’s heart. From the very beginning, works are never a condition for salvation. However, each man’s work will reveal if his heart is true to God. Salvation is based on man’s moral direction and willingness to submit to God’s rule. Our moral background is never God’s consideration when He adopts us into His kingdom. When we commit ourselves to live like Christ, God adopts us as His children and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin. But if we remain unrepentant, the blood of Jesus cannot immunise us from judgement. From henceforth, our mind-set and desires will continue to experience change towards greater Christ-likeness in all that we say and do.

God judges not just what we do, but why we do them.

Many do good works to acquire a good reputation; they want the public to see them as altruistic, which in fact they are not. Yet some do good works to compensate for the evil they are doing. Works, if done purely out of love will be of value before God. On the other hand, if we merely harbour an intention to do good works, but never come down to doing it, our good intentions mean nothing at all. The popular ideology: “It’s the thought that counts” will not suffice in God’s Kingdom. Hence, we must always put our good intentions to work and bring concrete benefits to the people who need it. Our works that spring out of goodwill and thanksgiving will be greatly rewarded.

Having said, there are those who refuse to account themselves to God. They stand by their good works, thinking that their righteousness will suffice to justify them on the day of judgement. Even though they are not necessarily self-serving or wicked, such are blinded by pride having no knowledge of who God is. God will sanctify them by diverse testings and tribulations as He does for Job of the Old Testament until they come to acknowledge Him as the Lord of all.

In view of the judgement to come, we must be slow to speak and act, but be quick to listen and to consider. Indeed, we will be called to account for everything we do and every word we say. Jesus said,

“But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” – Matthew 12:36-37

Reference to Jesus’ teachings

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. … The Father gave Him authority to execute judgment, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” John 5:26-29

Application

  • Remind all who profess to be Christians that in the day of judgement our hearts and motives will be judged.
  • Our knowledge, achievements or status in church have no bearing if our motives are wrong.
  • Whenever we do charitable works, we must never take credit for them.
  • Scriptural knowledge becomes faith and virtue only when we live it out. Otherwise, we are mere hypocrites.
  • Church leaders and teachers must be vigilant as such will incur a stricter judgement (see James 3:1).
  • Search yourself for the reason why you serve in a church or charity organisation. Are you serving out of goodwill or because of a reward? But if you have not been serving, why? You need to give a satisfactory answer to these questions because they will be brought up on the day of judgement.

Dear Lord, create in me a clean heart so that I may be true before you. Cause me to love you and fear you more each day. Cause me to live out the truth as written in the word. Use me to speak and to warn as many as I can of the judgement to come. In so doing, I may win souls and turn them away from destruction. Jesus’s name I pray. Amen.


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