Paul's Passing Thoughts

The Potter’s House: Sunday, November 18, 2012

Posted in Uncategorized by Paul M. Dohse Sr. on November 19, 2012

Divine Anthropology: The Law of Sin and the Law of Faith; Romans 2:12-29


“This is the great antinomian evil of our day—practical application from the Bible for living life is replaced with gospel contemplationism and a habitual revisiting of the elementary principles of salvation while opining  about ‘pragmatism,’ ‘moralism,’ and ‘therapeutic deism.’”

We now begin a most critical portion of Romans. Nothing is more debated in Christianity than the relationship of the law to salvation; and in our day, confusion in regard to this subject reins. In this segment of Romans, Paul lays a foundation for the remainder of the letter for an understanding of the law’s relationship to salvation.

And while he is attending this great service to us via the word in all ages, he makes it clear to the Gentile Romans that this Holy dynamic is the same for the Jew as well as the Gentile—there is no difference. In regard to the law’s relationship to salvation, though the Jew was given oversight of God’s oracles, there is no advantage over the Gentile—there is no partiality. Paul begins this line of thought as follows:

Romans 2:12 – 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 righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 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. 15 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 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

This passage interprets and defines a lot of anthropology while refuting a vast body of bad theology. While unregenerate mankind is a sinner, he is also born with the “work[s] of the law” written on his/her heart. We are all created with a conscience as well that “bears witness” to that law and invokes conflicting thoughts within us that excuse or accuse. In the soul of every man, God’s court of law is continually in session. Man is directly responsible to God, and this reality throws much controversy into spiritual caste systems and the Reformed notion of total depravity. Man is capable of doing things that agree with his God-given conscience and the “work of the law.” This will not in any way earn salvation for him, but sadly, many are deceived otherwise. Living primarily by conscience will make eternal judgment more bearable, but of course, we long that every man would choose eternal life instead. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that the works of unregenerate man have merit of some sort which again brings a litany of Reformed ideas into question. The following is an excerpt from the teachings of Wayne Jackson:

On the opposite side of the equation, there is the matter of degrees of punishment. If anything, the Bible is even more decisive on this issue.

Jesus informed the citizens of certain communities in Galilee that in the day of judgment, it would be “more tolerable” for certain people of the ancient world (e.g., Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom) than for them (Mt. 11:20-24; cf. 10:15). The word “tolerable” means “bearable, endurable.” In the Greek Testament the word represents a comparative format. The difference was in the opportunities each had enjoyed. Judgment was to be balanced against this factor.

Christ told about a certain master who took a trip. While he was away, his servants, who had been charged with various responsibilities, disobeyed him. When the Lord returned, and discovered that some had knowingly been disobedient, while others had disobeyed in ignorance, he punished them according to the level of their culpability (Lk. 12:47-48). There is perhaps no clearer passage than this, that teaches degrees of punishment.

During the course of his trial, Jesus informed Pilate: “He who delivered me unto you has the greater sin” (Jn. 19:11). Does not justice require a greater punishment for a greater sin?

A man who set aside the law of God under the Mosaic regime, was executed without mercy. The writer of the book of Hebrews declares that the one who tramples on the Son of God and who treats, as a common thing, the blood by which he was sanctified, will deserve a much “worse” punishment (Heb. 10:26-31). The principle is this: there is a greater level of responsibility for those who live under the better covenant, and there will be appropriate punishment meted out for those who, through apostasy, reject that which they previously embraced.

The apostle Peter wrote regarding those who had “escaped the defilements of the world” by virtue of their knowledge of the truth, i.e., obedience to the gospel (2 Pet. 2:20-22; cf. 1 Pet. 4:17). He warned that should they become entangled again in these defilements, and overcome, their “last state” (their apostate condition) would be “worse” than the first (the pre-conversion state). Ominously, he says it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back to their former lifestyle. This, most assuredly, teaches a greater level of punishment for apostate Christians than for those who never knew the truth.

James provides a word of caution appropriate to this topic. “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (3:1 ESV). Is there any question about the implication of that warning?

“The main thought in vv. 1-12 is the greater responsibility of teachers and the extremely dangerous character of the instrument [the tongue] which they have to use? Greater responsibility brings greater judgment” (James B. Adamson, The Epistle of James, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976, p. 141).

(Wayne Jackson: The Christian Courier; Are There Degrees of Blessedness and Punishment in Eternity? Online source:

Again, we need to emphasize that the Bible is God’s full philosophical statement to man regarding truthful metaphysics, sound epistemology, God’s own ethics, and wise politics. Lost man will always be better off following the Bible, and we must remember that unrighteous activity by man in general continually provokes God’s anger (Psalm 7:11). Indeed, society at large would be much more peaceful, and would provoke God a lot less if they would yield to this simple principle:

Ecclesiastes 8:11-Because the sentence against an evil deed is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil.

Many of the same principles of anthropology, and plain common sense if you will, need to be vigorously applied to the Christian life, and the anthropology of conscience is no exception. The Bible has much to say about how the Christian is to approach the conscience and utilize it in spiritual growth. To not do so greatly waters down the gospel. When the world sees that our wisdom is effective for real life, this gives our gospel validity. If Christians do not have wisdom for the earthly, it will be rightly assumed that we have no eternal wisdom as well. This is the great antinomian evil of our day—practical application from the Bible for living life is replaced with gospel contemplationism and a habitual revisiting of the elementary principles of salvation while opining  about “pragmatism,” “moralism,” and “therapeutic deism.” While some unbelievers will find hope in mystical ambiguity, many won’t. Salvation calls on man to “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

Salvation is a new “way.” The unregenerate will be little impressed if it is a way that has no more wisdom for life than their own though crystal balls will always appeal to the mindless element of any culture. Once again, we must remember that the gospel was problem centered from the very beginning. We should at least show the gospel as a different way. This is the way it has always been:

And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness; it will be for those who walk on that Way. The unclean will not journey on it; wicked fools will not go about on it (Isaiah 35:8).

This line of thought by Paul also answers the question regarding those who have never heard the gospel. What law will they be judged by? Answer: the law written on their heart and argued by their conscience. This introduces an extraordinary biblical principle. All those who are under the law will be judged by the law, and thereby condemned—whether the written law of God (the Scriptures) or the law written on their hearts. This is also the same law that informs them that God’s glory is revealed in creation (Romans 1:19,20), and incites them to judge others concerning right and wrong (Romans 2:1). God has always held man responsible for passing His law/gospel onto to subsequent generations, and one of the primary goals of the gospel is to show a way of escape from being “under the law.” All are born “under the law,” and will be judged by it (with poor results because the standard is perfection) unless they escape it via the gospel. The only man ever born into the world who could withstand the judgment of the law was Jesus Christ. But once one is saved from the law, they live by the law and honor God with it.

Paul’s argument is somewhat complex. A brain twister so to speak. Those who have never heard the law of God will “perish without the law.” And those who have heard the law and have “sinned under the law” (EVERYONE except Christ) will be “judged by the law” with horrible results. Hence, those who have the law, or have heard the law, but do not hear it in order to obey it, have not chosen the NEW WAY and are therefore still UNDER THE LAW and will be judged by it. Those who are declared righteous have made a commitment to the new way that they will continually learn by the law that they now love. They are declared righteous because they no longer hear the law only, but obey it. Therefore, they won’t be judged by it. The other  WAY, is the way of being under the law and will result in being judged by it in the final day unless they repent of that way.

Said another way: we are not saved by keeping the law, but we are sanctified by keeping the law. Repentance, a change of mind about one of two “ways,” justifies us and removes us from being “under the law” which guarantees that we will “perish by the law.”

This is Paul’s point in his indictment of the Jews starting in verse 17:

Romans 2:17 – But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded[b] as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

As a repeated aside, the fact that this letter is to the Roman Gentiles, but Paul here addresses Jews, again reminds us that this is the gospel that Paul begins to preach to them by this letter in 1:15 (here it comes) and 1:16 (first sentence of the treatise). Again, this is the full orbed gospel of God’s truth which of course includes the death, burial, and resurrection.

And Paul’s point is clear: the Jews had a problem with thinking that because they were the vanguards of God’s law—hearing the law and honoring it was all that was necessary along with being circumcised. In other words: a ritual hearing of God’s word along with the ritual of circumcision. James, in his letter to the Jewish Christians, notes that this is self-deception. It is remaining on the road of judgment under the law as opposed to obeying the perfect law of liberty:

James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.

And the message to the Romans is clear: they will condemn the Jew if they have committed to believing and obeying the law of liberty, starting with what Christ did to abolish the law for purposes of justification. Because of what Christ did, the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, but yet, we are informed by the law for how we live and believe (Romans 3:21,22). Circumcision means nothing without a commitment to obey the law. That commitment frees us from the law by committing to love our savior by keeping His commandments. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Note carefully what Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

I Corinthians 7:19 – Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.

So does this mean that the Jewish heritage has no significance in the gospel schema? Paul cautions against that approach in the following sentences of his gospel treatise while taking the opportunity to use that question to further explain and clarify the relationship of the law to salvation.

2 Responses

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  1. paulspassingthoughts said, on November 19, 2012 at 12:07 PM

    Reblogged this on Clearcreek Chapel Watch and commented:

    Add your thoughts here… (optional)


  2. barba said, on November 21, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    If a lost man followed the Bible, he wouldn’t be lost would he?


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