Romans 2:21a “You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?”
A wonderful rainy day here in Southern California. A good time to read the Word of God and some associated Scripture lessons as we spend time with the Lord. Romans 2:21a asks a great question for our consideration. My commentary states that Scripture’s teaching on the depravity of mankind is clear that “there is none who does good” – (Psalms 14:1–3; 53:1–3), but in order to understand what this means, we have to consider Paul’s teaching on sin in Romans 1–3. As we carefully consider what the Apostle has to say about human beings, we must conclude that those who are outside of Christ can do things that are good in at least some sense.
Romans 2:14-16 “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.”
Romans 2:14–16 makes this plain. Paul indicates that unbelievers sometimes do “by nature … what the law requires.” In fact, their conformity means that they can even excuse themselves as they consider what they have done. Does this make anyone righteous apart from Christ? No. When Paul says that Gentiles do what the law requires, he does not mean the perfect righteousness the Lord demands to be declared just in His sight. Commentators say his use of the phrase “even excusing” in verse 15 means that the accusations that condemn Gentiles for breaking the moral law far outnumber the thoughts that excuse them. Though many unbelievers love their families and treat people kindly, keeping some commandments externally, they do not obey our Creator in the fullest sense. We must do all things to God’s glory, but no one except Jesus has ever done this. No true evaluation of our deeds is wholly free of accusation. “The work of the law,” not “the law,” is written on the hearts of unbelievers. Without Christ, people know enough to render some external conformity to the law, but they lack the heart disposition that makes keeping the commandments truly pleasing to the Lord. Martin Luther comments on Romans 2:12, “The Apostle does not say that they fulfill the Law but that they are observing some certain elements taken from the Law.”
Gentiles halfheartedly keep some—not all—of the commandments. First-century Jews prided themselves on being lights to the world, instructing the foolish, guiding the blind, and teaching truth simply because they had God’s law in written form. Paul calls the Jews (and ultimately all Christians) to teach themselves (v. 21a), indicating that they do not really practice the Lord’s statutes and, therefore, have not truly learned God’s law. This Romans 2:21a passage reminds us how seriously God takes the principle that we must apply the same judgment to others that we apply to ourselves. We should never condemn others according to a standard that is higher than that to which we hold ourselves accountable, and we should especially never judge others for an action not condemned in God’s Word. Let us know His Word and take care to judge ourselves by it long before we evaluate others.
Mercy and Grace in Christ.