Romans 2:12-16 ~ busted

Buick_Regal_-_5566gf
Sorry to shatter your pristine image of me, but I am an international criminal.  Didn’t know that, eh?  Well, on a few occasions, in at least two different countries, and in two different millinea, my car has accelerated to a speed above appropriate speeds and below appropriate behavior.  And on those few occasions, another vehicle with bright blue and red lights has pulled me over to explain to me that I was above appropriate speeds and below appropriate behavior.  I'm not proud.  This is my past… and I am working hard to make sure it isn't my future.  I bought a mini-van and a cheap Saturn thinking that might help. 

There was one time when I accelerated too quickly at an intersection on Granville Avenue in Vancouver, British Columbia.  A motorcycle carrying a nice officer-of-the-law just happened to be right behind me.  He pulled over and cited me, not only for the above appropriate speed, but also for having my license registration sticker on the wrong side of the vehicle (i.e. it should have been on the back, but I stupidly placed it on the front). 

There was another time when I was singing a Beatles song as loud as I could (“Hey Jude”— the Na Na Na Na part!) while driving down I-69 just north of Fort Wayne, Indiana.   A very awesome and very scary red Camaro with secret lights in the front grill and dashboard swept up behind me.  My fiancé, soon to be my wife, was sitting next to me and she wasn’t very impressed.

There was also that time I probably should have gotten a ticket in Scotland… but the other car’s side-mirror thankfully bounced back into it’s proper place.  [Hey- it was a 12-seat mini-bus.  Very large for those narrow roads!  And Matt Spate was supposed to be helping gauge the distance on that strange backwards passenger side… And I was trying to keep up with (Dr.) Kevin Diller, who wasn’t encouraging me to drive slowly!  Oh, and sorry for scaring you, Sara-May!] 

And I apologize in confessing other “occasions” where I received a consequence for my above appropriate speeds but below appropriate behavior.  (Though I was quite upset about the unfair one in Calgary, Alberta.  My fiancé, who had become my wife for about 15 years by that time, was sitting next to me and she wasn’t very impressed.)

Oh, the law.  Sometimes I think the law is there only to remind me that I am a criminal.  Even as I drive nowadays, it makes me worry about my past tendencies and my grand potential for below appropriate behavior.  So I am ever cautious and vigilant, keeping a constant eye on my Canadian KM speedometer in this land of MPH. 

Oh, the law.  Sometimes I think I would be dead without it.  It keeps me from above appropriate speeds… which would surely lead to some dead-end.  It also keeps others (who for the most part control their speed and behavior appropriately) from running me down.  Of course, every now and then someone steps on the throttle in an inappropriate manner and nasty consequences result.  That’s why there is law.

As much as this section of the letter-book of Romans might seem boring or mundane to some of us, it is actually quite important.  To those who follow the law, there is rightness in life and community; but because no one follows the law perfectly, those moments of inappropriateness create havoc eventually.  To those who follow no law, their fate is the same as if they had lived under it; either they do what is good and have rightness in life and community or they do what is wrong and create havoc.

In the eyes of the judge, it is the doers of good, whether under an official law or not, who have rightness… for the purpose of the law was not only to be heard, but practiced.  Paul says that for those who do good, the law is actually “written on their hearts.”  In other words, those who have rightness in life and community have been practicing the “requirements of the nature” of the law in their heart/spirit. 

That's what I'm now trying to do with my car… 🙂

Romans 2:12-16 [NIV] ~~ 12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

*Notes: There was a big part of me today that wanted to focus on three other aspects of this passage. 

  • One aspect has to do with verse 16— that God will judge according to our secrets.  So God judges us by what we "do" in the prior sections… but here Paul helps us understand that God also judges us by what we "keep private".  Certainly our secrets are connected to what we "do"… but Paul is clarifying this.  The question that hits me from this aspect is this: What secrets do I have… and would those secrets be worthy of judgment?  What should I do about that?
  • The other aspect from this passage has to with "those who are apart from the law."  It would seem that God will judge people equally (as we've seen in the prior verses)… whether they had heard about God's pattern of life or not (i.e. whether they have heard about Jesus or not; whether they have heard about the Bible or not; etc).  If someone is able to live righteously apart from knowing God's commands, it is their conscience that witnesses to their goodness.  God will be able to tell if someone is genuine.  (Look back to the preceding verses to see what God is looking for.)  The same is true for someone who knows the law, has heard the law, or has grown up with the law.  God will be able to tell if someone is genuine. 
  • Third, the tricky part here, as in my last note yesterday, is to not take this passage (or any other) out of context.  Remember, this passage is part of a multiple chapter discussion.  Imagine Paul as a lawyer and he is establishing the framework for his case.  This section is a key pillar of his argument… it is not the entire argument… but it is a key component.  So in the micro of these posts, continue to remember the macro.
Ken Castor

Ken Castor is a husband, dad, pastor, writer and teacher. He serves as a professor at Crown College, Minnesota, where he equips students to pursue Jesus-Centered Faith and Next Generation Ministry. For 20+ years he's focused on equipping the next generations in places like the U.S., Canada, and Northern Ireland. He's the author of Grow Down (Simply Youth Ministry, 2014), Make a Difference (Broadstreet, 2016), the Blue-Letters Editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible (Group, 2015) and numerous other articles and Bible Study guides. But, whenever possible, he gets down on the floor and builds Lego with his kids. Connect with him @kencastor.

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