The Righteous Judgment of God (2:12-16)
The Apostle is on the way to making a pride-shattering point that prepares the human soul to hear the Gospel. He here prepares the way by introducing the universal nature of sin. That is, regardless of their position before God, be it Jew or Gentile, they are under sin’s power.
12 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.
If you imagine that there is anyone who is capable of being a “doer of the law,” read Christ’s words from Matthew 5:17-48 and then come back. Do you still believe that anyone can be a true “doer of the law” in God’s sight? Christ, by revealing what is expected by God’s righteous and just application of the law, removes all hope that it is through this means that we can seek justification. This is surely what is in the Apostle’s mind as he writes these words.
14 When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.
Paul here deals with the argument that there are good Gentiles, some of whom surpass the Jews (who supposedly have the advantage due to their special relationship with God) in their moral conduct. This certainly would have been the case, just as today there are non-believers who’s moral conduct clearly is superior, even by God’s Word, to some believers.
Christians become aware of God’s grace at many places on the moral spectrum. For some, they have participated in great evil and have accepted destructive ideas for long periods prior to their awakening. For these souls the sanctification process is long and painful. For others their faith is misused to provide cover for sin of all sorts, making them blind to their own failures. We all fall prey to moral failure due to the power of sin that remains even after God’s grace has become known.
How then to think about our status as the Elect? I have come to think of it in this manner.
I am a sinner saved by Christ alone. And the Holy Spirit is working to conform me to the image of Christ. Because of my vanity and pride progress is too often slow. Sometimes I rebel and backslide. But the Father’s grace cannot be overcome by my remaining sin. All glory and praise be to the triune God alone!