Doing What the Law Requires
Romans 2:14 (ESV) -- 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.
Research on ancient cultures shows that all of them had codes and rules of ethics to live by. By and large, most societies throughout history have shared the same ethical standards. Do not murder people. Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not take your neighbor’s wife. Why do these societies throughout history share the same ethics and values? Many of these cultures did not have the Bible or access to Judeo-Christian teaching. So how do we account for these similarities?
Our passage today shows us the answer. Paul writes to the church in Rome and states, “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.” The Gentile peoples are all peoples in the world not Jewish. They did not have God’s Word. They did not have explicit commands concerning God’s will. The ten commandments were not hanging in their capitols or homes.
Yet Paul says they by nature do what the law requires. This gets to the similarities in ethics and laws we find in ancient cultures. Why is this? One answer is that God has written His law on their hearts (he states this in the next verse). God has placed this standard on every man’s heart. We know what God requires of us. Our hearts know what is right and wrong. There is a fixed standard of morality and justice that the nations around the world know. That’s why most follow it, even if they do not follow the LORD.
But Paul says their knowledge of God’s standard makes them a law to themselves. Even if they do not have God’s revelation, He has revealed His law on their hearts. They are accountable to it. They are a law to themselves, meaning they are accountable to that internal conscience and conviction. The point of thinking about this today is to show us that everyone knows the law of God. Everyone knows His standard because He has ensured so. Each human heart has the standard of God written on it. We are accountable. But praise be to God, we not only have His law clearly in written Word, but we have the remedy for our inability to keep that law: Jesus Christ. Our Savior is the Redeemer of all who cannot keep the law perfectly and look to Him for forgiveness of their trespasses. Obey God’s law today, but remember your Savior who pardons your transgressions against it.
Reflection & Journal:
- What does it mean that God’s law is written on all people’s hearts?
- How does this passage teach us about every man’s accountability before God?
- Why is the gospel needed in a world filled with people who know the law?
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