Not Hearers Only, But Doers

Study of Romans as given by Dr. James Montgomery Boice: Romans 2:12-15

12All 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. 13For 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 the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, the are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)


Dr. Boice opens this section up with a stark reality about the “heathen” who has never heard the gospel. At some point in a pastor’s career, or a Christians life they will be asked about the condition of the heathen who has never heard the gospel of Christ. The claim from the person asking the question is often that a person who has never heard the gospel will not be condemned. When we read Romans 2:12-15 we find the answer to that question, and for some it is a difficult answer. The heathen who has never heard of the gospel will be condemned, as Romans 2:12 reads “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law…” They will not parish for not believing in Jesus, but they will perish for failing to do what they knew they should, even apart from God’s special revelation. We can go all the way back to Romans 1:18 ff to see that God has been revealed to all people through natural revelation and that man is without excuse for knowing about God. Paul brings the Gentiles in as an example of a people who do not have the law, yet they do things in accordance of the law because it is written on their hearts. This is the same for all people. The law is written on our hearts, so that even if we are heathens who have not heard of Christ, we should know what to do. It is the heathen who disregards what is written on their heart, that Romans 2:12 is referring to.


  1. Principles of Judgment
    1. From reading verses 7 and 10 we might come to the conclusion that God may save some apart from the gospel
    2. Verses 7 and 10 seem to suggest that there are some untaught persons who, in spite of their ignorance of the gospel, try to do good and will be saved
    3. This is entirely a hypothetical case that is proven by verse 12. If anyone could actually persist in doing good, then there would be the award of eternal life with God. BUT NO ONE DOES!
    4. As a result of no one being able to persist in doing good, “all who sin apart from the law will also perish”.
    5. Let’s review the principles of God’s judgment and why no one will be saved without Christ
      1. God’s judgement is according to truth (Romans 2:2)
        1. Human judgement tries to live up to this standard.
        2. Human judgement is at best according to partial truth and often misled entirely when witnesses lie of misrepresent the facts
        3. God’s judgement is according to full knowledge and perfect truth.
        4. All secrets are known and all hearts are open to God. No one can lie in God’s court.
      2. God’s judgement is proportinate to human sins (Romans 2:5)
        1. It is why Paul speaks about sinners storing up wrath for the day of God’s wrath.
        2. Those who sin much, will be punished much. Those who sin less with judged accordingly.
      3. God’s judgment is according to righteousness (Romans2:5)
        1. Paul points to God’s righteous judgement
        2. It is a perfect righteous judgement. There is no flaw in it.
      4. God’s judgment is impartial (Romans 2:11)
        1. In human court we wish to see preferential treatment, and often the judge will comply.
        2. Not so with God. At the final judgement, all will be judged by the same righteous standards.
        3. There is no partiality with God’s judgement.
      5. God’s judgment is according to people’s deeds (Romans 2:6-10, 12-15)
        1. Seems to be the most important point of all as we see this prinicple throughout the text.
        2. Even when Paul is talking about something else, making what seems to be a different point, he comes back to this principle.
        3. Paul says, “God will give to each person accordin to what he has done.”
        4. It is not what we know or even what we say we do that matters. It is how we actually perform.
  2. Sinners Under The Law
    1. How hard it is for our perverted sense of being righteous in God’s sight to die!
    2. It was stated earlier that in verses 1-16 Paul was speaking to the virtuous pagan and with the Jew in the second half (17-29).
    3. While this is generally true about the Jew and Pagan, Paul is probably thinking about the Jew also in this section.
    4. The Jew would not want to accept that they are perishing under the law. According to Jewish teaching, salvation was by the law.
    5. The pious Jew wold spend hours meditating on the law and could always be found in the synagogue attending to its reading and exposition.
    6. Paul could almost hear the Jew rattle off his accomplishments, because these are the same things Paul, who was a Jew, would say.
      1. “I am not like all other men; robbers, evildoers, adultereres”-“or even like this tax collector”-“I fast twice a week”-“I give a 10th of all I get” (Luke 18:12).
      2. “All these I have kept since I was a boy” (Luke 18:21
    7. Later Paul will deal with the religious person’s false hopes more directly, but here he focuses on such people’s actual performance.
    8. Paul tell them that he knows they know the law, but do they keep the law. “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 (v 13).
    9. The point of the passage is “Not Hearers Only, But Doers”, and we all fall down on this part.
    10. Since we are all comdemned by the law, all of use having failed to live up to its standards, we must see salvation in another way entirely.
  3. Sinners Apart From The Law
    1. The other problem here is the Gentiles, who would excuse themselves because they did not have the law.
    2. Gentiles would agree with the justice of God in the Jews’ condemnation. They had the law and knew how to live, but had not lived by it. Paul brings this out later.
    3. The Jews had sinned under the law, but the Gentiles did not have the law of God. How could they be condemned by it?
    4. Paul wrote, “All who sin apart from the law, will also perish apart from the law (v. 12).
    5. How can there be sin apart from a divine law code or revelation? Paul answers in two parts.
      1. Even though the Gentiles did not have the written law, nevertheless they have a law “written on their hearts.
      2. They also possess “consciences” that tell them they ought to obey this law and condemn them when they do not.
    6. These are important points because they introduce what theologians call “the moral law” or “the law of nature”, not to be confused with “natural revelation”.
    7. This goes beyond “natural revelation” in that it involves a moral code or order that, Paul says, is possessed by all people.
    8. They may not have the written law, but they have something like it. They have a law for themselves, which condemns them as it is written on their heart.
  4. Witnesses for the Prosecution
    1. Three important witnesses against natural man in these verses.
      1. The law of nature
        1. Today when we speak of the “laws of nature” we think of the law of gravity, the bonding of elements, or neclear energy.
        2. When ancient theologians used that term they were speaking about the law of human nature.
        3. Law of human nature is like natural law in that it comes from without and is meant to gover way things operate or function.
        4. In the physical realm, an object has no choice but to observe the physical law.
        5. In the human or moral realm people do have a choice, and the law is universally violated.
      2. Conscience
        1. Paul introduces the conscience in verse 15 as “also bearing witness”.
        2. Don’t confuse law of nature with conscience. They are two very different things.
        3. Law of nature if an objective standard of whichall are aware; it involved knowledge,knowledge of the right.
        4. The conscience is the part of our being that tells us we aught to do the right thing personally.
        5. Robert Haldane, “Knowledge shows that is right; the conscience approves of it and condemns the contrary” (Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans).
      3. The Memory
        1. This is introduced in the last phrase we are looking at, “Their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them” (v 15).
        2. Why is the memory important? It is something winthin ourselves that can, and will, condemn us, even without an external, judging word from God.
      4. Three accusers, combining to prove that even the person without the law will perish.

Personal Reflection

I think the title of this could also be flipped, “Not Doers Only, But Hearers” and still apply. There are some who do a lot of good works and think they are saved but have not really listened to the gospel and what it says about salvation through faith. There are whole denominations who are led astray and believe they are saved because of the “good” things they do, yet they deny numerous foundational doctrines of Christ, God, Holy Spirit, faith, and salvation. Busy bodies, rushing about to do good things in society, but dead in their sins because they deny the deity of Christ, or the many sins committed by man, willing to overlook those sins. Ministers who preach in the pulpit, leading their congregation astray because they only preach a half gospel, never touching on the condemnation that sin brings upon one’s life. It is imperative that as Christians, we not only hear the gospel, but they we put into practice what the gospel says. Our faith and salvation is in internal change of heart, mind and soul. Our faith and salvation, becomes evident by our actions in this world and our obedience to the living God.

God calls us to be both hearers of the word, and active agents of the gospel in this world through obedience to God. That obedience is actively carried out, not only by worshiping with our brothers and sisters, not only by showing benevolence to our brothers and sisters in Christ, but by showing the world, the unsaved, what obedience to God looks like. Let us recognize the horror of sin and the condemnations that it brings by preaching about it in the pulpit. Let us also speak about the forgiveness of those sins through faith in Christ our savior. Let us show we are saved by faith to the world by being first hearers of the word then letting our faith compel us to be doers of the word.


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