Romans 2:17-25 by Robert Dean
The Word of God makes it clear that at the point of salvation, we are imputed with God's perfect Righteousness (+ R). So what is Paul talking about when he says in your sins? Weren't our sins paid for at the cross? Once again emphasizing the importance of the Old Testament to correctly understand what Paul is teaching, this lessons looks at the Mosaic Law and the importance of keeping the law in the Old Testament. Yet, the Law showed that man cannot keep the Law and remain cleansed any more than we today can achieve perfect righteousness alone. The Mosaic Law clearly illustrated what still is true today - man is morally degenerate and needs a Savior.
Series:Romans (2010)
Duration:1 hr 2 mins 26 secs

No Special Privileges or Passes
Romans 2:17–25
Romans Lesson #025
July 7, 2011

Our lack of righteousness, our sins, are all imputed to Christ on the cross and when we believe in Him His righteousness is then given to us; it is a free gift. We are given that righteousness so that God’s justice in Heaven declares us to be righteous, and because He is looking at the righteousness we possess in Christ He is free to bless us with salvation.

At the great white throne judgment unbelievers are not judged for sin. Sin was judged at the cross. Colossians 2:14 NASB “having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” That happened historically in AD 33. People are not sent to the lake of fire for their sin. What are they sent there for? The question arises every now and then: What about these statements that a person dies in their sins?

In John chapter eight Jesus had been teaching in the temple and has been in another conflict with the Pharisees. Jesus said to them, v. 21 NASB “I go away, and you will seek Me, and will die in your sin; where I am going, you cannot come. [22] So the Jews were saying, “Surely He will not kill Himself, will He, since He says, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’? [23] And He was saying to them, ‘You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world.’” He is talking about source: they are earth-bound; they are creatures; He is from heaven. [24] NASB “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am {He,} you will die in your sins.” There is a difference between dying for your sins and dying in your sins. What does the phrase “in your sin” mean?

1 Corinthians 15:17 NASB “and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins.” Paul is talking to believers here, the Corinthians who had trusted in Jesus but were saying they were not sure they believed in the resurrection anymore; is it really necessary that there is a physical bodily resurrection of Jesus? Paul’s answer is talking about something that is positional, but this phrase “in your sins” is not clarified yet. It becomes clarified in Ephesians chapter two. Ephesians 2:1-3 actually expresses a number of dependent clauses. The main clause is found in verse 5, “[God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), [6] and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly {places} in Christ Jesus.” Before he gets to what God did he has to create this contrast so we can understand how great it is that God did this. So he begins with a number of subordinate clauses in verse 1.

Ephesians 2:1 NASB “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.” In the NKJV the words “He made alive” are added, but in italics because they are not there in the original. That is because the translators went down to verse 5 and pulled that out so that they could put it at the beginning of verse 1 for English readers to make some sense of this by having the main verb at the beginning. What does Paul mean when he says “you were dead in your trespasses and sins”? If we take out the word “trespasses” and just say “you who were dead in your sins” we have the same phrase as in John 8:24 and 1 Corinthians 15:17. It is an idiom for spiritual death. To be dead in your sins means that you are spiritually dead—in every one of these places. It is not saying you are going to die for your sins, which is how some people think it will turn out at the great white throne judgment. It says, “you were”—a present participle but it has a past sense of “you being dead (previous to being made alive) in your trespasses and sins.” So it refers to a state, it doesn’t refer to a cause of punishment. So “dead in your sins” doesn’t mean dying for your sins eternally, it refers to a state of being spiritually dead. If we go back to John 8:24 what Jesus is saying to the Pharisees is, if you don’t trust in me you will die in your sins, you will continue to be spiritually dead. If we look at 1 Corinthians 15:7 Paul is saying that if Christ isn’t risen your faith is futile because you are still spiritually dead.

There are three basic problems that have to be resolved before anybody can get into heaven. The first is that the legal penalty assigned by the Supreme Court of heaven for sin has to be paid for. That legal penalty is spiritual death. That penalty was assigned by God to Adam the instant he ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; he died spiritually. As a result of his spiritual death, his new condition, every human being who has been born since then (with the exception of Jesus) has been born spiritually dead. So the first problem we have is the problem of the legal penalty in and of itself.

The second problem we have is that we were born spiritually dead. There has to be a change. Even if the penalty is paid the reality of our spiritual death has to be changed. The problem of our spiritual death, being “in our sin (spiritually dead),” is resolved by Ephesians 2:5 NASB “even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)”—regeneration.

The third problem is that we lack righteousness, and that has to be changed. We have to be changed from R to +R. The problem of our lack of righteousness is resolved by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

So the three problems are solved by three acts of God. The first act that solves the sin penalty problem is that Jesus pays the penalty. The second problem, which is our condition of spiritual death, is resolved only when we believe in Christ. Titus 3:5 NASB “He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit.” God changes us; we become a new creature in Christ. The third problem, our justification: Galatians 2:16 NASB “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.” This is his conclusion, what Paul is driving toward, and in Romans 3:28 he will say NASB “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”

In Romans 2:1-5 we see that the moral person, the person who is righteous in his own eyes, is not righteous all the time even in his own eyes and that there are times when he does exactly what he condemns in other people. Even in his own eyes he knows he cannot measure up, even to his own standards. In Romans 2:6-12 Paul isn’t saying that people actually get saved because they can completely and perfectly obey the Word. God will render according to your work, and no one measures up. So theoretically, if you were perfect you couldn’t get into heaven without believing in Jesus. The standard is absolute perfection.

In Romans 2:12 Paul begins to talk about the human race in general which would focus primarily on non-Jews (Gentiles), and now he shifts to talk about Jews because Jews had a privileged position (Romans 9); but it is a privilege that is not going to get them saved, it is a privilege of knowledge but not a privilege of salvation. Just because they are descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob doesn’t mean they are automatically saved. In these they have easier access to special revelation and they have been given special revelation that no one else has. That special revelation was called the Torah. If we think of the Torah as instruction on how the people of God were to live to reflect God’s character—because He said to them, “Be holy as I am holy”—then we get another slant on the Mosaic Law. It was designed to teach and instruct them as to how to live. “For 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.” The word “perish” is APOLLUMI, the same word that is used in John 3:16. Most of the time this refers to eternal judgment. In the second part of the verse, “who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law,” brings in the verb KRINO which means to separate, discern, judge, consider, and also translated in a number of places “condemn”—as it is in John 3:17, 18.

John 3:17 NASB “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge [condemn] the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” Condemnation, krino judgment, has to do with the Supreme Court of God and the decision He makes so that those who are without righteousness will perish. So condemnation has to do with the decision, the verdict and the penalty; perishing is the consequence, the penalty itself. The purpose of the first advent wasn’t judgment, it was deliverance. [18] “He who believes in Him is not judged [krino]; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

Romans 2:13 NASB “for {it is} not the hearers of the Law {who} are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.” It is not just enough to go through the back door, go through the external ritual of going to church or Bible class and sit there and be exposed to the teaching of the Word. There is a spiritual imperative that comes with the Word and that is to put it into practice. To be a doer of the law (James) just means to be an applier of what one hears. The word for “just” in the first line is the noun DIKAIOS which means just or righteous, and in the second line is the verb DIKAIOO which means to be justified or declared justified, which is a forensic or judicial statement that comes from the bench.

Romans 2:14 NASB “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively [in light of how God made them] the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves.” That is not quite right. Law unto themselves has the idea in our culture of writing one’s own law, making one’s own standards. It is really the idea of “they have their own law,” and that law is this internal sense of right and wrong which God embeds in every creature who is in His image. Everybody on the planet has a sense of right and wrong. The standards may get messed up. Some may think murder is not wrong and others may think beating your wife is not wrong, others may think that theft—at least at a lower level—is not wrong; but at some level they know some things are wrong and some things are right. Without the Law Gentile nations and tribes have standards that imitate the Word of God. They know it is wrong to commit murder, etc. Every Gentile culture is going to have aspects that reflect the Torah.

In verse 17 Paul shifts to talk about the Jewish claim of fulfilling the Mosaic Law. From v. 17 to v. 25 he is going to lay out the argument that the Jewish people can’t claim their relationship to Abraham, or to Moses and the Law, as a basis for getting into heaven. They have favor from God in many ways but it wasn’t a favor that automatically got them into heaven; they were not born with a ticket punch, they have to make a decision like everybody else as to whether or not to trust God.

Romans 2:17 NASB “But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God.” In the subsequent verses he is going to describe what that means. The first characteristic is to rest or relax on the Law. Just because you have the Law means your ticket is punched and you’re going to go to heaven. Second, you boast in God because God has a special relationship with Israel and that means you are in. Third, you know His will. [18] “and know {His} will and approve the things that are essential [because you have revelation], being instructed out of the Law”—because you have been instructed [KATECHEO] out of the Law”—KATECHEO, from which we get our word “catechism,” and it implies line by line, precept upon precept, etc. In other words, you have been drilled in the precepts of the Law. Fourth, [19] “and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness.” Isaiah said the Jews were to be a light to the nations, a guide to those who were in darkness. But they failed to do that. [20] “a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth.” Just because you have the structure of knowledge and truth from the Law you think you can teach everybody. [21] “you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal?” Are you practicing what you are preaching? Are you doing what you say you do? [22] “You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? [23] You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? [24] THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU,” just as it is written.”

Verse 25 looks at ritual as a way to get them past disobedience. They had the right ritual, the right external observance, but what was going on on the inside didn’t matter. What Paul is pointing out is what is on the outside is not relevant, what is relevant is what is going on on the inside, and if we disobey God then we violate the Law. You are just not qualified; none of us are qualified. We have a need, and that is the argument here. Everybody needs righteousness; nobody can manufacture it on their own. Our hope is in Jesus Christ because He is the only way and He provides that righteousness for us.