Question: Please discuss and explain Romans 2:12-15.
Answer: Romans 2:12-15 reads thus in its entirety: “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; (For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.)” “In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.” (Verse 16.)
This passage states clearly and plainly that some sinned without law. But I John 3:4 also clearly states that “…sin is the transgression of the law.” Also, Romans 4:15 clearly states, “…For where no law is, there is no transgression.” This idea would also include the knowledge of the law. To one who has no knowledge of the law or God’s will at any given point, sin in not imputed even though he might violate it. Paul said this in so many words when he said in Romans 7:9, “For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died.” What he is saying here is that without the knowledge of the law, when he knew not what the law said, he was alive (innocent before God); but the commandment came, or he received a knowledge of what the law said, it revived in him and he died. Death is the consequence of sin.
But there is a people sinning without law and declared to be perishing without law. How could this be in the light of the scriptures given in the above paragraph? The answer is found in verses 14 and 15 of the second chapter of Romans. It is said in verse 14 that these people did not have the law but they did by nature the things contained in the law. Verse 15 says that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, and their consciences bore them witness and their thoughts accused or excused them. These verses do not teach what some have taken them to teach; that an individual can be saved by his conscience. They rather teach that there is sufficient knowledge of right and wrong doings. Every person who comes into the world is given sufficient knowledge of God’s law of righteousness to guide him right until it is squelched by repeatedly riding over his conscience until it becomes hardened. Then he loses that. Romans 1:21 answers this well. “Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” This verse says that these people knew God, but verse 28 said that they did not like to retain God in their mind. From verse 21 through the remainder of the chapter we have described the deplorable and disgusting condition these people fell into on account of their taking their own way instead of God’s way and “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools.” (Romans 1:22.) Can we see this same thing happening all around us today in our world?
What God implants in the bosom of each individual exactly corresponds to what is in God’s law even though he may not directly have knowledge of God’s law. “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves.” Romans 2:14. Let us realize that for a person to violate his own conscience is sin and is a very serious thing and will produce very grave consequences even though he does not have direct knowledge of the commandment. These people’s conscience bore them witness and their thoughts accused or excused them.
Now let me earnestly warn you that you are more likely to perish by your conscience than you are to be saved by it if you don’t take good care of it and keep it tender by responding quickly to its dictates and properly educating it by the Word of God.
The antediluvian world perished by their conscience. That was the only law they had at that time but they grossly violated it and rode over it persistently and repeatedly until it became so hardened and corrupted that the imaginations of their hearts were only evil continually and there was no remedy. The passage we are discussing in this lesson declares that some of the heathen will perish by their conscience; and you will, too, if you do not take proper care of it and keep it clear and tender.