Even the moral man stands condemned. 2:12-29


In our passage for study, Paul examines the place of the law in the righteous judgment of God, making the point that those law-bound believers who think that they maintain their Christian life and move it forward by a strict adherence to the law of Moses, only ever end up breaking the law and thus face its curse, the "wrath and fury" of God's condemnation.

The passage

v12. Up to this point in his letter, Paul has established the universality of sin, the consequence of which is the impartial judgment of God. Paul now introduces the role of the law of Moses into his argument. Due to sin, all are condemned, irrespective of whether they are under the law of Moses or not.

v13. The is no value in a person's commitment to the law; the only value lies in completely doing it. The trouble is, the law is not designed to help people do it.

v14-16. Living a moral life has nothing to do with the law. Even people who have never had the privilege of living under the law of Moses are able to make a good fist of living moral lives, but in the end, even their secret thoughts will condemn them.

v17-24. Paul now gives us the example of a moral man, a law-keeping man, a Jew. There is endless discussion as to whether this man is converted, or not, but it doesn't matter. How does this man stand in the face of the righteous judgment of God on the basis of his law-keeping? By relying on the law he is in trouble because when he is tested by the law of Moses he is found to be a law-breaker. He may be proud that he has the law as his birthright, a blessing and sign of God's favor toward him, yet in the end, he dishonors God by breaking the law. He may think that he has an advantage over those who are not committed to the law, yet, advantage only exists when the law is obeyed, and the reality is all sin and fall short of the glory of God. So, for this moral man, the presumed advantage of the law is actually a disadvantage.

v25-29. Paul mentions circumcision here because it serves as the sign of a person's submission to the law, so the issue is still obedience to the law. Paul's argument is that the law does have value when we do it, but the trouble is we don't do it. The law can't make us a good person, it can't restrain sin and shape holiness within us, it can't enliven us, renew us, it can't give us a new heart within. What every person needs is spiritual circumcision, a new heart within. Only then will we receive God's praise.


Israel's special vocation was to promote the glory of God's name throughout the world by demonstrating what it meant to live as a community under God's law. Paul makes use of Isaiah 52:5 to illustrate that the behavior of some of the law-bound brethren in the church of Rome actually reviles God's name rather than brings praise to it.

A common statement by the unchurched is that the church if full of hypocrites. In response churchies will often reply, "you can still come and join us, one extra won't make much difference." Hypocrisy is seen as saying one thing, but doing another. The church is often seen to take a high moral stand on social issues, but then to soften that stance for its own advantage. The protection of pederasts in our ranks is sickening.

Recently, I was taking a Bible class when a teenager asked me a question about an issue I knew very little about. She asked whether it wasn't hypocritical for the church to take a stand against the liquor trade, but then to change church law to allow a particular church to lease some property for a licensed restaurant. I said I was under the impression that church law prohibited the sale of alcohol on church property, and I thought that was that. In the end, she was right. We had changed the law for commercial reasons. Principles were set aside for financial gain. A young student had observed our hypocrisy and so God's name was blasphemed.

In my particular diocese we have an interesting rule on the remarriage of divorcees. With the bishop's permission, an attending member can gain permission to remarry, but a nominal "CofE" (Church of England) is refused. Now, how is that for hypocrisy? The Roman practice of annulling the former marriage leaves a similar taste in the mouth of the onlooker.

The truth is that the law-bound become lawless and then use the sins of others to hid their own sin. Such hypocrisy blasphemes God's name. We are reminded again that only under God's grace do we become gracious and worthy of his praise.


1. Identify other examples of hypocrisy in the church and discuss.

2. Should the church be seen to promote social morality, or grace? discuss.

[Printer icon]   Print-friendly: Sermon Notes. and Technical Notes: v12-16, 17-21.

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