We cannot be justified before God except through faith in the sacrifice of God's Son, Jesus Christ, and then God gives us grace. This does not excuse us from keeping the law because He says those who keep the law will be justified; therefore, keeping the law cannot justify. It cannot save a person, but those who keep the law will be justified and saved—not because they are keeping the law in order to be saved but because they are faithful in showing God that they are preparing their lives for His Kingdom, where everybody will live the same godly life, according to the same rules. That is what God's law outlines—His way of life.
This section, up to verse 16, shows that both those with a formal ignorance of God's law (say, the Gentiles) and those with knowledge of the law (in this case, the Jews, or in our context now, Christians) will be judged by the law. Why? Because the law defines sin! Sin brings God's judgment.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace and Law (Part 16)
Why is this term, "law," so repulsive? Law implies authority, and human nature likes no authority over it, even if the law expresses the authority of God and defines love. It is especially interesting that Paul says we will be judged according to what we actually know. Know of what? The law of God. The good works he mentions earlier include the works of keeping the law. Obviously, it is God's will that we live moral lives. Morality must have standards, or there is no such thing as morality. Laws define morality. We will be judged against what we know of the laws of God. Thus, he says in verse 13 that the doers of the law will be justified.
Despite what these verses say, theologians attempt to justify their "no-law" theology by claiming that Paul writes here of the natural man, not converted people. While partially true, it avoids the fact that this epistle was written to a church of God congregation (Romans 1:1-7) and that Paul repeatedly uses the personal pronoun "you"—as in "you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge" (Romans 2:1). This usage, combined with the fact that it is written to a church of God congregation, easily catches the converted in its purview.
In addition, it also avoids the fact that one reason God gives His Holy Spirit is to lead us into all truth (John 16:13). This includes the truth regarding morality, lawkeeping, and good works. As God leads us to greater depths of knowledge and understanding of His truth, it builds in us a more responsible knowledge of God's will. This raises the stakes in judgment because "to whom much is given, from him much more will be required" (Luke 12:48). Growth results in closer scrutiny against a higher standard of morality.
In the broader context of Romans, it becomes clear that each person—Jew or Gentile, converted or unconverted—is judged against what he knows, and God holds him responsible for working to produce obedience at that level. This is similar to what teachers expect of school children. They hold children in the higher grades more responsible for knowing and doing than those in lower grades. Courts use the same general system, holding adults more responsible for their crimes than children. Thus, for the same crime, an adult will receive a sterner punishment.
The called must realize that, because of their calling, the requirements—and thus the judgments—are much stiffer since they know so much more. This is why Paul says in Romans 3:31, "Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law." Faith upholds law or makes it firm because the law points out what righteousness, love, and sin are, and guides us in how faith is to be used.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Elements of Motivation (Part Four): Obligation
To many Protestant theologians, the apostle Paul is the champion of grace. Frequently, they quote his epistles to give credence to their doctrinal positions. For instance, Martin Luther built an entire Reformation on one verse—Ephesians 2:8—which he proceeded to mistranslate and misuse! His rallying cry, "By grace you have been saved through faith alone," adds the word "alone" to Paul's thought. Luther is famous for disparaging the epistle of James as "an epistle of straw" because he despised James' assertion that Christians are justified by faith with works (James 2:14-26).
However, such theologians are uncomfortable with certain portions of Paul's writings because he fails to toe the once-saved-always-saved line. One of these passages is Romans 2:1-16, which expounds upon the judgment of God. Probably the best-known verse from this chapter is verse 13: "For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified."
What a blow! Paul agrees with James! Keeping God's law is vital to our justification! This has important ramifications for those who refuse to change their behavior after accepting Jesus as their Savior: Failure to keep God's law is sin (I John 3:4), and those who sin "will be judged by the law" (Romans 2:12), and "the wages of sin is death" (see Romans 6:23; Ezekiel 18:4, 20). Jesus Himself says, "I tell you, . . . unless you repent you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:3, 5).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Do We Have 'Eternal Security'?
Lawkeeping alone will not justify them, but God expects that someone who has faith in Christ to keep His law. Therefore it is good to do it because works are evidence of what one has faith in. Without works, God would never be sure.
John W. Ritenbaugh
The Covenants, Grace, and Law (Part 25)
Unconverted people can, completely apart from contact with the true God, discover much that harmonizes with God's purpose or godliness in general. The problem is that because they lack God's Holy Spirit, the truth they find is not as meaningful as it could be.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Thanksgiving or Self-Indulgence?
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Romans 2:13: