As a young believer, I spent an unbalanced amount of time in the book of Romans, trying to follow Paul’s logic, and the message he was presenting to the church in Rome. Some passages seemed to be fairly simple to grasp, with others still beyond me. Don’t even ask me about Romans 5 – the more I read that passage, the less I know!
Given the strong message Paul supplies in Romans 3 concerning the requirement of faith and not works for salvation, how can we understand our topic verse today?
First off, lets read it.
to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; – Romans 2:7 ESV
First, some background.
I am of the opinion that Paul was crouching his remarks in these early chapters of Romans, providing theological teaching with an intent to address a practical problem within this church.
Now before we go any further, if I were to ask you of the problem resident in the Roman church, what would you say? Was there heresy floating about? Some type of false doctrine infecting this body of believers?
But as we travel through the book of Romans, we find Paul gives his “pièce de résistance”, his crowning jewel setting forth a theological masterpiece, to a church at Rome.
Out of sixteen chapters, three quarters of the book is positional teaching. Chapters 12 through 16 are practical teaching with the following topics
- Chapter 12 – rapid fire list of Christian commands,
- Chapter 13 – the believers relationship with government (fitting for believers in the capital!)
- Chapter 14 – a discussion on strength and weakness in faith
- Chapter 15 – a continuation of the discussion on strength and weakness in faith
- Chapter 16 – personal greetings to the saints in the church.
Given the amount of space Paul uses for a discussion on strength and weakness in faith, it appears there is an element of disunity fueled by pride within the body. I would suggest that those of the Jewish faith may be holding their religious heritage over their gentile brothers, and causing strife in the body.
As long an introduction to this post is, it is important to consider a possible context we find Romans 2:7. I understand Romans 1 & 2 to be Paul’s mimicking of Nathan’s methods of when he dealt with a sinning King David. (For a fuller discussion on this topic, I recommend Judge Judge Judge – δικαιοκρισία –Study 7)
If my thinking is correct about what Paul has in mind in Romans 2, he is aiming to get a mental agreement of the Jewish believers regarding the wickedness of the subjects of chapter 1, all the while setting the Jewish believers up for self identification as the sinners. (The Nathan method! – See link to earlier post for explanation.)
Given this background, how does Romans 2:7 relate to conditional security? Is Paul simply baiting the Jewish believer, teaching the sinfulness of those described in chapter 1 and then identifying the sinners as Jewish? When Paul speaks of those who “knew no law” being able to attain salvation, how would this have impacted the Jewish believer who has “obeyed the law” their entire life? (And to add a wrinkle to this convoluted thinking, if the Jewish believer had obeyed the law, why did they repent and run to Jesus for salvation! But I digress.)
Context is king here and the previous verse to our text may provide some guidance.
He will render to each one according to his works: – Romans 2:6
to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; – Romans 2:7
but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. – Romans 2:8
Paul is speaking of God rendering judgement according to each ones works. The outcome of judgement, based on the well-doing of the subject, is that God will provide eternal life. What? It seems so strange to think of any judgement as resulting in eternal life. When I hear the word “judgement”, I automatically think of fire and brimstone! But that is a different topic for another day.
Granted, the link between works and eternal life is difficult to deal with. I think the reason this linkage between eternal life and works is difficult to deal with is that it impacts our daily decisions to live for Him. Some may say that it is at odds with the salvation by grace through faith teaching that permeates the Word, but I believe there is a solution.
Let me summarize my questions about this passage, with a challenge for my reader.
When we come to judgement for the believer, it is common to have works associated with judgement. As this post is getting a bit long, and if it has peaked my readers interest, I will recommend a study in the Word on the relationship between works and judgement for the believer. I did a search in Blue Letter Bible for “works” and considered the verses that came up. It may be surprising to the reader of their findings!
But kindly note that the suggested topic of study is “works and judgement”, not “works and justification”. Two different studies! (A bit of a hint there, my friends!)
May God bless you and keep you in serving Him.
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