12For 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;
Ever been asked what about the lost who never heard the gospel? Ever wondered what will happen to them?
This short verse tells us four wonderful truths about what will happen to them and what God is like:
1. This verse tells us that God is fair. He will never judge someone by something they did not know. If you never knew the law of God, if you have never been told about God’s holiness and justice and standards, you will not be judged by that standard. God is utterly just in the way He deals with people. Do you know that the Bible says that Sodom and Gomorrah on judgement day will be dealt with less harshly than Capernaum (Matt. 11.24) – why? Because when God judges He does not judge by the level of darkness, but by the amount of light rejected. So we know that those who have never heard will not be accountable for what they have never heard.
2. This verse tells us that those who have never heard will still perish. This is a sobering thought. Although they will not be judged as harshly as people who have had revival and had miracles done in their city and rejected the Holy Spirit, they still will be judged. They still will perish. The Greek word here for perish means to be put over into eternal misery in hell.
Matthew Henry in his commentary on Romans says this about Romans 2.12:
As many as have sinned without law shall perish without law; that is, the unbelieving Gentiles, who had no other guide but natural conscience, no other motive but common mercies, and had not the law of Moses nor any supernatural revelation, shall not be reckoned with for the transgression of the law they never had, nor come under the aggravation of the Jews’ sin against and judgment by the written law; but they shall be judged by, as they sin against, the law of nature, not only as it is in their hearts, corrupted, defaced, and imprisoned in unrighteousness, but as in the uncorrupt original the Judge keeps by him.
Those without the law of Moses and without the revelation of who God is still through their conscience and through the evidence of creation know there is a God. Because they rejected that God and worshipped idols they will perish. This should inspire you to go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Believe God to send you to the nations to preach the good news. Expect God to enable you to go – or at the very least find someone else who is going and pray for them and give them money and encourage them.
3. This verse tells us that if you sin in the law you will be judged by the law. So many religious people are law-obsessed. They are living by the law. That is a dangerous place to be – because James 2.10 tells us if we break any one law we break it all. The law is a complete whole, not to be divided up. If you try and live by it and fail on one point, you will be judged more harshly than if you did not know about the law. Religious people like to judge others, but Paul here is turning it on them and saying: you will be judged more harshly because you have broken the law and you know the law. You think you are so learned, but the more you learn about God’s law the harsher you will be judged. It doesn’t make sense to a religious person that a nice village like Capernaum where the all lived decent lives and nodded to God will be judged more harshly than Sodom and Gomorrah where they were homosexual, were happy to rape virgin girls and were happy to rape angels. But Jesus tells them that if the miracles done in Capernaum were done in Sodom they would have changed. Sodom didn’t have a chance – but Capernaum had chance after chance and rejected them all.
Capernaum represents the religiosu people today. They don’t do anything but judge. You are too happy, you are too sad. You are not holy enough, you are a fanatic. You are too loud, you are too quiet. The presence and power of God is in their midst and they simply ignore it. The greatest preacher who ever lived on planet earth came to their village to hold the greatest miracle crusade of all time and they rejected it because his father had the wrong job. Sodom and Gomorrah represent the world today: a lost, rebellious, harsh, vile, selfish group of people – who IF THEY SEE LOVE AND MIRACLES WILL CHANGE! Jesus didn’t say go into all the church with the gospel, He said go into all the WORLD.
4. This verse tells us that God holds you accountable for what you know – not other people. So many people take the law and use it to judge everyone else in the world. Jesus said that the world will not even be judged by the law, but you will. If you are a religious person, if you don’t know that Jesus Christ died on the cross for your sins you will be judged by the full force of God’s law. Don’t let that happen – believe in the gospel. Realize that Jesus Christ took all your sins on the cross and your way to heaven is by grace alone – not your goodness but God’s. Then when you accept this for yourself, you will not judge and attack other people, you will love them and tell them about the wondrous grace of God that you found has saved you.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me
I once was lost but now am found
Twas blind but now I see