Does Romans 2:13 mean that we are justified before God by keeping the Law?

by Matt Slick

"For there is no partiality with God. 12 For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law; and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law; 13 for not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, 15 in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus,” (Rom. 2:11-16).

Verse 13 is often used by people (Roman Catholics, Mormons, etc.) to say that we must keep the Law (along with faith in Jesus) to be saved.  But is it possible to be saved by keeping the Law combined with one's faith?  Let's take a look. 

Here's the overall context.  Paul had been talking about all people who practiced sin, including the Gentiles (Rom. 1:18-31).  But, he was also addressing the Jews about their judging and condemning of the Gentiles and how they were hypocrites for judging them while they themselves did not keep the Law (Rom. 2:17-24).  He points them to their own Law, standard of judgment, in Rom. 2:26-29.  They were boasting that they could keep the Law.  This is why Paul had told them that the doers of the Law are just before God (v. 13).

The standard they wanted to keep was the Law.  So, keep the Law.  Keep all of it, but if you don’t, you’re in trouble.  It is the doers of the Law who are justified before God (Rom. 2:13). He tells them that the Gentiles who didn't have the Law according to the knowledge of the Jews were instinctively keeping the Law (v. 14) and will be judged accordingly.  How much more the Jews?

Paul was showing the self-righteous Jews who judged the Gentiles that they were not able to keep a perfect standard, yet the presumably thought they could.  Actually, they were hypocrites.  This is why Paul tells us in the very next chapter, in Romans 3:28, that we are justified by faith apart from the works of the Law - which includes the Law of loving God (Deut. 6:5), and loving your neighbor (Lev. 19:18).  No one is able to keep the Law.  If you fail even once, then you become guilty of it all.

  • James 2:10, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.”
  • Gal. 3:10, “For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.”

The Jews (and anyone else) can be justified before God by keeping the Law, but he or she has to be perfect in doing it.  A person can’t fail even once - ever (James 2:10); otherwise, they are condemned (Gal. 3:10). But since all fail, that is why we have the gospel that tells us Jesus kept the Law perfectly (1 Pet. 2:22), and that we can be justified before God by faith in Him (Romans 4:3, 5; 5:1; John 1:12; 3:16).






About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.