Summary: The lack of the written Law is not the problem, the issue is sin. All have inner knowledge of God's law & some have the external law. It is not so much which law you have, the one written in everyone's inner being or the one written in God's book.
ROMANS 2: 12-16
GOD'S UNIVERSALLY KNOWN STANDARD
The principle stated in Romans 2:11 that "there is no partiality with God" would shock the Jews. They considered themselves worthy of special treatment by God. Does God's impartiality exclude His taking into account the varying degrees of spiritual light to which people have been exposed?
In reference to the judgment of God what did having the law mean for the Jews? What did lack of access to the law of Moses mean for the Gentiles? Could the Jews expect preferential treatment for having it? Or could the Gentiles plead special consideration for not having it? The conclusion the Bible gives is all have inner knowledge of God's law (CIT) and some have the added blessing and responsibility of the external law. It is not so much which law you have, the one written in everyone's inner being or the one written in God's Word, but how you live in light of what law you have. That law is the one by which you will be judged. Since all have broken God's law, be it the internal or external law, all deserve to be condemned.
I. SIN MEASURED, 12-13.
II. II. SENSED & SHOWN INSTINCTIVELY, 14-15.
III. SECRETS JUDGED, 16.
Now remember Paul's intention in the first part of this letter is to show the responsibility and guilt of all men to verify that all deserve God's punishment for sin. The lack of the law or provision of the law is not the problem, the issue is sin as is seen in verse 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;"
The Law meant here is the Mosaic Law, the written direction of God revealed for our obedience and joy. The punishment for those who have sinned without the law will be assigned without reference to the external Law. Though these sinners are to be condemned they are to be treated less severely than those who enjoyed the full revelation of God. The law brought greater blessing if you obeyed its statutes, but you also deserved greater punishment if you refused obedience to it (Luke 12: 47 & 48; Amos 3:2).
The word perish is µ - "unloosen, destroy, turn loose from." The fact that they are sinners that will perish is a very important statement. The heathen are lost not because they do not keep the Mosaic Law but because they do not keep the inner law they do have.
The driving force of the argument is verse 13. "For it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified."
The Law was read in homes and synagogues for centuries but virtue is not bestowed if only hear the truth, but because obedience the truth (Lev. 18:5; Deut. 27:26). Mere acknowledgment or acceptance that it is true or is God's law does not justify the hearers. The Law made the knowledge of the will of God more complete, but mental or intellectual knowledge alone does not save or justify. Just because a person has been blessed to hear the law and agree it is right does not automatically make them righteous. Only those who put into practice what they hear become righteous. We will learn later that no one "will be justified" (a legal term meaning free from condemnation; vindicated) by works of Law unless they have kept it perfectly. All of man's false hopes are being dashed.
James (1:22-25) also contrasts the hearers from the doers of the Word of God. We too can hear God's Word and even agree that it is correct, but that alone will not sanctify us. We must obey God's Word if it is to change us.
II. SENSED & SHOWN INSTINCTIVELY, 14-15.
Verse 14 teaches that God forged within each person a standard or law. "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,"
"Not having the Law" again means the external Law of Moses, the Torah. No Gentile will be held responsible for light they did not have but they will be judged on the basis of the revelation God has given them. What revelation from God do all people have? All people instinctively know right and wrong. Instinctively means "without external prompting, a disposition or understanding rising out of man's inner nature" (Gal. 4:8; Eph. 2:3). It is a moral sense that is part of man's original constitution or make-up and not the result of education.
Additionally the Bible says men are a law to themselves. God has created within mankind an inner sense of duty they know they are to obey. God implanted this inner law of right and wrong and duty within every person formed within the mother's womb.