The Law Written On The Heart

Of Gentiles, Paul wrote: “who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them” (Rom. 2:15). This is a parenthetical phrase in a sentence sandwiched between the statement, “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” and “in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel by Jesus Christ.”

This passage does not mention a “Law written on the heart,” but of “the work of the law” that is written on the hearts of Gentiles. There is a difference that expresses different meanings.

Had Paul said there was a law written on the hearts of the Gentiles it would carry the idea of some inner consciousness of God’s law through heredity. That he did say the “work of the law” written on the heart of the Gentiles speaks of God’s law in the cultivated life styles of Gentiles.

As Gentiles, who were not recipients of the Law of Moses practiced things contained in the Law, Paul says they became a law to themselves. John Parry explained this well.

“Not the law itself, but that effect which is produced by the law in those who have it. Not ‘the course of conduct prescribed by the Law,’ that could hardly be described as ‘written in the heart;’ but ‘the knowledge of God’s will, of right and wrong,’ which is found in all human consciousness.” (Cambridge Greek N.T.).

Some say non-Christians are not under the Law to Christ since they have not believed and obeyed, but are under this “law written on their hearts.” The fact is there is no law written or unwritten on the heart of any unbeliever. Romans 2:15 doen’t teach it.

The Lord’s teaching concerning personal salvation is revealed only in the New Testament. The law of God regulating the children of Israel is revealed only in the Old Testament, but the works of the law have an effect on all. The main thought of the verse is “doers of the law are justified”--all doers of the law are justified.

Those to whom the will of the Lord has been revealed are under obligation to do that law. Those, like Gentiles, who through practice show the work of the law written on their hearts, are under obligation to do the will of God.

The application is often made to marriage in that it is assumed that since Jesus spoke to the Jews, non-covenantal persons are not even considered. But when Jesus took the regulations of marriage back “to the beginning” (Matt. 19:1-9) he included everyone. God never intended anyone, Jew or Gentile, to ignore his divine ordinance of two become “one flesh” in the sacred bond of marriage. - DRS

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