"No Respect of Persons"
God is absolutely and always impartial, and this is spectifically true in judgment.
Verses 12-15 have been found very difficult. But there is a method of explaining these verses that simplified their meaning. Look at the first word in the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth verses. It is the word "for", which is the key word explaining the principle that is stated in verse 11. First, we read the principle: "For there is no respect of persons with God." Why? "For as many as have sinned without the law shall also perish without the law; and as many as have sinned under the law shall be judged by the law." Paul is saying that ignorance of the law will not save the Gentile. He will not be judged by the law, but he will perish! When a man sins, id does not matter if he knows nothing about the law, he is going to perish. But when one is inside the law, he will be judged by the law. Possession of the law will not save the Jew. Therefore, both are condemned alike.
There are two parts to the twelfth verse. The first deals with the Gentiles; the last with the Jew. Verses 13-15 explain those two halves. Let us take the latter part of verse 12: "As many as have sinned under the law shall be judged by the law." That explains why the Jew will be judged - because a man must do the things, not simply hear them (v. 13, see Lev. 18:5). He thought the mere possession of the law would save him, whereas the possession of the law constitutes the context within which he will be judged.
Verse 14 should be read with the first part of verse 12: "For as many as have sinned without the law shall also perish without the law ... for when Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are the law unto themselves."
Paul states the principle in verse 11; in verse 12 he speaks of the two classes and applies the principle: in verses 14 and 15, he deals with the first half of verse 12 - all connected by the word "for", and in verse 13 he deals with the last half of verse 12, also connected by the word "for."
The first thing affirmed in verse 14 is this: The Gentiles do not have the law. That means the written law. But they sometimes "do by nature the things that are contained in the law." For example, consider the commandment "Thou shalt not kill." You may go into any primitive culture and find men there who never heard of that law, but who keep it. Their conduct proves that they have a standard of righteousness. Therefore, they "are the law unto themselves." (The article "the" ought to be there.) God has only one standard of righteousness - not two. The Jew does not have one while the Gentile figures out another by himself. Paul is saying that these Gentile nations sometimes did these very things that are in the law, and because of that, they "are the law unto themselves."
In verse 15 he gives a most searching analysis. The standard of righteousness, is written in the very inner conscience of every moralist, no matter how far from the law of God he is. He shows this by his conduct. "They show the work of the law written in the hearts." The word "hearts" is the first word for you to notice. The passage continues, "Their conscience bearing witness therewith." That is not all: "Their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them." "Hearts", "conscience", "thoughts": they all bore witness to the existence of this standard which shows itself in the man's conduct. In other words, just as the Jew had a court where he was tried (there was the law, a judge, and witnesses - a regular court), this was also true for the Gentile. This man had a court within himself comprised of the same three things: the law was written on his heart; his conscience sat as a judge; and the thoughts of the man accused or excused him.
Every man has gone through the same experience. His desires lead him to do something. Then his conscience sits in judgment on him, weighing the testimony of the witnesses as to whether it is right or wrong. His thought acts as the witnesses, either accusing him or excusing him. Every Gentile moralist had been through that experience, and therefore he knew the basis for moral judgment, the very seat of his morality.
Here is the conclusion: God will judge every man by the standard that man actually has, not by the standard he does not have. He will judge the Jew by the written law, the Gentile by the law in his heart. If God does that, what will happen to man? He will perish! Any moralist can be judged by his own standards, and he will be a lost man! What a searching thing Paul has done; he has gone right into the heart of a man and shown him his sin and his own condemnation!
Ignorance of the law then, will not save the Gentile, because he has a standard that agrees with God's standard, even though only partially. Possession of the law by the Jew will not save the Jew, because he does not keep his own law.
This answers the question: "Will the heathen be saved if he follows the light he has? No one has ever lived up to the light he has.
~Alva J. McClain~
(continued with # 23)