I've been scrambling to finish the first devotional that goes along with my forthcoming second book in the Paul series, this one on Romans. As I was writing the devotional on Romans 2:1-16, it struck me that the main point of this section is that doing the good is far more important than knowing the good. While this seems common sense to me as a Pietist, a good deal of Christendom has somehow talked itself out of this basic ethical truth.
In fact, it was with great delight that I recognized again how these verses undermine the high Protestant Reformation (remembering that I'm one of those bastard children of the Reformation they call Arminians). Like it or not, Paul says that God judges people according to their works in 2:6 (cf. 2 Cor. 5:10)--Christians included.
1. Law cannot mean the entirety of the Jewish Law or else the idea of Gentiles keeping it would not make sense (2:14).
2. Keeping the Law thus relates to the fulfillment of the righteous requirement of the law in Romans 8:4, a subset of the broader Jewish Law that later Christians termed "the moral law."
3.The irony is thus that those who did not know the Law (Gentiles) now keep the Law, while many of those who knew the Law (Jews) were for all intents and purposes "de-circumcised" for that reason.
Luther was thus only right about "works" in relation to initial justification, not final justification. And Calvin (and N. T. Wright) was wrong to think that the works would always follow sufficiently to guarantee final justification.
But the spark for the post was not this old theme of mine. It was the clear priority Paul gives in these verses to doing the good over knowing it. Truth is important, but virtue takes primacy of place over truth.