Human Conscience and Salvation: Romans 2:12-16
“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 who 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. Romans‬ ‭2:12-16‬
We have been following Pauls arguments that the whole world is lost apart from the gospel. In Romans 1:18-32, he presented the case that every advanced human civilization willfully turned its back on God. His description applied to the prep flood era as well as post flood civilizations like the Medes and Persians, Greeks and Romans. They knew about the God of Creation but willfully trampled Him under foot.
Then in Romans 2:1-11, Paul turned his attention on the religious hypocrisy of the Jewish religious leaders. They knew the difference between right and wrong, and even condemned others for doing wrong; but they quickly engaged in the same sinful deeds. Paul concludes that there is no partiality with God (Vs 11), so their condemnation is just.
Paul now turns his attention to the morally good who have never had the chance to hear the gospel. (See Romans 2:12-16) These might fit the category of the isolated and possibly the uneducated people of the world. Paul acknowledged that human conscience can be a powerful tool for good. God has put it within every human. It might be defined as an innate intuition about good and bad, right and wrong.
But there are two problems with saying that these people are automatically saved and accepted by God based on human conscience. First, human depravity is universal. Romans 3:10 says, “there is non righteous, not even one.” Though there are some morally good people who follow human conscience, they are still sinners by nature and by personal choice. Human conscience alone has never given birth to moral perfection.
Second, if you start down the road of works based salvation, how do you know who is saved and who is lost? When does a person arrive at salvation? For that matter, if human conscience can save people, why did Jesus die on the cross? Why didn’t He just teach people to be morally good and follow their conscience?
My personal take on Romans 2:15-16 is that when the secrets of the human heart are exposed by the light of the gospel, sin and depravity will eternally stain the souls of the morally good. Being good is commendable, but is does not pay our eternal debt. According to Paul’s gospel, the “wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) Human Conscience falls short of producing salvation.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global