Romans 2:13 says:
“For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” (KJV)
A few years back I was listening to an LDS General Authority talk about how we need to do more… a better job with our home teaching, visiting teaching, magnifying our callings, etc. To support his point he quoted Paul… ” Brothers and Sisters we need to lengthen our stride and do more. If we don’t are we really doing our duty as members of the church? We must do more! As Paul says ‘For not the hearers of the law are just before God but the doers of the law shall be justified.'” In a recent comment on The Book of Mormon… Another Testament Tom linked to an article written by LDS General Authority Elder Christofferson here [link no longer works]. In his article Elder Christofferson used this quote from Paul in a similar manner in an effort to emphasize the necessity for good works to enter Heaven.
To be classed among the truly penitent, random acts of obedience will not be adequate. We must properly enter into the covenants and persist in keeping them to the point that our expectation of salvation is affirmed by the Holy Spirit of Promise (see D&C 132:7, 19). It is not simply the promise of obedience in our contracts with Deity that brings grace, but the performance of our promises: “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:13).
What I find most disturbing is the context in which these General Authorities used this passage. The fact of the matter is they are quoting Paul completely out of context. Looking at the first three chapters of Romans closely one can see that Paul was not using this passage to emphasize the need for good works. Instead Paul was using this passage to point out how no one can do enough good works to enter Heaven because no one will ever be able to keep the whole law.
In chapters 1 – 3 Paul builds his case for the depravity of mankind – both Gentile and Jew. In 1:29-32 he sums up the state of the Gentiles.
29Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
In chapter 2 Paul talks about the state of the Jew. In verse 12 he tells us:
12For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law
The Jews, who have been given the law, will be judged by the law. What must they do to keep the law? That is the question Paul answers in verse 13.
For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
They have to be doers of the law! How much of the law? Will they be OK if they keep 90% of it? How about 99% of it? James gives us a clear answer.
10For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.
Unless one keeps the whole law they are guilty of breaking it all. Can anyone keep the whole law? Can anyone stop sinning? Paul tells us just a few verses later in Romans Chapter 3 that the answer is clearly no.
10As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. 13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: 14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: 15 Their feet are swift to shed blood: 16 Destruction and misery are in their ways: 17 And the way of peace have they not known: 18 There is no fear of God before their eyes. 19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
The next verse is one of my favorites because it tells us what the purpose of the law is.
20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
The purpose of the law is to convict us of how bad we really are. No one can keep all the commandments. No one is perfect. The law acts a perfect mirror to tell us just how bad we are and in 3:9 Paul tells us the state that we are all in.
“we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin”.
So what are we to do? Can we ever get out of this situation? Fortunately in 3:23-28 Paul gives us the most glorious answer:
21But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. 27Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. 28Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. (Emphasis mine)
Romans 2:13 is not given to convict us that we need to do more or work harder. Those who use it in this manner are lifting it out of context and are using it to support a false works based theology. Rather the verse is there to tell us that we cannot work hard enough to be saved. For no matter how hard we work we will always fall short. We instead need to turn to Jesus Christ and trust in Him for our salvation. It is a free gift to all who believe! By so doing we will be justified freely by His grace without the deeds of the law. All praise be to Christ!