"For Not The Hearers Of The Law Are Just Before God…"

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 Jesus25Whom 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!


  • Tom

    OK, let’s assume that Elder Christofferson quoted Paul out of context (I still am not 100% convinced by your logic, but let’s just say Elder C. made a mistake interpreting that verse – he is after all, imperfect).

    Even if the Rom. 2:13 quotation is out of context, you have done no better by Elder C – this paragraph comes late in his article in a section where he is warning that a man may fall from grace. He has already built his case about the law and how Christ is our only hope.

    The first quarter of his article makes the exact point that you make – we CAN’T keep the law 100% and the law is only there to identify which choices are sin and which choices are not. He uses different words than you, but that is exactly his point. And his conclusion is the same as yours – our only hope is in Christ! After the paragraph you quote he goes on to reiterate this point.

    I also don’t see why it is so upsetting that he states we must keep our covenant to the end of our lives. If you believe a man can fall from grace, then it is self-evident that we must keep our covenant with Christ until the day we enter the kingdom of heaven (even if you and I differ on what constitutes keeping the covenant, one still has to keep it).

    It is important to note that under LDS doctrine, it is not sin that violates the terms of our covenant with Christ – it is unrepentant sin, i.e. AN UNWILLINGNESS TO FOLLOW CHRIST (which is what causes a fall from grace). I’m not yelling, I just don’t know how to make things bold on wordpress. 🙂

    Also, the reader must be careful to distinguish when Elder C. is talking about justificaiton and when he is talking about sanctification. You asked previously what constitutes sanctification in my opinion. I found this definition that I really like on the CARM website (write that down – a Mormon quoting CARM!! :)). I think it is in line with the LDS view of sanctification as taught by Elder C. (disclaimer – I disagree with much of the remainder of the same blog post)

    “Sanctification, on the other hand, involves the work of the person. But it is still God working in the believer to produce more of a godly character and life in the person who has already been justified (Phil. 2:13). Sanctification is not instantaneous because it is not the work of God alone. The justified person is actively involved in submitting to God’s will, resisting sin, seeking holiness, and working to be more godly (Gal. 5:22-23). Significantly, sanctification has no bearing on justification. That is, even if we don’t live a perfect life, we are still justified.”

    I find the last sentence particularly in harmony with Elder C’s teachings. I fully acknowledge, though, that many LDS sources blur the distinction between justification and sanctification by using the much more general term “salvation” (which can mean either or both!). Remember that we have multiple meanings for “saved” and “salvation” – for better or for worse. But many prophets (John Widtsoe, Brigham Young, and Dallin Oaks particularly) spoke of “present salvation” – salvation right now – which I find to be in line with the CARM description that justification can be obtained through faith and guarantees eternal life (still with the caveat about falling from grace).

    Hope that wasn’t too wordy. Thanks for the exposition on Rom. 2. I will definitely give it more thought and prayer. Cheers!

  • Tom.

    I am impressed!! A Mormon quoting CARM… you won’t find that very often. It would be like me quoting FARMS or FAIR! 🙂

    Before going much more into C’s teachings I want to clarify a couple of things because we are likely not using the same definitions… I had asked you some of these questions on the other post but you may not have caught them all.

    1. What is Heaven in your understanding? The Celestial Kingdom only? Terrestrial? Telestial?

    2. When a person is Justified do they go to the Celestial Kingdom? Or do they have to complete Sanctification to go to the Celestial Kingdom?

    3. Can a person who never joins the LDS Church and never receives or accepts their Endowment – either in THIS LIFE or Vicariously in the Spirit World – go to the Celestial Kingdom?

    4. When you say a person is saved, what does that mean? Are they going automatically to the Celestial Kingdom? Or does that simply mean they avoid Outer Darkness?

    Thanks for explaining your understanding of Sanctification.

    Have a great afternoon!!


  • kay

    Agree that faith saves, not works. But faith is dead without works. If we are truly saved, we will want to work and serve God.

  • Sandie

    I’m not a mormon but I’m really unsure how to be saved. I am stuck between grace or grace+ what you refer to as, works. I have been reading and reading for at least a couple years now and I’m so confused. What about these verses? :

    Peter who wrote, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and
    exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against
    your soul.”

    Here it seems clear to me, if we do not abstain from passions of the flesh we will lose our soul. Yet, if I were to say that to a Luthern, they would say that is law. It’s not law if Peter himself said it! This is so confusing, where would they come up with that? Would Peter lead us astray? I think not! Why would Peter teach works if works cause you to lose your salvation? The only time I see works condemned is ceremonial type works, like circumcision via the Galatians.

    In contrast to the Galatians and them being condemned for resorting back to ceremonial law. You see Paul saying elsewhere: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these: Adultery,
    fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred,
    variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings,
    murders, drunkenness, revellings and such like: of the which I tell you
    before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such
    things SHALL NOT INHERIT THE KINGDOM OF GOD. But the fruit of the Spirit
    is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
    meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:19-23.
    (emphasis added)

    Also, what about this scripture: “My brethren, if any among you strays from the truth, and one turns him
    back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way
    will save his soul from death, and will cover a multitude of sins”
    (James 5:19-20).

    MT 25

    24He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master,
    I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and
    gathering where you scattered no seed, 25so I was afraid, and I went and
    hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’

    26But his master answered him, ‘You WICKED and slothful servant! You
    knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no
    seed? 27Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and
    at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. 28So
    take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents.
    29For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an
    abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken
    away. 30And cast the WORTHLESS servant into the outer darkness. In that
    place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

    There are so many more verses where they are warning actual believers to avoid sin in order to avoid hell.