Romans 2:14-15 – Moral Pagans?

Romans 2:14-15 seems to refer to Gentiles who are moral, “doing the law by nature” and that they “have the law written on their hearts.”   After reading Romans 1:18-32, we might have had the impression that the Gentile world was a seething pit of sensual hedonism.  But now Paul says that there is a category of people that might be called “righteous Gentiles.”  Who are these “moral Gentiles”?  C. E. B. Cranfield lists the following possibilities:

  • Pagan Gentiles who fulfill God’s law because of their own morality and therefore merit his favor.
  • Hypothetical moral pagan Gentiles.
  • A secret hidden faith known only to God that is mysteriously in some Gentiles hearts, or to the works that expresses this faith.
  • Gentile Christians, with two variations.  Some take the “who do the things of the law”  as referring to the Gentile Christian’s faith, others take the phrase as referring to a Gentile Christian’s  works of obedience (Sabbath? Alms?).

Cranfield rejects the first possibility because it is incompatible with Romans 3:9, 20, 23.  he rejects the second because there is nothing in the context that indicates Paul is speaking hypothetically.  He settles on the last possibility, that Paul has in mind Gentile Christians who are acting ethically. Edwards makes an excellent point against Cranfield  by point out that these cannot be Christians because Paul has not even mentioned Jesus yet, nor has he introduced the idea of salvation (Romans, 70).  At this point in the argument, men are still trying to please God on their own, whether a Law keeping Jew or a Moralist Gentile.

Aristotle (Wikipedia)

James Dunn seems to take the first possibility. He understands “nature” as belonging to the phrase “do the things of the Law.”  This means there are Gentiles who, by their nature, respond to “general revelation” and are in fact rather moral in most respects.  Aristotle may be an example who Paul has in mind.  His Nicomachean Ethics often has the same high moral standard of the Jewish Law.  There are many examples of Roman Moralists who encouraged honesty, loyalty, and other excellent virtues.  Obviously no Greek or Roman would argue for a Sabbath, or circumcision as a sign of one’s loyalty to God, but those things were given specifically to Israel anyway.  (After I wrote this post I ran across this wikipedia “virtuous pagans.”  Check it out….)

This might be a bit of a surprise to learn that there are non-Jews who were generally moral and upright people.  We tend to have a fairly low opinion about the morality of the Gentile Roman world, but some were in fact more “moral” than some Jews!  (Compare Seneca with Herod the Great, for example!)  One cannot say that all Romans are hedonistic pagans, some were in fact  ethical and moral.  Paul points out they are still in need to Christ because they cannot live up to their own moral knowledge, but they are “closer” than the Gentiles described in Romans 1:18-32!

This observation has some fairly important application for our lives.  Christians cannot say things like “atheists are unethical and immoral.”  While I disagree with their conclusions on the existence of God, there is a possibility that they are living their life as ethically and morally as me (perhaps even more ethically!)  Seems to me that Christianity represents itself as “holy” when in fact individual Christians seem to sin in the exact same (skanky) ways as the world.  Are there “Moral Atheists” and “Immoral Theists”?  Absolutely!

How would this observation effect our interaction with people outside of the Church?

39 thoughts on “Romans 2:14-15 – Moral Pagans?

  1. Yes indeed many of these “moral pagans” become Christians, from.. thru Judaism, or God-fearers, etc. It reminds me of the later once Pagan Christians…Irenaeus, Tertullian, etc. And though Irenaeus was on Eastern ground, he profoundly brought together the traditions from Asia Minor, Syria, and Rome.. into the first great theological body of Church Truth! Indeed St. Paul affects both the East & West!

  2. This topic actually hits close to home for me. I know many non-Christians in my life that are very moral. In fact, I would go so far as to say that some of my non-Christian friends are considered to be more moral than Christians are. Going off of what Phil Long says, there is no doubt in my mind that “while I disagree with their conclusions on the existence of God, there is a possibility that they are living their life as ethically and morally as me (perhaps even more ethically!)”. Many times today Christians put themselves onto a pedestal. Because we are Christians we are above everyone else. We are the moral ones, we are the ethically sound ones, we are the ones right with God that cannot do anything wrong. We view people outside of the Church as bad people—people that are so deep in sin that they can’t do anything good. We view those outside the church as the ones we don’t want our children to hang around with. For some reason those are the people that will corrupt us with their drugs, secular partying, premarital sex beliefs, etc. News flash though; people within the Church are dealing with the same things, and in some instances, we are the ones corrupting those outside the Church. Because we are in Christ, we are different, and people look to us. If we ourselves and the world consider Christians to be morally sound, when we sit there and party, mess around, or even just live worldly lives, what does that show a non-Christian? If we can do it and still be right with God, they can do it as well. In my Bible Hour at Frontline, we are going through the book Unchristian. It brings a lot of these topics to a head where we as a group can discuss them. The book talks about how non-Christians view us Christians. Unfortunately, it’s usually in a negative view. Matthew 1:1-6 tells us that we should not be judging. In fact, this was Jesus giving us a command in a sense. “Do not judge or you to will be judged” (Matt.7:1). Instead of viewing people outside the church as immoral, we should look at them as brothers and sisters that are lost. Yes, there are some non-Christians that are very immoral; there are even some Christians in that boat, but many non-Christians—like some of my friends—live very moral lives. They do not drink, do drugs, they are waiting for marriage to have intimate relationships, etc. they are just away from God. Galatians 6:1-2 talks about how if someone we know has fallen into sin, we need to restore him. That is how we should view those outside of Christ. Not that they are sinful and immoral people, but that they are in need of restoration.

  3. I agree wholeheartedly with everything P Long has said here. It is so beyond true that there are “moral atheists” and “immoral theists” (P Long). When I transferred from homeschooling to public school in high school I was floored by the fact that there were so many liberal atheistic type people that volunteered their time. It was not even required by my school! They volunteered just to do some good for others. Before that I had always thought that every unbeliever was stuck in sin and could do no good.
    The other part of this that is so sad is that there are many believers who are not moral. They are not committed to ministry and are drawn to worldly things (and I have definitely been this person many times). They need a wakeup call. We should not tear them down about this but help them back up. They need to readjust the lens of their life to focus on God instead of themselves. “And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died and was raised again” (2 Cor. 5:15). When your focus is on Christ everything you do can flow out of your love for Him. You want to do things for others out of your love for God and for other people. It is not out of wanting to look like a good person, it is real service.

  4. The term “moral pagans” seems almost to be an oxymoron. But the concept does not strike me as impossible. While none of us are “good people” (we are all sinful, see Rom. 3:10-12), we have all been instilled with a sense of right and wrong (see Gen. 3:22), as well as a psychological sensitivity not only our own emotions but also to the perceived emotions of others around us. My mind also goes to the Fruit of the Spirit: “against such things there is no law” (Gal 5:23). The idea that Gentiles (as well as non-Christians) can indeed do good, ethical, moral works is not inconceivable, as even though we are not “good” we still have knowledge of good and to some degree most have a desire to see good done in the world. Even “pagans” (those without God) have a sense of morality.

    Most Jews viewed Gentiles as unclean and immoral, or even amoral, because they did not keep the Law (or didn’t know the Law). Even those Gentiles who did keep at least parts of the Law (converts or God-fearers) were seen as sort of “less-than” righteous, as opposed to “pure-blood” Jews.

    Christians do the same thing today, myself included. Because we are taught that everyone who is not a Christian is completely sinful, it is easy to see them as “below” us in terms of morality. This is the attitude that often comes across as “holier-than-thou” in the eyes of unbelievers though. This attitude is in no way beneficial to the cause of Christ or the furthering of the gospel message, as it almost always makes unbelievers feel alienated. Christians are supposed to display Christ’s love in everything we do so they will be attracted to the gospel (John 13:34-35). Polhill says “such judgment of others leads one away from the necessary self-examination and repentance for one’s own sins and results in God’s inevitable judgment” (pg 285). When Christians fail to realize that we are all still human in that we all have both the sinful nature and the capacity for good (not just one or the other), we are liable to push unbelievers away.

  5. Yes, Romans 7, affects us all, especially verses 13-25. There is no escape, in conscience or before the Law! But we also need to note, St. Paul again & 1 Tim. 1: 5-6..

    “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.” (ESV)

    And here we can also hear St. Paul in 1st. Corinthians 9: 19-23, etc…

    “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I become as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (ESV)

    The Christian grasp of the freedom and liberty of Christ is everything! But it is not always an easy understanding, nor a given concept we cannot grapple with. In fact, grapple we must, as we walk and continue to learn ‘In Christ’! Though the Christian salvation is always forensic first, it is also a time of real and personal sanctification. And here we can even learn from those outside of the visible grace of God, as again, God alone “knows them that are His”.

  6. As previously stated, many Christian’s today look at the rest of the world, and condemn them for being immoral, while think that the Christian community is fair more moral than the rest. Christians today seem to get so wrapped up in good and bad deeds, and forget that we live in the age of grace. What sets us apart from the world is our faith in Christ. Believing and accepting the gift of salvation that Christ has offered us is what makes us righteous in God’s eyes, not our amount of good deeds or sense of morality (Polhill 287).

    I look at the world and see many people that Christian’s condemn for bad morality trying to change this world for the better. Scientists who don’t believe in God are trying to save the planet from global warming, or finding a cure for cancer. Doctors who are atheists devote their lives to saving lives. “God-less” Liberals join the peace core, or start a homeless shelter. Homosexuals volunteer at the local AIDS clinic. I have friends who are unsaved, who I deeply respect and love for their passion to help this world and the people in it.

    At the same time I see plenty of “Christians” who live immoral lives. No fruit is seen in their lives. And even in the church organization itself, I see so much more money and time being devoted to helping the church building itself, then the world that is hurting right outside it’s doors.

    I cannot stand when I hear Christians condemning non-believers for having immoral lives when they don’t reflect morality themselves.

  7. This is an interesting topic. When you say moral pagans do you simply mean not yet Christians who are doing good things (Living morally) like serving at a homeless shelter or donating money to local foundations? If so, then yeah, I would say its obvious that their are moral pagans. What about this idea though. We, as Christians, have an idea of what is moral and what is immoral, but other religions and people groups have different ideas of what is moral and immoral. So is it possible that these people were simply doing moral things that the Greek/Roman culture thought was moral? It is quite possible that the Greek/Roman culture had different ideas or morality than Paul did, so could he simply be referring to something like that? I honestly have no idea so that is why I am asking so many questions! Any ideas??

    • My point above is that there were in act non Jews / non-Christians in the Roman world that lived a decent moral life, maybe even honored the “real god” whoever he was as opposed to the rather trashy fake gods the masses worshiped. Socrates is often one of the virtuous pagans, since this ethics are compatible with the Judeo-Christian ethic, without believing in the God the Jews. Paul’s point is that even a moral pagan is not right with God until God declares him righteous!

      • Indeed Romans 1:18 thru 32 St. Paul really drops the hammer, that none are brought into salvation and the righteousness of God, save by faith (1:16-17)…as Paul measures the depth of the unrighteousness of the Gentile world. And he deals more in-depth in chapters 2 &3 with this faith and reality, both Jew & Gentile, as too the Law of God. And in chapter 4 Abraham is revealed as our Father of faith (both Jew & Gentile) and our covenant head in Faith. As in chapter 5, both Adam (the Federal Head of the race), and then Christ the Last Adam, of the redemption and the redeemed.

      • “Paul’s point is that even a moral pagan is not right with God until God declares him righteous!”- P-Long
        In response to that simple statement, is that it is completely true, and I know many people who live lives just like that. Even some Christian friends who are teetering on being lukewarm, saying that as long as they do good thing, live among the authorities and never break the law they will be fine for heaven. But in their normal life-styles they completely deny and defy God! It is a horrible thing to witness and it makes me mad that they have this title of “Christian” the same as I, and it aggravates me the closed mindedness that people have to the true life and lifestyles that a Christian should lead. I am not a saint and I by no means live a life worthy of God’s awesome forgiveness, but because he forgives me I want to devote my whole being to his work and to his gospel

  8. I wonder too if Christians can lead immoral lives while thinking that they are living morally without even realizing it.

    Let me explain…It seems that some, not all, believers in Jesus Christ do good deeds and lead moral lives because they have to, not because they love God so much that they can’t help but love and serve and live a moral life. As an example, Grace Bible College requires that students have a “Christian ministry” that they participate in every semester (which I think is a good thing) but it seems that some of the students go to their “Christian ministries” not because they can’t help but serve, out of love for God, but they go because they are required to. So, is this moral? Is serving and leading a moral life without any acknowledgment and love for God truly moral? The reason I ask is because of a phrase that Jesus says, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) So can we purely live a moral life without Jesus?

    Don’t get me wrong, I believe that a person who does not believe in Jesus can have morals and live a “good” life. I see it all the time; from the party rockers at my work place to the homeless people I meet downtown on Sunday afternoons; there is “good” and moral beliefs in people.

    Another thought I have about all of this is the dualism of humanity. What if instead of thinking of mankind as “believers” and “non-believers”, we thought of mankind as one “kind”? We are all sinful. We are all in need of a Savior. Why must we distinguish between those with a faith in God and those without and expect each “party” to have differentiating ideas on what is “right” and what is “wrong”? We all come from the same dust of the ground!

  9. This has been a topic that I’ve been mulling over for quite some time now. Morality is not only something that many non Christians practice currently, but it almost seems to be inundated into culture currently. It’s popular to live the socially aware lifestyle. Buying fair trade, donating to AIDS organizations, Extreme Home Makeover, TOMS shoes, etc. are just a few examples of morality and social justice becoming a part of pop culture. While I think this is awesome that many Christians and non Christians are becoming more involved in social justice, and giving to those in need, I think that this is similar to what Paul was talking about. This moral lifestyle is lived out “because it’s right” or “because it’s what a human should do.” Many can’t explain why these choices or moral, but they just know that it’s the right thing to do, and socially acceptable. I like what Joe was saying about the Christian ministries that Grace students are required to take part in. We miss the point by just doing the works of God out of requirement or practice rather than out of the love of God in our heart.
    One thing that I struggle with on this whole topic though is in regards to the power of the Holy Spirit to work through all situations. Isaiah 55:11 says, “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” I think we need to be careful to not but too much weight on the actions of man, and remember the power of the God we serve and his ultimate control over every situation. As a part of the church, I think we need to be encouraging moral behavior from Christians and non Christians alike. However, it can’t just stop there. We need to be living out the same morality and speaking the truth of Scripture to all. Morality without the saving grace of God is still just works.

    • The point that you brought up for me, was the idea of the different organizations that non-believers can contribute to. For an non-believer to be considered moral, they must give back or be a giving person. Without that, they would have no sense that they are doing anything good. Christians can say that they give back and help people because Christ asks them to. On the other hand, non-believers, can’t say that, they have no driving force to do good, rather than for their own self satisfaction. The world is trying to make it so, people do not have to be believers of Christ, in order to do good. So what is the driving force behind non believers to do anything good?

  10. This observation is a much needed mindset check in any kind of ministry. It is easy to get fooled by a non-Christian (who acts like a completely moral person) causing me to assume a lot about what he/she believes. This should not happen. Assumptions should not be made in any type of evangelistic situations. Recently, I ran into a kid who was wearing a Christian Cadets group shirt and I immediately thought “o this guy must be a Christian”, which made me assume a lot about him. I had to back away when he started cussing and realize that I can’t judge anything about someones mind from a person’s shirt. Sure I can’t say that they aren’t a Christian just because they cursed a few times. A persons morals can change as easy as a shirt when faced with different circumstances. How does Romans 2:15 (“They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them”) look in today’s context. I think this thought is summed up in the popular lingo as Moral absolutes. No matter how many times a person’s shirt changes their moral absolutes deep down don’t change.

  11. I think there is a great amount of evidence for “moral pagans”. We have them today. I’ve known people who lived better lives than people who claimed to be Christians. I would say that there are people in the Old Testament who could be considered “moral pagans”. Rahab could be considered one (see Joshua 2:1-21 and Hebrews 11:31). She sheltered the spies of Israel. There are many people today who try do good things in the world. These people get noticed during times of disaster, Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, and many others. These are the people who go above and beyond the call of duty in order to help others. The church today could use a refresher in this area. I have seen many churches that spend more time protesting and arguing with each other rather than reaching out to others.

  12. This is a topic that has been in my mind ever since I read “Love Wins”. I know many non-Christians who are more moral than many Christians. What does this say about Christianity? Yes we are human, imperfect, and sinful, but what does it say about the person if their life isn’t reflecting Christ? While having negative connotations, I also believe it to be a benefit in a certain sense. It gives off the idea that we don’t think we’re better than a non-Christian. Knowing I’m a sinner, and that I screw up can mean a lot to a non-Christian who may be intimidated by the Church. I’m not saying to go and sin because non-Christians may be more comfortable with you, but if there is a to be a positive spin on the situation, that is it. I really like that Joe mentioned the Christian ministry situation. I feel that many at the school see it as a chore or an obligation (Which I have been guilty of), and if that’s how you view it, I believe you’re missing the point. I wonder how many would participate in Christian ministries if it were not mandatory. Why have people involved in Christian ministries if they view it as a chore and something to do so they can graduate? How is that beneficial to anyone? I notice that others view these good/moral lifestyles different based on someone’s faith as well. Tim Tebow is one of my favorite athletes, and he receives so much flak for being a Christian and what he stands for. Many don’t really want to hear about how he chooses to live his life or all that he does for the local community or even the world. I believe that if Tebow were living his life the same way he is now, and doing all of the same things, but was not a Christian, no one would have anything bad to say about him. Too often Christians view themselves above non-Christians, and consider themselves more moral, or “better”. What causes someone who doesn’t believe in God to act this way?

  13. I think that it goes without saying (although I will say it anyway) that we, as believers, have all met a non-believer that seems to be more moral than us. A few years back there was a family who lived in my neighborhood who’s children seemed perfect. I had never heard anything negative about their kids. However, I knew that they were not Christians. And I viewed myself as “less moral” than them. We are all created in God’s image, believers and unbelievers (pagans), and I think there are some people that reflect His image more clearly. Christians should take offense to this. Not to the point that we are angry; rather, to the point of realization that a non-believer is “one-upping” us when we know exactly how we should act.

    As far as interaction with people outside the church, I believe that a person’s morality make a point of common ground. One could raise the question, “Why do you act morally?” An unbeliever may say something along the lines that David has mentioned: “Many can’t explain why these choices or moral, but they just know that it’s the right thing to do…” We can then tell them that we act morally because the image in Whom we are made.

    • I really like Johns example of the family that lived near him. I can even turn on the television and see people doing good deeds, but in the back of my mind I cannot help but think, “I sure hope they are Christians too”. It makes sense that there are moral non-Christians to me. Regardless of whether or not they are saved, doing good to other people gives people a feeling of joy and peace. Sometimes people who are not saved overwork themselves doing things in order to maintain that feeling. Or maybe they just live an upstanding life. Regardless, at some point in their life, somebody or something influenced them to make good moral decisions. I really like what John has to say about reflecting God’s image. I agree with the idea that some people might reflect it better than others. So i would have to agree with the idea that even the Gentiles could be good moral people.

  14. I really like what John had to say. We know how to act yet we for some reason do not. We end up comparing ourselves to non-believers and how they live and it is easy to become judgmental. We still feel good about ourselves because we are “saved” but that does not mean we are home free. We need to live moral lives and follow the example of Christ. There is definitely “moral pagans”. But like John said, we need to remember from whom we are made and who are example is. God gives us the reason for being moral and live the lives we live.

  15. I find it interesting that we are even talking about this because, while there can in fact exist “moral unbelievers” and “immoral believers”, it has no bearing on salvation whatsoever… Is. 64:6 is extremely graphic about what our moral and good deeds look like to God so morality is not necessarily the issue… people above have alluded to this but i feel it necessary to speak it. This then begs the question, “why would God damn a moral unbeliever and grant life to a less than moral believer” or to ask a Rob Bell question, “Ghandi is in Hell? We know this to be true? We have proof?” Everything hinges upon the blood of Christ, the acceptance of what Jesus did on the cross so it renders morality obsolete in the sense that morality is what saves.

    This being the case, we should be interacting with those outside of the Church with love and a genuine transparency. I don’t mean go around and divulge your most intimate secrets with random strangers who possible aren’t saved… what I am saying is that we should be interact with those outside the Church with an aura of humility that screams “I am no better than you are, in fact, you have things right in your life that I may or may not have”. When we do this, people are drawn to us and we will be able to frame what they do in the light of Christ. It’s funny how people are more open to the Gospel when we approach them in love and transparency rather than judgement and hypocracy.

  16. The existence of moral non-Christians is a very interesting topic. It can become especially interesting when you hear about atheists ‘calling out’ Christians for the lack of consistency in their spiritual beliefs and actual ways of living. For Christians, this reality is a motivation. If we are creations of God and heirs of Christ then why are we allowing ourselves to live life in a way that causes unbelievers to question our life’s sole purpose? On the other hand, it provides an excellent evangelism tool if we are devoting our lives to God’s calling. If this is true we can admit to even the most morally upstanding atheist that we are not perfect and we don’t need to be. Christ is perfect in all our weaknesses and as we draw closer to him we will be pulled farther from sin. Lukewarm Christians hurt the testimony of Gospel in our lives and that is why God detests them so (Rev 3:16).

  17. Romans 2:14-15 is not doubt talking about how there were Gentiles who were following the law without really knowing it and being “moral”. But there are two parts of the passage I am struggling with understanding. First, Paul says in verse 14 “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.” The part about “they are a law to themselves…” is what is confusing me. What did Paul mean by a law to themselves? The second is in verse 15 where Paul mentions the law being “…written on their hearts…” in context with the Gentiles. The ESVSB references Paul’s quote from Jeremiah 33:31, which in context appears to be speaking strictly to “the house of Israel”. Is the “written on their hearts” for Jews, Gentiles, or both? Other than those two questions I completely agree with there being moral non-Christians and immoral Christians. When I read what Paul teaches about it in Romans it seems like it was an issue for Jews having inclinations to superiority over Gentiles. Perhaps this Jewish superiority was carrying over to the new Christians in Rome. Regardless, the problem on Christian moral superiority is all around in the Christian communities. Christians are called to be moral for similar reasons as the Jews were called to be moral (as seen in Romans 2:17-21). Our morality is not for judging others, but to know God’s will and approve what is excellent.

  18. This is some powerful stuff. Why do we as Christians, act how we do and sin, when we know we are not suppose to? Like John said above, we all think of people that are more moral than ourselves. This can be caused because we don’t know that heart of the person like we know ourselves. This can become a dangerous tool, and can cause us to compare ourselves in negative ways. I feel like there can be some grey area with being a immoral believer, and moral nonbeliever. We all have our struggles and we all have things that we need to work on, but comparing ourselves to non believers that are more moral that ourselves, does not help us grow stronger in Christ. “In spite of all this, they kept on sinning; in spite of his wonders, they did not believe” Psalm 78:32.

  19. I have generally interpreted this phrase as a hypothetical statement to clarify a point. “…nothing in the context that indicates Paul is speaking hypothetically” seems both vague and meaningless to me, but it is certainly useless by itself as criticism for a hypothetical interpretation of this passage. I am curious as to what exactly one would look for in the context of a parenthetical phrase (the parentheses themselves implying that this segment of the sentence is to some degree subject to its own ideas and rules) to indicate that Paul is speaking hypothetically.

    I don’t think I have any problem with the solution that Cranfield supports, and while Edwards point is well and solidly made, I am not sure that it necessarily excludes the possibility of Cranfield’s interpretation.

    I have only one problem with Dunn’s interpretation of this passage. That is its implications on Total Depravity, which I understand to be an abbreviated expression of the idea that without the influence of the Holy Spirit, man’s thoughts are only evil all the time. The interpretation of this passage as referring to moral pagan Gentiles who “fulfill” (loosely defined) God’s Law seems to be in diametrical apposition to this idea of Total Depravity, but perhaps there is a way around this. For me personally, this is a pretty big problem with this interpretation.

  20. I think that there are many moral non-believers around us and we need to be aware of them. I have a friend who is an atheist that does many good deeds. He thinks that he is very similar to a Christian except that he does not believe in an afterlife. We had a good conversation about motives behind doing good. Christians do good things because we are compelled by a higher power to do them. We dedicate our lives to glorifying God and finding His will for our lives. God knows what is best for us and our will should conform to his. He helps us to know his will by giving us the Holy Spirit and the Bible in order that we know the standards to live by. If we did not rely on God to tell us what is moral and right then we would be relying on our own intellect, which is fallible.

  21. I personally have taken this passage to be in reference to Gentiles who, even though they don’t have the law to look at and live by, live in accordance with those laws, in a sense, following godly morals. So I’d be basically in line with James Dunn’s viewpoint. Now obviously, such a person would not be a saved person since they do not acknowledge Christ as their Savior; but still, as P. Long pointed out, they are “good” people, living better lives than some Christians even.

    Realizing this, we ought to be even less judgmental with people. It’s like Luke 6:42 – we judge people when we do the same things, and even worse things. Instead, Jesus said, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2). Too often we as Christians are hypocritical, as I also saw portrayed in “To Save A Life,” which I watched tonight. A good lot of the people in that movie were bashing on “losers,” passing drugs in church, and gossiping. It took the new Christian, Jake, to get their heads straight in line and show them that they were living a fake life.

  22. Most of the time in today’s society, it is easy to tell the difference between a loving person and a hateful person. It is also pretty easy to tell the difference between a morally/ethically correct person and a moral/ethical disastrous person. With this said, it is sometimes tough to decipher the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. I know way too many Christians that live nothing like it, as well as a lot of non-believers that are very loving, good people. This observation makes it somewhat tough to approach a lot of non-believers that are like this, because they are already content with their life, and do not see any difference between people that are in Christ. I believe that in the book of James, it points to the fact that just being a believer means nothing, but having faith in Jesus Christ and living like it as a Christian can be effective. “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:17-19).
    One point that Polhill made in response to Romans 2:1-16 was that judging someone for something they do that you may not will lead one astray. I watch myself sometimes in situations like this, whereas sometimes I almost feel like I am accomplishing something when I am more morally sound than another Christian I may know. It is another way of thinking that I and everyone else should definitely stay away from, as I see it in a lot of others as well.
    “One cannot escape judgment by judging others, by appealing to how much worse their behavior is than one’s own” (Polhill, 285).

  23. So I’m not sure who posted as me earlier but it definetly was not me. Now with that aside we can begin. P Long I like the Socrates example that you gave as someone who was considered a virtuous pagan. The fact that Paul says that there are moral and virtuous pagans does not mean that they are right with God either. They may have the law on their heart, but yet they have never heard the law it still does make them worthy of the inheritance of heaven. Just because the may keep the law without ever hearing it does not mean they have fulfilled it either. Only one has done that and it was Jesus. Polhill writes “Paul, of course, believed that no one in fact fulfills the law (3:9, 23).

    How would this affect our interaction with people outside the church? Well if we know that we have the common law written on our hearts then we all have a starting point for conversation. You can have discussions about where that moral law comes from and maybe even have them discover the same thing that we have discovered.

  24. When talking to my unsaved relatives i have found that their main objection that they have with Christians is that they are hypocritical. Sadly, for the most part I agree with them. Many Christians will llook don their noses at an unsaved person and judge them based on appearance. So many unbeleivers that I have talked to or heard about have went through one time or another when they have been r tby a Christian or a group in a church. This is pathetic. All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. While we were sinners Christ died for us. The only reason why we are better than unbeleivers is Christ, without Him we are nothing special. If Chistians as a whole grasped the concept that Atheists can be more ethical than Chrisitasn then maybe we could find some love and compasion rather than contempt. Maybe we could actualy show God’s love and mercy rather than putting up our own stumbling blocks.

  25. There is a lot of good discussion going on here. I had the same though Lauren did in that “moral pagans” seems like an oxymoron but it is entirely possible. i have a lot of Christian friends whom for the most part live a moral life. They live their life to the best of their ability according to the standards put forth in scripture. I also am not foreign to the fact that there are also Christians who choose to live a double life. They come to a place of worship once a week and once they leave that setting that go back to doing all these immoral things. I even know some non-Christians who have more morality than Christians do.

    Joe brings up a good point about our Christian minisitries here at Grace Bible College. I think this is a fantastic idea but I think it is immoral to have the mindset of “oh, this is just somehting I HAVE to do.” THis is when it becomes an issue when it goes from serveant leadership to some legalistic duty.

    I think a big thing that we as Christians struggle with is comparing us to other people. I find myself guilty of this more times than not. The devil uses the art of reasoning to open the door for us to stumble. We think as long as we are not that guy or were not nearly as bad as he or she is. That is not the point. The point is as much as we would like to compare ourselves to others, God want us to live our lives by looking to Christ as the chief example of how to live life.

  26. I like the issue and all the replies here. Looks like most people here seem to agree that there are moral pagans around us. I see them as well. I see them more especially in dissident media. They care about people in distress all over the world like in James 1:27. Perhaps some of them do not live completely away from ‘being polluted by the world’. They are often divorcees. They may be pro to same sex marriage. If the conscience of these pagans are not perfect as an equivalent of the Law in that it will be the ground for judgment in the last day to the pagans as much as the Law will, the result is still identical in that no man has been, and will be, saved by observing either one. The real point is that we the Christians must grow in conscience by participating in the distress of the world in the way that James teaches. If the conscience can be formed in ungodly pagans, can it be even more in the Christian. I think James shows the divine methodology of developing the good conscience in us. James actually implies where these orphans and widows came from (James 5).

  27. What happened to you Must Be Born again, and The LORD our Righteousness? What Happened to I will put My Spirit in you and caused to Follow my precepts. According to those passages, none of those things are True here? Have they ever repented and turned to the LORD? Are they their own saviors and salvation?

    • That there might be “moral pagans” does not mean they are “born again.” The point in Romans is that even if there is a Gentile out there who has someone managed to live a moral life, it is still not good enough to satisfy God’s righteous requirements, since all have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God (Romans 3:23).

  28. Who cares, though? The Christian god sends them all to hell even if they are striving to be good people seeking after God. Jesus judges you by your status as a believer, not by your character or your love for your neighbor, or faithfulness, since faithfulness has been made impossible. That would be “Lordship Salvation” and “Inclusivism” and it would jeopardize the whole church.
    If Jesus’ death on the cross for non-Christians actually saved them, evangelism would be about preaching love instead of joining the church. If you didn’t filter the rest of the Bible through Romans 3, the church would never build an empire.

  29. If you want to not be judgemental, throw away all Protestant and Catholic commentaries on Paul’s epistles and only let messianic jews, sweedenborgians, and greek orthodox churches interperet them for you.
    Anyone who teaches salvation by Belief Alone, exclusivism (that the Gospel is an ultimatum instead of a lense to make getting to heaven easier), believes that Jesus being the only way to heaven makes Christianity (but only their confession) the only way to Jesus (extra ecclesiam, nulla salus) doctrines, and many other evil traditions, are why we Christians are such a horrible, arrogant, judgemental collective.
    The Bride of Christ is a hateful, murderous woman. But I don’t blame her. The groom hasn’t sent her so mush as a postcard in the past 1900 years.

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