Thursday, August 03, 2006

"The Doer of the Law Who Will be Justified": Romans 2:13

13For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. - Romans 2:13


Hypothetical Statement?

In the Reformed tradition, verse 13 has been described as a "hypothetical statement", stating that people can be justified by doing the law or having good works if they could only obey the law perfectly, but since no one can, the only option is to be justified by faith.

Evidence of Being in Christ

Rather than verse 13 being a "hypothetical statement", I believe this verse is describing a true Christian, who by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit will be a "doer of the law" or someone who will produce good works. It's important to note that I am not saying that works will merit or earn justification, but it will be the evidences of our union with Christ.

Piper and Wright Quotes:


John Piper states:

"I think that when Paul says, "doers of the law will be justified," he means that there really are such people, and they are the only people who will be acquitted at the judgment. This is not a hypothetical statement. It is a statement of actual, experienced fact. When Christ comes into a person's life by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in the Gospel, that person becomes a "doer of the law." Not a sinlessly perfect law-keeper, but one who loves the law of God (= the law of Christ), and depends on God's help to live according to the truth (which now includes the cross of Christ and the work of the Spirit), and trusts God for his mercy when he stumbles (according to 1 John 1:9)." [1]

"Romans 2:13b says, "Doers of the Law will be justified." It does not say, "By doing works of the Law you will be justified." It simply says that the ones who will be justified are also those who are doers of the law. There is no causal connection asserted. So the verse is not a contradiction of Romans 3:20 which says, "By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified." There is nothing in Romans 2:13b that keeps us from believing in justification by faith alone. Faith is required by the Law, and faith is the sole means of union with Christ whose righteousness vindicates us at the judgment. All the other obedience that comes from faith is the fruit of that union, not the means of it. So Romans 2:13b is not a contradiction of Paul's teaching of justification by faith alone." [1]

[1] From Piper's sermon entitled "No Partiality with God" Part 2. See
http://www.desiringgod.org/library/sermons/99/013199.html


N.T. Wright states:

"This passage has often been read differently. We heard yesterday that Augustine had problems with it (perhaps the only thing in common between Augustine and E. P. Sanders). That is hardly surprising; here is the first statement about justification in Romans, and lo and behold it affirms justification according to works! The doers of the law, he says, will be justified (2.13). Shock, horror; Paul cannot (so many have thought) have really meant it. So the passage has been treated as a hypothetical position which Paul then undermines by showing that nobody can actually achieve it; or, by Sanders for instance, as a piece of unassimilated Jewish preaching which Paul allows to stand even though it conflicts with other things he says. But all such theories are undermined by exegesis itself, not least by observing the many small but significant threads that stitch Romans 2 into the fabric of the letter as a whole. Paul means what he says. Granted, he redefines what ‘doing the law’ really means; he does this in chapter 8, and again in chapter 10, with a codicil in chapter 13. But he makes the point most compactly in Philippians 1.6: he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus. The ‘works’ in accordance with which the Christian will be vindicated on the last day are not the unaided works of the self-help moralist. Nor are they the performance of the ethnically distinctive Jewish boundary-markers (sabbath, food-laws and circumcision). They are the things which show, rather, that one is in Christ; the things which are produced in one’s life as a result of the Spirit’s indwelling and operation. In this way, Romans 8.1–17 provides the real answer to Romans 2.1–16. Why is there now ‘no condemnation’? Because, on the one hand, God has condemned sin in the flesh of Christ (let no-one say, as some have done, that this theme is absent in my work; it was and remains central in my thinking and my spirituality); and, on the other hand, because the Spirit is at work to do, within believers, what the Law could not do – ultimately, to give life, but a life that begins in the present with the putting to death of the deeds of the body and the obedient submission to the leading of the Spirit."[2]

[2] From Wright's talk entitled "New Perspectives on Paul". See http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_New_Perspectives.htm

4 comments:

Classical Presbyterian said...

From my initial read of this--thanks by the way for posting it--it seems that the two are not very far apart on this one.

Could it be that the 'new perspective' stuff that Wright promotes has errors elsewhere in his system?

I confess that I have not had the time to read deeply into this controversy, as I've had other crises at hand, as you well know!

Guy said...

Thanks! This is great!

David said...

On my reading of this, Piper and Wright are actually making opposite points here.

It's perhaps not crystal clear here but it is clear in the manuscript of this recent Piper sermon on justification: http://www.desiringgod.org/library/sermons/06/080606.html

If it's at all valid to use this link as a clear statement of Piper's position which is also expressed above, then I think the difference between Wright and Piper on Rom 2:13 is this:

Piper takes faith in Christ/the gospel to be what makes you a do-er of the law and so to be justified ('Faith is required by the Law, and faith is the sole means of union with Christ whose righteousness vindicates us at the judgment. All the other obedience that comes from faith is the fruit of that union, not the means of it'); Wright takes the justification in view here to be an acquital on the basis of deeds done by the believer in the power of the Spirit. So whereas Wright says deeds are required by the law (and the Spirit helps us do them), Piper is saying faith is required by the law (and having faith in Christ makes us a do-er of the law). Piper says the verse does NOT say 'By doing works of the Law you will be justified', which I think is what Wright says it DOES say.

So in other words, and in line with the manuscript I likned to above, I think Piper is making the basis of justification the righteousness that Christ has in himself; Wright is making it the righteousness that Christ creates in us as we keep the law.

Regardless of whose exegesis is right here, I don't think they're saying the same thing... or am I misreading one of them/both of them?

dan said...

David,

You are right there are differences between Piper and Wright regards to future judgment and especially in regards to the imputation of Christ's righteousness. But the point of my post was that Wright's position on works in final justification is one of evidences that you are in Christ rather than merit. There's no doubt that Wright doesn't believe in Christ's imputed righteousness, but the point needs to be made that Wright doesn't believe that works earns final justification, but is the evidences of being in Christ.

Here's how I see it:


Piper's view of "final judgment" is "earned" by Christ's accomplishment of forgiveness and perfect obedience, in which our works will be the evidence of being in Christ .

Piper writes: In summary then: in the last day there will be a judgment. It will settle finally and publicly who enters eternal life and who doesn't. The verdict, "not guilty," at this judgment will be based on the work of Christ on the cross. The guilt of all true believers was carried by Jesus: "the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6). But that verdict will "accord with our deeds" - our daily lives will give evidence that we trusted Christ more than money and that we loved him more than the praise of men. [1]

[1] http://www.desiringgod.org/library/sermons/98/121398.html


Wright's view of future justification is "accomplished" (I don't think Wright would say "earned") by Christ's accomplishment of forgiveness and our works, which are the evidences of being in Christ, not the meriting basis.

The ‘works’ in accordance with which the Christian will be vindicated on the last day are not the unaided works of the self-help moralist. Nor are they the performance of the ethnically distinctive Jewish boundary-markers (sabbath, food-laws and circumcision). They are the things which show, rather, that one is in Christ; the things which are produced in one’s life as a result of the Spirit’s indwelling and operation. In this way, Romans 8.1–17 provides the real answer to Romans 2.1–16. Why is there now ‘no condemnation’? Because, on the one hand, God has condemned sin in the flesh of Christ (let no-one say, as some have done, that this theme is absent in my work; it was and remains central in my thinking and my spirituality); and, on the other hand, because the Spirit is at work to do, within believers, what the Law could not do – ultimately, to give life, but a life that begins in the present with the putting to death of the deeds of the body and the obedient submission to the leading of the Spirit."[2]

So my point was to show that both Piper and Wright believe works is the evidence of being in Christ, never the thing that merits salvation. Well, that's how I see things.


Thanks for your thoughts,

dan