Exposition of Romans 2:26-27, We will reap what we sow

The Bible repeatedly teaches that people’s deeds deserve more attention than their words. For example, Jesus said, “Whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them — this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12, HCSB).

When Jesus taught the parable of the merciful Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), he made clear that behavior that pleased God was not the exclusive preserve of the Jews. But they did not take the point. Are we doing any better?

(ESV) Romans 2:26-27

So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.

These two verses are harder than they look. Thomas Schreiner presents the issue like this: “Is the obedience of the Gentiles (1) hypothetical, (2) the obedience of those who have responded to the light they have received, or (3) the obedience of Christian Gentiles?”[1] Clearly the case involves both Jews and Gentiles who have some knowledge of the Law of Moses, including the well-known rite of circumcision.

Douglas Moo takes view (1) by saying, “Paul’s way of putting the matter in this context could, of course, suggest there actually are people who meet this requirement for salvation, but his later argument quickly disabuses us of any such idea (cf. 3:9, 20).”[2] Many agree with Moo out of concern that no basis be granted for salvation based on human works rather than on God’s grace.

But such theological considerations may be taken too far even though they are motivated by sound doctrine. Schreiner, joined by C.E.B. Cranfield,[3] takes view (3) that Paul is speaking of believing Gentiles:

The Spirit’s work on the heart logically precedes the observance of the law by the Gentiles. Autonomous works are rejected, but works that are the fruit of the Spirit’s work are necessary to be saved. Paul is not speaking of perfect obedience, but of obedience that clarifies that one has been transformed.[4]

I join Schreiner’s conclusion by way of view (2) leading to (3). Some among the Gentiles respond to what they know about God: examples include Rahab (Josh. 2), Ruth (Ruth), Cornelius (Acts 10), and Lydia (Acts 16:14). God responds to such people with more of his light and grace. Like Abraham, David, Paul and many others, these people are not perfect, nor did any of them keep the law in every point. Instead, what happened to them is exactly what is described in Rom. 2:26; they were regarded by God as belonging to the people of God. This is an act of God’s mercy and grace.

The Greek verb (logizomai) translated “be regarded” (2:26) occurs nineteen times in Romans. In 2:26, the verb logizomai means, “as a result of a calculation evaluate, estimate, look upon as, consider.”[5] Schreiner analyzes the form of logizomai used in 2:26 in the following way: “The future tense of [the verbal form] implies that such a reckoning will occur on the day of judgment, while the passive voice intimates that God does the reckoning.”[6]

Because of God’s act of reckoning [logizomai], what we have in 2:26-27 is not salvation by works but salvation by God’s gracious dealing with those who seek him. Consider these verses:

(NET) But to the one who does not work, but believes in the one who declares the ungodly righteous, his faith is credited [logizomai] as righteousness (Rom. 4:5).

(ESV) Whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him (Heb. 11:6b).

In his conclusion (2:27), Paul returns to his theme that Jew and Gentile stand before God on the same basis; circumcision and law make no difference unless one adds faith that leads to obedience.

The fix is not in

God is paying attention to our actions because his judgment is not whimsical. His judgment is based on reality and truth. Paul says: “Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows” (Gal. 6:7, NET).

1. Think in detail about the activities of your life over the last three days. How would God assess each of the actions you have taken?

2. The fact that all of our deeds are judged impartially affects what we believe, how we worship and whom we consider to be believers. For example: no one will go to heaven simply because they believe in the trinity or because they are Baptists or Roman Catholics or because they are nice people. Discuss the implications of this idea.

Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord, will enter into the kingdom of heaven — only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21, NET).

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1998) 139.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 171.

[3] C.E.B. Cranfield, The Epistle to the Romans, The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T.&T. Clark Limited, 1975) 173.

[4] Schreiner, Romans, 145; see 140-145 for the entire argument.

[5] BDAG-3, logizomai , look upon as, q.v.

[6] Schreiner, Romans, 141.