“For 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;” (Romans 2:12)
No one has an excuse for their sin. The most secluded and primitive individual is no more justified before God than is the hypocrite who is aware of right and wrong.
“(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” (Romans 2:13)
The next three verses are parenthetical to what was spoken in verse twelve. These verses are here to expound upon the truth given in verse twelve. Having knowledge of God's law does little for a man if that knowledge does not affect the heart and the hands. Anyone can hear truth, but the one who applies it through repentant faith will be the one whom God declares righteous. The verb translated shall be justified, means to declare righteous. God will clothe, with His righteousness, all those who will acknowledge their sin and flee to Him for forgiveness.
“For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:” (Romans 2:14)
The character and essence of law's nature is being emphasized in this verse. A literal translation will quickly bring out this emphasis. “For when Gentiles, the ones not having law (general principles of law emphasized), by nature the things of the law (God's specific written law) might do, these, not having law (principles of law emphasized), to themselves are law (principle of law emphasized).” Not every nation has God's ten commandments in front of them; however, every nation to one degree or another has a code of conduct that shares the same law-based principles of God's written law. The Jew does not have the monopoly on God's law. God gave His written law to Israel, but other peoples of foreign nations often operate according to the same principles upon which God's ten commandments were written.
“Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)” (Romans 2:15)
This unwritten law is the conscience which God has given to every man. The conscience is designed to give man some awareness of right and wrong lest he be hopelessly beyond conviction. The conscience cannot deliver. It is a goad not a redeemer. When a man becomes convicted by his conscience because of wrong behavior, he is exposed to the fact that he is a sinner who has broken God's law. Everyone has been given a conscience; therefore, all are accountable before God.
“In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.” (Romans 2:16)
This verse goes right along with verse twelve. If the parenthetical verses were removed for a moment, the main thought would read, “For 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;...In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
Christ's second coming seems to be in view. Over and over, the glorified Savior is pictured as having eyes as a flame of fire. In the Scriptures, fire often depicts judgment. No man's works are hidden from the all-seeing eye of God. Christ knows the deeds of everyone, and He will judge every lost sinner according to God's truth. Paul says that this truth of coming judgment is “according to my gospel.” Paul preached the love and forgiveness of God, but he also preached the wrath and judgment of God. He did not fail to make it clear that judgment day is coming. A gospel that will not make the lost sinner aware of coming judgment is just as lacking as a gospel that shuns to declare God's love.
By this point, the moral man has been left without a leg to stand on. The heathen man is condemned, but so is the moral hypocrite who would view himself as good.