By Clinton D. Hamilton
The question posed below did not reference any Scripture but presumably it is based on one. Accordingly, my response will be based on the Scripture which I believe was in the mind of the querist that suggested to him the question he raises. The question is one that is often asked and appears to capture the interest of many people.
Question: What if the “habitual practice” of a people or society is that of divorcing and remarrying, and they think it is acceptable, won’t God then judge then on the basis of that knowledge and their “habitual practice”?
Response: Romans 2:14-15 may be the passage undergirding this question. In the response, I am making this assumption. Accordingly, my comments, observations, and arguments should be interpreted in the light of this assumption.
The referenced passage reads as follows: “(for when Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are the law unto themselves in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them)” (ASV). Phusis is the term from which nature is translated. In this context, it refers to a habitual practice handed down; evidently, it came from the tradition that can be traced back through those who did not have the law of Moses. This would be the non-Jewish segment of the human family. The querist probably commenced with this assumption and moved to the deduction that men who accept such will be judged by it and not by the norm of behavior set forth in New Testament teaching on the marriage and divorce issue.
A general principle is laid down in verse 11: “for there is no respect of persons with God.” The first three verses of the chapter tell the Jews that they cannot escape the judgment of God because they were recipients of the law. If they practice what ungodly Gentiles did which God condemns, then they condemn themselves and should not think that they can escape the judgment of God. Paul then contemplates a judgment by God that makes a distinction between the righteous and the unrighteous (Rom. 2:4-10). Those that sin under the law will be judged by the law, those that sin without the law will be judged without the law. Note these verses: “For as many as have sinned without the law shall also perish without the law; and as many as have sinned under the law shall be judged by the law, for not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Rom. 2:12-13). Several salient points appear to be appropriate. Two groups of people will be judged: Jews and Gentiles. No respect of persons applies, because the Jews were given the law will this fact not aid them nor will the fact that Gentiles did not have the law of Moses work against them. It is the doers of the law that will be justified whether Jew or Gentile.
But in judging both groups God takes into consideration their situation. From Adam, there had been revelation from God relative to sacrifice, marriage, murder, etc. This revelation was handed down from generation to generation. To the Jews God gave the special revelation of the law of Moses but he left the Gentiles with their tradition and habitual practice. Their lapse into idolatry and other forms of ungodliness was inexcusable (Rom. 1:18-21). On the other hand, Jews were guilty of similar sins. Their being Jews would not protect them from thejudgment of God for their ungodliness.
Another point needs to be kept in mind: it is doing the things of the law that matters (Rom. 2:14-15). There is not contemplated here the situation which is set forth in the question: individuals doing what the law of God condemns. In this connection, note especially verse 14. Judgment is to be meted out according to Paul’s gospel, by Jesus Christ (Rom. 2:16). Whether we understand every-thing about it is not the issue. The gospel states that this is the case.
Jesus makes clear by what we will be judged: “He that rejected me, and receiveth not my sayings, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I spake, the same judge him in the last day” (Jn. 12:48). Likewise, Paul is clear on the point when he says, “The times of this ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent: inasmuch as he hath appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by the man whom he ordained, whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31).
Paul set forth in Romans 2 how God would be just and no respecter of persons in the final judgment, looking at all mankind both Jew and Gentiles. To Gentiles in Acts 17 Paul pointedly said that they will be judged by the law of Christ. Were Ito know everything about the judging of the Jews and the Gentiles who lived before the law of Christ, I would be as God. I do not propose to put myself in that position. But it is my responsibility as a child of God by faith to believe what God has revealed. He told me how he is going to be just and no respecter of persons. I believe what is revealed. No one who violates the law of Christ can do so with impunity.
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 17, p. 5-6
September 2, 1993