Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:20)

For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Romans 2:13)

Righteous is the one who follows/doesn't follow the law?

  • Context. Romans 2 is about the normative general fact of justification. Romans 3.20 is about the new rule of justification under the new covenant, that is the christian faith which replaced the law. 3.20 is about the covenantal or religious justification in Judaism; whereas Romans 2 is about the general fact of how a man is counted righteous, even the Gentiles, by works/ obedience.
    – Michael16
    May 18, 2023 at 14:46

2 Answers 2


The word 'righteous' (and related words) are mentioned 44 times in the book of Romans in the NIV, and 41 times in the A.V. The translation used in the question is the NIV.

It takes several chapters in Romans to compare law-keeping with the futility of (vainly) trying to keep that law in order to be righteous. Chapters 9 and 10 are particularly important for that. The two verses in question are preparatory for that which is to come, with 2:13 coming first:

"For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified."A.V.

The point Paul goes on to make is that nobody can keep that law! Everybody fails to keep it. We all know personally that we have failed uncountable numbers of times to keep it during our lifetime. Even the rich young ruler who asked Jesus how he could live by keeping the law had it discretely pointed out to him that he broke the commandment by coveting riches. He did not want to give his great wealth to the poor in order to start following Jesus by picking up his cross, because he loved money. Did he love money more than he loved God? Jesus showed that law-keeping would not give him eternal life, and that love of money was a snare to this earnest young man (Mark 10:17-27).

Paul goes on to speak about "the gift of righteousness"; "even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 5:17 & 21). Not by our law-keeping. By Jesus Christ our Lord. The gift comes through him, not our attempts to work at, or to earn, righteousness. That we cannot do, given how Paul started the whole subject of righteousness by saying that "The just shall live by faith", and, "There is no-one righteous, no, not one" (Romans 1:17 & 3:10).

Now we are prepared for the second text in the question, just 10 verses after that last one I quoted: "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets" (vs. 20)

Continuing the line of reasoning, verse 22 explains, "Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference, for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." A.V.

Chapter 3 verses 20 to 24 answer the question. Those who are viewed by God as being righteous are those who do not strive to justify themselves by law-keeping, but are those who put faith in the gift of redemption that is in Christ Jesus.


Romans 2:13 and Romans 3:20 were not talking about how the law can make one righteous. On the contrary, it never did, no matter one follows it or not.

Let's first read Romans 2:12-14 NIV;

12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law.

13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law.

In this context, Paul's main argument is the law was not the key element to be righteous. It cracked the pride of the Jews of their self-righteousness for only themselves knew the law. Paul challenged the Jews, was there any good to them if they knew the law but not performing. Furthermore, if the gentiles works better then they were even though they didn't know the law? Should the Lord declare their righteousness? Obviously the argument in here is not about achieving righteousness by works, Paul was making a statement to the ignorance of the Jews who stubborn on sticking to the law.

Furthermore, the validity of Romans 2:13 has a prerequisite, which is well explaining in James 2:10, implying no one is capable to obey all thus no one can be declared righteous thru works.

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10 NIV)

Romans 3:20 begins with 'Therefore', so let's read from 3:19;

19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.

20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

In this context, Paul's main argument is the Jews was mistaken the law as a path to righteousness, on the contrary it is a consciousness of sin.

The common in both text is to tell the law did not shape one to become righteous. In between these two verses, Paul had made the quote;

As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; (Romans 2:10 NIV)

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