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Romans 2:5b-10

God, 6 ...will repay everyone according to his works: 7 eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works, 8 but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness. 9 Yes, affliction and distress will come upon every human being who does evil, Jew first and then Greek. 10 But there will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good, Jew first and then Greek.

Paul goes on to say that everyone has sinned and is in need of salvation (Romans 3:23), but doesn't the above passage state clearly that those who persevere in good works will receive eternal life? And that "there will be glory" for everyone who does good, regardless of their faith? How does this square with the dominant teaching of Paul elsewhere, that eternal life can only be obtained through faith in Christ's sacrifice?

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    The glaringly obvious conclusion is that those who are (genuinely) of faith will live in accordance with that faith and they are the ones who will persevere in good works and endure (by faith) in such till their dying day. I fail to understand why there would be a question at all, here.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 8, 2023 at 10:43
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    As I read it, "God will repay everyone according to his works" refers to non-believers as well as Christians. So does "there will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good." But your parenthetical modifiers do explain how this can be reconciled with Paul's usual doctrine. The problem is that this is not the plain sense of the text. Dec 8, 2023 at 17:14
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    I am supplying parentheses from other scriptures. No doctrine should ever be compiled based only on one text. The 'plain sense' of this text can only be understood within the context of the entirety of the word of God. And there will be glory, honour and peace for everyone who does good. Of course there will. But man, by nature, does not and cannot do such. It requires regeneration and faith to love God and to serve God. And, thus to do good. For nothing else, and no other motive, is 'good'.
    – Nigel J
    Dec 9, 2023 at 7:26

5 Answers 5

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The OP asks whether Romans 2, verses 5-10 “state clearly that those who persevere in good works will receive eternal life?” While the work may be ours, it is important to understand that the good in “good works” can only come from God. Paul quotes the Psalmist to say that man is not capable of doing good (Rom 3:12). Therefore, "good works" are those that flow from faith and reflect the goodness and glory of God (cf Mt 5:16)

Romans 2:7 should be taken within the broader context of the epistle to the Romans, a major theme of which is that God does not distinguish between Jew and Gentile and that faith does not belong to a privileged few. There is the faith that is born of Scripture, but there is also a knowledge of God that can be perceived through God’s creation (Rom 1:19-20) and of his law through what is written in the human heart and conscience (Rom 2:13-15).

Romans 1:19-20 LSB

19 because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, both His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.

Threaded throughout the epistle is the underlying idea of faith as an evolving reality (see latter part of Meyer’s commentary on Rom 1:17) – from something that begins as natural and instinctive (Rom 1 and 2), to one that is bound by the letter (Rom 7), and finally to that which is born of the Spirit (Rom 8).

Romans 1:16-17

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

For each and every person, at each and every stage, it is the righteousness of God that guides us and the power of God that saves us. All that remains is for us to persevere.

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    I upvoted this as a good explanation. But I still wish Paul would have said what he meant clearly. Dec 16, 2023 at 16:13
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    Paul's argument is confusing in part because of the disproportionate amount of ink he expends to make the case for the righteousness of faith. But Paul is addressing an audience for whom it is a given that God will judge the actions of men (cf Rom 3:5). As Rom 2:7 shows, he is not contradicting that point, only countering a fundamental misunderstanding about the relationship between faith and works by meticulously explaining how good works are not a requirement but a product of faith.
    – Nhi
    Dec 17, 2023 at 4:46
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This is a constant theme in the NT -

  • “… but he that endures to the end shall be saved.” Matt 10:22, 24:13, Mark 13:13.
  • “We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.” Heb 3:14
  • “And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” (Heb 3:6)
  • “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel.” (Col 1:22, 23)
  • “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test [= stood firm], that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12)
  • “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you.” (1 Cor 15:58),
  • “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day …” (2 Tim 4:7, 8),
  • “being strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” (Eph 6:10)
  • “So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.” 2 Thess 2:15
  • “To the overcomer I [Jesus] will give …” (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26, 3:5, 11, 12, 21)
  • “But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:25)
  • “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal 6:9)

To this list could be added many more such the "hold on" texts, 1 Tim 1:9, 3:9, 6:12, 2 Tim 1:13, Heb 3:6, 14, 4:14, 10:23, etc; and the overcomer texts such as Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26, 3:5, 12, 21.

All this instruction is a consequence of two factors:

  1. Good works only come from God (via the Holy Spirit), Eph 2:10
  2. Jesus predicted that His followers would be persecuted and have many troubles; John 16:33, 1 Cor 7:28, 2 Tim 1:4, Heb 13:12, 13, 1 Peter 2:21, 4:14, 5:8, 9, John 15:13, 20, 21, Eph 5:2. This is confirmed in the OP's text of Rom 2:9 - Paul confirms that Christians will have affliction and distress.
  3. Eze 18 teaches that it is the way we end and not the way we start that is important

Thus, saved Christians need to persist, endure and hold to the faith, etc, and in so doing, continue in good works. That is, continuing in good works is direct consequence of holding to the faith, and enduring.

Finally recall the famous instruction in Eph 2:8-10

For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance as our way of life.

The other side of this same "coin" is what Paul describes in the next verse:

Rom 2:8 - But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow wickedness, there will be wrath and anger.

That is, in these two verses of Rom 2:7 & * we may conclude:

  • maintaining the faith or persevering we do good works and obtain eternal life
  • those who do not keep the faith and do not persevere and reject the truth, end up following wickedness, ie, do not do good works but have unrigheousness.
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  • I am not questioning that Paul and the NT generally teach salvation by faith... I am wondering how Paul's statement about God granting "immortality through perseverance in good works" relates to that. Dec 7, 2023 at 21:56
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    @DanFefferman - that was the point of my (clumsy) answer above - good works come from God and if we hold onto our salvation, we continue in good works. See 1 Tim 6:18,
    – Dottard
    Dec 7, 2023 at 22:44
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    It seems to me Paul is laying a foundation for the Christian teaching of grace, but here he talking about judgment under the Law. But in doing so, his words indicate that God will grant eternal life to those who do good even apart from faith. Dec 8, 2023 at 1:09
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    I don't equate "dong good" with sinlessness. That's one of the reason I asked if Paul meant what he wrote. Dec 8, 2023 at 13:44
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    Sadly, many do in fact equate "doing good" with sinlessness, believers as well as non-believers. People tend to zero in on your sins if you are trying to do good and that your present as well as past sins cancel out any good works you attempt to perform. Might as well just sin all the more so grace will abound, since it's all about grace.
    – moron
    Dec 9, 2023 at 0:53
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God may grant eternal life to those who do good, not by their faith in God, but by their hearts, consciences and thoughts, with the condition that these people did not know God. They would be judged not by the law, but by their own hearts, consciences and thoughts.

Romans 2:12-16 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. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

However, in Romans chapter two, Paul did not intended to discuss this subject. He saw the Jews despising the Gentiles, thinking they had the Lord's favoritism. Paul argued that if the Jews had the law and were not able to comply with it, they would be inferior to the Gentiles who didn't have the law but are able to work it out in their hearts. Paul used the Gentiles as a counter-example to the wrongful thoughts of the Jews. In Romans 2:11, he said, "For God does not show favoritism".

Although Paul did not intended to discuss this subject, he should have believe that it is possible. Otherwise, his argument would be illogical, for a negative argument cannot overrule a positive argument.

Most importantly, Romans 2:7 is not referring to those who know God, but to those who did not know God but were capable of working out the law from their hearts, consciences and thoughts. Whether there were such valid cases, let God be the judge.

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  • Vincent, are you saying that God will grant eternal life to non-believers in Christ Jesus on the basis that they do "good deeds"? Or have I misunderstood your answer?
    – Lesley
    Dec 8, 2023 at 8:59
  • @Lesley - you misunderstood my argument. These people I was referring to are not 'non-believers'. 'Non-believers' are those people who know God/Christ but choose not to believe. In my argument, these people did not know God/Christ until their death. Paul's argument is that these people/Gentiles did not know God/Christ, but they could live a life in according with the law through their conscience. This is in contrast to the Jews, who were given the law but were not capable of following it. Note Paul's argument here is an inference. He didn't provide an example to validate his argument. Dec 8, 2023 at 14:13
  • Jews who knew God and tried to live in accordance with the Law were doomed to failure because they could not keep God's Law perfectly. That is why trying to live according to God's Law condemns because only Christ Jesus was capable of perfectly keeping God's Law. So Gentiles who did not know God and His Laws but lived a life in accordance with "the law" are not condemned? Romans 2:12 says: "All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law." Forgive me for being so slow on the uptake. I'm not tryingto be argumentative. I'm just struggling to understand your reasoning.
    – Lesley
    Dec 8, 2023 at 15:00
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    @Lesley - I struggle with reading the scripture too but I don't mind argument. In fact I like it as a brainstorm. You may consider the opposite argument to Romans 2:12, "All who fulfill works apart from the law will be saved apart from the law". Romans 2:11 is a crucial statement: "For God does not show favoritism", meaning that God will not use the same standard of the law to judge those who don't know Him. This is the argument Paul wanted to say. The Jews think that God is favor to them over the Gentiles. Paul is saying that there is no such favoritism. Dec 8, 2023 at 15:46
  • @Lesley - it is worth noting that while it is possible for a Gentile to be saved by works, it is not an absolute guarantee. I think Paul just provide an inference, but he does not want to bring in another topic that he knows depends on God's will. Dec 8, 2023 at 15:51
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The answer is simple and straightforward. Paul means what he says in Rom 2:7: God will grant “Immortality through perseverance (ὑπομονή) in good works”. (It is highly unlikely that the Holy Spirit will inspire Paul, an Apostle of Christ, to write something he didn’t mean in the Scripture!)

But, this will happen only after we do the Will of God!

“For you have need of patience (ὑπομονή), that having done the will of God you may obtain the promise” (Heb 10:36). And the promise is “eternal life/immortality” (Tit 1:2; 1 John 2:25).

But we cannot do the Will of God unless we know what that Will is. And how do we know the Will of God?

“By reading the Scriptures you learn how God wants you to behave (His Will), and you discover what is right” (Rom 2:18; CEV).

Scripture Distinguishes between Converted and Unconverted

The unconverted general world does not know the Will of God and hence they cannot do the same, i.e., the good works!

The Unconverted

“The first man is out of the earth—earthly…….. as is the earthly, such are also the earthly……. we bore the image of the earthly” (1 Cor 15:47-49).

“The one who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks about earthly things” (John 3:31)

What is the problem with “earthly”?

“this wisdom is not descending from above, but earthly, physical, demon-like” (James 3:15).

“For those who are according to the flesh, mind the things of the flesh” ……… For the mind of the flesh is death, ……….because the mind of the flesh is enmity towards God; for it is not being subjected to the Law of God, for NEITHER CAN it be. And those being in the flesh are NOT ABLE to please God” (Rom 8:5-8).

“But a natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he is not able to know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14).

The above all Scriptures are clear, straightforward and self-explanatory. They talk about the physical, natural, unconverted, un-evangelized world that cannot do any real “selfless” good because it is “enmity” against God. It cannot be subjected to the Will of God expressed in His spiritual Law. Spiritual things are all foolish things to it!

The Converted

“the second Man is the LORD out of Heaven; ………. and as is the heavenly, such are also the heavenly; ……….. we will also bear the image of the heavenly” (1 Cor 15:47-49).

“He who is coming from Heaven is above all……….. He speaks the sayings of God” (John 3:31,34).

What is so special about the Heavenly?

“But the wisdom from above is firstly truly pure, then peaceable, forbearing, yielding, full of mercy and of good fruits, not partial and not pretended. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for the ones making peace” (James 3:17-18).

“But you are not in flesh, but in Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone has not the Spirit of Christ, this one is not His……………. for if you live according to flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the practices of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (Rom 8:9,13-14).

“But God revealed them to us by His Spirit, for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God……………. So also no one has known the things of God except the Spirit of God. But we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit from God, so that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God……….. But the spiritual one discerns all things, but he is discerned by no one” (1 Cor 2:10, 11-12, 15).

As can be seen from this, it is clear that there is a vast difference between the unconverted world and the converted world; like the North Pole and the South Pole!!

Conclusion

The unconverted general world cannot on its own do “selfless” good (obey God’s spiritual Law) and come to God.

It is always God who takes the first action and convert an unbelieving mind (John 6:44,65). The converted person then responds and obeys God by doing good works (keeping the spiritual Law)!

It is to these converted believers that Paul is saying God will grant “immortality through perseverance in good works”.

But it is NOT “regardless of their faith” as the OP mentions; it IS through their faith they receive immortality.

Whether they are Jewish Christians or Gentile Christians, God will deal with them in faith.

“since it is one God who will justify circumcision (Jewish Christians) by faith, and uncircumcision (Gentile Christians) through faith” (Rom 3:30).

“But without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb 11:6).

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Paul is not an Evangelical Christian, neither an extreme Agustinian and nor, God forbid, a Kalvinist! He has a healthy theology and does not contradict himself a tiny bit: when he speaks about salvation through works, he does not mean of course the ritualistic and censuring ("You shall not...") works of Law, but works of faith that implies a human synergy with divine grace, that is to say, human co-operation with the divine operation in him (Cf. 1 Cor. 3:9 "θεοῦ γἀρ ἔσμεν συνεργοὶ"). This synergic work is not available to non-Christians, but only to Christians through faith.

However, this synergic work is necessary for salvation, for one can and must grow in God, that is to say, in divine grace/operation, and more and more intensely cultivate divine operation in oneself, because, as in the famous parable of the talents, if you do not increase the talent (i.e. a portion of grace) given to you by God, then it will be taken away from you and you will receive a divine punishment for the self-destructive and grace-destructive idleness (Matthew 13:12).

Thus, although salvation is impossible without God's grace/operation within us, still our efforts are just as necessary, for grace/operation of God does not save us automatically, so to say, but the very term "salvation" entails the synergy between our free disposition + decision to follow God and divine grace working in us.

Otherwise you will get either a stingy heresy of the mad Jan Kalvin, who said that both salvation and loss of man depends on divine inscrutable caprice, or a generous heresy of Origen, who says that no matter how recalcitrantly sinful a man, in the final apocatastasis all sinners, demons included, will be restored to the initial blessed status.

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  • No need to enquire why the downvote. Reference to "the mad Jan Kalvin", with the idea that God should forbid anyone to be so identiifed, displays an unpleasant tone and use of language. You could tone it down without much effort, but will you?
    – Anne
    Dec 18, 2023 at 14:06
  • @Anne Thanks for feedback. If somebody says about Roger Federer that he does not know how to play tennis and all his titles are bought by money, this person will not even be a slanderer but a plain idiot; how much more so a person saying that Christ creates some people specially with a vile purpose of leading them to eternal damnation! Christ who wants all to be saved! It is a calumny on Lord of an infinite scale, or rather a madness unhinged from all hinges of reason and even elementary kindness. Worse of all such a sick-minded weirdo called himself a noble name of “ theologian”. Dec 18, 2023 at 14:56

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