Romans 2:7 states, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.” Taken alone, these words seem to indicate works are required for salvation and eternal life. However, examined within their larger context and alongside many other biblical passages, it becomes clear that salvation is solely a gift of God by grace through faith.
The conclusion of Paul’s arguments in Romans 2 focuses on a changed heart that leads to changed actions. Romans 2:28–29 emphasizes true, spiritual conversion: “A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.” The believer is one whose heart has been “circumcised” by the Spirit; this person is right with God, whereas someone physically circumcised, according to “the written code,” may or may not be born again. The contrast is between the righteousness that comes by faith versus that which is sought through the Law. Romans 2:7 mentions the righteous acts that result from having a changed heart; our godly actions are evidence of our salvation, as James, John, and Peter also discuss in their letters.
Paul’s words in Romans 2:7 cannot be considered apart from what he writes elsewhere in the same letter. Paul pointedly defines salvation as a free gift: “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. . . . All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:22, 24). Later, he says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
Romans 2:7 does not teach a works-based salvation. Such a “gospel” was anathema to Paul (see Galatians 1:6–9). In all his epistles, including Romans, Paul makes the case that salvation is not received by works that we do:
• “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law” (Romans 3:20).
• “For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law” (Romans 3:28).
• “However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness” (Romans 4:5).
• “And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace” (Romans 11:6).
The repeated theme of Romans is salvation by God’s grace through faith. Paul’s other writings emphasize this theme as well. Ephesians 2:8–9 is a good example: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” Other New Testament writers, and Jesus Himself, demonstrate that salvation is a gift of God and not something earned through our works (John 3:16–18; 6:28–29; 1 Peter 1:3–9; 1 John 3:1–5; 5:1–12).
The biblical message is clear: salvation is not by works but by God’s grace, and it is received through faith. Romans 2:7 does not teach salvation by works; rather, it sets up a contrast between those who are changed by God’s grace and live for Him and those who reject His salvation and truth (verse 8). In Romans 2:7, those who “by persisting in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality” are those who have genuinely trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation, by grace through faith.