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What does it mean that the law is written on our hearts (Romans 2:15)?

law is written on our hearts

Can God justly condemn someone who is ignorant of the Mosaic Law? Paul says the answer is “yes”: “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (ESV).

In the book of Romans, there are several passages that seem to support the idea that ignorance of the Mosaic Law pardons sinful behavior. For instance, in Romans 5:13, Paul says, “Sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law” (ESV). And in Romans 7:7, Paul asks, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet’” (ESV). A reasonable inference is that God cannot condemn people who are ignorant of the Mosaic Law, but is that a proper conclusion to draw?

According to Paul, God can justly condemn people for sin because the “law is written on their hearts” (Romans 2:15, ESV). No, not the Mosaic Law, but God’s absolute and universal moral law. God’s moral law is manifest to everyone—both Jew and Gentile. Paul says, “The wrath of God is revealed from against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So, they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18–20, ESV). Creation, then, reveals enough about God to hold people accountable for sin and unbelief.

Gentiles may not have the Mosaic Law, but they naturally “do what the law requires” (Romans 2:14, ESV). How can this be? Again, they possess an internal awareness of God’s moral law. This makes them a law to themselves, even though they do not have the Mosaic Law. There are many unsaved people who believe that it is wrong to murder someone or commit rape or steal someone’s possessions or commit adultery. The list goes on. These things reveal that God’s “law is written on their hearts” (Romans 2:15, ESV).

Whether they are Jew or Gentile, God justly condemns people for sin and unbelief. He has provided sufficient evidence for His existence and righteous demands, yet sinners suppress the truth in unrighteousness. Those who suppress the truth cannot stand before God and say they were ignorant of it. No, they will all give an account some day: “The Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done” (Matthew 16:27).

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What does it mean that the law is written on our hearts (Romans 2:15)?
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This page last updated: May 1, 2024