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.)Romans 2:14-15
The verses for today are at once very hopeful verses and also very confusing verses. It’s exciting for a few reasons. First, I’ve long struggled with whether people could be saved, even if they weren’t, say, born into a Christian household or a heavily Christian geographical area. Today, Paul seems to be suggesting that everyone has a type of law written on their heart. And that law bears judgment one way or another on the person.
So what does that mean? If someone lives on a faraway island and has never even heard of Jesus Christ, does that mean he can still be saved, if only he listens to his conscience? That’s kind of weird, but also kind of cool. It’s kind of cool, because it gives us hope that these brothers and sisters may share in the eternal glory, even though they were born into some hardship.
But wait…that would also be weird as all get out. And confusing. And a little bit problematic. Didn’t Jesus say, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.” ??? Would that imply–no, overtly state–that you kind of need to know who Jesus is to go to heaven? Could it just be that the law written on the hearts of man is in itself a representation of Jesus Christ, so anyone who follows that law of their conscience knows Jesus, and therefore will receive eternal life? I think that’s a plausible explanation for today’s passage, but it takes us so far afield from a traditional understanding of the gospel that this hardly even feels like Christianity any more. How do you have Christianity without the Christ? (Not to mention the line that I remember Ravi Zacharias once saying, “In some cultures you love thy neighbor and in other cultures you eat thy neighbor.” So how in the world are we supposed to pretend like a person’s conscience has some salvific significance for them? That doesn’t make a ton of sense.
So instead let’s look at some other explanations, even as we consider that thousands of years of church doctrine may be wrong. Maybe you don’t even need Christ to be a Christian after all (in which case we can just throw out like 90% of the New Testament).
What might it be?