The Old Testament makes it clear that God appeared to men like Abraham and Moses, that God gave Israel the written Law and the Tabernacle worship, and that God sent prophets who spoke his word to them. So, it is clear Israel knew what God wanted, because he told them. But, what about the rest of the world? What about the non-Jewish people called the Gentiles? God didn't appear on Mount Sinai and speak to every culture, race, language and society! How do they know what God wants? How do people know what is right and wrong? Is there things that are absolutely wrong in every culture for every age? And, if people do not know or if right and wrong are different for every culture, how can we say God will ultimately be able to judge all mankind?
This is the subject Paul is addressing in Romans 2:14-16. Paul says that even the Gentiles naturally do things required by the law. In all cultures it is not considered right to steal, to murder, to destroy your family through disobedience to parents or abandoning your wife and children. Indeed, these things happen in every culture, including Jewish culture, but that doesn’t mean that culture considers these “sins” good, wholesome and right.
Paul says that because men universally know what is right in certain areas of morality, ethics and social expectations mankind is showing:
“that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts.”
Just like birds know when to migrate, so men know what is right or wrong in these general areas. God has established right and wrong, and God has then written that standard on the heart of every man. Because these requirements of the law are written on their hearts man’s conscious will at times defend his actions and at other times that same man’s conscious will accuse him of the wrong he has done, just as Paul writes:
“Their consciences also bearing witness and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”
Remember, Paul is talking about non-believing Gentiles in these verses. He is not talking about Christians who have been born-again and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. These people and the subject of the believer’s renewed mind and the ministry of the Holy Spirit will be a topic discussed by Paul later in this book.
Because, there is an absolute standard of right and wrong it is possible for Christians and unbelievers to live productively together in the same culture and even interact supportively of the same political agenda. Because of our universal Creator we can share universal values.