Paul continued to speak about how mankind, both Jews and Gentiles, is judged by its deeds.
Romans 2:12-16 (KJV)
For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;
(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves:
Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another;)
In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.
In verse 12 Paul compared "those without law" and "those in law." This is another way of comparing Jews and Gentiles. The Gentiles were without the Torah, while the Jews had the Torah. Paul related that the Gentiles would "perish without Torah" and the Jews would be "judged by Torah." Although some have tried to say that Paul was alluding to the Jews having a higher responsibility than the Gentiles (that the Jews are the only ones who need to continue to observe Torah), or that the Gentiles could be saved because of their lack of knowledge about the Torah, these statements do not tell the complete truth. Let's go on for the moment.
Paul made a parenthetical comment in verses 13 through 15, and would return to his main statement in verse 16.
Paul added to the principle of justification by works in verse 13. He stated that those who only hear the Torah, but who do not DO the Torah would not be justified. How many supposed Christians sit in our churches hearing the Word of God on a weekly basis, but then go on to live lives in opposition to God's Word and never find this a problem?
In verse 14 Paul clarified his statement in verse 12. When Gentiles, who are ignorant of the Torah, conform to the Torah, they are a law unto themselves. Then in verse 15 Paul further stated that much of what is in the Torah is written in the hearts of the Gentiles (actually Jews, as well). When their inner Torah is disobeyed, their consciences bear witness against them, which becomes the standard for judging one another.
Paul was saying that just like the evidence of Creation, the conscience has been given to man to cause him to turn to God. Also, the conscience has been given as a means for all mankind to understand, to a certain degree, right from wrong. Yet, the Gentiles, who are accountable for the law written on their consciences, will still perish because they violate their consciences and the law written therein. The Jews, on the other hand, will be judged by the Torah and will be found guilty of violating the Torah.
We are held responsible for the degree of our understanding of God's Torah. Those, for example, who have never heard of Yeshua, will be judged based on what is understood in their inner being. But before we believe that ignorance is blissful salvation, we need to understand that Paul has also been building a case that everyone either violates Torah directly, or that inner conscience.
Paul then ended his statement by saying that "in that day" (either when someone trusts in Yeshua as Savior or in the final judgment at the end of the age), God will judge the secrets of men by Yeshua according to the principles he had been describing.
It should be noted here, that Paul's differentiation of mankind into Jews and Gentiles leaves much unsaid, since there are Jews that believe in Yeshua and those that don't. There are Gentiles that believe in Yeshua and those that don't. The unbelieving Gentiles are the ones that are judged by the inner conscience. Unbelieving Jews are judged by the Torah. But what about believers of both stripes? Paul's differentiation definitely referred to the intitial states of the Jews and Gentiles before the coming of Yeshua. However, when the Jewish or Gentile believer in Yeshua is considered, doesn't that change things? Why doesn't Paul speak about them?
Based on Paul's statements, Paul considered knowing Torah to be the highest state of the understanding of right and wrong. When Jew or Gentile comes to belief in Yeshua, there is no higher Law. Some say that the Law of Christ is higher as evidenced by the Sermon on the Mount, but nothing Yeshua ever commanded was different in intent to the Torah. God's standard has always been perfection. So, if we are judged by our understandings (that are evidenced by DOING), we will all be judged somewhere along the continuum that begins with the conscience and ends with the Torah. And although we, all, are guilty, believers have the assurance that we are saved based on Yeshua's righteousness and His perfect fulfilling of the Torah. However, let's be very careful, that any supposed ignorance of Torah is not based on rebellion and a refusal to DO as God has commanded. That was also Paul's warning.