Scripture: Romans 2:12 – 29
When I was a young man I knew all the doctrines of by heart of the Salvation Army, I read the “orders and regulations” for the soldier of the Salvation Army, I refused to drink any alcohol for I was a good soldier of the Salvations Army. I fought those who would say the Baptism and Communion were important parts of Christian life and practise, after all I had a spirituality separate from such ritualism, as I dressed in my uniform and sat below the flag of the Salvation Army every Sunday.
All who would oppose our 9th doctrine of “continuance in a state of salvation through continued obedient faith in God” best have the courage for a long battle.
In this identity I found value and importance, a sense of being just that little bit more than others at times – not that I would say it, but it did feel good.
In training college, we had a very senior member of the Salvation Army speak to all of us preparing to become Officers of the Salvation Army calling us the “Cream of Salvationism”. By this stage the shine had fallen as I realised the movement and myself were nothing more than broken symbols of the religious influences we stood for.
In my arrogant distasteful ways, I had allowed the sin of the Jewish Christians influence my younger days. The superficial and the façade had become more important than the Vertical and Horizontal realities of what is true faith reflecting our Lord’s life towards the street I lived on.
Today we are looking at this error of inconsistent and elitism religion, and the false understanding of faith that creates this in us. Turn with me too
Point 1: The error of the superficial. (vv 12-16)
Romans 2:12-16 (NIV) 12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. 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.) 16 This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.
Paul introduces here what is a very controversial thought that would have annoyed the Jewish Christians. Think about it like this - they had:
Abraham as their founding father.
The prophets from old who belonged to them.
The great kings of old who God rose up.
The Old Testament.
The Holy of Holies.
The sacrificial system.
The Law of Moses.
All theirs to claim, given by God to this sacred people called apart by God as a special people separated from all other nations. Such a position of honor and prestige. And here Paul simply says:
Romans 2:14 (NIV) 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.
Can you imagine Paul turning around comparing the Jewish nation to the Gentiles and stating that these pagans from their own conviction can be equal before God when they do what they believe to be right?
God is not impressed by outward performance, nor religious superiority. He holds no favours towards any one based upon their belief about themselves – as said last time “For God does not show favoritism.” (2:11).
Sin is judged equally under the law, or without it. And this is the issue here, can anyone claim to have never broken the law of God?
Do not gentiles and Jews all tend towards evil behaviour – is not greed, hatred, war, idolatry, lust and the like natural to those under the Law as it is to those outsides of the Law?
What right does the Jewish brother or sister have in exalting themselves merely based upon culture and tradition?
Religious rite cannot cover the reality that all sin, and all are judged by the Law, but not the ritual aspects of the Law. It is rather the “secret” place, the inner person, the motivation, believing, being, thinking and emotions of a person – this is the ground that God places his plough on to break open the hardened heart to see what is really going on in the soul of humanity.
The Jew is judged by their breaking of the Law of Moses, and the pagan will also be judged for they too have a moral code that can reflect God’s Law given to Moses, and so stand under that weight of judgement.
Think of it this way, by looking at our own society. We have civil laws that society believes governs good social behaviour, and though we are now very secular it remains still wrong to steal, abuse people, murder or damage property. Even the most primitive tribe has laws that show the ‘requirements of the law’ in how they live together and have natural laws guiding behaviour.
In his book “The Law of Primitive Man: A study in comparative Legal Dynamics.” Adamson Hoebel (Published by Harvard University Press 2009) makes this observation after studying many primitive tribes and their laws:
“International law, so-called, is but primitive law on the world level….”
All our basic moral laws can be seen throughout history and most cultures as nothing more than society reflecting conscience through social norms and moral restraints – as Paul said:
Romans 2:14 (NIV) (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.)”
Proclaiming some degree of elitism based upon the reception of the Law, and then looking down one’s nose as if superior, is pointless when even the gentiles from pagan lands can live by the same moral code through their own moral sense. The Law exists not to promote one person above another, but to show all are judged by the same law – God’s perfect standards.
A Jew who breaks the law knowing it is exactly the same as a Gentile who breaks the law not knowing it. A Jew who obeys the law knowing what it is, is as a Gentile who obeys God’s law and does not know it. The reality is all break the law so why are the Jewish Christians believing they are superior.
Jew or Gentile – no matter who or what culture – all are participants in the fellowship of sin.
Superficiality is evil as it creates elitism based upon the surface reality of what is presented – God looks at our motives, our desires, our lying to ourselves, or pretences and our secret thoughts and at this level we all stand as Adam and Eve after they sinned, naked and hiding from the gaze of God.
Point 2: The error of the facade. (v 17-24)
Romans 2:17-24 (NIV) 17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; 18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Have you been around Christians who look so good on Sunday with blessings and love spilling out wherever they place their feet, but in the middle of the week they are nasty and deceptive?
A few years ago, a ‘Christian man’ invited Tania and myself to a meal with his family. On Sunday he came across as a strong Christian man who seemed gentle and kind. He engaged in conversation and was respected in his fellowship as a good Christian business man. We arrived for the meal and shared a great time with them for a while.
As the meal went on he started to criticise his wife and tell us her faults in front of us, and I watched as her head lowered and her smile changed to a grimace. I asked his daughter what she wanted to do and she said her dream, he then launched into her saying that he knew what was best for her and as long as she lived under his roof she would do it his way.
Not long after this some folk came to my shop I owned, they knew I was a Christian businessman and so they asked if I knew this man, I said I did – within minutes they told me of how he failed to do the job they employed him to do, how he sent a non-qualified person to do the work but still charged the top rate and how when they challenged him on the poor job that required another qualified person to fix it he launched at them and even swore at them.
What a façade he put on to look as he wanted in one environment, but in another to get what he wanted.
This is the picture Paul is giving here concerning the arrogance and façade of the Jewish people elevating themselves above the gentile believers. Paul lists the qualifications these Jews felt evidenced their superior spirituality and favour before God – they were, simply put, seen in their own eyes as a superior example.
Paul deals with them very quickly by pointing out their failings:
It is easy to misunderstand what Paul means here. Certainly, if I condemn someone for have sexual relations out of marriage and I have never done this, surely that makes me more moral and spiritual than them, doesn’t it?
Let’s examine the Prophets here with regards to this one issue to understand Pauls point. Ezekiel 16 speaks of Israel being chosen by God as a bride set aside by him for a special relationship, to be faithful to Him and He to her. But over time she decided to become unfaithful to Him, and to chase after the ways of the pagan nations. In the section we read the following ideas:
Ezekiel 16:10-14 (NIV) 10 I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. 11 I adorned you with jewellery: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, 12 and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. 13 So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen.
Ezekiel 16:17 (NIV) 17 You also took the fine jewellery I gave you, the jewellery made of my gold and silver, and you made for yourself male idols and engaged in prostitution with them
Ezekiel 16:26 (NIV) 26 You engaged in prostitution with the Egyptians, your neighbours …., and aroused my anger with your increasing promiscuity.
Here is the picture of Israel being adulterous by rejecting all God had given them, and their promise they made to God, as they perused the riches, power and getting “into bed” with those who had no desire to know the Lord and serve him. In doing this they had become spiritually prostituted to other influences. And this is even worse than sexual immorality for it is to “slap” the face of the creator of the universe.
The Jews claimed to be elite, superior, due to their having the Law, yet their history evidences they have no right to this superior attitude. We are offended at the person who is unfaithful to their spouse, yet we white wash our own spiritual adultery – and this is done without thought.
Now, these Jewish Christians would claim superiority to the Gentile Christians by saying how they were given the Law by God, yet relying on the Law for Salvation or Moral superiority is to degrade the Cross and all the Work Jesus did on the Cross – once again being unfaithful to God while elevating themselves above the cross. No one saves themselves by declaring a superior work or merit. They built a “Babel tower” where they elevated themselves and then simultaneously worshipped themselves.
And what about us?
Can we claim superiority in any way?
Do I steal? Do I give time, resources, energy or passion towards God as he deserves?
When I fail to be kind, loving, merciful, just, true and good towards others am I not failing to reflect the Lord I claim to serve towards others?
When I put television above worshiping God, caring for my wife or husband’s needs, neglecting the struggle of my children or simply wasting too much time losing the ability to think for myself or study the Word of God am I not an idolater?
If I fail to live towards God and towards others simultaneously am I not hypocritical and living like a facade?
Do we not all break the Law of God knowingly or unknowingly regularly in deep spiritual ways?
As Paul puts it:
24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Our facades do something more significant than just show us up, it hurts the name of God. It degrades the Lord before the court of the Gentiles who look at us and judge our God on our example and life style. And in this we break the law that says “Do not use the Lord’s name in vain” for we cast His good name to the ground and walk on by.
As Jesus chased those who would use his temple to exploit others in the name of religion we too need to have our inner temple cleansed to allow the facades to fall and we become outward what we claim inwardly – where the horizontal and the vertical work consistently reflecting our faith to others as we worship God.
Conclusion: Our praise must come from God. (vv 25 – 29)
Romans 2:25-29 (NIV) 25 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26 So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27 The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker. 28 A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 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.
God expects consistence within His children. Such consistency is not based upon elitism and superiority, but on living lives reflecting grace, mercy, hope, truth, care and concern towards those who walk the street with us.
Such a person whose faith is expressed genuinely, who lives that honourable life as expressed last week, is the life that receives praise from God. Can you imagine God praising us for the life we live vertically and horizontally?
Go to Matthew 25 where Jesus talks about the judgement to come in the parable of the Talents. Each person who had lived their lives consistently as they were required by the master of the household were given commendation and praise by the Lord of the home. As verse 21 says:
Matthew 25:21 (NIV) 21 “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
It is our desire to bring joy to God, to hear Him being well pleased with us. Such a life rejects the superficial and the façade. It seeks a genuine expression of faith that is genuinely based upon the love of God and expressed simultaneously in care and concern for others.
To live my external reality consistent with the faith I claim to hold is to have the smile of God upon my life. Not arrogantly pointing the figure, patting myself on the back and holding myself up superior to others, but to recognise that before the Law all stand broken and lawless, but in Jesus I stand forgiven by his good work and his kindness towards me – and for this I am grateful by allowing my faith to spill out upon the street I live in making small but significant impact towards the kingdom of God we so eagerly wait for.