FIRST THE DIAGNOSIS
“Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know His will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth – you, then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s nature is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” Romans 2:17-24.
Ouch! This is quite an indictment; and a perennial problem! James had to address the same issue in his letter.
“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” James 1:22.
But as it was then, so it is still true now.
Both Jew and Gentile were guilty before God for ignoring God’s holy standards.
Paul has already concluded that the Gentiles were guilty before God. Because of their indulgence in debauched behaviour, they chose to disregard God and make their own gods who would indulge their behaviour because they were just like their creators. The problem with the Gentiles was their lust after the flesh.
On the other hand, the problem relating to the Jews was a problem of self-deception spawned by pride. “You have to understand the difference between having the law and obeying the law,” Paul told them. “Being the proud recipients of God’s standards is not enough if you don’t obey them.” The law he was talking about, for the Jew was both the moral and the ceremonial law. The moral law was the expression of God’s character. The ceremonial law was intended to flesh out the moral law in their everyday lives and to develop a culture of understanding to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah.
The Jews despised the Gentiles because they were not part of God’s covenant people. They had not been rescued from Egypt by God’s mighty power and they did not receive God’s law. As far as the Jews were concerned, Gentiles were the scum of the earth and, like lepers, tax collectors and prostitutes, they were classified as untouchable “sinners”.
To the Jew, what Paul had to say was shocking. They, the Jews, were just as guilty before God as the Gentiles because, though they boasted about having God’s law, they did not obey it. In fact, some of the Gentiles were better than they because, without even having God’s law, they obeyed it because it was written into their consciences. No person on earth can be excused because he does not know right from wrong. Even if people don’t know the finer details of the law, everyone knows that it is wrong to lie, kill, steal, and commit adultery. They have a conscience which is aroused when they do these things.
Paul is not advocating that either Jew or Gentile can keep God’s law so perfectly that they will be found not guilty when God judges. Even if people are able to keep the letter of the law, what about what goes on in the heart? Jesus made it clear that actions begin with thoughts; behaviour is the end result of what had already gone on in the heart.
Where is this leading? It was not Paul’s intention to make people feel bad and then leave them there. He was painting a dark picture of humanity to prepare them for something really big that God has done to solve the problem. Every category of people in his day had to understand how hopeless their case was outside of God. He dealt with each group separately to show them the nature of their guilt.
Gentiles – idol worshippers; guilty because they refused to acknowledge God and went about setting up their own religion and following their own rules which led them eventually to reverse all God’s moral standards. Jews – equally guilty because they did not obey the laws that God had given them for righteous living. On top of that, they were proud and arrogant about their covenant relationship with God which did not actually benefit them because it was only on paper and not in their lives.
And the end result? Helpless and hopeless without God’s intervention!
The people of today are no different. We may not do what the Gentiles or the Jews did then, but our hearts are the same. The world is full of religions invented by people who refuse to acknowledge God and have created gods of their own who are to their liking so that they can continue their lifestyle without being accountable to the Creator. The tragedy is that they become just like the thing they worship.
But before we can apply the remedy, we must know the problem…
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