It’s good to be back here and writing again. When I left in January, we’d finished the first 11 verses of Romans 2. Paul described how despite the Jewish people’s judgment of the Gentiles, they too would join them in judgment, seeing as they did the very same things they condemned the Gentiles for. Every one of us will one day stand before God, on His terms (v. 11).
Today, we’ll finish chapter 2 and begin chapter 3. Paul uses these verses to destroy any hope we have of saving ourselves, and to highlight our inability and the law’s inability to save us, setting the stage for his proclamation of the gospel in 3:21-26.
“For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”–2:12-13
The Jewish people had this idea that because they had heard the law, were circumcised and Jewish, they were right with God. They were completely fine with having a copy of God’s Word, but failed to acknowledge the many ways they failed to keep it.
In the same way, those who are quick to justify themselves before God and before man today so easily look past or dismiss their sin because they are “religious.” Some of the meanest people in this world attend church faithfully. Some even read their Bibles and even tithe regularly.
Groups like Westboro Baptist Church are “religious.” They attend faithfully and read their Bibles, flawed and heretical as their interpretation of it may be. Harold Camping, who predicted the world’s ending a few times, had pored over the Bible, seeking answers to a question even Jesus, out of submission to the Father, does not know the answer to. These people are far from God, but they most certainly are not far from their Bibles or their churches.
Religion does not save us. It never has and never will. That way of thinking was prevalent in Paul’s day, just as it is now. The Jewish people thought their outward trappings of religion would save them, yet, they failed to keep the very law they boasted in. This boasting in the law is as foolish as thinking that boasting of how you know the speed limit to the officer who pulled you over for breaking that speed limit will save you from a ticket. Knowledge, in this situation, doesn’t absolve us of guilt, it only condemns us more.
“For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”–2:14-16
What about Gentiles, Paul? Gentiles who did not have the law will still be condemned by it, as their outward actions show a basic, innate knowledge of right and wrong. This is our moral nature. Some of my good non-Christian friends are “good” people, from a worldly perspective. They may not be godly people who love Jesus, but they’re friendly, nice, hard-working people I would trust to babysit my (future) children.
Here’s where the truth of total depravity comes in. We are completely unable to save ourselves, thus, we need Jesus. Yet, we are not as bad as we could be, praise God, for if we were, we’d have killed everyone around us by now. Those who do not know God are still at times capable of obeying God’s law, as accidental as it may be. That “good” does not save them, nor does it make up for their sin, as our “good deeds” outside of Christ are nothing but filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
So what does this mean for us? Regardless of whether you’re Jewish or not, you stand no chance of being justified under the law. While Gentiles at times obey the law, more often than not, they, along with the Jews, disobey and dismiss God entirely.
“But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”–2:17-29
By now, it’s becoming clear what Paul’s trying to get across: Your religious works don’t measure up. You can attend church faithfully for 100 years, memorize the entire Bible, be the president of a seminary, pastor a church, lead mission trips and even post on Facebook how much you love Jesus, never failing to “Share if you love Jesus,” and still spend eternity in hell because none of that saves you.
In fact, relying on the law makes you less likely to see your own sin. Paul writes, the Jews would often speak out against the very things they were doing. A reliance upon the law creates a sort of pride which keeps us from being able to see our own sin, instead covering that guilt by condemning others.
Hell. That’s what a lifetime spent chasing God’s favor through religious works, depending on external fixings as opposed to a Savior, will get you. The Jewish people thought being Jewish, being circumcised and simply knowing and having the law of God saved them. They thought the outside was good enough, though their inside was rotten. A quick glance at their lifestyle would reveal that despite all of their outward expressions of faith, they failed to live up to the law they boasted in, as do we all. All of those religious activities mentioned in the previous paragraph cannot make up for our lawlessness and godlessness, and they cannot atone for our sin.
“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written: “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.”–3:1-8
Again, Paul hits at this idea that being Jewish brings some sort of spiritual advantage.
Indeed, the Jewish people had the word of God, as he writes in verse 2. They had all the reason to obey God, yet they did not. They were faithless.
Paul addresses a common complaint launched at his ministry. He teaches the wonderful truth that despite Israel’s faithlessness, God remained faithful to saving sinners. Some argued that because of that, Christians ought not worry about obeying God. Some even questioned, as we read here, how God could judge anyone if sin only existed to act as a juxtaposition to His faithfulness.
Yet, Paul writes, God is a God of judgment, and He will judge the world. While God is faithful and gracious in the face of our sin, we are not absolved so quickly of our responsibility for it.
“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”–3:9-12
“Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”–3:19-20
So the Jew isn’t saved by being Jewish. They fail to obey the law they boast in, their outward religion doesn’t measure up to God’s standard and they, despite God’s grace toward them, fail to be the men and women God’s called them to be.
What about the rest of us? For space purposes, I didn’t include verses 13-18 of chapter 3, but, Paul makes it abundantly clear that no one, regardless of ethnicity or outward appearance, is right before God in and of themselves.
You are not good enough. You are not able to save yourself; you do not deserve God’s love, and all anyone on this Earth has ever deserved is hell. That’s not fun to write; it’s not fun to say and it certainly isn’t fun to apply toward my own life. Yet, it’s the truth. We have all spurned God and decided we can be a better God than Him. Even children disobey their parents, breaking one of God’s commandments. That doesn’t mean God doesn’t love you, nor does it mean we don’t have an obligation to treat all people with respect. But when it comes to our vertical relationship with God, and whether we have earned eternity with Him, the holy, perfect, sovereign God…the answer is a hard no.
You are not different than anyone else when it comes to your ability to please God through the law. You boast in it at your own peril. We are all in desperate need of a Savior, because none of us measure up. None of us is good enough to earn salvation, but praise God the role of Christian pastors, preachers, teachers and writers isn’t to point people to their own goodness and make them feel better, but to direct their eyes to the cross, where a sinless Savior, Jesus Christ, died in their place so they can trust Him, who alone is worthy of worship.
There is one who is good enough. There is one who kept the law perfectly that we might be saved. There is one worthy of our praise, and if you trust Him to save you and be the Lord of your life, you can, on His merit, be with God, who loves you enough to send Jesus to die on your behalf, forever. Far be it from me to comfort you because of anything you’ve done, but it is a great privilege to write about how great He is and what He has done.
Trust Jesus today.
Next week, we’ll examine Paul’s declaration of the gospel, and dive further in to what Christ has done for us.
Lord, may we remember that we deserve nothing before you. May we remember that your law crushes and condemns us. May we remember that we are sinners in need of a Savior, and may we thankfully remember Jesus, who suffered and died that we may live.