In this edition, let us examine a text in Paul’s letter to the Romans and determine if we may be able to learn a good lesson from Paul’s remarks.
When we perform a study on Paul’s letter to the Romans, especially the early portion of that letter, we see that Paul is demonstrating the sinfulness of the Gentiles and the Jews in chapters 1-3, climaxing with the comment made in Romans 3:23:
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
We can look in Romans 2 and see an interesting portion of the Scriptures that seems to be directed at some Jews who had developed some strange ideas about themselves and others, as can be seen in Romans 2:17-24:
But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? For “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” just as it is written.
Apparently, there existed many Jews who were highly knowledgeable about the Law and were confident in their faith. Unfortunately, these same Jews practiced the very sins that they condemned in others who were not Jews. How can this be? How could one who evidently knew the Law violate the Law by his actions?
The actions of these individuals may be better understood when we remember that God had declared that the Israelites were His chosen people. They believed that since they were God’s chosen people, whatever actions they performed would be justified by their status as Jews, regardless of what God spoke concerning whatever actions they performed. These Jews saw the difference between themselves and the Gentiles as referring only to ethnicity, not the way in which one lives. Paul soundly condemns this belief system, noting the words of God in the Old Testament that His name is blasphemed among Gentiles because of the actions of the Jews, and showing definitively later on in the chapter that God’s chosen people are determined by their obedience to Him, not according to Jew or Gentile.
Paul directed this criticism to the Jews because of their manner of living; this does not mean, however, that we as Christians may not gain some understanding by this example. The New Testament also speaks to Christians to avoid these very same problems. Let us first examine the words of Christ to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-5:
“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: ‘I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore remember from where you have fallen, and repent and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and will remove your lampstand out of its place–unless you repent.'”
We see that the church in Ephesus had reached doctrinal understandings and was able to stand up to error and remain steadfast. Their doctrinal understanding alone, however, could not redeem them: Christ rebukes them for having “left [their] first love,” demonstrating that in some way they had left the faith that had redeemed them. Therefore, we as Christians must remember that doctrinal veracity alone will not save us, as we must always serve Christ as He would have us serve Him.
We see this problem further addressed in Romans 12:1-2 and James 1:21-23:
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.
Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror; for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was. But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.
Paul and James both urge us to not merely give intellectual assent to Christ and His sacrifice for us, but to actively obey His will. We must not be guilty of teaching the truth while not living the truth, for this hypocrisy was prevalent amongst the Jews and was strongly condemned! We must always be found to be doers of the word, not just those who idly listen.
We have seen that the Jews were fooled into thinking that since they were the chosen people of God their actions were always justifiable. They neglected to see that God’s covenant with them was predicated on their obedience to Him– and for this reason countless Israelites from Moses to the time of Christ lost favor in the eyes of God since they did not obey Him as He desired. Unfortunately, this type of attitude did not end at the cross: many denominations teach the same type of doctrine, believing that one is saved merely on the virtue of being chosen by God, either through His direct predetermination or because one has at one point assented to believe in Christ. We have seen that the Scriptures do not teach this: we only are God’s chosen people if we do His will. Our individual relationships with Christ are a privilege, not a right. Let us constantly remember that we are not saved by virtue of our doctrinal fidelity nor because of any special status we may have, but because we obey our Lord Jesus, who suffered and died for us. We are not saved because we are God’s chosen people, but because we obey God so that we may be found to be His chosen people.
Ethan R. Longhenry