June 6, 2012 – Devotion Sharing (Romans 2)

Submitted by Ken H. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 2
Analysis of the Text

After having painted in broad strokes the history and condition of humanity, Apostle Paul turns to the Jews in chapter two, and demonstrates that the Jews, who were privileged in many ways, were no less sinners before God.

Think about what this text says about:

        Privilege, arrogance and delusion in the Jews’ relationship with God

In Romans 2, Apostle Paul addressed those Jews who “pass judgment on someone else” (v.1) out of their sense of pride and privilege in their relationship with God as God’s chosen people, not realizing that this special status is not a license for them to ignore the reality of God’s judgment on all men based on men’s sinfulness.  The Jews were wrong in thinking that their outward manifestation in observing the law and through circumcision, made them superior to the Gentiles and immune from God’s judgment on them as they committed sins in their lives and in their hearts (v.25).  Therefore, Paul was not sparing in his assessment of the Jews’ misunderstanding and delusion about their condition, pointing out that their “stubbornness” and “unrepentant heart” were “storing up wrath against [themselves] for the day of God’s wrath” (v.5).  Furthermore, the Jews’ mere intellectual knowledge of God and His laws were not guarantee of God’s favor on them; in fact, such knowledge, without actual obedience, condemned the Jews as deliberate lawbreakers (v.27).

        God’s kindness and His judgment

God’s kindness, tolerance and patience (v.4) toward man should not be confused with the reality of his judgment on man that is based on truth (v.2) and man’s deeds (vv.6, 8-9).  God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience give opportunities to man for repentance (v.4), not license to continue in his stubbornness and unrepentant heart, which results in judgment.

        Human pride, stubbornness, and repentance

Paul’s analysis of the Jews’ false sense of security and pride reveals to us how easily it is for us to feel prideful and have a false sense of privilege out of mere intellectual knowledge of God’s laws, without learning to relate to God and his laws properly through actual obedience (v.13).  Mere knowledge and self-identification as the “righteous people of God” lend themselves to a self-righteous attitude.   Such prideful attitude and false sense of security makes it very difficult to have a truthful assessment of one’s standing before God, and can make us downright stubborn in refusing to acknowledge our sinfulness before God.  It is a dangerous place to be, because even though God is so rich in his kindness and patience toward us, our stubborn and unrepentant heart can completely shut out God’s patience and kindness at all, refusing to respond to God’s great desire for us to turn from our ways.  Ultimately, it is difficult for a prideful heart that refuses to listen and respond to truth to be receptive to God’s mercy.

        The law written in scripture and the law written on hearts

The law and instructions given to us through the scripture are both necessary and beneficial for us to live lives that honor and are obedient to God.  At the same time, God has also given us “the law written on hearts,” which is our conscience, that bear witnesses to and reflect God’s laws, so that we may also live lives that are in obedience to God’s will when we are able to listen to our conscience’s promptings.  Therefore, man has no excuse when he acts in disobedience against God’s will and boundary, for both his conscience and God’s laws testify against him.

Personal Application

This passage reveals to me how wrong and conceited I am when I confuse what I do for God as my righteousness before God.  As a staff member serving at our church in some capacity, I can be like the Jews described in Romans 2, having a false sense of security when I take comfort in my identity as a staff member and become pleased with myself from my status as a staff member or from participating in ministry.  This kind of attitude can be particularly prevalent when I compare myself with other Christians who appear to be less active with ministry.  Like the Jews who look down on the Gentiles because the Gentiles were ignorant of God’s written codes from the Old Testament, I can sometimes have this proud attitude from the back of my mind that I am all right before God, and that God is perhaps quite pleased with me from the things that I have done for him, while completely ignoring my foul character and the sins in my life.  The unmerited and irrational pride is conjured up within me to probably mask or delay the necessity to deal with my sins and character, as well as to hide a genuinely insecure personality that is afraid–fearful that I am somehow not measuring up to a standard created not by God but by my own competitive human heart that desires praises from men rather from God.  Hence, I feel the need to look down on those who appear to do less and to want to make myself feel better.  Such act is ultimately an act of futility as well as an act of self-deception.  I know that God’s grace is not to be merited by any human performance, for God’s grace is free and available to all human hearts that acknowledge their need for forgiveness, yet I can be trying so hard to earn human approval that ultimately does not save, but only divorces me from really connecting to God’s kindness and mercy.

Verses 19-20 of this chapter reads: “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 infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?”  Paul is using these verses to describe the Jews of his time, but these verses very well apply to ministers today who are filled with their own sense of self-righteousness, who teach based on pride and sense of superiority rather than a genuine compassion and love toward the lost souls.  One who ministers without proper motivation, one who serves without a genuine acknowledgement of his own sinfulness before the foot of the cross, will only be breaking God’s law himself—“God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (v24).

Whenever I feel any ounce of pride, any inkling of pleasure that arises from my flesh due to my service or from human recognition, I need to remember the stern warnings served to me from Romans 2.  These words are mirrors to my true condition, my vainness and my pride.  A life of allegedly serving God and serving people, teaching and instructing others will amount to nothing if they are done out of a desire to please my own ego and as a vehicle to feel superior to others.  Such heart is a heart that must be circumcised, cleansed, and humbled by God’s words, so that my life can be placed by God into its proper place.

Submitted by Carmen H. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church

Romans 2

–        Privilege, arrogance and delusion in the Jews’ relationship with God

The privilege of the Jews includes possession of the law and the circumcision tradition. Because of the Jews’ relationship with God (v. 17), they bragged about it and thought that they were superior to the Gentiles. Apostle Paul points out that it is not their history with God, their cultural connection with the law, circumcision tradition or regulations that give them superiority. God is pleased with the one who obeys. Apostle Paul points out that these privileges are meaningless unless the law is obeyed (v. 7, 10, 13, 14, 25, 27, 29), and that God will judge people according to what they have done. Apostle Paul points out that everyone will be subject to judgment. There will be trouble and distress for everyone who does evil, first for the Jews, then for the Gentiles, and glory, honor and peace to those who do good, and God does not show favoritism. (vv. 8-11). The privilege for the Jews does not prevent them from facing God’s judgment.

–        God’s kindness and His judgment

Often God is described as compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love (Ps. 103:8), yet His patience and grace can be taken for granted, as Apostle Paul points out (vv. 4-5), “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath…”

As the Jews are passing judgment on others, Apostle Paul is saying that they are hypocrites for breaking the law just the same way the people they are judging, but he points out that God’s judgment is based on truth (v. 1), and we will all be subject to God’s judgment at the end of our lives (v. 5, 8-11). Both the Jews and the Gentiles will face judgment and God will judge people according to what they have done (v. 7). Even though the Jews have a special history with God, nevertheless they will face judgment. To those who by persistence seek glory, honor and eternal life, there will be glory, honor and peace. To those who are self-seeking, rejecting the truth and following evil, there will be wrath and anger (vv. 7-8).

As judgment is certain and end is certain, Apostle Paul calls us to not take God’s kindness and patience for granted. God gives us the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience today; this should lead us to repentance today. Those who repeatedly hears the law, yet disobeys (v. 4, v. 13) are those who are showing contempt for God’s kindness with their stubbornness and unrepentant hearts. (v. 5) How will God judge at the end? V. 16 says that God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ. As we are all condemned either apart from the law or under the law, Jesus Christ is the only good news.

God’s kindness, patience, tolerance demands a response: either repentance, or stubbornness and no repentance–showing contempt for God.

–        Human pride, stubbornness, and repentance

Human pride is reflected in the Jews’ response to God’s laws. The Jews built their pride on possession of the law, their history with God, and the tradition of circumcision (vv. 17-18). It is so silly for the Jews to feel superior to others in that way and to give themselves the right to judge (v. 1), yet they themselves break the law and are unable to fulfill the law.

–        The law written in scripture and the law written on hearts

While the Jews claimed superiority because they were given the law written in scripture, Apostle Paul dismisses their groundless pride because he notes that they break the law, while those who do not have the law obeys the law written in their hearts. God’s moral laws are true, and each sinner will perish and be judged (v. 12), either apart from the law or under the law. Apostle Paul closes the chapter showing that obedience to the law is not an outward, physical matter, but a matter of the heart (v. 29) and is moved by the Spirit.

Apostle Paul points out that Gentiles who do not have the law do by nature the things required of the law and it shows that the law is written on their hearts, through their conscience and thoughts. It brings to mind how universal and true God’s moral laws are. Even without the written code, there is a sense of right and wrong. While the Jews placed their sense of significance through their relationship with God, Apostle Paul elevated the value of Gentiles as he recognizes that they too, without the written laws, have the moral guidance written on their hearts. Jews and Gentiles alike are created in the image of God and God has placed his law in our hearts through our conscience, as we all have the moral compass.

Personal Application

One clear personal application for me is as a Christian I have been given privileges similar to those of the Jews. Apostle Paul challenged the Jews that circumcision has value only if they observe the law.  v. 28 challenges me to evaluate my heart before God. All my “Christian service,” meager attempts to be faithful, studying of the Bible, trying to obey God to be generous and loving is meaningless if it only builds up “spiritual pride” and think that I am okay before God with all these claims. Even as I know judgment is based upon all that I do, according to Apostle Paul’s description, those who “by persistence in doing good, seek glory, honor, and immortality, will be given eternal life,” I am aware of all the ways in which I fall short–I am not persistent, I am often fickle and fleshly in my desires.  Instead of seeking God’s glory and honor, and immortality, often I find myself to be self-seeking, to seek own glory and honor here in my short time on earth. Each day, instead of receiving God’s judgment, I receive grace and mercy, and this truth is God’s invitation for daily repentance.  My role is to obey God, of course, but more than that, to grow in my love and appreciation for God’s grace for me. This text is a reminder of God’s wrath and the judgment I deserve, but also to bring me to greater appreciation for God’s love for me.

In what ways can I show contempt for God’s kindness? With a stubborn and unrepentant heart. How would anyone become this way? I know I was stubborn and unrepentant when I “felt” I was entitled to more in life:  financial security, happy marriage and children, even a good and admirable Christian character. Yet the reminder of what my sins deserve brings me to reality again, and how can I have such a demanding attitude toward God? As I reflect about this, I can understand the riches I have in God’s kindnesss, patience and tolerance that I do not deserve. My life is filled with gratitude instead of a sense of lack and entitlement. Circumcision is not that outward act of dutiful obedience, but that transformation of my heart from a heart of lack and anxiety to a thankful heart toward God, and this is the gospel that Apostle Paul poured out his life for. As Apostle Paul shows in v. 16, God judges men’s secrets through Jesus Christ. As I will never fulfill the demands of the law, apart from the law or under the law, I can only claim Jesus to be my Savior, and this is what leads me to a repentant and grateful heart, not the entitlements that I demand.

It’s pretty amazing that Apostle Paul makes the observation that while the Jews have the written law, the Gentiles have the law written in their hearts through their conscience and thoughts, leading to the conclusion that there is a universal moral law and that Jews and Gentiles alike are equally valuable before God.  As I got to present my testimony to my nonbelieving family, I shared about how I came to my own conviction of sin, and they agreed the innate sense of inadequacy and expressed interest in the existence of God. Our conversation moved to the reality of sin and death, beyond our thin veneer of politeness and accomplishments. We all agreed that we cannot take our wealth with us when we die and life is more than our accomplishments, our lives are judged by what we do, what kind of person we are. While we all have the same standards, we all fall short of it and in need of the Gospel.

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