At the time of the Reformation, when some reformers became frustrated with what seemed many times to be a lack of improvement in the moral quality of the lives of their people, they began to question infant baptism, because baptism apparently had little effect on the people as a whole. For the same reason, some would also question the Lord’s Supper. Because of human rejection of God’s grace, they questioned God’s gracious gifts. What did they turn to instead? The law, just like the Roman Church they had battled against did. They confused law and gospel. They allowed human wickedness to nullify God’s goodness.
Circumcision was a powerful sign and promise given to Israel, but circumcision was of little value if it wasn’t received in faith, because a promise is only received in faith, and only faith can see what is not apparent to the human eye, that is the power of the sign and the grace behind it. Circumcision was a powerful sign and promise, but it was also a purchase. God now owned that person. He adopted him as his child of the covenant. If it became apparent the circumcised man persistently lived as a child of the devil instead, then it became apparent that Jew had rejected his circumcision and could only return to it through repentance. God’s promise was not nullified. It was rejected. That is a significant difference. If you refuse a check from a friend, that promise of money is not nullified; it was rejected. The check is still good, but it does not benefit you, since you refused it. In the case of our text, many Jews had rejected circumcision by treating it like magic, making it a law they kept to merit salvation, imagining that the act of circumcision was an automatic ticket to heaven, even if it was not received by faith.
In Colossians, St. Paul writes, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.” You, like many men and women, have been baptized. Many have rejected their baptism, so that it does not benefit them unless they return to it in repentance. They have rejected baptism, but they have not nullified it. You have been baptized. You have received a powerful sign and promise, marking you as God’s chosen, marking you as his own. Do not, like the Jew, trust in your baptism as a magical thing, as a law you have kept that merits salvation, as a law that you have kept for your child that merits salvation so that you no longer need to raise them in the faith by teaching them everything whatsoever the Lord has commanded. Baptism saves, but, through it, the Holy Spirit creates and strengthens the faith that receives its benefits. It is an outward act attached to inward faith. You have been baptized. You cannot nullify this fact, but you can reject it. And, if you do, not blame God’s gifts. Blame yourself, and despair of yourself, and return to those gifts you rejected, because while you can reject them, you cannot nullify them.
What made the Jew different than the Gentile ultimately led to the Jew’s temptation to arrogance and pride: God had revealed his will most fully to the Jew. Thus, the Gentiles were “the nations,” for that is what Gentiles means, while the Jews were “the nation,” the chosen people. But why were they chosen? It was not because they were more holy, more inclined to godliness, better suited for obedience, or closer to the image of God. No, they were chosen to produce the Savior of all nations. They were chosen in Christ, not in themselves. When they failed to remember this, they were given to the hypocrisy and double standards St. Paul condemns here.
We are tempted to the same thing as God’s chosen people in Christ, as the New Testament Israel. How often don’t we condemn in the world and in others what we secretly harbor and desire in our own hearts? How often don’t we forget that what sets us apart from the unbeliever is not our personal holiness, inclination to godliness, suitability for obedience, or a closer proximity to the image of God in and of ourselves? No, we are set apart only in Christ, and when we forget that, when we find room for arrogance or pride in our own flesh, when we fail to see our value in Christ alone, then we have lost Christ and become no different than the “Gentiles,” the unbelievers upon whom we look down.
God has revealed his will most fully to us, but, in so doing, he has also exposed our failure to live according to it. See your value in Christ. Recognize your own weakness, lack of personal holiness, inclination to ungodliness, resistance to obedience, and contrast to the image of God. Recognize these things so that you despair of them in yourselves and find them in Christ, through his blessed gospel. You are chosen. You are holy. You are godly. You are obedient. You are being restored in the image of God. Why? You are in Christ. With this attitude, we will battle the temptation to look down on others and we will be motivated to instead share with them where they too can find what they cannot find in themselves, how they too can go from being lost to chosen. We will point them to Christ, or, better yet, without pointing they will know where to look as they watch our own eyes, fixed on what is not ours on our own but is ours through faith in this Savior.
The law here is the Law of Moses, civil (for Israel’s government), ceremonial (for Israel’s worship), and the moral (for Israel’s life, i.e. the Ten Commandments). The Gentiles had not been given the complete Law of Moses, but rather the moral law had been written on their hearts. They had consciences. They had natural law, by which societies as a whole demonstrate their innate awareness of certain moral standards. For this reason, we see the second table of the Ten Commandments (the fourth through tenth commandments) evident to some extent or another in every culture.
What is St. Paul’s point? The Jews would be judged according to God’s revealed law—all of it. The Gentiles would be judged according to the natural law, written on their hearts, as St. Paul tells us in verse fifteen. Both would be judged according to the law, but the Jews alone would be judged by the Law of Moses. Yet, while the scope of the basis of God’s judgment was greater for the Jew, the result of God’s judgment would be the same for Jew and Gentile alike: damnation for all who have sinned even once in any way and thus fallen short of the glory of God. God would not judge as human judges, that is, only on the basis of the evidence brought to light, but rather God will judge on the basis of all that man has thought, said, or done, even the secret things, for there is nothing that is not disclosed to God and to all on Judgment Day. The Gentile would not be able to plead ignorance on the day of their judgment because they had already been judging themselves in their conscience, accusing and defending their various actions and, in so doing, demonstrating to themselves that there was a divine Judge and there was a divine standard which was, as mentioned above, written on their hearts. The Jew and Gentile alike would have to answer for what was revealed to them, not according to their hearing of it, but according to their doing of it, and, in this way, Jew and Gentile stand on the same level before the Almighty, judged in the same way, by what they have done.
Notice that I have spoken somewhat theoretically in the first two paragraphs. I have talked about what God would do. Now, let me tell you what God will do. He will judge you and I as well, not only according to those things others know about, but even according to the secret things that we have worked so hard to hide, that we have spent so many hours fretting that someone will discover. He will judge us according to what has been revealed to us in his Word and sacraments and according to the law written on our hearts. He will judge us, not by whether we have heard it or not, but by whether we have put it into practice or not, and, in this way, we will be judged all the harsher for having been blessed to have heard so much. Our conscience is a preview of this trial, but it is nowhere as comprehensive or stern. The scope of our judgment will be even greater than the judgment of the Jew and Gentile mentioned in our text. Even more than being judged by the Law of Moses or by the law itself, we will be judged according the gospel, in this case, the message of Christ, who we confess in the creed to be, not only the Savior, but the Judge of mankind. The good news of the gospel is that our Judge is also our Advocate, but when we have rejected our Savior by persistent sin and unbelief, he becomes our Judge alone, and we will have to render an account to him for every bit of mercy, forgiveness, and grace we squandered. In this way, hell will be an even more bitter place for those who have known Christ the Savior, just to reject him through apathetic indifference or zealous opposition, and to be left to know Christ the Judge alone.
My friends, take time to try yourselves according to your conscience today. Where have you sinned against God’s revealed law? Where have you acted against conscience? Where have you hindered the free course of the gospel in your lives? Judge yourselves now that you might fall at the feet of Christ your Savior and receive mercy that he might be your Advocate before Christ your Judge. St. Paul does not convict us now that we might be lost and condemned, but rather he convicts us now that we might then be absolved, justified, and pardoned for Christ’s sake, our Savior and Judge. Be convicted. Admit your guilt. Be declared innocent in the gospel through faith, for the sake of Christ Jesus, who has paid for all your sins, open and secret, big and small, intentional and unintentional. In him is hope. In anything else there is only hell.
Notice that St. Paul does not say what works he has in mind. Rather, he strikes at the heart of the matter, at motive. Patience and seeking are mentioned. This is an ongoing striving. Striving for what? Glory, honor, and immortality. Where does the Christian find these things? In God, and in God alone. We have no glory. We fall short of it. We deserve no honor. We have merited only shame. We definitely cannot bring about our own immortality. Rather, God alone gives these things. Yes, the Christian does the opposite of the unbeliever, who obeys righteousness, that is, tries to be or become righteous by works, by the legal scheme. The Christian, through faith, places himself under—that is what the word obey means—the righteousness of God. And in God’s righteousness, motivated and renewed by the gospel, the Christian is patient and deliberate in well-doing and seeks the gifts of God mentioned above. The unbeliever refuses to be placed under this righteousness of God and thus cannot replicate these motives and fruits of the Christian. Thus, the unbeliever cannot please God, but instead remains under his unquenchable wrath, for whatever does to proceed from faith is sin, as Paul tells us later in Romans. The same is not true for God’s adopted children, though. Continue reading “Romans 2:6-11”
Check out Wade’s latest post over at 1517. The Legacy Project:
As we mentioned yesterday, it is easy to judge, berate, and damn the sin outside our doors, but in so doing we are not judging as the Bible tells us to judge. We are to use the same measure for others that we do for ourselves. We are to search ourselves as vigorously and more vigorously than we search others. There were many noble heathen and moral Jews who would have gladly jumped on St. Paul’s bandwagon in the previous verses. He could have been elected in the ancient red states will little trouble. Yet, that is not what St. Paul wanted. Moral reform was not his chief goal, or really a goal at all, because moral reform can be carried out as well with the Koran or the congress as it can with the Bible. Paul didn’t want reform. He wanted renewal, worked through the gospel. In order for the gospel to work renewal, however, one has to see his or her need for rebirth. The self-righteous pagan or Jew saw no need, because they were the moral dream team of the day. Why have a Savior if you have the sin thing under control yourself? May God keep us from falling this same moralistic and Pharisaical trap, and may God forgive us for when we have! Continue reading “Romans 2:1-5”
How often haven’t you seen it? Even worse, how often haven’t you been it? Someone gives into temptation once and then is sucked into a sin they cannot escape until they reach the point that they no longer want to escape it, and not only do no not want to escape it, but advocate it for others as good and meet and right. There are plenty of societal examples, but the gospel does not make Christian societies, it makes Christian individuals, and so unduly dwelling on the sins of society can sometimes blur our vision, because, in doing so, we overlook our own sins, the sins that actually take us to hell, and in time consider them somehow less fatal than the sins outside our doors. Continue reading “Romans 1:18-32”