If we took an honest self-assessment of our lives, I think each of us could probably identify a few areas where we've been blessed with gifts or privileges that others may not have necessarily received. In your life, those privileges might relate to where you were born, when you were born, what kind of health you've experienced, the strength of your family of origin, your educational opportunities, or the financial blessings you've been given. It might also be possible to identify ways in which you've been privileged spiritually.
What are you doing with the gifts and privileges you've been given? Are you grateful for them? Are you using them to bless others? Are you allowing those gifts to impact your life the way God intended?
One of the saddest things to witness is the misuse or devaluation of blessings and advantages that the Lord allows certain people to experience. That's something that was a legitimate issue among some of the people who claimed to have a special relationship with God during the era in which Paul wrote the book of Romans. Is that an issue we're still wrestling with today? What will you do with what God has given you?
I. Will you live out what you claim to believe?
The first five books of the Bible (Genesis - Deuteronomy), are typically referred to as "the Law" or "the Law of Moses." In the content of those books, God revealed more about His holiness and the standards for living that He expected the Jewish people to live by. Christ came to this earth to fulfill and keep the Law of the Old Covenant perfectly for us because by nature, we were never able to do so, nor were the Jewish people, but it appears that some of the Jewish people mistakenly believed they were doing a good job keeping the Law without the help of Christ.
The Gentile nations were largely ignorant of God's Law. Generally speaking, they didn't have access to it nor were they necessarily aware of it, but as a matter of conscience, Paul pointed out that some Gentiles were living like practitioners of the Law even without knowing the particulars. I believe this happened as the Holy Spirit spoke to their consciences and pointed them in the direction of the truth.
We also know that the requirements of the Law can be summed up rather simply. Those under the Law were called to love God, and love one another. Jesus made sure to explain this.
This remains God's calling on our lives. We're called to love Him with our whole heart. We're called to love one another like we love and care for ourselves. And when we start to veer off course, we're called to listen to the guiding counsel of the Holy Spirit who speaks to our consciences and helps us, knowing that there is going to come a day when God will judge our secret lives and private thoughts by Christ Jesus, as Romans 2:16 teaches.
So if we claim to have faith in Christ, and claim to believe the teaching of His word, will we actually choose to live out what we claim to believe? This was the challenge Paul was laying down for those who had grown up in Judaism and seemed to be overly self-confident in their personal merits. I think it's a challenge we should take to heart as well because we've been blessed with even more spiritual privileges than they were.
We live after Christ's crucifixion and resurrection, are indwelled with and gifted by the Holy Spirit, in an era where the Lord has caused His church to grow and spread throughout the world, with access to the completed canon of Scripture. So if those who came before us had no excuse for failing to live out what they claimed to believe, that is even more true for us. Thankfully, we are blessed with the indwelling power of Christ to walk with the kind of integrity only He can ultimately foster.
But maybe you've heard this all before. Maybe you're so familiar with it all that you think you could probably even teach it to others. That's great, but are you also willing to learn what you claim to be able to teach?
II. Will you learn what you claim to be able to teach?
Years ago when I was a relatively new pastor, I was invited to attend a training seminar that focused on church health and community outreach. I was excited to go and I asked another pastor if he was planning to attend as well. I knew his church was struggling, and to be honest, his track record in leadership wasn't the best, but he told me that he wouldn't be attending the training event. In fact, he followed up the conversation by saying, "I have attended so many of these things I could teach them now." I remember thinking, "Maybe you could, but it's a shame you never bother to put what you've learned into practice."
Looking at this portion of God's word, I have a similar feeling toward the actions Paul was describing. Paul grew up Jewish and he had a strong affinity for the Jewish people. He loved them and wanted them to experience the spiritual awakening he had been graced to experience by Jesus. In fact, when we read the Scriptures, we can see that God had chosen the Jews to experience a myriad of spiritual and cultural blessings, including the fact that He sent His Son to this earth as one who would be born a Jew. But, as we can see from this chapter in Romans, it's possible to become cocky about your blessings instead of humbly grateful.
It's also possible to become an expert in the Scriptures without connecting the knowledge you've stored in your head to your heart and your hands. I remember noticing this while I was in Bible college in particular. It always struck me as tragic to study with classmates who could earn great grades as they studied biblical concepts, but their lives confirmed that effectively, they hadn't learned a thing. They may have memorized some information, but were they open to the Holy Spirit transforming their thinking? Are we?
One of the most tragic aspects of becoming unteachable when it comes to the truth of God is the negative impact it can have on unbelievers who may be observing those who claim to be God's people. Paul poses questions like, "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?" (Romans 2:21-22a). Are those questions we might benefit from asking ourselves? We can certainly pick on the shortcomings of other people if we like, but wouldn't it be more beneficial to force ourselves to wrestle with these questions too?
Christ desires humility among His people as a reflection of His heart and example. And with humility comes teachability. We can claim to be "know-it-alls" if we choose, but who benefits from that? We can claim to be able to teach every side of every issue Jesus ever communicated, but are we also willing to sit down, stop talking for five minutes, and listen to the counsel of His Spirit as He seeks to apply the teaching of His word to our hearts? Will we humbly learn what we claim to be able to teach?
And with that in mind, please notice one additional thing about the subjects Paul addresses in the second half of Romans 2. He scrapes around in the recesses of our hearts and, with the examples he uses, invites us to ask if we're willing to finally seek the praise of God over the praise of men.
III. Will you seek the praise of God over the praise of men?
The covenantal sign the Jewish people were given by God as a visible symbol of His unique relationship with them was circumcision. On the eighth day after a male child was born, he was to be circumcised, and that was to serve as a sign of the covenant God had made with this group of people. In a similar way, we have been given baptism as a visible testimony of our relationship with God under the New Covenant. But does the act of circumcision or baptism guarantee the salvation of a soul? Absolutely not. Salvation is by grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. The removal of a foreskin does not save a soul and neither does being immersed in water. The point of these symbols is to testify visibly to something spiritual the Lord is doing inwardly.
Will anyone be able to come before the Lord some day and brag about their circumcision as if that would impress Him? Likewise, does this give cause for boasting among each other? Yet this is what some of the Jewish people were effectively doing. Their faith was in ceremony and tradition instead of in the Lord who was pleading with them to see that salvation is found in no name under heaven other than Jesus Christ.
And when we trust in Jesus, He not only changes our heart, He gives us a brand new one. That's what Paul was getting at when he said, "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." (Romans 2:29). When the Lord gives us a new heart, we no longer live for the praise of men. We live for His praise and glory. We learn to care about what matters to Him. His desires become our priorities. His approval is what we seek, and we rejoice in the confidence that the love God the Father has for God the Son is the love we will forever experience because we are counted as righteous in Christ the One we believe.
It's a dangerous thing to live for the praise of men, and in the end, it will only leave us with regret and sorrow. But living by faith in Christ, for the glory of Christ, with His honor on our minds, will result in a life of joy that isn't diminished by changing circumstances. This is what Paul was praying his Jewish brothers and sisters would one day experience. It's likewise what Christ desires we experience as well.
So, will you live out what you claim to believe? Will you learn what you claim to be able to teach? Will you seek the praise of God over the praise of men? What will we do with the many significant blessings we've already been given?
© John Stange, 2018