Five Minute Devotions: Romans 2
Beginning in chapter two, Paul turns his general statements of chapter one into personal and specific statements. Given mankind’s universal sinfulness, one cannot judge others and not expect to be judged by that same standard. He speaks to hypocrites who call others out for their sin, but then deny that they do the same thing (Rom. 2:1-11). After this, he turns to a cursory discussion of the Law, calling it a matter of the heart rather than a matter of following written rules (Rom. 2:12-16). He applies this specifically to the Jews, who have taken their “chosen people” status to mean that God only loves them, rather than the fact that God loves everyone and has given them the responsibility to show and share that message (Rom. 2:17-27). He concludes by reminding them that inward submission to the law over outward rote obedience is what God demands (Rom. 2:28-29).
For Application, not Condemnation
Romans 2 is a transition chapter between the problem of human depravity as outlined in Romans 1 and the solution to human depravity as outlined in Romans 3. In this transition, Paul briefly discusses the legalistic manner in which the Jewish people have attempted to provide for their own salvation. The Jewish people took pride in their status as God’s chosen people. First century Judaism was very exclusive and did not allow Gentiles or other undesirable people to really be a part of the faith.
Paul destroys this line of thought in verse 11, saying that “God does not show favoritism.” Instead, he posits that the chosen people were chosen to include others, not exclude others. The Law was given so that the Jews might be a moral and spiritual example to the surrounding nations, not so that they could judge others in light of it.
To update this to modern context, the Christian is called to a higher moral standard than the nonbeliever because we have been called to be an example to the world around us. Just as the Jews were told how to live through the Law, we are directed in how to live through the Spirit. We have submitted ourselves to God’s law and Spirit, therefore we should set the standard for living it out. We should not expect unbelievers to fulfill the expectations of the Law and the Spirit, although at times they might, given that they are also made in the image of God and God’s moral law remains in them (Rom. 2:14-15). The Law is for application, not condemnation.
For God’s Glory, not Human Praise
Not only were the Jews using the Law as a blunt force object of judgment, they also were fulfilling the Law in the wrong way. This was especially evident in the Jewish sect of the Pharisees, of whom Paul used to belong. First century Judaism was a perversion of the genuine practice of Old Testament religion as laid out in Leviticus and Deuteronomy. They had built laws upon laws upon laws, so that the intent of the original law had been all but forgotten. It had become the letter of the law that mattered, not the heart.
Paul speaks to the futility of this reasoning, using circumcision as an example. Circumcision was an outward act that signified the Jewish male’s part in the covenant inheritance. But if the outward action was not accompanied by the appropriate inward motivations, then it lacks any sort of value. The problem with first century Judaism is that it had become idolatry by another name. The purpose was not to worship God through adherence to his Law, it was to magnify oneself and denigrate other amongst the community. It was not idolatry, but I-dolatry.
Christians must be careful not to fall into the same trap. It can be easy to check off a moral to-do list and begin to believe that the actions of Christians, including church attendance and Bible reading, is the sum of Christian faith. Our religion is not one of works, where the glory and the results are outward, but one of faith, where the glory and the results are inward.