Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Romans 2:17-23

17Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; 18if you know His will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth-- 21you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?

Jews thought they were righteous, simply because they were Jews. The truth misused blinds people to the truth. The Jews had God’s truth given to them from Moses and the prophets. They had enormous privileges given to them. But they misused those things that God has given to them, and therefore, they blinded themselves to the truth that they need the gospel and to the truth of the law and its purpose. That’s a significant reality for us. Our misuse of the truth blinds us to its purpose. Paul, in v.17-23, says that the Jews misuse the truth in several ways: (1) They are specially chosen by God (national election); (2) They have a unique relationship with Him through the law; (3) They know His will (their calling was to be a light to the Gentiles) and have superior spiritual discernment (approving the spiritual essentials).

(1) Paul says the Jews take pride and have confidence in the fact that God has chosen or elected them. The people of Israel say to Paul, “We’re the elect people of God. God has chosen us out of all the nations of the earth. We don’t need your gospel.” Paul talks a lot about election elsewhere, and we’ll cover it more when we get to it in Romans 9-11, but for now, here are two reasons how the Jews were misapplying election to themselves: First, election is transforming, and these Jews hadn’t been transformed. Second, election is not only of a nation, but also of individuals. God elects individuals to salvation, and it’s a transforming election. But as we’ll see in Romans 9, not all Israel is Israel. So God has elected the nation of Israel, the people known as Jews or Hebrews, to bring forth His Messiah to the world and to exalt His name throughout the world. But God has also elected individuals to salvation, and the two groups of elected people are not necessarily the same. The Jews misunderstood this (and we often do as well, especially regarding soteriology and eschatology); Paul will explain it fully later.

(2) The Jews also thought they did not need the gospel, because they had a unique relationship with God through the law. We covered that last time. There are many functions of the law, and the Jews thought just having it was enough. They failed to realize that they weren’t keeping it. And they failed to realize that its purpose was to drive them to Christ. They thought through the law that they had a good relationship with God, but they didn’t even know much about Him or His purposes. It’s like people today who say, “I don’t care about theology and the deep topics, because I just want to live like Christ.” Well that’s nice that they want to live like Christ, but they need to know more about Who Christ is, what His purpose was in life and death, and how He is glorified by what He has accomplished. And to understand these things, we need to look at the doctrine of sin, the doctrine of the atonement, the doctrine of election, the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, etc. and they need to mesh. Now we have the gospel, and we understand it; we call ourselves Christians. But we can’t get lazy about it, and we can’t let it become ritualistic. We can’t be proud that we are counted among the elect, because we contributed nothing to our election. This is what the Jews ran into. But the nation of Israel contributed nothing to its national election (Deuteronomy 7:6-8), and individuals have not contributed anything to their individual election (Romans 9:10-24).

(3) The Jews said that they already knew God’s will and had spiritual discernment. They thought, “Perhaps the Gentiles don’t have our abilities, and so they need the gospel, but not us. We’re fine because, again, we have the law.” And Paul gives them Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount saying from Matthew 7:1-5 in v.19-23. Paul had opportunities in this section to throw out the law and throw out election and throw out theology, but he doesn’t. Instead, he says that those things are true and good, but you’ve misunderstood and misused them. The Jews were in love with an idea of God, instead of with God Himself. In verses 19-23, Paul explains that misunderstanding and misuse of the truth causes people to be led astray, which is exactly what the Jewish leaders were doing to the Jewish people.

Paul says that spiritual pride has hampered the Jews’ God-given mission. It’s not that God didn’t call them to be a light to the Gentiles; He did. It’s that they have taken that as an occasion of pride, as if somehow they were inherently better than the Gentiles were, instead of saved simply by God’s grace. And so instead of serving them and longing for them to fellowship in the truth of God’s covenant promises, the Jews have lauded over them and thought themselves better. The Jews thought they knew God and His law better than everybody else. Paul said, “They don’t really know Him or His law at all, and the fact that they don’t know Him or His law has blinded them to their need of Him and of His grace.”

Paul’s entire point in v.17-23 is that the Jews confidence in who they were and the law they had was empty of value. They dishonored God not only by breaking the law, which was their confidence, but also by having a false confidence, a confidence in the blessings of God, rather than in God Himself. They robbed from God the one thing He demanded from them: faith. They, like all of us, were often quick to point at others who failed to observe the moral law, but slow to point at the failure to obey the moral law in their own hearts. The Jewish leaders loved to bring Gentiles into Judaism and criticize their behavior. But, the Jews themselves were guilty of everything they were trying to teach to the Gentiles. This is why all people need the gospel. What was the consequence of their hypocrisy? Verse 24….Ouch! We'll look at it tomorrow.

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