Romans Bible Guide – Day Six
February 20, 2016
Previously, in Romans: Paul has turned his attention to religious Jews like himself, whether or not they are followers of Jesus, focusing on God’s impartiality as a judge and the importance of not judging or elevating ourselves above others.
12 All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. 15 They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.
Points of Interest:
- ‘All who have sinned apart from the law’ – God will judge people fairly. He won’t hold them accountable for standards they don’t know. But law or no law, sinning – missing God’s mark for our lives – and death (here, perishing) are closely tied together for Paul.
- ‘For it is not the hearers… but the doers…’ – It’s not what you have, but what you with do with what you have that counts. Many of Paul’s Jewish contemporaries thought that knowing God’s law made them special. Apparently action is more important than status or knowledge.
- “what the law requires is written on their hearts’ – This is an allusion to a powerful prophecy from the Old Testament book of Jeremiah. It’s a line that has come to meet a lot to Jesus followers. “’But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,’ says the Lord. ‘I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.’” (Jeremiah 31:33) Paul is one of many voices indicating that Jesus has fulfilled this promise, creating a situation where people can be unusually close to God and can know God’s voice and instruction internally.
- ‘their own conscience also bears witness’ – The “they” here is likely Paul’s audience of Gentile Jesus followers, who were not born “under the law” but can know God internally and have their own conscience validate what God is leading them to do. Apparently, this isn’t always crystal clear (see the “conflicting thoughts” later in the verse), but it does seem that Paul is developing a way for non-Jews to learn to live well without assimilating all of the Jewish law.
- ‘according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge…’ – Remembering that “gospel” means good news, it is interesting that God’s coming judgment for all people is good news here. Paul says this knowledge is part of the Jesus package; a fair and just and good God who doesn’t play favorites is going to set everything right in time. And Paul’s convinced that is wholly good news.
- ‘God will judge the secret thoughts of all’ – Sometimes I find this image comforting. You can’t get anything by God, even secret thoughts. Sometimes I find it terrifying – oh, wait, even all my secret thoughts. Mostly, I find it provocative and sobering. I can fool everyone, but not God. He really knows me.
Taking It Home:
For you – Have you ever yet experienced God’s requirements being written on your heart, being sure through your conscience or in prayer that you’re not just making things up, but you know the thing God made you to do? Ask God to lead you into that kind of relationship, where “your secret thoughts” and desires will be ones that you are glad for and seem aligned with what God made you for.
For your church/city – Our city, really our whole region, has a historical legacy of God’s judgment being preached as if it is very scary, bad news. Pray that our church would communicate the good news that there is a living God who judges people and nations and will eventually set all things right in our world. Pray that leaders in our region would act humbly, as if they are under the authority of a just God.