The Jews and the Law
17Some of you call yourselves Jews. You trust in the Law and take pride in God. 18By reading the Scriptures you learn how God wants you to behave, and you discover what is right. 19You are sure that you are a guide for the blind and a light for all who are in the dark. 20And since there is knowledge and truth in God's Law, you think you can instruct fools and teach young people.
21But how can you teach others when you refuse to learn? You preach it is wrong to steal. But do you steal? 22You say people should be faithful in marriage. But are you faithful? You hate idols, yet you rob their temples. 23You take pride in the Law, but you disobey the Law and bring shame to God. 24 It is just as the Scriptures tell us, “You have made foreigners say insulting things about God.”
25Being circumcised is worthwhile, if you obey the Law. But if you don't obey the Law, you are no better off than people who are not circumcised. 26In fact, if they obey the Law, they are as good as anyone who is circumcised. 27So everyone who obeys the Law, but has never been circumcised, will condemn you. Even though you are circumcised and have the Law, you still don't obey its teachings.
28Just because you live like a Jew and are circumcised doesn't make you a real Jew. 29 To be a real Jew you must obey the Law. True circumcision is something that happens deep in your heart, not something done to your body. And besides, you should want praise from God and not from humans.
The church in Rome had Christians who were Jews and Christians who were Gentiles. Naturally there would have been friction between them. The relationship between Jewish and Gentile Christians was a major issue in the New Testament church. (See Acts 15 for an account of how the issue was resolved.)
Here’s a challenge for you. Take today’s reading (copy it from an electronic version if you have one), and make the following substitutions:
- for the word “Jew” substitute “Christian.”
- for the word “law” substitute “Bible.”
- rewrite verses 21-23 with some ways that you realize you don’t live up to what the Bible tells us to do. Some suggestions: Do I ask God for forgiveness while I refuse to forgive someone who has hurt me? Do I claim that Jesus cared about the poor and refuse to share with someone in need? Do I proclaim that the Bible is God’s word but not read it thoughtfully and regularly? Do I take seriously what the Bible says about sexual relationships, marriage and divorce? About money?
- for “Gentiles” substitute “unbelievers.”
- for “circumcision” substitute “baptism.”
Now read what you have written.
Don’t get me wrong. Baptism matters. Keeping the law of the Old Testament matters. Jesus said that not one dot will be deleted (Luke 16:17).
But throughout his teaching Jesus emphasized that while we pay attention to the outside, God sees our hearts and judges us on what is inside.
“Create in me a clean heart, O God; And renew a right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 KJV)