Scripture: Romans 2:17 (the apostle Paul writes) “But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God 18 and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law, 19 and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, 21 you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Observation: Paul is addressing Jews who are resistant to the gospel because they don’t view themselves as needing a savior in order to be in right relationship with God. As he points out in v.17-18, such people believe the fact they belong to God’s covenant people (Jews) and because they are people of the law (rules), and they know the law, they’re just fine. Paul begs to differ. Simply knowing the law, or even teaching the law, doesn’t matter if you don’t follow it yourself. This is called hypocrisy, which he describes in v.21-23, and it’s a consequence of sin which is a problem for all people, including the Jews.
Application: Yes, I’m a hypocrite. I know well the rules, but break them regularly. I teach people each Sunday from the pulpit, encouraging fidelity to God. I instruct people in the will and ways of God, yet fall short of them myself all the time. It’s true. I admit it. I’m not proud of this, mind you, but there’s no getting around it. The apostle Paul was well aware of this aspect of the human condition when he wrote the following a few chapters later in the letter to the Romans:
15 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. (Romans 7:15-16)
There it is in black and white. “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it.” That was the story of Paul’s life. It’s the story of my life. It’s the story of your life. If fidelity to God’s will and God’s ways is the only path to right relationship with God – we are all screwed. The problem with the Jews of Rome addressed in Paul’s letter is they couldn’t see that. They were in denial. I am not. I pray you are not either.
And so, as sinners in desperate need of a savior, we cling to the promise of everlasting life in Jesus Christ by faith, not by works of the law. Thanks be to God.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, you know well the power of sin among human beings. It is pervasive and pernicious and condemning in light of your perfect law. Have mercy on us o God. Give us grace that we might cling to the hope of the cross and the resurrection, for without it we are surely lost. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.