Romans 2: A Religious Riot

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Romans 2 Bordered Reduced

Scene 3: The religious crowd is getting ready to stone some of the partying pagans.

1. Overview

Romans 2 is a continuation of “The Problem”. From the perspective of our “Courtroom Drama” we are still focusing on the first frame, namely “Breaking the Law.”

In Romans 2 Paul lists 6 errors that are classically committed by religious people. The deceit behind these errors are exposed so as to show religious people that the “sinners” whom they are so quick to judge, because of their obviously sinful lifestyles, are no worse than the judges themselves.

In fact, in verse 2 the religious judges of Romans 2 are told that they “practice the very same things!”

We shall now look at these 6 religious errors under the heading The 6 Habits of Highly Religious People:

  1. Habit 1: Equivalent Evil (2:1-3)
  2. Habit 2: Pompous Presumption (2:4-6)
  3. Habit 3: Biased Beliefs (2:7-11)
  4. Habit 4: Proudly Possessing the Law (2:12-18)
  5. Habit 5: Pretentiously Preaching the Law (2:19-24)
  6. Habit 6: Outwardly Obeying the Law (2:25-29)

Remember that we use the term “religious” here as referring to self-willed efforts to impress God without any change of heart. We are therefore not referring to the “pure religion” spoken of by James, which he clearly associates with the Christ-like characteristics of selflessness and “giving” (See James 1:27).

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 1.43.49 PMImportant Note: You will see a great number of Roman soldiers amongst our Big Picture characters in this section, and also in chapters 3 and 5. The reason for their presence is that they represent the judgment of God.

If this sounds strange, keep in mind that God used the Romans to oversee the sentencing of Jesus Christ, and that he used Roman soldiers to physically execute the death penalty by nailing Jesus Christ to the cross.

As we will see, both the “verdict” and “sentencing” (Frames 2 and 3 of our Courtroom Drama) were announced over us, but that Jesus Christ “served” it on behalf of us (Frames 4 and 5). Romans 6 tells us that our old Adamic selves were crucified “with Christ”, and so it is quite in order to represent God’s judgment over humanity by using the very historic characters that he chose to execute this judgment: The Romans.

2. Characters

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3. Commentary

3.1 Habit 1: Equivalent Evil (2:1-3)

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 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God?

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In chapter 2 Paul speaks to religious Jews who not only call themselves “Jews”, but who also “rely on the law and boast in God.”[1]

The party who was notorious for this attitude was the Pharisees, and it is certain that Paul has them in mind here. However, Paul’s message is relevant to all Jewish people and also to all religious people.

The reason for this that there is a generic (common) component underlying all religion, no matter how it is expressed. We covered this in chapter 1’s “Religion” section, and won’t do so again here. But it needs to be stated so that we will not make the mistake of reading over chapter 2, thinking that it does not apply to us because we are not Jewish.

The 6 religious errors pointed out in chapter 2 are universal amongst religious people and therefore extremely relevant to our study.

3.1.1 Were the Pharisees Vile Sinners?

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 2.57.01 PMIn verse 1 Paul tells his religious readers that they do the same as the people whom they are judging:

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.”

The strange thing about this statement is that the Pharisees and religious Jews of Paul’s day were not exactly prone to behave in the same way as the sinning “Gentiles”. They were not murderers, God-haters, sexually immoral or disobedient to their parents.

In fact, they appear to have been regular “nice guys.”[2]

According to the Jewish historian Josephus, the Pharisees were affectionate to each other and cultivated harmonious relations with the community,[3] were naturally lenient in the matter of punishments,[4] enjoyed the support of the masses (unlike the Sadducees who were supported only by the wealthy,[5] lived simply, did not indulge in luxury and respected their elders.[6]

So why then does Paul charge them in verses 1-3 with doing the same as the sinners whom they were judging?

3.1.2 The Heart of the Problem

As we have seen in Romans 1, the real problem of people is not bad deeds (lifestyle), but the rule of desire in their hearts (life-source).

Romans 2 goes a step further than Romans 1 by presenting us with the problem of “religiosity”, namely changing our outward behaviour (lifestyle) without first changing our heart condition (life-source).

And so, quite naturally, the chapter concludes with the following statement:

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.[7]

The “letter” that Paul is referring to is the Law of Moses. As we will see, the law can be interpreted merely outwardly, namely as a set of rules intended to be followed in the same way that one would follow traffic regulations: “Do this, don’t do that.” But the aim of Romans is to show that the law is spiritual,[8] and that it demands a life-exchange that is also spiritual and inward.

The aim of Romans 2 is to expose the deception of thinking that a religious lifestyle can solve the problem of sin. Romans 1 introduces sin as an inward, spiritual reality, and Romans 2 discloses that a person’s conversion must therefore also be inward and spiritual.

This explains why the religious Jews and Pharisees of chapter 1 were charged with committing the very sins that they were condemning in others: They were doing the same things in their hearts! This they do because the problem of desire is an inward problem that cannot be fixed outwardly. We shall say more about this when we get to Romans’ great chapter on the problem of desire, namely chapter 7.

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3.2 Habit 2: Pompous Presumption (2:4-6)


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Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works:

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The second characteristic of the highly religious crowd in Romans 2 is “pompous presumption”. Theirs is the sin of “presuming” on God’s kindness, forbearance and patience.

How does one do that? And how is it connected to being “religious”?

It is noteworthy that the people addressed in the passage are experiencing “God’s kindness” whilst having “hard and impenitent” hearts at the very same time. Note again verses 4 and 5:

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

One has to agree that this is a strange combination. We do not usually associate a hardened sinner with someone experiencing God’s kindness! We think that the “good guys” receive God’s blessings and the “baddies” don’t. If it goes well with sinners, then the devil must be responsible for their prosperity. If it does not go well with the righteous, we wonder about their righteousness. Like Job’s friends, we try and find some sin in their lives to explain why they are not being blessed.

The pattern is clear in our minds: God’s kindness is a sign of his approval, and when it is not there it means that he does not approve.

3.2.1 The Error of Tit-for-Tat Thinking

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 3.10.33 PMThe type of thinking described above is intuitive to the human race, which is perhaps the biggest reason why we should be suspicious of it.

It is also the single factor that influences our grasp of “religion” the most. As you will see, all religious effort flows from the idea that there is a direct correlation between God’s favor and our works.

We can call this the tit-for-tat principle (TFT for short), which is derived from the words this for that.

TFT is a philosophy that says: “Payback is equal to performance.” It springs from the curse of Genesis 3 (“From now on you will have to work to eat!”) and is endemic to the human race. It describes the economy of this world, the basis of fallen human relations and the dynamic of man-made religion.

The world revolves around TFT statements. Here are just a few:

“There is no such thing as a free meal.”

“He doesn’t deserve to be loved.”

“This is mine. I worked for it.”

“Revenge is sweet.”

“You deserve what you get.”

“My life is falling apart. God must be mad at me.”

It is important to understand that TFT governs the fallen world, and that much of our present day reality, even as Christians living and working in this world, is subject to it. The Bible confirms this when it says, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread” (Genesis 3:19), and If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10) God’s Economy: Grace

Whilst this may true be for our lives in this present age, the TFT principle was never intended to be part of our lives. It is absent in the Kingdom of God, and it will be absent in the new earth. God does not deal with us according to this fallen principle, and he does not want us to do so in our dealings with one another.

Note the words of Jesus:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:43-48

The operating principle in God’s Kingdom is not TFT but grace, as is clear from Jesus’ words above. God is a God of grace, and His economy is a grace economy. Herein lies the key to understanding Jesus’ reference to God’s “perfection” and our calling to be “perfect” in the passage above. Religious TFT

When TFT is applied to our relationship with God we get something called “works based religion”. The underlying assumption is that God is just like us, and that his payback is equal to our performance. If I do enough “good deeds”, God will have to notice and reward me accordingly. Likewise, if I fail to live up to his standard I will infuriate him and suffer the consequences.

You may interrupt me at this point and say: “Hey, the whole Bible is full of people who did not live up to God’s standards and who infuriated him in the process!” This is a valid point, but as you will promptly see, God’s judgment is subject to his mercy. This means that he is patient and kind towards us and that he gives us time to repent. This is something that TFT does not allow for. Furthermore, when God does finally act, he does so in loving discipline, not as a display of vengeance – hardly the attitude that accompanies the TFT principle.

The point here is that there is much more to God’s seeming habit of rewarding the righteous and condemning the sinner than what meets the eye. The verses that may suggest this are not TFT verses. They are something wholly different! God’s Love: Patient and Kind

Why does GRACE instead of TFT rule in the Kingdom of God?

The answer is simple: God’s grace is a manifestation of his love. As we read in Jesus’ words above, God shows his love and goodness to the just and the unjust, and he expects us to do the same. To show grace is to love. To love is to show grace. You cannot separate the two. “God is love,”[9] and grace is the natural expression thereof.

One of the primary characteristics of love is “patience”. Another is “kindness”. In Paul’s legendary “love chapter”[10] he explains the nature of love in an astounding manner, and he does so by starting off with these two very specific characteristics: “Love is patient and kind!”[11]

When we see life from a grace perspective, we see God’s patience and kindness as an expression of love. When we see life from a TFT perspective, we see God’s patience and kindness as a reward for something we have accomplished.

In the grace scenario God’s patience and kindness do not tell us anything about our “accomplishments”, or the lack of it. In the TFT scenario patience and kindness becomes the evidence that we have accomplished something and that we are deserving of a reward.

The blinding effect of such a superstitious and pagan view of God cannot be overstated, and explains why the religiously-minded people in Romans 2 were guilty of presuming on the riches of God’s “kindness and forbearance and patience.”

This habit of reading one’s own righteousness into God’s mercy is directly linked to the first of our six religious habits, namely the idea that some of us impress God more by performing morally better than others.

In fact, judging others for their “sins” and interpreting God’s kindness as proof of our “sinlessness” are two sides of the same coin of self-righteous entitlement.

The one flows from the other, and both are equally wrong.

3.2.2 The Sin of Impenitence

When we misinterpret God’s kindness in our lives, we become blind to its real purpose. As a revelation of God’s love, God’s patience and kindness are related to his work in us, and his ultimate purpose for us.

In the passage above, Paul explains this by saying that “God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance.” This is completely opposite to the idea that God’s kindness is an endorsement of one’s lifestyle. According to Paul, God is patient and kind because he wants us to repent (change our minds), not because we have already repented!

This raises an important question: What is this change? And how is it possible for an extremely religious person to “repent” beyond the extraordinary religious commitment that characterized the religious Jews and Pharisees? The answer to this question is what the book of Romans is all about, and it is first explored towards the end of chapter 2 in Paul’s reference to a “heart-circumcision” (Habit 6). As it was in the Days of Noah…

It is a disturbing thought that the very thing that offers an opportunity for repentance might become the greatest hindrance to it. Yet this idea is not foreign to the rest of Scripture.

An example of it is found in the judgment that came on this wicked world through the Noahic flood. According to Peter, ”God’s patience waited in the days of Noah.”[12] Peter expounds on this truth in his second letter by saying that God is not slow in fulfilling the promise of his second coming, but that “he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”[13]

One cannot help but note the similarity with Romans 2:4, which we are presently discussing. “Our Lord’s patience means salvation”, Peter continues, and even adds “just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you.” [14] It seems that Peter was referring to Romans 2!

The correlation between God’s patience and our repentance is so strong that Peter even goes as far as saying that we can “speed” the coming of the “day of God” by living holy and godly lives.[15] This explains what Jesus meant when he said that it will be “as it was in the days of Noah” before the second coming: “For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark.”[16] (Matthew 24:37-38).

The point is that God‘s “patience waited in the days of Noah”, but that it was misinterpreted. Instead of seeing it as a gracious opportunity to repent, people used the opportunity to live the good life. They did not expect judgment, but presumed that their trouble-free past was the ideal criterion by which to judge the future.

As you can see in The Two Turkeys comic strip, this is a serious mistake!

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 3.31.57 PMAs we have seen in chapter 1, humans are most egotistical and idolatrous when they imagine what their own futures are going to look like (Remember SuperMe?). It is not our photo albums or mirrors that inspire self-worship, but our projections of an idealised future self. Our past and present selves are simply too real to be worthy of deification, and so we use the future to shape and mold the image of I. And, of course, we use our experiences of the past to do so.

It is noteworthy that this fallen human tendency is so obviously irrational that it has caught the attention of scholars in the field of cognitive psychology, many of who are unbelievers, agnostics and even atheists![17] The Certainty of Judgment…

The passage closes with a stern warning. In verse 5 we read that those who “presume” on God’s kindness are “storing up wrath” for themselves that will be revealed on the Day of Judgment.

Like the turkeys in the comic strip, they remain oblivious to the fact that their peace of mind is in fact actively working against their ultimate destiny!

The religious deception inherent in this type of thinking cannot be overstated. As Jesus warned:

On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Matthew 7:22-23

There can be little doubt that these people suffered from the very same religious illusion as the ones mentioned in Romans 2, although the source of their misplaced comfort was slightly different. They were led to believe that God was using them mightily in works of ministry, and they naturally presumed that this was a sign of God’s favor.

To be busy with the things of God, and to presume that this impresses God, is what Habits 4 to 6 are all about. But before we get there, we first need to expose one more religious lie: The idea that God shows favoritism based on race, culture, tribe or denomination.

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3.3 Habit 3: Biased Beliefs (2:7-11)

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to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, 10 but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. 11 For God shows no partiality.

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3.3.1 The Impartiality of God

As we will see when we get to Habit 6, true “Jewishness” has to do with the state of the heart, not the bloodline or genes.

This truth is thoroughly expounded in Chapter 4 where Paul famously reinterprets the significance of “Father Abraham,” setting the scene for his exposition of true salvation.

In verses 6 to 11 Paul introduces his readers to this truth and prepares them for the explanation that is to follow.

Note that the statement in verse 6, “He will render to each one according to his works,” does not contradict his later statements that we are not saved by works but by faith. Paul is not referring here to dead legalism, but defines “works” as “well-doing” or “doing good.” In verses 8 and 9 he contrasts such works with a “self-seeking” attitude, disobedience to the truth, obedience to unrighteousness and doing evil.

It is important to note that Paul is speaking hypothetically, and that he is not suggesting that it is in fact humanly possible to live up to this ideal of doing good works to the effect of pleasing God. The issue of a godly “lifestyle” (See Overview: Cultivating a New Lifestyle) is later discussed in Romans, where it is presented as the inevitable outcome of saving faith, and certainly not of human efforts.

In these verses Paul is making the point that God judges all people by the same criteria, and that their ancestry does not influence his judgment. By doing so Paul challenges the assumption that God shows partiality based on a person’s race, culture or tribe.

Note his words in verse 11, in reference to the “Jews” and the “Greeks:” “For God shows no partiality.”

This is no self-evident statement. In his letter to the Philippians Paul lists the things that he used to trust in and boast about as a religious Pharisee. Out of a list of seven, three concerns race and tribe! “…of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews…” (Philippians 3:5)

Saul the Pharisee was not unique in this understanding. In John 8:33 the Jews who were debating with Jesus said: “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone.”

Interestingly, whilst Jesus acknowledged their physical descent from Abraham (verse 37: “I know that you are offspring of Abraham”) he denied that this fact had any godly spiritual significance (verse 44: “You are of your father the devil.”)

3.3.2 The Origins of Religious Tribalism

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 3.55.49 PMWhere did this idea of religious supremacy based on nationality come from?

Firstly, in the case of the Jews, it stemmed from the standard Jewish interpretation of the Abrahamic covenant. The Jews believed that they were God’s chosen people as a result of their physical descent from Abraham.

Indeed, during the time of the Old Covenant they were intended to believe this, and so no one can accuse them of any error in this regard. The problem arose when Jesus came to fulfil the Law and the Prophets and reveal the anticipated “Kingdom of the Jews” as a spiritual kingdom accessible to both Jews and Gentiles, provided they enter it by faith.

By refusing to look beyond appearances to the spiritual significance of the Old Testament shadows and types, they failed to:

  • recognize Jesus Christ as their King and promised Messiah
  • understand the term “people of God” as those Jews and Gentiles who would repent, believe and enter the promised kingdom
  • see the cross as the ultimate final sacrifice
  • see the “body of Christ” as the rebuilt temple indwelt by God
  • see the outpouring of the Spirit as the writing of the Law on the hearts and minds of God’s people
  • see the ministering saints as God’s spiritual priesthood.

Simply put, their sin was a repetition of the one their forefathers committed when they said to Samuel: “Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations“.

This was no small thing. God responded by saying to Samuel: “For they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.”[18]

Note that the desire for self-governance is portrayed in the words “as all the other nations have”. The desire for self-governance was firstly characteristic of the nations, and thereafter of Israel rejecting God as King.

The issue of self-governance is what the book of Romans is all about, as we have seen. Here we are dealing with one particular manifestation of it, namely the desire to identify with a body of people who resemble a corporate image that embodies what we feel we are all about. In this way we can satisfy our primal needs to have something greater than us that we can belong to, believe in, hope in and ultimately find security in.

Sounds familiar?[19] The following picture will reveal why:

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 3.59.07 PMIt is important to remind ourselves that the spirit of self-governance originated with Satan. We referred to this in chapter 1’s “I Am” versus “I Will”: From Beholding to Visioneering,[20] where we saw that Satan transferred the seed of self-governance onto humanity in the Garden of Eden, and that this was expressed collectively in Babel with the building of the city and tower. Note how the people’s words apply to that which we discussed above:

Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.[21]

The desire for a building and a name is significant, as it has characterized so many religious enterprises throughout history. Also, as with the Babel builders, it has contributed to countless schisms and splits (The “I follow Paul,” “I follow Apollos” syndrome).[22]

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 3.4 Habit 4: Proudly Possessing the Law (2:12-18)


Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 4.02.29 PM12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without 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 before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. 17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law;

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3.4.1 Hearing and Doing

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 4.08.57 PMIn verses 12-18 Paul addresses the error of thinking that there is some merit to being “instructed from the law,” “relying on the law,” “knowing God’s will,” “approving what is excellent,” and, as a result, “boasting in God.”[23]

Again, the error is not a strictly Jewish one but a general religious one. Paul points out that God’s law is not restricted to the law of Moses, but that it is in fact written on the hearts and consciences of even the Gentiles.[24]

Thus, everyone is in the same boat as far as the “advantage” of having the law is concerned!

The way in which Paul refutes the idea that “possessing the law” buys favour with God is by stating emphatically that it is “not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.”[25]

This principle is stated in a number of Bible passages. Some examples are:

  • Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. James 1:22
  • But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do. James 1:25
  • Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Matthew 7:21
  • Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24

3.4.2 Two Types of Knowing

The error of thinking that there is some merit to “knowing God’s will” is a subtle one. One of the primary reasons why people fall into this trap has to do with our understanding of the term “knowledge” as it is used in the Bible.

As mentioned in our commentary of Romans 1:21 (Rejection), to “know” is to “know God,” not to know about the “things of God.”

What religion does is to exchange the Biblical idea of “covenant knowledge” with the pale counterfeit of “intellectual knowledge”. When this happens we are led to believe that a doctrinal “understanding” of God’s truth is meritorious in some or other way.[26]

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3.5 Habit 5: Pretentiously Preaching the Law (2:19-24)

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 4.12.29 PM19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth — 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

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3.5.1 Preaching for Points

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 4.13.13 PMVerses 19-24 build on the previous section and go one step further.

The person who “relies on the law” are here referred to as being sure that he/she is a “guide to the blind”, a “light to those who are in darkness”, an “instructor of the foolish” and a “teacher of children.”

Furthermore, because such people have in the law the “embodiment of knowledge and truth”, they now put their privileged position into practice by “teaching others” and “preaching” against all kinds of sins.

It goes without saying that “working for God” in this way certainly seems meritorious. By telling others how to live one seems to be siding with God and his truth!

The verses quoted in the previous section, Matthew 7:21 and 24, apply here. But note what verses 22 and 23 of Matthew 7 have to say:

“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

3.5.2 When Prophets do not Practice what they Preach

The fact that they knew about the things of God but that they did not know God, or were known by him, applies to the fourth habit. But here we see that their incorrect grasp produced inadequate “works.” Amongst these was the fact that they “prophesied” in his name.

Many people associate the New Testament usage of the verb “prophesy” with prediction or “foretelling,” such as the Old Testament prophets regularly did. But in fact the Greek refers to a “speaking forth” in a “divinely-empowered” way.[27] Thus we are dealing here with inspired speech or preaching in the name of Jesus (note the words “prophesy in your name”), but all to no avail.

Why? Because the preachers were not putting Christ’s words into practice!

Paul’s response to the preachers of Romans 2 is remarkably similar. He says that while they “boast in the law” they “dishonour God by breaking the law.”[28] This he illustrates by asking a number of rhetorical questions, implying that they themselves steal, commit adultery and rob temples whilst preaching against these things.[29]

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3.6 Habit 6: Outwardly Obeying the Law (2:25-29)


Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 4.20.01 PM25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

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3.6.1 The Mystery Resolved

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 4.20.24 PMVerses 25-29 conclude chapter 2 by providing us with the conclusive answer to the mystery of Paul’s accusation against his Jewish readers. [30]

Why does Paul accuse people, who dedicated their lives to keeping the law, of breaking the law? We have already briefly alluded to this in our discussion of Habit 1: Equivalent Evil and will now touch on it again.

Simply put, the problem of Paul’s Jewish audience, and all religious people for that matter, is that they do not understand the fundamental principle that is clearly stated in verses 28-29:

For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

3.6.2 Why Circumcision?

In the preceding verses, Paul makes the point that the external sign of circumcision is only valuable if a person can manage to keep the whole law. Thus, God intended circumcision to be an expression of the ability to live up to God’s holy law, just like a policeman’s uniform is intended as a sign that the policeman has the authority and ability to enforce the law. To put on the uniform does not make one a policeman. Being a policeman enables one to put on the uniform.

Circumcision is thus intended as an outward sign of the removal of the flesh from the heart of the person, enabling the person to keep the law. The religious Jews of chapter 2 have failed to keep the law, and so their circumcision becomes null and void. In fact, it is as though they have never been circumcised! The Hopeless Situation of the Human Heart

But why have they failed to keep the law? Here Paul is drawing his teaching in chapter 1 to a logical conclusion. The problem of sin is a heart problem, an inward problem, caused by the corruption of selfish desire. To observe the law outwardly does nothing to cure this heart condition. The Old Testament’s diagnosis of the human condition is as true as when it was written:

The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.[31]

…for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.[32]

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?[33]

The hearts of people, moreover, are full of evil and there is madness in their hearts while they live, and afterward they join the dead.[34]

For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.[35]

Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.[36]

Of course religious people are oblivious to the fact that the problem is not with their deeds, but with the underlying wickedness of their hearts. This is the whole point of Romans 2! Those who manage to align their deeds and general outward behaviour with the demands of the law, are oftentimes worse off than those who have no faith in their own abilities to keep the law. In the process of outwardly conforming to the commandments, they end up convincing themselves that they have done well and earned God’s favour.

3.6.3 The Teaching of Jesus Christ

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, he addressed the devastating error of such religious thinking a number of times. These passages are so important that we will deal with each of them separately. The Pharisees

In his famous rebuke of the Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees, Jesus said the following:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and pall uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.[37]

Note that Jesus ignores the fact that the Pharisees lived perfect lives as far as their outward behaviour was concerned. He points to that which was inside of them, and diagnosis it as “greed” and “self indulgence.”

Having followed Paul’s argument in Romans, we could have predicted these words of Jesus! Note how they correlate with verse 8 of chapter 2:

..but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.

Jesus also accused the Pharisees of being “full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” Here we are dealing with the same question as above: How is it possible that a people who were historically renowned for their obsessive efforts to keep the Mosaic Law, are charged with “lawlessness?”

Jesus himself provides the answer in the passage that directly precedes his accusation:[38]

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing ia camel!

The problem of the Pharisees was not that they had no desire to keep the law. It was that they misunderstood the real purpose of the law. The “weightier matters” of the law had to do with mercy, justice and faithfulness – the exact opposite of “greed and self-indulgence.”

These are the matters of the heart that are mostly invisible to the naked eye. The Pharisees neglected them, whist excelling in the external demands of the law, down to their finest detail! According to Jesus, such a perversion of the true intention of the law amounts to lawlessness!

But what about the other word: Hypocrisy? Interestingly, the word was commonly used at the time to refer to actors on the Greek stage, that is, ”a performer acting under a mask.”

Jesus was saying that the Pharisees were not who they pretended to be on the outside. Under the facade of righteousness, hid people who were just as wicked as those whom they were judging.[39] The Pharisee and the Tax Collector

In Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector[40] we are confronted with exactly the same principle.

Two men, both aware of God’s holy standard as it is revealed in his law, pray in the temple. The Pharisee believes that he has lived up to the demands of the law, and he thanks God for this. He also looks down on the tax collector whom he clearly diagnoses as a “sinner.”

The tax collector, on the other hand, knows that he has broken God’s law, beats on his chest, and cries out: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Ironically, he agrees with the assessment of the Pharisee!

The striking conclusion of the story is that it is this man, the tax collector, who is justified by God, and not the Pharisee.

What is the point of the parable? Surely not that God delights in those who break his law whilst despising those who don’t? No, the point is that the purpose of the law was met in the life of the tax collector and not in the life of the Pharisee.

This purpose is clear to see in Romans 3:20:

“Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.”

What God looked for in the temple prayers was consciousness of sin, not observance of the law, and he found it in only one of them. More about this later. The Lost Son[41]

In Luke 15 we read the following words:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” So he told them this parable:[42]

People oftentimes miss these introductory words to the parable that followed. The parable, of course, is a parable about lost possessions and the attitude of the owner when he/she finds them. In the parable three lost “items” are mentioned: A lost sheep, a lost coin and a lost son.

The reason why the introduction above is important, is because the parable was told to address the self-righteous attitude that the Pharisees were displaying towards the “tax collectors and sinners.” If we miss this, we will miss the central point of the parable.

Much can be said about the parable, but for our purposes we will simply look at the attitude that the “older son” displayed when his younger brother eventually returned home and was welcomed by their father. In verses 28-30 we read the following:

But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!”

Remember that the older son plays the part of the judgmental Pharisees in the parable, while the lost son represents the “tax collectors and sinners.” With that in mind, note again the words of the older brother: “…these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command.”

The older brother typifies the attitude of the Pharisees, namely the conviction that they always keep God’s commandments, and that they are much more entitled to God’s blessings and provisions than the “sinners” who so obviously disobey God.

Yet, if one reads between the lines, it becomes clear who is the bigger sinner. The older brother, in spite of his outward obedience to the father, clearly lacked mercy. There was no gratitude over the return of his brother, only anger that the father had received him back with compassion.

His attitude can rightly be described as “self-indulgent.” Instead of a willingness to share from his own resources, he wanted the little that had been given to his younger brother. Thus, he reveals himself to be a “taker” rather than a “giver.”[43]

Clearly the older brother was suffering from the “TFT” disease referred to in our discussion of the “second habit!”[44] The Rich Young Ruler

In the story of the rich young ruler[45] we find an interesting exchange between Jesus and an extremely successful, religious man.

The first thing that we need to note is the young man’s use of the adjective “good,” and Jesus’ correction thereof.

In Matthew’s version the man asks Jesus what “good deed” he must do to have eternal life, to which Jesus responds: “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good.”

In Luke’s account the man addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher,” with Jesus replying: ”Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

It is clear that the young man thought of goodness as a thing that could be possessed by doing certain “good deeds.” Jesus corrects him by pointing out that goodness is not a “thing” that can exist apart from God, but that it is the very nature of God. Hence the young man’s own religious nature along with his misunderstanding of God’s nature is clearly revealed at the beginning of the story.

Jesus’ further interaction with the young man teaches us a lot: He tells the man to “keep the commandments,” which of course is just another way of saying “keep the law.” The young man asks, “Which ones?” Jesus answers by quoting five times from the Ten Commandments (commandments 5-9) and adding the great commandment to “love your neighbour as yourself.”

As we would expect, the man responds in the exact self-righteous manner that typified all the religious men referred to in our previous examples. According to Luke, the young man replied: “All these things I have kept from my youth.”

Jesus then adds one more instruction, a seventh one: “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”

People oftentimes assume that Jesus was negotiating salvation with the young man and that he merely added another commandment that the two of them hadn’t yet covered in their conversation, encouraging and expecting the man to comply and “inherit eternal life.”

But that is hardly the point of the story. The young man could not comply, and Jesus knew this. This is clear from Jesus’ response to the young man’s unwillingness to accept the offer of salvation, namely that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God,”[46] and also from his response to the question posed by his startled disciples, “Then who can be saved?”

As we know, Jesus answered: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Jesus clearly knew all along that this was the case, and did not conclude it on the spot as a result of the rich man’s unwillingness to do what Jesus had told him to do. Hence, we can conclude with certainty that his invitation to the rich man was extended to prove a point, and not to try and win another convert.

The problem raised by all of this is obvious: Why would Jesus give an impossible instruction to a man in order to get him into his kingdom?

But the problem is easily solved if we consider the difference between the six “commandments” that Jesus first listed and the seventh one that he added at the end. The six commandments all came from the law – five of them from the Ten Commandments and the one to “love your neighbour” from the book of Leviticus.[47] Furthermore, they were all “possible” commandments that depended on sheer human will and effort, and thus proudly kept by the young man. Lastly, they were commandments that required an outward conforming to a moral code.[48]

The final instruction is different in every aspect. It does not appear anywhere in the law, it is revealed as an “impossible” command for humans to keep, and it required a change of heart from the young man.

As you may have noted, he was required to become a “giver” rather than a “taker!”

Once again, the self-indulgence of the heart was at stake here. Once again, the power of religion was dismally insufficient to do anything about it. The Pharisees who complained about unwashed hands

We read about yet another showdown with the Pharisees in Mathew 15 and Mark 7.[49] As you would guess by now, the issue is exactly the same one as in all the above examples.

In this event, the Pharisees were criticizing the disciples for breaking the “traditions of the elders” by eating their food with unwashed hands. Jesus immediately responds by charging them with being the real lawbreakers (nothing new here), citing an example from the way in which they twisted the obvious meaning of the fifth commandment to “honor your father and mother” for the sake of upholding their “traditions.”

The implication of the matter?

Jesus calls them “hypocrites” (again, nothing new here) and then says the following:

‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”

It could not be clearer. The Pharisees’ religion was an outward performance void of any real substance. They were play-actors on a stage, and their “hearts” were far from God in spite of all their religious rhetoric.

But it is Jesus’ next statement that most powerfully summarizes the entire problem of “outward religion” and our “Habit 6” that we are presently discussing:

“Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person. …Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.”

Yet again, the message is clear. What is needed is not a washing of the hands, but a washing of the hearts!

Jesus and the Fulfilment of the Law

The last instructions of Jesus that we will look at, and that concerns this matter, comes from the famous “Sermon on the Mount.”[50] It is singularly Jesus’ most important teaching on the subject, and essential to our understanding of the book of Romans.

The passage begins with the following well-known words of Jesus:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.[51]

These words are important as they clearly illustrate the aim of Jesus’ mission. It was not to “take away” from the law, but to “add” to the law. The law needed to be “fulfilled,” which implied that something was lacking in the law.

What was this lack? Paul presents us with an answer in Romans 7 and 8, which is so important that we need to pause and consider it before we return to Jesus’ statement.

Paul and the Tenth Commandment

In Romans 7 and 8, Paul explains that the problem has never been with the law itself, but with our inability to keep it (once more, nothing new here).

He explains this by telling us that the “law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.“[52] He also tells us that “the law is spiritual,” but then adds “but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.”[53] Later he says that the law is “weakened by the flesh.”[54]

This fact incapacitated Paul in his striving to keep the law, and so he describes the experience of his legalistic failure in the following well-know (and oftentimes misunderstood) words:

For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.[55]

Note that Paul is referring here to his past efforts to keep the law of God, not to a present struggle to live the Christian life, as is often assumed.[56] He is emphasising, in a most dramatic way, exactly what Jesus has been saying in each and every example mentioned above: Those who religiously claim to keep the law are in fact the worst breakers of the law!

This raises an important question: How did Paul transition from self-righteous Pharisaism to a place of devastated brokenness because of his inability to keep the law?

If we study Paul’s references to his past, we see a remarkable similarity between Saul the Pharisee and the religious people referred to in our previous examples. Like them, he once claimed an ability to keep the law. Note his own autobiographical words, taken from his testimony in his letter to the Philippians:

I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.[57]

As to righteousness under the law, blameless… Here Paul (or rather, Saul) sounds remarkably like the rich young man (“all these things I have kept from my youth”), the lost son’s older brother (“I never disobeyed your command”) and the praying Pharisee (“God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers…”).

Yet again, this raises the question: What had happened to the self-righteous Saul to bring him to a place of despair because of his own disability to keep the law?

The answer, believe it or not, is right before our eyes in Romans 7. The very law of Moses that tricked Saul (and every other religious Pharisee) into believing that he was keeping it, showed him that he was in fact breaking it!

Note verses 9 to 11:

I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

This provides the source of Paul’s insight: It was the Law itself!

But it deepens the mystery by presenting a new question: What on earth did Paul discover in the law that convinced him that he was in fact a lawbreaker?

Verses 7 and 8 reveal a most astounding answer:

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead.

The implications of Paul’s statement here is so profound that it leaves one numb.

Paul refers to one single commandment in the law, and confesses that he found it impossible to keep. In fact, it had the exact opposite effect on him to what one would expect. Instead of providing him with yet another opportunity to be morally superior, it strengthened the very thing in him that it was forbidding him to do!

With this in mind, let us read verses 9 to 11 again, for now they make perfect sense:

I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.

The “commandment” referred to here is none other than the prohibition to “covet,”[58] that is, the tenth commandment. Amazingly, Paul’s entire struggle with “sin” portrayed so dramatically throughout Romans 7 has to do with his inability to live up to one single commandment!

What is it about this commandment that caused Paul to stumble, in total contradiction to his impressive record of keeping the law “blamelessly?”

The answer is simple: While the first nine commandments prohibit certain actions, the tenth commandment prohibits the intention that precedes those actions. Note that the seventh commandment tells a person not to “commit adultery,” but that the tenth commandment tells the person not to “covet your neighbor’s wife.” Also note that the eighth commandment tells a person not to “steal,” but that the tenth commandment tells the person not to “covet your neighbor’s ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Clearly we break the tenth commandment every single time before we break any one of the other nine. And the reason is clear: We first desire to do something before we go ahead and do it.

Put differently, we first do it in our hearts before we do it in our deeds.

Amazingly, the spiritually astute Paul could keep himself from doing any deed that was prohibited by the law, but he could not suppress the inclination of his heart that yearned to do them!

The tenth commandment tells us that God is concerned with more than an outward allegiance to his law. What he wants is an inward desire to please him. We should stop sinning not because we have to, but because we want to. And the only way in which that can happen is if we have a change of heart.

Coveting can best be described as an appetite, and so an analogy might be helpful here: Imagine a restaurant owner puts up a sign behind his restaurant that reads: “No scratching in garbage cans allowed. Offenders will be prosecuted.”

By having made a “law” against garbage scratching, the man has solved the problem of homeless people gathering at the back of his restaurant and causing a disturbance. Yet he has not solved the underlying problem that is causing the unwanted behavior: Hunger. But this does not bother him, for his law is not telling people not to be hungry, but to stay away from his leftovers.

Unfortunately, most people think God is like that. He prohibits us from doing those things that make us happy. And so we think of him as a celestial spoilsport, and of the Bible as a handbook that says “do this, don’t do that…”

But we are wrong, and the tenth commandment proves this. The prohibition to covet is like a second sign behind the restaurant that says, “You shall not be hungry.” This reveals that the owner is not only concerned about himself, but also about the people to who he has given his “laws.” By forbidding them to be hungry, he is in fact commanding them to be full. By commanding them to be full, he is in fact preparing them for an invitation to come to him for food that is much better than the leftovers in the garbage!

That is the point of the tenth commandment. Sinful desire is the human awareness of God’s absence, and the urge to compensate for it by finding some or other God-substitute. The prohibition to experience this urge is God’s invitation to us to come to him to be filled.

Our final Life Exchange Graphic in the commentary section of Chapter 1, clearly illustrates that all actions of human beings can be traced back to one of two roots: Love or desire. And so, as you would remember, we pointed out that there is a “great commandment” along with a “great prohibition” underlying all “lifestyle choices.”

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You may remember that the last paragraph of Chapter 1: A Pagan Party concluded with the following statement:

Romans is designed around this principle. The “great prohibition” underlies the first half of Romans (chapters 1-11) and is clearest revealed in chapter 7. The “great command” underlies the second half of Romans (chapters 12-16) and is clearest revealed in chapter 13. There it is presented as the “fulfilment” of the great prohibition and the lifestyle that results from our inability to obey it.

The Fulfilment of the Law

This brings us back to Jesus’ words: “I have not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.”

Clarifying the statement, Jesus added: “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”[59]

This statement must have sounded strange, for the Pharisees were as righteous as was humanly possible. But Christ’s message was clear: The law was not yet fulfilled, and the party who gained notoriety for keeping the law was not as righteous as they could be; in fact, not even righteous enough to enter the kingdom of heaven.

The riddle is solved in the next few verses, with Christ quoting from the law six times, each time emphasising the obvious external requirement of the law, and each time pointing to a much deeper spiritual principle behind the words, thus clarifying the “fulfilment of the law!”

The first two statements confirm what we have just discovered in our discussion of Romans 7, namely the division between the first nine commandments and the tenth commandment!

Note that Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” In other words: You have heard the seventh commandment, but now I am telling you to keep the tenth commandment.

Similarly, Jesus says: “You have heard that it was said…”Do not murder…” (sixth command). “…but I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.”

Anger, of course, corresponds with covetousness, albeit a negative form thereof, and is well defined in the Oxford dictionary as “hot displeasure.”[60] It is a desire for revenge, for payback, and as such the motive that precedes the sin of murder – the very motive forbidden by the tenth command.

It becomes clear then, that the righteousness of the Pharisees was one based on their observance of the first nine commandments, as well as all the other external requirements of the law, and not of the tenth commandment. As such the Pharisees were not “righteous enough.”

Also, it explains what Christ meant when he spoke about fulfilling the law without abolishing it. By enabling people to adhere to the underlying spiritual requirements of the law, the law shall be fulfilled, and by doing so the external commandments shall never be broken, and so the law is not abolished!

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[1] Verse 17

[2] This is vital to understand lest we think that Paul’s instructions here are aimed at notorious hypocrites, and not at us or any religious people whom we may like or respect. The fact that some of the Pharisees look quite “evil” in our illustrations is because they are caricatured, not because they were exceptionally vile specimens of religiosity.

[3] Wars II, 162-1 66; cf. Antiquities XIII, 171

[4] Ant. XIII, 294

[5] Ant. XIII, 297-98

[6] Ant. XVIII, 12-15

[7] Verses 28 and 29

[8] See Romans 7:14

[9] 1 John 4:16

[10] 1 Corinthians 13

[11] Verse 4

[12] 1 Peter 3:20

[13] 1 Peter 3:9

[14] 1 Peter 3:15

[15] 1 Peter 3:11

[16] Matthew 24:37-38

[17] I am indebted to Nassim Nicholas Taleb for the turkey analogy. Taleb borrowed it from the philosopher Bertrand Russel and used it in his provocative book The Black Swan to illustrate the folly of predicting the future by using the past as a point of reference. Along with scholars such as Daniel Kahneman (Fast and Slow Thinking) and Daniel Gilbert (Stumbling on Happiness) Taleb points out that humans are outrageously irrational when they try their hand at forecasting the future.

[18] See 1 Samuel 8:5-7

[19] If not, see the comic The Story of I on page 66

[20] See page 68

[21] Genesis 11:4-5

[22] See 1 Corinthians 1:10-13 and 3:4-23. Here Paul addresses both the “name” and the “building” issue from a Kingdom point of view rather than a tribal or religious one.

[23] Verses 17-18

[24] Verses 14-16

[25] Verse 13

[26] See footnote 75 on page 81

[27] See Strongs Concordance, 4395: prophéteuó

[28] Verse 23

[29] Verse 21-22

[30] Or at least a prelude to the answer. Romans 7 is devoted in its entirety to addressing the problem of keeping the law outwardly whilst having an unregenerate heart, as we will see. There the 10th commandment is introduced as the “spiritual” commandment that prohibits not a series of deeds, but the intention behind those deeds. Thus it is the impossible commandment for the person whose heart has not been “circumcised.”

[31] Genesis 6:5

[32] Genesis 8:21

[33] Jeremiah 17:9

[34] Ecclesiastes 9:3

[35] Mark 7:21-23

[36] Psalm 51:5

[37] Matthew 23:25-28

[38] Matthew 23:23-24

[39] See Strongs Concordance, 5273: hupokrités . The word is derived from hypo (Strongs Concordance, 5259) which means “under” and krínō (Strongs Concordance, 2919) which means “judge.” Therefore one who “judges under.”

[40] Luke 18:9-14

[41] Better known as the “prodigal” son. The word “prodigal” appears nowhere in the Bible and is a rather silly adjective to use for describing the son. Contrary to popular belief, it is not a synonym for “lost” or a reference to someone who goes away and eventually returns home. The word derives from the Latin prodigus which means “wasteful,” and appears in the Latin Vulgate from where it is believed to have slipped into our English translations as a heading. Whilst the son was certainly wasteful, wastefulness is hardly the point of the parable in any one of its three examples. Thus, it is much better to speak of the “lost son.”

[42] Luke 15:1-3

[43] See the Life Exchange Graphic on page 82

[44] See page 96

[45] Matthew 19:16-30; Luke 18:18-30

[46] Jesus is referring to the loop of a sewing needle here. The popular suggestion that the “eye of the needle” was a small gate in Jerusalem’s wall, that forced a camel to stoop and shed its baggage in order to pass through, is entirely mythical. No such gate is known to have ever existed and history provides not a shred of evidence thereof. In fact, if this were the case Jesus’ next statement would have been false, for then it would indeed have been “possible” for people to be saved, provided they knew how to squeeze themselves into the kingdom. Furthermore, the metaphor of a huge animal being pushed through the eye of a sewing needle appears in Jewish Talmudic literature predating the ministry of Jesus. E.g. “They do not show a man a palm tree of gold, nor an elephant going through the eye of a needle (Babylonian Talmud, Berakoth, 55b), and “… who can make an elephant pass through the eye of a needle” (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Mezi’a, 38b). Whilst the camel was the largest animal in Israel, the elephant was the largest animal in the regions where the Babylonian Talmud was written. Hence Jesus’ statement was a perfect cultural translation of a known Jewish metaphor. For more information, see The camel and the eye of the needle, Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, Luke 18:25 at The purpose of this lengthy footnote is to establish the exact intention of Jesus’ words beyond a shadow a doubt: It is impossible for men to be saved through any effort of their own, no matter how religious or noble they may be. Religion has tried to downplay the stark reality of this truth for millennia, hence the invention of a mythical gate to soften Jesus’ words.

[47] Leviticus 19:18

[48] The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” does not fit into any of these categories, if rightly understood. In fact, the entire book of Romans is a build-up to the towering presence of these words amongst all the other commandments, so much so that they are ultimately identified as “the fulfillment of the law” in chapter 13. But there is no contradiction here. Jesus clearly illustrated in Matthew 6:43-48 that the great command to love one’s neighbor had succumbed to the power of religion in the Jewish and Rabbinical mind, and so it was interpreted to mean “love your neighbor and hate your enemies,” which is clearly a very different command to the one Jesus had in mind. We can safely assume that it is this religious version (TFT if you wish) of the command that was communicated by Jesus and understood by the young man. Jesus’ additional instruction to “sell all” rectified the erroneous understanding of the words and confronted the young man with their real meaning. By not being able to adhere to them, the young man proved himself to be a lawbreaker.

[49] Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23

[50] The term “Sermon on the Mount” does not appear anywhere in the Bible, but is generally understood as referring to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5-7.

[51] Matthew 5:17

[52] Romans 7:12

[53] Romans 7:14

[54] Romans 8:3

[55] Romans 7:15-23

[56] Note his statements: “I agree with the law…I delight in the law…” This is not the regenerate Paul who taught that we have been “released from the law.” The reference is clearly to an experience that he had had whilst being “under the law,” yet not able to keep it.

[57] Philippians 3:4-6

[58] “Covet” is an old English word for “desire.”

[59] Matthew 5:20

[60] p48, Fowler, H W & Fowler, F G 1964. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English. Great Britain: Oxford University Press














Author: naturalchurch

Naturalchurch is the blog of Tobie van der Westhuizen.

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