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"Natural Law and Fake Spirituality"

May 18, 2014 Rom 2:11-16,23-29


Our hearts are designed to treasure things, to value relationships, to keep track of what's of highes worth in our lives. Our Creator designed us for relationship with Himself, but sometimes we let other idols take the place of honour and value that God alone deserves. What anchors your life? What are you banking on?

Recently the BBC carried the story of a 10-year-old girl from India who last September heard her family discussing India's failing economy, how the rupee was slipping in value compared to the US dollar. This gal from the suburbs of Delhi wrote a letter to the recently-appointed governor of the Reserve Bank of India; she ended it with: "Dr Raghuram Rajan, please bring in some new ideas that will improve our economy.I want people to come to India and not to think that it's corrupt and a dump!" Also in the envelope she included a US $20 bill that she'd saved from an overseas holiday, saying that she felt "the country needs it more than I do."

How many Canadians would take initiative to send money in to our central bank? When we do our income tax returns, we'd rather not send in one penny more than we absolutely have to! Such altruism and self-forgetfulness this girl showed. She (Laila) valued the welfare of her country more than her own status; she genuinely wanted to help the whole community, and took concrete action. She was concerned that the bank they all depended on wasn't as reliable as it should be.

By the way, ten days later she was very surprised to receive an official-looking letter in the mail. The bank governor wrote back to her saying, ""I am deeply touched by your kind gesture...I am aware this is a challenging time for the country and I have no doubt the economy will emerge stronger...I am returning the $20 note you had sent with the assurance that we have adequate foreign exchange reserves in RBI to manage the situation." The governor also invited her to visit him next time she was in Mumbai, which she did when her father went there on a business trip.

Where did Laila's generous impulse come from? Was it required by the law? No; it was entirely spontaneous, prompted from the kindness and concern in her heart.

Changing economic times are causing Ontarians to question how secure our own banks and finances are. Canadian Savings Bonds used to be the emblem of things in life you could count on. But with the provincial election coming up, attention is turning to our mounting deficit and debt and how various parties intend to address these. It's a fearful thing to imagine the provincial "bank" going broke - of credit agencies downgrading our rating.

But our focus today isn't on telling the government how to run itself; the Bible is more concerned with how we govern ourselves. Paul warns those who consider themselves "religious" that maybe the things they've been banking on aren't quite as secure as they thought. When we pride ourselves on outward religious observance or personal background, our true righteousness approaches "junk bond" status!


The second chapter of Romans builds on the first chapter, in which Paul outlined how human idolatry and immorality is storing up for itself God's wrath. 1:19f People are intuitively aware through "general revelation" of God's qualities of power and divinity reflected in the attributes of creation observable in the world around us. Yet we suppress this truth and refuse to give God thanks or glory. Thus in 1:21 our thinking becomes futile, our foolish hearts darkened. 1:24 God consigns us to the outcomes of our hearts' sinful desires - sexual impurity, degrading our bodies through shameful lusts. 1:28f Through our "depraved" mind we become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity.

Chapter 2 begins with Paul noting our hypocrisy - for though we're quick to pass judgment on others, we're condemning ourselves because we too do similar things, thus showing CONTEMPT for God's kindness which really ought to lead us to repentance. But our hearts are stubborn, unrepentant; 2:8 we are "self-seeking" individuals, we reject the truth and follow evil. As CS Lewis observed: "There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, 'All right, then, have it your way.'"

This section of Romans is important because it lays the foundation for humans' universal accountability to God and deserving of judgment, whether or not they have ever heard the gospel of Jesus. 1:19-20 highlights "general revelation" - God created the world and gave us logical faculties, a mind capable of inquiry and reason, that ought to deduce there is a greater power in the universe to whom we are accountable. Then 2:15 points out the inward faculty of conscience that supplies all people and cultures with the basic tenets of right and wrong: Gentiles (who don't have the Jewish law, given by special revelation, nevertheless) "show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them."

So God has coded into creation (out there) and our moral nature (in here) witnessing factors that point to Him - the magnificence and beauty of nature that we can observe physically, AND this acute inner moral sense of right and wrong, fair and unfair, that there is something inherently wrong and evil about what Hitler did to the Jews, or parents driving their children into the ocean. Major world religions attest to the latter, what we call "natural law", because our human makeup is wired that way. And by the same token, we realize we're all sinners, we've all blown it at some time or other, we're guilty to some degree and need forgiveness.

In verses 23-28 Paul zeroes in on 3 aspects of sinfulness that even "religious" types are susceptible to. In his day, he addresses Jews, but in our day, some churchgoers fall into these traps.

V23 "You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?" Jews could brag to their Gentile neighbours that they followed the law of Moses. Yet no Jew perfectly fulfilled the law's requirements - as Paul well knew, having tried so hard to keep the law himself - Php 3:6 "as for legalistic righteousness, faultless" (yet he saw after such law-based righteousness was "rubbish" Php 3:8). Do you consider yourself a pretty decent law-abiding citizen - that your name doesn't appear in the police or court reports? Do you brag about your flawless driving record, that you've never been pulled over for a breathalyzer test, that you've been asked to sit on multiple committees around the municipality? Yet in more subtle ways, you may have dishonoured God - perhaps by breaking less obvious laws, or exalting your self-image as an idol dethroning Him.

V25 could be applied to our religiosity: Paul concedes, "Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised." Circumcision was an outward visible religious observance marking a male as a member of the Israelite covenant community. What religious rituals do we rely on to give us status? Do we pride ourselves that we go to church every Sunday, not like those "Christmas poinsettias and Easter lilies"? Do we pat ourselves on the back for sitting on a church board or putting in more hours on "church work" than the next person? Are our children unimpressed by how snarly and antsy we get trying to hurry them up so we can make it to church on time, yet how our face changes and we become all smiley and nice to other church folk as soon as we walk in the door when we get there? God sees your demeanour BEFORE you come to church too, y'know!

V28 could be applied to what we bank on in terms of personal background and upbringing: "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical." We're not "Jewish" in the literal sense - we can't trace our genealogy back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - but do we pride ourselves on being from the right "family"? That we hail from prominent families in the community, there are no skeletons in our closet, we lived on "the right side of the tracks"? Do we sort of look down our nose at the person who comes from a broken home or who's struggling with some kind of addiction or went through a seamy chapter in their past they're kind of embarrassed about now? Breeding and background, pride and subtle snobbery, can be idols that ensnare every bit as much as the more blatant moral transgressions of extramarital or perverted sex back in chapter 1. You're banking on the wrong sort of security! God's not impressed by your pedigree OR your personal performance. As Isaiah said, all our righteous acts are like "filthy rags" (Is 64:6) - or as Caesar Kalinowski put it at Regional Gathering, "used tampons"!

Paul's main point here is that we've all sinned, and are accountable before a Holy God. 2:12 "All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law." You get a little hint of how he's leading up to a universal indictment of all persons in 3:23, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..."


What's God really looking for from us, His creatures? What would be right values for us to have; what qualities would actually count as valuable in His Kingdom? There are absolutes. It's not "all relative" as the secularists might have you believe. Life and existence in the universe has meaning BECAUSE God has appointed a day of judgment, where final right-wising and justice will be meted out, so bad guys don't "get away with" their evil deeds in the end. In 2:16 Paul refers to "the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares."

The fact of Judgment is an important part of the gospel. You shortchange the gospel message if you abbreviate it to simply "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life"! Sounds kind of pollyanna and twists God into a wimpy Santa Claus. There's plenty of injustice and wrongdoing in the world and people's inner moral sense and hunger for real meaning inclines them to want to know that there is a final judgment day. Yet equally it's a caricature of the gospel to simply be negative and say: "Judgment is coming! Repent!" or, "Where will YOU spend eternity - smoking or non-smoking?" Take time to love people and carefully unpack for them, in terms relevant to their situation, both law and gospel - the reality of the "falling short" yet also the hope Christ offers.

2:16 "the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ" - what will He be looking for?

First, God's looking for people who OBEY THE LAW not just hear it. V13 "For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." Just being in church hearing a sermon makes you no more a Christian than being in a cookie jar makes a mouse a cookie! James 1:22&25 "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.Do what it says...The man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it-- he will be blessed in what he does."

Theologians sometimes contrast Paul's emphasis on "faith" with James' emphasis on "deeds", but it's a false dichotomy; in Romans 1:5 Paul states up-front that his apostleship (or appointment) is "to call people...to the OBEDIENCE THAT COMES FROM FAITH." Likewise he closes this "greatest letter ever written" describing the gospel's purpose as "so that all nations might BELIEVE AND OBEY Him" (God; Rom 16:26). Several other verses in chapter 2 emphasize "obeying the law" - 25 "observe the law", 26 "keep the law's requirements", 27 "obeys the law". How's your "obedience quotient"? In the Great Commission Jesus defines a disciple as someone who has been taught to "observe all that I have commanded you" (Mt 28:20). Do those closest to you see you obeying / observing Jesus' teachings? Or are you a Christ-ian in name only?

Next, v15 suggests God's looking for transformed hearts that have been impacted by His revealed will. Paul says Gentiles who do by nature things requested by the law "show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness..." Are you daily internalizing Christ's commands, spending time reading the Bible and meditating prayerfully so your heart gets saturated with God's formulas for living? Has your conscience become aligned with Biblical categories, or have you allowed a surfeit of media-watching to dull your conscience's edges? When God's requirements become engraved on your heart, you'll start to will His will, want His priorities, yearn for His values.

And look at what God will praise according to v29: "No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God." You will be banking on the right things if your heart is "circumcised" by the Spirit, made sensitive and responsive to the way God is moving in your circumstance - not like a dull or hardened heart that resists hearing Him. Sacrifice your stubbornness, your self-seeking, your unrepentance. Dare to allow God to make you really care. Listen and look with your heart, not just your eyes; examine the inner reality of things, not just what's on the surface.

While there's a lot of emphasis here on obeying the law, don't forget that "obedience...comes from faith" as Paul noted in 1:5. We have all sinned, we are morally bankrupt, we need the "credit" that only God can give through His gift of His Son at the cross. 1:17 "For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last..." In 3:22 Paul will tell us "This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe." At the cross, Jesus was giving up His life so you might be saved, He was investing all His holy righteousness as "Son of God" for YOUR benefit, bailing out your bankruptcy.


This section of Paul's writing reminds us not to judge based on outward appearances. A person's value before God is not based on skin colour, but what's going on inside them, in their heart.

Recently the owner of the LA Clippers learned a painful lesson when an audio clip surfaced in which he made disparaging remarks about black people attending the games. The NBA subsequently barred him; strong action was rightfully called for. Sterling's comments seemed to involve a picture in which a woman friend was seen with former basketball star Magic Johnson. Some might dismiss Johnson on account of earlier misdemeanours in life, including picking up HIV, but I was interested by his reaction to Donald Sterling, who had slammed the NBA legend's character, his battle with HIV and his community outreach efforts. In an interview with Anderson Cooper on Tuesday, Magic Johnson said, "I'm going to pray for him and hope things work out for him...I'm not a guy who holds grudges and all that.Yes, am I upset? Of course! But at the same time, I'm a God-fearing man." Does Johnson's fear of God help him to forgive others?

Prejudice would discount some folks, judging them based on outer appearance not inner possibilities. Marilyn Johnson Kondwani graduated with a degree from college in public health education and accepted a position in the pharmaceuticals industry. In fact, she was the first African-American woman to sell pharmaceuticals in Indiana. When Kondwani accepted the sales position, her friends were shocked because a woman of color selling encyclopedias in her same territory had recently been murdered. Initially, she encountered a significant amount of prejudice from the physicians she called on due both to her color and gender. Rather than being defeated by this response, she utilized it to her advantage reckoning that no one she called on would ever forget her. Within two years, she had broken numerous sales records and earned the most prestigious award given by the company to their top salesmen.

However, instead of earning the long-awaited large commission checks, the company chose to subdivide her sales region and hired a handsome, blonde man to take her place. Discouraged, she resigned her position and moved to Los Angeles. Searching the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times, she spotted a classified ad for a regional sales manager with the cosmetics giant Revlon. She called the phone number listed in the ad on Monday morning only to be told that due to an overwhelming response, the company was accepting no more resumés. She drove to the Marriott and inquired of the desk clerk the location of the interviews. She was curtly told there was no way she could get an interview nor was Rick English accepting any more resumés. She walked away smiling, knowing that she now had the name of the man she needed to see. She went into the restaurant and as she paid her bill, she explained her circumstance to the cashier. Upon hearing her story, the cashier immediately picked up the telephone and asked for and received the room number of Mr.English. With her heart pounding, Ms. Kondwani stood outside of Room 515 and said a prayer. She then knocked on the door and the moment English opened the door, she said, "You haven't met the best person for this job because you haven't interviewed me yet."

After landing the position and working for Revlon for the next three years, Ms. Kondwani opened her own line of beauty products for women of color ("Treasure of Egypt Aromatherapy") which to this day continues to provide a significant income and sense of fulfillment.