In this chapter, Paul addresses the Jews of the church at Rome, as their self-righteousness threatens the unity of the church – just as it did in Galatia and elsewhere. But here again, the applications to all people are clear. He again states that the Gentiles are without excuse, for just as the evidence for God abounds, he also says “the law is written on their hearts.” So even though they did not have prophets who wrote the law as the Jews knew it, the Gentiles knew enough “to do what the law requires” (verses 14-15).
But the Jews, who had the law and were circumcised, were warned that they who pass judgment on others are not without sin themselves. So they should not boast and be judgmental because if they know the law and additionally are circumcised, but still live in sin they are just as guilty – for God shows no partiality. They are not favored of God for their knowledge of the law or for their circumcision. Though it is still admirable that they keep the law of circumcision, it is no longer required anyway, and it is of no value to them in their sin.
Paul is not speaking of baptism here, nor is he comparing it to circumcision. But as Christians today we would do well to remember this passage when it comes to others. Being “raised in the church,” knowing and even reading their Bible, and even having been baptized are all of no value if we live in sin anyway. In that case, we will be just as lost as those who never obeyed the gospel. As it was true then of being a Jew and being circumcised, it is living a life that is consistent with faith in (and commitment to) the Lord that has value.
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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