The earliest Christians followed a Jewish tradition of pausing to pray, preferably together, first thing in the morning, about mid morning, at noon, about mid afternoon, and in the evening. “Just a Note” posts are brief observations made from Scripture readings not related to a lectionary. If I have one to post, it normally appears about 9:00 in the morning, at “the hour of prayer.”
In Romans 2:25-29 Paul observes that Jews don’t really have an advantage over Gentiles in living a godly life. Apart from the grace of Jesus, both are bound to keep God’s law, insofar as they have become aware of it. In the second portion of chapter 1 he has already pointed out that the Gentiles are aware of plenty of God’s natural law to condemn them. All humans, in our fallen world, are lawbreakers. The Jews know more of God’s revelation. If they wish to earn God’s favor by themselves, they need to keep God’s law.
What hope is there? We dare not downplay the severity of God’s judgment. His righteous requirements are just that. They are requirements. Here, Paul is speaking primarily to a Jewish audience. It is as if he says that they are surrounded by Gentiles who, in their intuition, are more willing to live a life which is pleasing to God than the Jews, God’s chosen people. This is to the shame of the Jews.
At the end of the passage, Paul’s conclusion is that the life of faith is not like the life of works. The people who live a life pleasing to God do it from a broken heart. He calls it a circumcision of the heart. The hard heart has been cut open and rolled away. With it all our unbelief, sin, and shame are rolled away as well. This is the circumcision which counts before God. It is not the external sign. It is the inward reality.
I know the question this raises. At least I know the question it should raise. Is Paul saying that externals don’t matter, that what really matters is the inward nature of our heart? We are therefore free to live however we want because God knows our hearts? Not at all. He is making quite the opposite argument. He sees that our behaviors, at least for the most part, reflect our inward condition. The person with the circumcised heart will desire to do the things which are pleasing to God, whether he is a partaker of the external sign of the covenant or not. How we live matters. It matters a lot to God. It matters even more to our neighbors, who might never hear God’s words of Law and Gospel without seeing our good works first.
The Christian, then, is to live an exemplary life. Why? Because God is exemplary. This will never happen in our own power, by our own desire, and through our own will. It only happens when God has rolled away the sin and shame in our hearts. This is exactly what he does as we trust Jesus as our life-giver.
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