Romans 2:17 – 24 — “Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, And knowest His will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God? For the Name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.”
This next passage speaks directly to the recipients of the only religion that ever came from God. That this is especially written to Jews for them to take to heart is true. They will find that their place of privilege before God turns out to very much be a disadvantage. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more” (Luke 12:48).
We go back to the fact that simply knowing what is right is not enough. It was already shown that even the “strangers from the covenants of promise” (Ephesians 2:12), i.e., the Gentiles, have the law of God written on their hearts (Romans 2:14 – 15), but this only proves their guilt.
The same is true of the Jew, those that are partakers of the covenants of promise. The Jews rested and boasted in the Law. “We are Moses’ disciples” (John 9:28) was the boast of the Jews against a man whose eyes were opened by our blessed Savior, but they could not see. They boasted that they were following Moses, but in truth:
John 5:45 – 47 — “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed Me: for he wrote of Me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe My words?”
This made them very guilty. Another instance of guilt from the very fact of the advantage of the Jew: Pastor C. R. Stam writes in one of the many Two Minutes with the Bible articles:
Many people suppose that God gave us the Ten Commandments to help us to be good. The fact is, however, that He gave them to show us that we are bad. Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:19 and a hundred other Bible passages teach this clearly.
How can the Law be of any advantage to a law-breaker?
How can it justify us unless we keep it — perfectly?
Do you recall the woman caught in adultery, in John 8? She was a Jewess. She was better off than the Gentiles, for she had the law of Moses to show her right from wrong, but this didn’t justify her; it condemned her. So her “advantage” turned out to be a serious disadvantage, for “not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.¹”
The Jewish people really could boast of knowing God’s will. We will read in the next chapter that “unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2). But what good is any of that if the law is not kept? An unkept law only condemns.
The writer of this epistle to the Romans knows this very well. His witness of his former life in “the Jews’ religion”:
Galatians 1:13 – 14 — “For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews’ religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.”
Philippians 3:5 — “… as touching the law, a Pharisee.”
Acts 26:4 – 5 — “My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.”
As far as how the apostle meant this, he meant it in the most positive light. He was surely. He was stating that he lived the best “Jewish” life that he could. It was the “straitest sect”, not the most liberal. He was no “nominal Jew”. He was a “Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee” (Acts 23:6). Yet when he really heard the law, as we will see in Romans 7, he could say only this:
Romans 7:10 — “And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death.”
The people of the covenant were to be a peculiar treasure to the Lord above all people, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation (Exodus 19:5 – 6). In this, they were the light of the world, and the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13 – 14). But the law that they received, “by the disposition of angels” (Acts 7:53), was not kept. The law proved guilt, and the sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, showed that they too were indeed the sons of Adam. The people of the covenant were as guilty of theft, adultery, idolatry, and all other evils as the Gentile world around them, only their guilt was worse: the law increases guilt and condemnation. As the Gentile nations would look at the children of Israel, they could not, as was purposed, look at the nation and see the greatness of Jehovah and His law. They saw a people who were supposed to be different, but they would look and scoff at the great God of Israel and His nation that was no different than them. “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.” How much does this increase the guilt! The “good”, the bad, and the religious, are all in the same boat, headed for ultimate destruction.
What this states about the Jew could as easily be directed toward the “cultural Christian”, the “church-goer”, and for that matter, the devout “Christian” that is leaning on his own righteousness and religion. Approximately 2000 years have past, and we have the completed Word of God as a witness to and against us of God’s requirements. No one can make a boast of God because of the light that we have. It will only increase our guilt if we fail to act on what we know. “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required”. God’s revealed word to us is the word of salvation by grace through faith in the Christ of Calvary, Who died on that cross for our sins, and rose again for our justification. God’s terms for us are very precise, and because of their precision, very simple. The worst of sinners may freely come to the cross to be justified of all things, of which even God’s covenant people could not be justified by the law of Moses. The law of Moses condemns them and the rest of us. The Lord Jesus Christ, by His death for us, justifies the one who has faith in Him. It is “to him that worketh not, but believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly” (Romans 4:5), that this righteousness is given on the basis of God’s grace.
1 Corinthians 15:1 – 4 — “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the scriptures…”