In Romans chapter 1 the Apostle Paul begins his letter to the Romans reminding them of the condition of the world – The condition of all people
He reminds them that the world is broken – He reminds them that they too are broken – All of humanity is broken
He tells them that although everyone knows that God exists and know that they ought to worship Him – They do not
The creation is self-evident and points to a Creator, but humanity’s natural inclination is to ignore this evidence
Paul tells us that we do this by “suppressing the truth” that is plain to us (Rom. 1:18)
In chapter 2 Paul tells us that not only are the Gentiles guilty before God because of their suppression of truth, but the Jews are guilty as well
The Gentiles are guilty because they suppress the truth that is found in creation, the Jews are guilty because they suppress the truth that is found in the Law
The Jews are guilty because they know what God expects of them (because they have the Law) but they do not do it – Instead they judge the Gentiles and do the same things they do – They are Hypocrites
So, Paul tells us that the Gentiles are guilty because of their suppression of General Revelation (i.e. the creation and the conscience)
And the Jews are guilty because of their suppression of Special Revelation (i.e. the Law and the Scriptures)
Do you see what Paul is doing here?
He is showing his readers that no one is righteous before God
God has “revealed” Himself to all humanity in some way – And instead of responding correctly and adequately, humanity suppresses this revealing – And in the process incurs the judgment of God
So, now we reach the second half of chapter 2, and Paul is going to elaborate on this (specifically he will be addressing the heart and the conscience)
We will be asking the question, “What role does the heart and conscience play in all this?”
12 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; 19 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.”
25 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.
What I want us to consider tonight is this:
Is it better to hear and not do, or is it better to do and not hear?
Paul begins this section to continue what he has been saying in regard to the Jews and the Gentiles
He says, 12 “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” Romans 2:12
In other words, no matter the who you are, either Jew or Gentile you will be judged on the amount of revelation that you were given – The amount of light that you were given – If you have been given the Law, you will be judged by the Law, but if you have been given the creation and the conscience (and not the Law) you will be judged based on the creation and the conscience
What Paul is doing here is telling us that there is no excuse before God
There will not be a single person, past, present, or future that will be able to say, “I didn’t know”
The ones in the jungle will not be able to say, “I didn’t know”
The Gentiles living in Old Testament times cannot say, “I didn’t know”
The Jews are not able to say, “I didn’t know”
And we today, are not able to say, “I didn’t know”
We may live our whole lives ignorant of the Bible, but not one of us can look up into the sky and not consider what God has done in the heavens – In the creation – In all that we see around us
Remember what Paul says in chapter 1, 20 “For his (God) invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived (understood), ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” Romans 1:20
Well, Paul goes on in chapter 2, he says, 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.” Romans 2:13
I believe this is the main verse for this section, Paul is referring to the Jews and he’s saying that just because you have the Law it doesn’t mean you are righteous, and just because the Gentiles don’t have the Law it doesn’t mean that they are unrighteous
What matters is if you do what the Law requires
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.” Romans 2:14
In other words, it’s not the Law-holders that are right in the eyes of God, but the Law-doers that are right in the eyes of God
It’s the difference between someone always reading the Bible, but never doing what the Bible says, and the person who does not read the Bible but does what it says
So, is it better to hear and not do, or is it better to do and not hear?
I think what Paul is emphasizing here is that it is better to do – It is better to do what the Law requires than to know what it says
This is the problem the Pharisees had – They knew the Law – They knew it better then anyone – But they did not do what the Law required
What did Jesus have to say about them?
In Matthew 23 we read of the seven “woes” directed to the Pharisees
Jesus said, 23 “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. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” Matthew 23:23-24
Do you guys know what Jesus is referring to here? “You tithe mint, dill, and cumin, but have neglected the weightier matters of the Law” or “You strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel?”
He’s referring to the fact that the Pharisees had begun to major on the minors, when they should have majored on the majors and minor on the minors
Let me explain, the Law stated that the people were to tithe all of their possessions, this was supposed to be an act of faith – When I (if I was living in those days) harvested my crop I would give the first 10% of it to the Lord – This showed my trust in God for providing for my needs – Since God is the one who has blessed me with the crop, I would acknowledge this, and give 10% of it back to Him
But God doesn’t need anything, so this 10% was designated for the Levites (the Levites were one of the twelve tribes that did not inherit any land, they instead were put in charge of the temple, they were priests, so they had no way of providing for themselves)
The Law was intended to supply the Levites with food so that they would not go hungry; it was primarily directed to the “field” – The crops of the field (wheat, barley, etc.)
But the Pharisees went as far as to tithe from the spice gardens
Now this is not bad in and of itself – But it is bad when you neglect the more important things that the Law says to do – In this case provide “justice, mercy, and faithfulness”
You see, what they were doing is “straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel”
A gnat is a bug – Bug’s are small – We don’t like eating bugs! – But according to Jesus they were swallowing a camel (something very big)
They were majoring on the minors and minoring on the majors
Jesus tells them, “These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others” Matthew 23:23
Before the seven woes, in the beginning of the chapter Jesus told his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice.” Matthew 23:2-3
In other words, do what they tell you,because they know the Law, but don’t live your life like them
It’s better to not know what the Law says and do it, then to know what it says and not do it!
I think this is what Paul is saying here
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. Romans 2:13-15
What Paul is saying here is that when Gentiles do what the Law says to do (even though they don’t have it), they are doing what God requires of them – They show that the “Law is written on their hearts”
What does Paul mean by this? – Now stay with me, this may get a little heady
Well, when the Bible uses the word “heart” most of the time it doesn’t refer to the organ that sits in our chest – But is talking about something else
It’s the Greek word kardia – Does it sound familiar? This is where we get the English word “cardiology” – The study of the heart – Or the word “cardiologist” – A doctor that specializes on the heart
Anyway, along with “heart” it could also be translated as “inner self” or “inside”
And it refers to three things: 1. The Mind 2. The Will 3. And the Emotions
So, when Paul says, “the Law is written on their hearts” what he is saying is the Law is written on their “inside,” on their “inner self,” – Their mind, their will, and their emotions
If you think about it, these three things comprise who we really are – This is the real us – This is the us without the body
If we were to leave our bodies, we would be conscious, we would be able to make decisions, and we would be able to feel (Mind, Will, and Emotions)
So, what Paul is saying is, the Law is written on the Gentiles true self (inside) – They are able to understand it because the heart thinks – They are able to act, because the heart is able to make choices – And they are able to discern what they are doing, because the heart is able to feel
In other words, the heart is the control center of the whole person
And the conscience helps to make right decisions in the control center – The conscience is what tells us what is right and what is wrong
Paul says that “the Law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness” Romans 2:15
So, what does any of this have to do with anything?
I think that God is telling us that He has given us a very powerful tool to make right decisions – And the one big decision that we must make is concerning His Son Jesus Christ
Will we use our heart to seek after Him?
Will we use our heart to live a godly life?
Will we use our heart to do what God has created us to do?
Or will we suppress the truth?
Will we suppress our conscience?
You see, the Jews thought they were okay with God simply because they were Jews – Because they were the chosen people
And what Paul is doing here is telling them that this is not the case, that it doesn’t matter whether you are a Jew or a Gentile – What matters is that you do what God requires
It doesn’t matter what’s on the outside – It’s what’s on the inside that matters
In verse 28 Paul says, 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.” Romans 2:28-29
You notice the words Paul uses here?
He says, “No one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly (physical), nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart”
We see the inside nature here
The Law of God is written on the heart – It’s written on the inside
I think what this passage is teaching us is that all people must have the Law of God written on their hearts – It is not enough to have the Law or the Bible in our hands – It must be in our hearts
It has to move from our head down to our heart – If it never makes it to the heart it will never change us
So, how do we make it come down to our heart?
Well, first of all, before it can make its way to our heart, it must first make its way into our head
How’s this going to happen?
Well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out –It happens by reading
It’s not going to get there any other way! – If we love God and we want to know who He is then we should be reading His Word all the time – We should be seeking Him with our whole heart
King David is a good example for us – He knew this – He lived this – What is the name that God gave him? – “A man after my own heart” Acts 13:22
In Psalm 119 (the longest Psalm in the Bible) David says these words
Verse 2: “Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek Him with their whole heart”
Verse 10: “With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments”
Verse 11: “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you”
Verse 34: “Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart”
Verse 36: “Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain”
Verse 58: “I entreat your favor with all my heart; be gracious to me according to your promise”
Verse 69: “The insolent smear me with lies, but with my whole heart I keep your precepts”
Verse 80: “May my heart be blameless in your statutes, that I may not be put to shame”
Verse 111: “Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart”
Verse 112: “I incline my heart to perform your statutes forever”
Verse 145: “With my whole heart I cry; answer me, O Lord! I will keep your statutes”
So, I hope and pray that we would be a people like David – A people that follow after God with their “whole heart”
I hope and pray that we would be a people that have our command center totally focused on Jesus – That our hearts would be inclined to the Lord – That all that we do in this life would bring Him glory!