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LAW IS LIKE A WALL1

(Romans 2:1-29)

In chapter one of Romans, we learned that God provided the way of righteousness
through faith. The Old Testament Law and Prophets through Abraham, David, Isaiah,
Habakkuk and Joel affirmed this. We also discovered that the Gospel is centered on Jesus
Christ, who died for our sin and was raised from the dead, to restore our righteous standing
before God. The last part of chapter one also shows us the failure of the Gentile world in
acknowledging God through worship and adoration thus producing God’s holy anger and
bringing them to aggravating and increasing degree of human degradation which culminated in
death.
Paul agrees with the writer to the Hebrews that the God we believe in is the God of
Revelation. From Scriptures, Biblical scholars identify two types of revelation. The first type is
found in Rom.1:20 which refer to the General Revelation. It tells us that Creation reveals God’s
invisible qualities: His divine nature and eternal power. The second type is called Special
Revelation which is found in Hebrews 1:1-2, “Long ago God spoke many times and in many
ways to our ancestors through the prophets. But now in these final days, he has spoken to us
through his Son.” Every nation is a recipient of the General Revelation but only Israel was
privileged to be the recipient of Special revelation.
In the Biblical story, Israel was chosen by God from among the nations. Through Noah,
Abraham and Moses God entered into a covenant relationship with Israel. It was a special
relationship sealed with special signs: Rainbow for Noah, Circumcision for Abraham and The
Law for Moses. In Genesis chapter nine, Noah and his sons received God’s blessing to be
fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth. (Gen.9:1) In Genesis chapter twelve, Abraham received
God’s call to leave his country and people and go to a land, the Promised Land. This call goes
with a promise blessing of becoming a great nation, acquiring a great name and becoming a
blessing to others. (Gen.12:1-3) Through the Exodus event, when Moses responded to God’s
call to become His instrument of deliverance, Israel became a nation. Moses became
instrumental in handing down God’s law which became the guiding principle of Israel’s social

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Ptr. Jun Hernani. Expo 2. Berean Fellowship. UCCP Davao City. July 09, 2010.
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and religious life. The Decalogue (Ten Commandments) sealed Israel’s covenant to Yahweh
who delivered them from slavery in Egypt. Obedience to the Decalogue will define the special
relationship Israel had with God.
The Law (Torah, Heb.) generally refers to the Divine law. In the completed Canon of the
Old Testament it technically denotes the Pentateuch (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and
Deuteronomy). The general purpose of the Law was for Israel’s guidance on various matters of
relationship (with God, fellow Israelites and other nations). Obedience to the law, therefore, is
not the end in itself but the means to fulfill God’s instructions thus maintaining and building
deeper relationship with Him.2 This means that obeying God’s Law, for Israel, should be done
out of her love for God rather than just being mechanical (obeying for the sake of obedience).
Furthermore, obedience to God’s law makes Israel distinct from other nations. With this brief
background, we are ready to deal with our second exposition based on Paul’s Epistle to the
Romans chapter two. Let us pray…
In the epistle to the Romans, the word Law is mentioned 76 times. The most number in a
New Testament book. In chapter two alone, it is mentioned 19 times putting emphasis again on
the centrality of the Law to the Jewish people. For us to have a grasp of why Paul brought up
the subject of the Law in this letter, let’s review the context of why this letter was written. New
Testament Scholars believe that the Roman believers which are composed of both Jewish and
Gentile believers, who met separately in house churches, were at tension regarding adherence to
the Jewish law - especially over the three basic means of Jewish identity in the Diaspora:
circumcision (2:25-3:1; 4:9-12), Sabbath observance, and food laws (14:1-23). And so what is
at stake practically is whether Gentile Christians should practice circumcision, Sabbath
observance and food laws. But theologically, what is at stake is whether God’s righteousness
depended on observance of the law or by faith in Jesus Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.3
We note in chapter one how Paul painted the dismal picture of the human condition
starting with the wickedness of Gentiles. Their idolatry led to worship of creature, injustice and
degradation of every kind (1:18-32). But Paul quickly counters by arguing that having the law

2
“Law in the Old Testament” in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia from THEOPILUS 3, CD-ROM.
3
Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book: A Guided Tour (Manila: OMF Literature Inc., 2002), 318.
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does not put the Jew in the advantage, allowing them to judge others. 4 And so in chapter two
Paul begins by saying, “1Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge
others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are
doing the very same things. 2You say, "We know that God's judgment on those who do such
things is in accordance with truth." 3Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge
those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? 4Or
do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that
God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5But by your hard and impenitent heart you
are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment will be
revealed.” (2:1-5)

Here’s what Paul is pointing out in these verses. First, like a wall, law can become a façade
or entrapment.(vv.1-5) The Law has become a façade for the Jews. They are quick to pass
judgment on others (the Gentiles condemned by Paul in the previous chapter for their
wickedness) believing that they are entrusted with God’s truth. Having God’s law made them
believe that they are on God’s side and thus having God’s favor. Yet being entrusted with the
Law of God doesn’t mean escaping from God’s wrath. The Jews became entrapped with their
self-righteousness (the tendency of pointing one’s accusing finger at others who are doing the
wrong.) They used the Law as a façade to cover up their own mistakes. This judgmental
criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in their own crimes and
misdemeanors. But Paul exposes their pretentions by telling them that they are equally guilty
before God and deserves his condemnation in four counts:

(1)“you who pass judgment do the same things.” v.1;


(2)“..you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things.”v.3;
(3)“…showing contempt(disrespect) for the riches of God’s kindness, tolerance and
patience...”v.4;
(4)“…stubborn and unrepentant heart…”v.5

With these words, Paul dismantled the façade of the Jews. Paul confirms that Jews are as
equally guilty as the Gentiles in God’s sight. Friends, we can never escape God’s righteous

4
Ibid., 320.
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judgment. We can never put a façade and hide our true nature in God’s presence. Eugene
Peterson in his translation, The Message, says, “God isn’t so easily diverted. God can’t be
distracted from seeing all our misdoings. God sees right through all such smoke screens and
holds us to what we’ve done.” In short, no wrongdoing can escape the righteous eyes of God.
The Law can be used as a defense mechanism. We might be able to escape people’s judgment
but not God’s.

Paul corrects the wrong application of the Law. According to him, Law should not be used
as a façade but instead as a revelation of God’s character.(vv.2,5-11) Paul tells us that the
Law is not designed as such. In fact, the Law reveals who God is. A Filipino theologian aptly
describes God’s original intent of giving the law:

Yahweh is not the god of speculation or philosophy but the God who
speaks and the God who acts. Yahweh is the God who reveals
Himself as the living, dynamic God who is active in Israel’s history.
His nature can be understood only in moral terms. Entering into a
covenant relationship with Him means obeying His commands
because it involves becoming like Him. His law is an expression of
His will and His character. He is holy.5
God’s law, therefore, reveals His nature. First, God is a righteous judge, (vv.2,5) He can
never be mistaken because His judgment is based on truth. He is the omniscient God who can
prove anything beyond reasonable doubt. Nothing is hidden in His sight. God’s righteous
judgment will certainly come to pass in the proper time. Paul calls it the ‘day of God’s wrath.’
God judges and punishes sin because He is holy. Second, God is kind, tolerant and patient, (v.4)
The Psalmist confirms these traits by saying that God is “slow to anger and abounding in love.
He will not always treat us as our sins deserve.” Paul says that this kindness should lead one to
repentance. And yet the Jews never repented but rather abused God’s kindness. Third, God is
the giver of rewards, (v.6). He will give each person according to what he/she has done.
According to Paul, there are only two groups in God’s throne of judgment. In the first group
belong those who seek glory, honor and immortality by persisting in doing good, (v.7). In the
second group belong those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, (v.8).

5
Isabelo F. Magalit, Choose for Yourself This Day (Manila: OMF Literature Inc., 2006), 80.
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Jesus, in his parable in the Gospel, describes them as lambs and goats. The former will receive
eternal life but the latter God’s wrath and anger. Fourth, the law reveals God’s justice. He can
never be unfair. In v.11 Paul declares, “God does not show favoritism”(NIV) or “God treats
everyone the same.”(LVB) Both Jew and Gentile will be judged according to what he/she has
done: Trouble and distress for the evil doers but honor and peace for righteous doers. Paul
emphasized that Jews have primary accountability to God because they are the primary
recipients of God’s Special revelation. The Gentiles became indirect recipients of God’s grace
in Jesus Christ. And so when God administers His righteous judgment, Paul says, it will be
“…first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”(v.9)

Observing churches in the 21st Century, Philip Yancey, the former editor-at-large of
Christianity today concludes, “Catholics, Mennonites, Churches of Christ, Lutherans, and
Southern Baptists all have their own custom agenda of legalism. You gain the church’s, and
presumably God’s approval by following the prescribed pattern.” 6 I believe, this is how our
modern religion makes Law as a façade or cover up just like the Jews of the first century.
Instead of liberating, religion has become an entrapment. Instead of inviting sinners we become
judgmental. What then should be our attitude? Jesus, in his famous Sermon on the Mount, says,
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.
Forgive, and you will be forgiven.”(Luke 6:37) Friends, knowing God’s revealed will does not
authorize us to judge or condemn others. Instead it teaches us to be like Him: to be forgiving,
considerate, kind and even tolerant. Because obeying God’s law is ‘becoming like Him.’ Let us
avoid the mistake that the Jewish believers in Rome committed when they made the Law as a
façade. Let me ask you, if people come to this church, UCCP Davao City, will they find
legalism or grace? Will they find themselves more filthy or freed from sin after attending our
worship services? Will they find mercy and grace in their time of need? Gordon McDonald
underscores the church’s distinct task when he says, “The world can do almost anything as well
as or better than the church…You need not be a Christian to build houses, feed the hungry, or

6
Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace (Manila: OMF Literature Inc., 1997), 30.
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heal the sick. There is only one thing the world cannot do. It cannot offer grace.”7 The church,
therefore, should continually dispense grace not judgment or condemnation.

The second thing that Paul wants to point out is this. Like a wall, law can serve as a
standard of measure.(vv.12-16) “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. For it is not those who hear the
law who are righteous in God’s sight, but those who obey the law who will be declared
righteous. Indeed when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the
law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that
the righteous requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing
witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. This will take place on the
day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”(Romans
2:12-16)

In these verses, Paul is telling us that God judges us according to the revelation we
receive. For the Gentiles who did not have the law, the measuring rod is their conscience. Even
if they don’t have God’s written law but follow it by instinct, they confirm its truth by their
obedience. (v.14, The Message) According to Paul, the Gentiles, in obeying what the law
requires, prove that God’s law is written in their hearts, v.15. It is woven in the very fabric of
their being. Their conscience serves as God’s voice echoing His yes or no, right and wrong. If
they do what is right and just their conscience will defend them but if they do otherwise, their
conscience will accuse them, v.15. And so for Gentiles, the conscience serves as the invisible
law. The Living Bible Translation renders v.15 with these words, “God’s laws are written
within them.” Therefore, no one is excused. Every intentions and motives will be made open in
God’s presence during the judgment. Like an imposing wall, the conscience of the Gentile will
show them God’s standard which is His holiness and righteousness. That is why Biblical
scholars believe that the Bible recognizes that God reveals Himself “in the created order, in the
human conscience, and in religions other than Christianity.”8 Acts 14: 17 states, “Yet he has not

7
Ibid., 15.
8
Daniel L. Migliore, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology (Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing
Company, 1991), 25.
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left himself without testimony.” To those who don’t have the Law and the Bible, God speaks to
them through creation and human conscience, “so that people are without excuse.” (Romans
1:20) In his book of sermons, Pressing On To Fullness of Life, Dr. Proceso Udarbe tells a story
of his visit in a faraway hill country located in the Himalayas. He says, “The ultra-conservative
Buddhism which is the state religion of the Bhutanese has been, to my mind, the receptacle of
this natural revelation. There is therefore a law in the heart of the Bhutanese, divinely ordained,
by which he lives, by which he operates his life.”(‘Thoughts at 9,000 ft. in the Himalayas’ p.70)

Bhutan, a country that is non-Christian, has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. It is
considered as one of the safest countries to visit! How would you explain that kind of morality
without considering Paul’s explanation in chapter 2:14-15. Compare the statistics in Bhutan to
the Philippines which is considered as the only Christian country in the Fareast and you will
conclude that having the Bible in our land does not put us in the advantage morally. Can we say
then that the Bhutanese have been more obedient to the prodding of God through their
conscience than the Filipinos being obedient to God’s revealed will, the Bible? This kind of
reality leads Paul to say in v.13, “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.” Therefore,
whether the law is written or unwritten, the issue at hand is our obedience to God’s revealed
will. Have we been obedient to God’s Word? Have we listened to God’s prodding through our
consciences? Like the wall, God can use the written and unwritten law to make us realize his
standard of righteousness and holiness.

The third point that Paul stressed is this: Like a wall, law can create a barrier, vv.17-29
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But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God 18and
know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law, 19and if you are
sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20a corrector of the
foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth,21you,
then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you
steal? 22You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you rob
temples? 23You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24For, as it is
written, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." 25Circumcision
indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become
uncircumcision. 26So, if those who are uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not
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their uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?27Then those who are physically
uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you that have the written code and circumcision
but break the law.28For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision
something external and physical.29Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real
circumcision is a matter of the heart--it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives
praise not from others but from God.

In verses 17-19 Paul enumerates the advantages of being born a Jew: (1) Special
relationship with God and having the law as a sign of His covenant with them, v.17; (2)
Knowledge of God’s Will being instructed from the Law, v.18; (3) Enlightened guide for the
blind and lost having God’s law, v.19; (4) Authorized teachers of the unlearned having the Law
as the embodiment of knowledge and truth, v.20.
These verses tell us that the Jewish people are basically people of the Law. But this
identity of having special relationship with God has become for them a great barrier of God’s
plan of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Paul emphasizes that having God’s law
did not put them actually in the advantage, vv.21-25. They still needed to be taught and guided.
Their moral living did not improve. Stealing, adultery, idolatry and disobedience to God’s law
are very evident. The worst thing that they did is this: God’s name is put to shame among the
Gentiles because of their poor witness, v.26. Their religion did not save them from a miserable
and wicked life. From this perspective, we can say that the Law has its weaknesses. The law
could not, (a) bring about justification (Acts, 13:39); (b) produce righteousness (Gal., 2:21); (c)
produce life (Gal., 3:21); (d) bring about perfection (Heb., 7:19); (e) or free the conscience from
a knowledge of sin (Heb., 10:1-4).9
This leads us to Paul’s concluding remarks in vv.26-29, 26So, if those who are
uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not their uncircumcision be regarded as
circumcision?27Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn
you that have the written code and circumcision but break the law.28For a person is not a Jew
who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical.29Rather, a
person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart--it is
spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God.

In the last four verses of chapter two Paul alludes to the sign of Abrahamic covenant
which is circumcision. Since the time of Abraham, every male Jew including their proselyte

9
“Law of Moses, the” from the Condensed Biblical Cyclopedia in Theophilus 3 CD-Rom.
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underwent circumcision as a sign of their covenant with God. Circumcision remains to be one
of the three basic identities of the Jews during the Diaspora (the other two are Sabbath and food
laws). But in this verses Paul used it “metaphorically and spiritually of believers with reference
to their condition.”10 According to Paul, being a Jew outwardly and being circumcised
physically don’t count in meriting God’s righteousness. Genuine Jewishness and circumcision
is inward and a matter of the heart. In another epistle Paul writes to the believers in Colossae,
“When you came to Christ, you were ‘circumcised’ but not by physical procedure. It was a
spiritual procedure – the cutting away of your sinful nature.” (Col.2:11, NLT) In other words,
Paul is reiterating righteousness by faith against righteousness by work. The Law became a
great barrier for the Jew because they wanted to acquire righteousness through it. But God’s
way is the opposite. Paul in the previous chapter declares, “This Good News tells us that God
makes us ready for heaven--makes us right in God's sight--when we put our faith and trust in
Christ to save us. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scripture says it,
``The man who finds life will find it through trusting God.'' (Rom.1:17, LVB) His in-depth
study of Romans made Martin Luther cry out “SOLA FIDE” “SOLA GRATIA” and “SOLA
SCRITURA.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, our salvation and righteousness from God is,
indeed, by grace through faith alone according to the Scriptures.
What does this mean for us today? First, we should leave judgment and condemnation to
God. We cannot judge and condemn others because we have our own limitations and
weaknesses. If we continue to judge and condemn others it will recoil on our own heads. God is
the only perfect judge who knows every action, word and thought – hidden or unhidden.
Second, we cannot make our own righteousness as a façade because in God’s sight everything is
laid bare. God will account every deed during the judgment. Third, our obedience to God’s
commands should be done out of love and not out of compulsion. Fourth, the intent of God’s
law is to reveal His character – His holiness, justice, compassion and love. Fifth, obedience to
God’s will, revealed in His law, must be an opportunity for us to be conformed to His image
more and more. Sixth, faithfulness to our religion, like the Jews, cannot save us from our sins.

10
“Circumcision” in Vine’s Greek Dictionary from The Bible Library, CD-ROM.
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We are only justified and made righteous in God’s sight by grace through faith in the redeeming
work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Let me end with a true story about a Social Worker’s encounter with a down-and-out in
Chicago as told by Philip Yancey in his book What’s So Amazing About Grace:

A prostitute came to me in a wretched straits, homeless, sick,


unable to buy food for her two-year-old daughter. Through sobs and
tears, she told me she had been renting out her daughter – two years
old!- to men interested in kinky sex. She made more renting out her
daughter for an hour than she could earn on her own in a night. She
had to do it, she said, to support her own drug habit. I could hardly
bear hearing her sordid story. For one thing, it made me legally liable
– I’m required to report cases of child abuse. I had no idea what to say
to this woman.
At last I asked if she had ever thought of going to a church for
help. I will never forget the look of pure, naïve shock that crossed her
face. “Church!” she cried. “Why would I ever go there? I was already
feeling terrible about myself. They’d just make me feel worse.”11

“They’d just make me feel worse.” Is that how the church looks like today? Do people
feel more dirty and guilty when they come to our fellowships? Let us remember that our Lord
Jesus Christ attracted the ‘sinners’ – tax collectors, zealots, prostitutes, adulterers to himself. In
fact, they found refuge and newness of life in him. What was in Jesus that the church of today
had lost? Let me reverse the question: What is in our churches today that Jesus did not have?
Friends, let’s take an honest look in our kind of religion. We might have become more
judgmental, more condemning and more inclined to legalism rather than being forgiving,
redeeming and dispensers of God’s amazing grace.
It is my desire to see a church without walls, a welcoming church in spite of one’s social
status, ethical background and race. I desire to see a church that is redeeming in Christ. I desire
to see a church that will be a refuge to the down-and-out, to the isolated and the ostracized. I
desire to see a church that God’s grace is bountifully dispensed. I desire to see a church where
faith, hope and love abide. I desire to see a church of Jesus Christ in this part of the world. Will
we be that church?

11
Philip Yancey, What’s So Amazing About Grace (Manila: OMF Literature Inc., 1997), 11.
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