When Paul branded the heathen Gentiles as sinners, cataloging a string of degenerate actions in Romans 1:18-32, his Jewish countrymen would have said, “Yes, of course! Those Gentile dogs behave like animals and deserve the wrath of God! Thankfully, we are not like them—they are pagans and we are the chosen people.” I can imagine that as Paul moved from expressing the depravity of the heathen to exposing the duplicity of the hypocrite in chapter 2:1-16, they may have grown a bit uncomfortable but still argued, “We understand that among the Gentiles there are some moral people. Some of them have a high philosophy of life and attempt to be ethical. Yet, we know they are still sinners at heart. We are superior, naturally, for we are Jews.”
They were Jews. The word comes from one of the sons of Jacob, Judah, meaning “praise.” Were they praiseworthy? Not all who claimed Abraham’s DNA had Abraham’s faith. Paul—a Jew, mind you—said that the true Jew is one “whose praise is not from men but from God.” (v.29). It isn’t human applause but heavenly approval that we must have—whether Jew or Gentile. Our opinion about ourselves or our reputation among others isn’t the crucial matter. What counts is what does God say about you?
Here’s what Paul wrote—not to the heathen or the hypocrite, but to the Hebrew:
Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God,
and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law,
and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,
an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law.
They claimed to be exempt from God’s judgment for three basic reasons:
There was the argument from relationship “Indeed you are called a Jew” (v.17a)—they were descended from Abraham. The Jews who rejected Christ bragged, “Abraham is our father” (John 8:39) to which Jesus answered, “You are of your father the devil.” (John 8:44) For them it was a matter of biology, but for God to be our Father requires a second, spiritual birth—irrespective of our race. So, there are those in the church that think because they were raised in a Christian home they are Christians. The Bible teaches otherwise.
There was the argument from revelation (v.17b-20). They had the Word of God. So there are churches today where members carry the Bible and claim to believe it from cover to cover. But it isn’t a Bible in your hand but Christ in your heart that saves you.
There was the argument from ritual “For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” (v.25). They had an outward sign which marked them out, they supposed, as belonging to God. They thought the rite of circumcision was enough without the corresponding heart change. They were wrong! How many today will point to their baptism, confirmation, attending mass, and/or church membership as proving they are Christians?
What we need is Jesus—only Jesus—and we need Him urgently. Do not place your faith anywhere else. Place your faith in Christ and He will save you.