All Alike

Chatswood Baptist Church

Romans 2:17-3:20

Do you have the experience of growing older, but feeling, through the eyes that you see the world, that you’re still young? Most of the time, I don’t feel older, but then I have a moment, where I realise—oh I’m actually not a young person any more!

I had one of those moments recently, when my wife Kat and I were talking about the schoolboys who wait for the bus outside where we live. You know, they leave so much rubbish behind them at the bus stop…! I have a mind to call the school principal and get them in trouble! And then I realise, oh I’m growing up.

Part of growing older I think is noticing things that annoy you. Things people ‘out there’ do, that ought to be put an end to. Like when people, in todays world, are in the express checkout and still counting out coins to pay with, when they can just tap their card and go!

Or when people pull up to the lights, and they’re in the wrong lane to turn right. And they notice they’re in the wrong lane to turn right. To turn right from the outside lane, might cause an accident!… but they turn right anyway, because they couldn’t be bothered turning left and doing a U-turn. Makes me angry.

But you know what makes me happy? Talking about how angry I am.

However sadly, both those last two examples were me. Both last Wednesday night. But that’s another thing about growing up. You’re more willing to do stuff like that, and not worry about it, and still think of yourself as ‘the good guy,’ who has the right to be annoyed at everyone else!

But the reality is, maybe I’m not the good guy. Maybe the things I get annoyed at— maybe I do the same things, but I just don’t notice because I’m too busy taking the moral high ground.

As we work our way through Romans, the Apostle Paul has just gone to task on those that would take the moral high ground; who would pass judgement on other people. He says in chapter 2 verse 3,

“So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment?”

Why? Because, look at verse 16, as Paul says, there is a day coming, when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ.

So Paul has given a broad example, but now he gets concrete, and turns to the most ‘holy’ person he can think of—the sort of person who could really say, “People out there will be judged, but not me.”

This person was the revered Jewish Teacher. They did good things constantly. Gave to charity constantly. Fasted and prayed constantly. Knew God’s good law better than anyone, and taught everyone to fear God and obey him. I would suggest most of us in this room would not hold a candle to the ancient Jewish teacher in terms of just how righteous they were. Surely if anyone could be right before God due to their own merit, it was the Jewish Teacher.

But this morning we are going to see one thing consistently play out. We all are alike under sin.

When the uniform brings shame and not honour 2:17-29

Now the Jewish teacher of the law wore a sort of ‘uniform’. If you’ve never seen a picture of what the ancient jewish teacher may have looked like — here’s a picture up on the screen. The ‘uniform’ they wore singled themselves out publicly, as someone who was really following God.

They wore something called phylacteries or tefillin—a box on the forehead and another on the bicep containing scripture, with a leather strap that wrapped around their arm.

They also wore tzitzit—fringes on their garments with a thread of blue and these marked them out as belonging to God. They’re very public signs aren’t they?

Jesus actually rebuked the teachers of the law at one point, not for wearing these, but for wearing really broad, super noticeable phylacteries and long fringes so they would appear more holy to others. Jesus said,

The New International Version Chapter 23:5 “Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries (the boxes) wide and the tassels on their garments long;

Now if you were found to be wearing these things, and you were a male, you were certainly also circumcised. Circumcision was the mark in the flesh, by removing the foreskin, that marked you out as being a member of God’s covenant people—a Jewish person.

These pieces of ‘uniform’ were for every Jewish person, but you can imagine a world where it’s only the ‘super good’ that wear all the kit all the time—like the Jewish teacher of the law.

These Jewish men knew how to live a good life. They didn’t just know the law, they taught it! I’m thinking that if anybody were in God’s good books – the book of life – surely it’s these men?

Well, what does Paul say about them?

The New International Version Chapter 2

17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God;

18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law;

19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark,

20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—

21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal?

22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?

23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?

24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Paul says, ‘you may believe you’re right with God because you wear the right uniform, but actually your situation is worse. You bring shame on God’s name because of your behaviour. You do the very things you teach against.’

I was travelling on the bus, and bless his heart this young school boy offered me a seat! I couldn’t believe it. Normally, you might give a seat to an elderly person, or a pregnant lady… but me? Well the first thing I did was check out his school uniform. I thought, “I really should send an email to the principal and say how well behaved kids from that school are.”

On the other hand… that bus stop is outside our place! And let me tell you, I’m sick of finding Slirpy cups strewn across our fence! Whenever I see those young people with their Slirpies… I look at their school uniform and I think, “I really should send an email…” Shame on that school… and I shake my fist.

Do you see how the uniform you wear, actually brings either honour or shame to the group that your uniform represents? And these Jewish teachers of the law, wore the uniform, even taught the law—but they didn’t obey the law themselves.

They taught against stealing
– but stole themselves.
They taught against adultery
– but committed adultery themselves.
They taught against idolatry
– but robbed temples themselves.

Now you may think these are quite extreme examples of lawbreaking. But if you consider the standard that Jesus held, if you have ever looked at a woman, or a man with lustful intent — well that’s adultery! (see Matt 5:28)

If you’ve ever been given too much change and walked away $2 richer, or cheated on your tax, or downloaded something illegally — you’ve stolen!

And these are the sorts of things you could imagine these teachers of the law are doing. What is the result? Look at verse 23 and 24:

“You who boast in the law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

You see these people thought they were right before God, because they had the law and they had the uniform. But having the law, or the outward signs of belonging to God isn’t good enough. In fact, it could be worse, because you could be bringing shame upon God by your actions.

I’m wearing a wedding ring. What value does it have? It only has value as a sign of my marriage to Kat, if I honour her in marriage. If I don’t, I only bring shame upon myself and her. Because our marriage doesn’t consist in a ring. There’s a little bit more going on than that.

Take a look with me at verses 28 and 29. “A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly (literally, the one in secret is the Jew); and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.”

Now, most of us here are not Jewish people. Most of us are not boasting in our circumcision. But I do wonder sometimes whether we can fall into similar traps. We’re a Baptist church, did you know that? We have the baptism of believers. The true baptism. It’s a kind of uniform we wear, isn’t it?

But you are not right with God because you’re baptised. That’s an outward and public sign that corresponds to your repentance and trust in Jesus. That’s a matter of the heart.

And if you are named a Christian, and wear that name in the public space, and perhaps you even think of yourself as a good person, we must remember verse 29: the one in secret is the Jew. And what does Paul say will happen on the last day, in verse 16? God will judge “people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”

The short of it: If you’re like the Jew who trusts in the law, and wears the uniform, ask yourself, “Do I have any secrets?” Anything you’d rather no-one knew? Well I don’t know your secrets, and your spouse may not, nor your family or coworkers, but God knows your secrets. And he’ll judge your secrets.

So I recommend you don’t place your trust in the outward signs, which will just end in shame. I recommend that just like me and everyone else you put your trust in the one that can forgive us of who we are in secret and heal our innermost being.

The Gain of Jewishness

Now, after Paul goes after the religious elite, the teacher of the law, he assumes he’s going to have ruffled a few feathers. By saying that even the Jewish Teachers won’t be counted righteous before God, he might as well have said that there was no benefit at all of being Jewish! Now Paul was himself a Jew. Do you think he thought there was any advantage in being a Jew?

He goes ahead in the next section to answer 5 questions that he imagines someone might ask.

1. What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew?

Paul’s answer—Much in every way! The Jews have been entrusted with the very words of God. By this he means that the Jewish people didn’t just received God’s law, how to live as God’s people in the land of Israel, but also the promises of God in his Word. God promised to make Abraham a great nation and promised that through his seed all the nations of earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). And Jesus himself, God’s Word in flesh, the answer to that promise came—and he didn’t come to the gentiles, he came to the Jews. So there was great advantage in being Jewish.

2. Paul’s next question is in verse 3: Will the unfaithfulness of some nullify God’s faithfulness?

By this he means, that although the promise was given to Abraham, Israel’s history was marked by unfaithfulness. And when Jesus came in answer to the promise, not all the Jews trusted in him. Some did—Paul was a Jew, and the other Apostles—but many did not. Does that mean God will abandon his promise?

Paul’s answer in verse 4—Certainly not! God is true to his word, even if some fall away and are judged, God will not abandon his promise.

3. Paul’s next question in v5 has to do with a crafty argument someone might make. He says, “I am using a human argument.”

The question is: If I am found to be sinful, that only makes God look good right? So if I’m busy making God look good, why am I being punished for that? Isn’t God unjust to punish me?

Paul’s answer in verse 6—Certainly not! If that were so, how could God judge the world?

You see, what’s true of Paul’s imaginary dialogue partner is true of us a lot of the time. We always want God to judge someone else. My sin makes God look good… but judge that guy in Darwin, definitely. Judge the politician who was taking joyrides in helicopters with public money. Judge the kids littering my fence with their slirpies. Judge the guy who cut me off in traffic. But don’t judge me.

The reality is, that if we don’t want God to judge us, then we have to maintain that God shouldn’t judge anyone else either. But no, God is the judge of the whole world, and he will judge everyone.

4. The next question in verse 7 and 8, If My falsehood demonstrates God’s truthfulness, why am I still a sinner? Or why not say let us do evil that good may result!

Pauls answer? — He dismisses the question. Their condemnation is just. He wants to get to the heart of what he wanted to say.

5. And so Paul’s final question: Do we (that is, we Jews) have any advantage?

Paul’s answer—Not at all!

Paul’s point is that the advantage to being a Jew, is receiving God’s good law and promise of salvation. But if you don’t obey, well it’s as though you never had it in the first place. The reality is that every Jew, is just like every gentile, we are alike under the power of sin.

Nobody can escape that reality.

All alike are under sin.

The next 10 verses are a collection of bible passages that Paul brings together to show the biblical support for his point.

I’m just going to read verses 10 and 12 that come from Psalm 14 and Psalm 53.

The New International Version Chapter 3

“There is no one righteous, not even one;

11 there is no one who understands;

there is no one who seeks God.

12 All have turned away,

they have together become worthless;

there is no one who does good,

not even one.”

If you want to know what the bible teaches about whether you or anybody else are ‘good enough’ to enter heaven. This is it. “There is no one righteous, not even one.” They’re heavy words aren’t they?

And even in myself I want to resist it, but I know it’s true. I know my heart. I know my secrets. I know I’m not good. I know my kids aren’t good. I love them, but I know they’re not good. Do you know how I know they’re not good?

I know, because our natural inclination is to do evil. I recently had to teach my girl not to lie. Her natural inclination was to lie, and I had to teach her that it’s not good to lie. Now just as an experiment, who has children here? And how many of you at some point had to teach your children not to lie? And who in the room is pretty sure that at some point, they had to be taught that lying is wrong? So for everyone in the room, our natural inclination is to lie. That’s interesting!

You know what else is interesting? You would have never known that it was wrong, unless somebody told you, “you should always tell the truth”. This is just a small demonstration of how I know that these words are true. And they’re true of me.

Read verse 20 with me.

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.”

The 1st century Jew thought they were right before God because they wore the right uniform, and they had the good law. But none of that counts. No one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become aware of our sin.

Are you aware of your sin? Whether you’ve been a Christian a long time, or yet to follow Jesus, you need to understand that all are alike under sin. If you were to come before God hoping to have won enough brownie points during your lifetime—it’s impossible. It will only bring shame.

What hope do we have?

In our passage next week we’ll discover the free gift of God’s grace to all who believe. And I want to get to that now! But we’ll never understand God’s grace, unless we truly understand our great and deep need for it.

We all are alike under sin, and we all deeply need the grace that God offers in Christ Jesus.