“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 it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous..” (Rm 2:12-13)
After writing about the Gentiles’ sin in Romans chapter 1, Paul explained the Jewish people’s sin in the next chapter. And, the purpose of this is clear—to show both Gentiles and Jews that they were all equally sinful.
“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 it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” (Rm 2:12-13)
One of Jewish people’s characteristics was that they considered themselves righteous. And the basis of their righteousness was that they had God’s law. God gave them the law. They read it and studied it every day, and they were circumcised, so they thought they were righteous before God. Furthermore, they insisted that Gentiles also must keep God’s law and be circumcised to become righteous.
However, Paul bluntly criticized their way of thinking. According to Paul, Jews were sinners because even though they had the privilege of having God’s law, they didn’t obey it.
“Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth - you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Rm 2:17-24)
Here, Paul accused Jews without reservation. Even though they were Jews, who were chosen by God, they failed to live as His people. Even though they had the great privilege of receiving the law from God and being instructed by it, they dishonored God by breaking the law. They knew what to do and what not to do, but they themselves who taught God’s law and guided others to God didn’t follow it.
Paul’s charge of the Jews' sin also applies to us now. We sometimes consider ourselves righteous because we know God’s word and His commandments. We’re satisfied when God convicts our hearts with His word and think of ourselves as good Christians.
However, that conviction doesn’t often lead to actual change in our lives. When we go back to the world during the week, we live the same way. And then, we come back to church as a sinner, trying to take off the sins of the past week, and the cycle repeats again and again.
“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.” (Rm 2:13)
Knowledge about God is very important. It’s essential for God’s people to know God’s will, His law, and His rules because we can’t obey what we don’t know. However, as we already know, what we do is far more important than what we know. Knowledge about God is meaningful only when we actually apply it in our lives.
Jesus also talked about this. He said,
“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” (Mt 23:2-3)
Jesus didn’t say that what they said was wrong. It was right because they taught God’s word. However, Jesus told people not to follow their ways because there was a huge disparity between what they taught and what they actually did.
So, Jesus didn’t hesitate to call them hypocrites. He said,
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to… Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices - mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law - justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former… Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Mt 23:13, 23, 27-28)
This is what Jesus said to teachers of the law and the Pharisees of the time, but this is also what Jesus is telling Christians who profess that they belong to Christ.
When we read this, we tend to condemn them as if we’re not like them, but when we examine ourselves more carefully, we find that there’s no difference between them and us.
We go to church every Sunday and worship God. We give our offerings. We read the Bible and sing worship songs. We share our lives in light of God’s word. We act holy on Sunday. But, do we live holy on Monday too? Do we apply what God says to us on Sunday in our daily lives? Are we fighting hard against sin?
The worst sin the Jews had was that they not only disobeyed the law given to them, but also used it to judge others.
Paul said, “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” (Rm 2:1)
According to Paul, the Jews used God’s law to judge others. They didn’t apply it to their lives, only to others’ lives. They liked to rebuke and condemn others using God’s word. They even crucified Jesus, insisting that He was blaspheming. They didn’t use God’s word to spare others, but to kill them.
It is also our sin. We sometimes judge others and condemn them using God’s word. We don’t focus on our faults, but others’.
So Jesus said,
“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Lk 6:42)
Paul’s charge of their sin was that even though they received God’s word and taught it to people, they didn’t obey it. They didn’t apply it to their lives, but used it to judge others. What’s worse, they considered themselves ‘righteous.’
This is the sin that can easily be observed in Christians’ lives today as well. I want us to look back on our lives in light of the word and with help from the Holy Spirit. Aren’t we hypocrites like the teachers of the law and the Pharisees?
It's hard to face our sinfulness. It would be easier for me to talk about God’s unfailing and unconditional love for us despite our failures and sins, and that would probably sound better to you as well, but I think we have to acknowledge how sinful we are first. The more we realize our sinfulness, the poorer we’ll become in spirit and desperately seek Jesus who is the only hope through which we can be completely justified and changed.