January 20 (Reading for January 16-22: Romans 2) Monday morning, I read Romans 2, scratched my head, and prayed for Aaron, that God would give him just the right message for this Sunday. Then I reread the first few verses and recorded on my iPhone: “It’s not what you do that is most important, but who you are. But, truthfully, the two cannot be separated. What you do will be determined by who you are!”
My thinking is influenced by the inspiration of chapter 1, where we saw a distinction between God’s people and those of this world. Paul named them in chapter 2: “Jew and Greek” (v. 10), and “under the law” and “outside the law” (v. 12). What is clear is that in both cases, they are sinners in need of Christ’s forgiveness. Those privileged to know the law will be judged by the law. The purpose of the law is to bring them to a knowledge of God and His standards. Paul puts the Gentile, who is without the law, in the same place: “They show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience testifying and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (v. 15).
Returning to the relationship between what we do and who we are, even as we emphasize salvation by grace through faith, we do not want to minimize the role of works. Paul quotes Psalm 62:12 when he wrote that God will “repay each person according to his deeds” (v. 6). We have seen that God reveals Himself in His creation (1:20). His law is revealed in a person’s heart or their conscience (2:15). Our actions after receiving God’s revelation disclose our “works” based on our Spirit-inspired convictions. I quote Henry Blackaby: “What you do in response to God’s revelation reveals what you believe about God. True faith requires action” (Experiencing God, p. 111). This agrees with James: “I will show you my faith by my works” (Ja. 2:18).
Paul concluded with the example of circumcision (vv. 25-29). It was an action based on obedience to God’s command. But Paul believed that circumcision of the flesh could only be a symbol of circumcision of the heart, “by the Spirit, not by the letter” (v. 29). It was an outward manifestation of an inward conviction. Baptism accomplishes this same function for a Christian. A devotional journal I am reading took me three times last week to 1 Samuel 16:7. “God does not see as man sees, since man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
– Al Gary