Psalm: 71
Old Testament: Jeremiah 4:9-10, 19-28
New Testament: Romans 2:12-24

In the introduction to his book, Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics Stephen Westerholm has a hilarious episode of Martin Luther wandering into a book store and being astounded by what he finds. In a fictional dialogue with the author, the great Reformer from Eisleben is confused to find out that modern literature on Paul depict him as a devout Jew who never completely let go of his attachment to the Mosiac Law.

You see, in Luther’s commentary on Romans, there is a fundamental conviction that Paul turned his back on Judaism and embraced the new religion of Christ. Trading in a religion dedicated to following law and sin for the new faith that emphasized total depravity and the saving message of Grace.

In reality, the “Lutheran Paul” created a false dichotomy. In Luther’s defence, there are lots of conflicting messages abut the efficacy of the law in the letter to the Romans….but let’s concentrate on the idea that surfaces today:

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all….

But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God….You that boast in the law, do you dishonour God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.’ (Romans 2:13-16;17;23-24)

As you can see from these texts, the law is important for Paul. It is a constant in the universe. A moral compass that directs both Jew and Gentile. For the Gentile, they know of the Law despite their ignorance because they strive to do the right thing. For Jews, the Law is important because they have both the moral compass of their heart, and the written specifics about how to go about living.

As a devout Jew now committed to preaching to Gentiles, Paul readily admits that there are Jews who fall short of the Law, and highlights the essential goodness of Gentiles. Yet again, we see role-reversal. The chosen people of God are depicted as apathetic to their call to holiness, while the outsider is seen as the one who is living up to the command to walk humbly with God. This irony is a constant theme in Biblical literature.

We will get some other conceptions of sin as we move through the letter to the Romans……but one of the questions to reflect on today in light of the Church might be: What do those outside our congregation’s walls, and absent from the pews have to teach us about how we are living our lives…..are we the ones who need to be put on the right path??? +

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