God’s chosen people
God chose the Israelites to be a blessing to the nations. God chose them as His special people, gave them His law, and led, guided, and protected them. He was their King, and they were His people. But the Israelites failed in their mission to be a blessing to others. The redemptive story illustrates why they failed and how they, too, needed Jesus!
In Romans 2 – 3, the Apostle Paul sets up the rest of his letter by explaining the “us vs. them” situation between the Jews and Gentiles.
If you’re brought up Jewish, don’t assume that you can lean back in the arms of your religion and take it easy, feeling smug because you’re an insider to God’s revelation, a connoisseur of the best things of God, informed on the latest doctrines! I have a special word of caution for you who are sure that you have it all together yourselves and, because you know God’s revealed Word inside and out, feel qualified to guide others through their blind alleys and dark nights and confused emotions to God. While you are guiding others, who is going to guide you? I’m quite serious. …The line from Scripture, “It’s because of you Jews that the outsiders frown on God,” shows it’s an old problem that isn’t going to go away.Romans 2:17-24 MSG
Let’s look at Paul’s accusations against the Jews to see how we might apply them to our lives.
Paul accuses the Jews of national pride, that their heritage ensured their unique relationship with God and gave them an edge over others in knowledge and ability to teach. He also accuses them of hypocrisy, of not practicing what they were preaching! Last he accuses them of clinging to an empty ritual, circumcision, for salvation. Empty because their circumcision was not accompanied by obedience.
How does this apply to us today? Let’s look at three ideas prompted by Paul’s accusations:
No theocratic relationship
As Americans, we do not have a theocratic relationship or any sort of national relationship with God. God’s covenant relationship with Israel was unique and was fulfilled in Jesus. On the cross, Jesus paid the redemptive price for everyone from every tribe, language, people, and nation. Jesus’ mission to usher in His kingdom was to unite all people – not single out a specific political country.
No moral superiority
Among some Christians, there is a sense of moral superiority. We are not better than anyone because we are every bit human. We simply have accepted the gift of grace and, hopefully, recognize our continual need for forgiveness. More often than not, we need forgiveness, not for “wrong-doing,” but for “wrong-thinking” or “wrong motives.” It is not our place to judge others but to tend to our inner being, working out our salvation, and allowing light to shine through our lives to point others to our Redeemer.
The church has been severely divided by multiple issues in the last several years. White evangelicals have embraced something that looks like Christian nationalism, even holding political rallies within worship services. Sex abuse and scandals are prevalent among church leadership. And the attitudes toward race relations pit Christians against one another. And while differences in opinion are expected, the church should be first and foremost unified in matters that matter. Christians belong to the same family; we are brothers and sisters in the faith. Our love for one another is a key to our witness. And our shared devotion to Jesus should reveal the clear development of the fruit of the Spirit. But a glance at social media reveals so much conflict, Christians ostracizing other Christians.
Notice that last line in Romans 2:24: “outsiders frown on God because of you.” We are reading similar words today. More and more, people are not rejecting the church because they don’t believe in God or don’t believe something the church teaches, but because “we,” the church, are not living like we believe what we preach!
We now see young evangelicals walking away from evangelicalism not because they do not believe what the church teaches, but because they believe the church itself does not believe what the church teaches. The presenting issue in this secularization is not scientism and hedonism but disillusionment and cynicism.Russell Moore, April 15, 2021
Resolving the accusations
What can we do about the accusations? It stings whenever I am accused of something; I am often immediately defensive. But instead, I hear the Spirit pointing me to a simple prayer written by David in the Psalms:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;Psalm 139:23-24 NLT
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Secondly, as members and leaders of our churches, we can have honest conversations about the gospel and how it is being actively portrayed in our communities. We can pray, asking God to point out areas in which we persist in an “us vs. them” attitude. And we can seek to contextualize our message appropriately, presenting the gospel in ways that are both understandable and compelling without compromising the truth.
Last, we can focus our attention on spiritual formation both individually and corporately. This is the message of the New Testament that we work out our salvation with reverence and fear. Daily we put off the “old” and put on the “new.” We humble ourselves, take up our cross, and walk worthy of our calling. And we seek to live obediently with all gentleness and peace.
We don’t have to fight the culture. Jesus has already won. Therefore, we can live with humility, gentleness, and patience. Put down your boxing gloves and pick up your cross.Derwin L. Gray, Tweet