[July 26]—Law Inside And Out

Romans 2:12-16

            I know we looked at this passage as part of yesterday’s reading, but I think these four verses need a day by themselves before we move on.
            Just to review: The Gentiles only had General Revelation, while the Jewish people had Special Revelation, namely the Scriptures and the events recorded in them.
            What’s General Revelation? It’s revelation which is given to all of humanity, which can be accessed by anyone. I’m probably stealing these terms from someone, but I divide it into the Outer Witness and the Inner Witness. The Outer Witness is discussed in chapter one: God’s physical creation tells some things about him. Paul says his “invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature” are clearly seen. I’d suppose he’s talking about God’s power, his wisdom, his eternality, and the fact that he’s outside nature and not part of it.
            Today’s passage addresses what I call the Inner Witness. These Gentiles had never heard of Moses or the Torah. They’d never heard from Sinai that you aren’t supposed to steal or murder or commit adultery. So how were they able to function at all? Why wasn’t there just complete anarchy and chaos throughout history?
            The Lord’s placed within every person some understanding of right and wrong. And then society and culture (which is basically just a group of individual people acting together) codifies moral standards, both in formal law and informally in such things as taboos.
            Please forgive me as I quote myself from before: C. S. Lewis outlined this for us beautifully in The Abolition of Man. In it he lists universal principles which almost every culture has adhered to, in word if not in deed. Then he lists specific quotes from different religious leaders and philosophers which agree with the sentiment. For example, he might list “Condemnation of unnecessary killing,” and then quote from Buddha, Confucius, and Plato. The point of this is not to put the Bible on the same level as other religious systems; quite the opposite, in fact. Lewis thoroughly accepted that although God has revealed truth to all people, they've perverted it. But imagine, if you will, a culture in which treachery is celebrated, in which a man boasts of backstabbing his best friend. Imagine a world in which ingratitude is rewarded, in which theft is applauded. As Lewis said, religions might differ on whether you can have one wife or four, but none of them tell you that you can have any woman you want. They might differ on whether to lie to an outsider, but none of them hold up dishonesty as a virtue.
            This is what Paul is talking about when he says that men without the Mosaic Law “do by nature things required by the law.” It’s showing to some degree “that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.”
            So what’s the problem here? Why isn’t this “Inner Witness” enough?
            Number one, it’s not complete or totally accurate. Like every other aspect of our existence, it’s affected by sin. For example, the revealed truth that everyone is created in God’s image--and is thus to be accorded dignity and respect and equality before the law--has never, to my knowledge, been followed or even attempted to be followed, except in societies heavily influenced by the Bible. The ubiquitous institution of slavery—until about 200 years ago, and only removed by the influence of the Bible—repudiated this sublime truth.
            It happens on the personal level as well. That’s what Paul is talking about when he says that their consciences can “defend” them. We know that lying is wrong, and we know that we wouldn’t want someone to lie to us, but when telling the truth would hurt us, then we can come up with excuses as long as our arm as to why in this instance, it’s justified.
            And at its best, all the inner witness can do is. . .testify against us. We know that lying is wrong, and we lie anyway. We steal when we know that stealing is wrong. We hate or belittle or do even worse to others.
            That’s why those “who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law.” They don’t have the Bible, but they know enough to condemn them before God’s throne.
            Furthermore, the inner witness can’t lead us to the Savior, at least not on its own. The only thing that can do that is God’s truth as revealed in Scripture, and the Holy Spirit using it as a sword. Remember, Paul says that on our own, no one seeks God. He has to pursue us, he has to hunt us down and take positive action to subdue us.
Aren’t you glad he did that for you?

Father God, if you hadn’t pursued me and rescued me, then all my upbringing and exposure to your word would only make my condemnation worse. On my own, I would never have sought you. But you sought me, and you found me. Thank you. 

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