Derek Prince - The Whole World Is Guilty
In this session we’re going to continue with Romans 2. We had dealt with the principles of God’s judgment and we’ve seen how they are applied. We also had to acknowledge that there are some things about God’s judgment that He doesn’t make known to us. His judgments are unsearchable. I suppose that those of us who have experienced the mercy of God in our own lives know that God will always exercise mercy wherever He can do so. So, we have to trust Him. Now we’re going to look at the question of conscience, which is a rather difficult one to deal with. I want to make it clear that some of what Paul says is not altogether easy to understand or to interpret. But whoever said it would be easy?
Turning to chapter 2, we’ll read verses 13–15 and then verses 26–27 which together, gives us a picture of how God deals with people who don’t have a revelation of Him in the Word, either in the Law or in subsequent portions of Scripture. Verses 13–15: for not the hearers of the Law are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. I want to point out to you there, whatever version you are using, that where it says the Law twice in that verse, the word the is put in by the translators. That is frequently so in the rest of this epistle. You need to understand this. Paul is taking the Law of Moses as the great pattern of law, the perfect law, the God-given law. But what he says applies also to other forms of law. So he says the Law and then he says "Law".
Let me explain this. There are only two possible ways of achieving righteousness. One is by keeping rules, the other is by trusting God in faith. The natural instinct of every human being when challenged on the issue of righteousness is to start to think in terms of rules. I remember when I met the Lord in the British Army, I spent another four and a half years in the army as a Christian. When I talked to my fellow soldiers about the Lord and about salvation, their reaction was nearly always similar. Well... and they’d trot out their list of little rules which they kept. Everybody had a list that was tailored to his own life. I don’t commit adultery, I don’t get drunk, I don’t do this, I don’t do that. That was the instant, natural reaction.
So it is natural with all human beings, when the issue of righteousness is raised, to think in terms of keeping rules. What Paul says applies not only to the law of Moses primarily but to every set of rules by which people might seek to make themselves righteous. It isn’t possible to achieve righteousness by keeping any set of rules. Really, it’s worthwhile looking at your faces for a moment at this point. I knew this would happen. I was talking to a large group of people somewhere not too long ago and I said casually without even realizing the impact of what I was saying, I said, Of course, Christianity is not a set of rules. I think if I told those people that there was no God, they would have been less shocked! But that’s the truth of the matter, Christianity is not a set of rules. We do not achieve righteousness with God by keeping rules. But rules have a place in life. I’ll be explaining that later.
Paul is saying it’s not the people who hear law, whether it’s the Law of Moses or any other law. It’s the people who apply it who will be justified. Notice.. it’s not the hearers who are just or righteous, and remember, the two words are the same, but those who apply it will be justified. It doesn’t say they’ll become righteous, it says God will reckon righteousness to them. None of us can be just unless we are justified by God. So Paul now goes on and deals with the issue of conscience which is very important. Verse 14: For when the Gentiles who do not have the law do instinctively [or by nature] the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, They don’t have any direct revelation of God’s law but there’s something inside them which does the same for them as law would do.
Paul goes on: so that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, It doesn’t come out in the English translation but what is written in their hearts is not the law, it’s the working of the law. We have, every one of us, in us somewhere something that works like the law to achieve the same results as are achieved by the law. Which is not to make us righteous but it’s to bring us to the point where we see we need God’s mercy to be made righteous. That’s absolutely different. And then it speaks about conscience, which I believe is the function in man which produces this. Conscience tells us: You told a lie. And then Paul pictures a kind of court scene going on inside us. One of our thoughts is, Well, that’s true, I did tell a lie. The other says, No, it wasn’t really a lie, just exaggerated a little.
Paul pictures this kind of court scene going on inside us. How many of you know that that does happen? How many of you have experienced that inside yourself? That’s what Paul is talking about and he says conscience is doing for people like that the same that the law does. Not making them righteous but showing them that they need God’s mercy. And that’s the work of the law, it’s to show us that we need God’s mercy. Now there are some unanswered questions but I’m going to devote one whole session to the purposes for which God gave law. We’ll come to that in a little while. So here is a Gentile, somebody who has never had any knowledge of God. But somewhere inside him there’s something that monitors his conduct. I’ve noticed in dealing with primitive people or people who had no conduct with God, one of the areas that they’re often sensitive about is telling a lie.
Often, conscience will convict people: You didn’t tell the truth. Another which is common is our improper behavior to the people in our own family. That again is an area in which primitive people are often convicted by God because most of them have a deep sense of obligation to their immediate relatives, much stronger than the contemporary American has. So there are different ways in which conscience can work. What Paul is picturing is a kind of law court inside our consciousness and conscience is the prosecutor, and then inside us there are thoughts that say That’s true or I know it wasn’t quite true, but it really wasn’t a lie. That sort of thing. Tell me, what’s the difference between something that isn’t really a lie and something that really is a lie? But we are all eager to justify ourselves, even to ourselves. Have you noticed that?
So Paul gives us this very vivid picture of the internal court scene that’s going on inside us and he says people who don’t have the law or any law can have conscience produce in them the same effect that the law produces. Which is not to make them righteous. I cannot emphasize that too much. But it’s to show them that they need God’s mercy. Now let’s look down there in verses 26–27. If therefore the uncircumcised man [the nonreligious man] keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Now the word that’s translated requirements is a very important word which we’ll come to more than once in these studies. It means that which is the right response to whatever demand is made upon you. It’s directly connected with the word for righteous.
Let me say it in Greek so you can hear the similarity. Righteous is dikaios. This word is dikaioma. It’s the correct response to legitimate requirements. Let me translate it that way. If therefore the uncircumcised man makes the correct response to legitimate requirements, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And will not he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you [now it’s talking to the Jew] who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? So Paul is saying it’s not the outward observance of rituals, or forms, or ceremonies; it’s the inner response of your heart that determines how God looks at you. And he says, very correctly, he says there are a lot of cases in which the religious man has the wrong response, the nonreligious man has the right response.
I don’t know whether I dare to tell you this, it may offend you, but a long while ago in the early days of our ministry my son-in-law, who is our director, was trying to find somebody that would fulfill some requirement. I think packaging or something like that. He said I found a firm, (forgive me in advance), but he said rather apologetically: They’re not Christians. I said: Praise the Lord! How many of you know that Jesus Loves You bookstore doesn’t pay its bills? see what I’m saying? It’s not always the people with all the religious talk that can deliver. God is interested in the people who deliver, not in the people who talk.
Now let’s go on with this. Verses 17–25, Paul now homes right in on his fellow Jews and he gives a number of specific examples of the ways in which they break the law although they boast about the Law. He says: But if you bear the name ‘Jew,’ and rely upon the Law, and boast in God, And I have to say, without being offensive to anybody, if you live in Israel, this hasn’t changed the least bit. Nineteen centuries have changed nothing in this situation. It’s precisely as Paul described it. I have to be careful what I say but I remember years ago when we were living in Jerusalem we ordered some furniture to be made by a Jewish carpentry firm. That’s a good and honorable trade amongst the Jews. The people from whom we’d ordered these chairs delivered them.
So to be hospitable I offered them some coffee. They said: No, we can’t drink in your house. I wasn’t sufficiently familiar with the tenets of Orthodox Judaism to realize that they could not eat in an un-kosher home. Our home was not Kosher; they couldn’t eat, they couldn’t drink. They would have been defiled. But the problem was they cheated us on the chairs. I tell you, the Bible is the most up-to-date book. Now please, don’t let me suggest to you that it’s only Jews who could act that way. How many of you know that isn’t true? We’re going on. Verse 18: you know His will, and approve the things that are essential, There’s a better translation: You know the subtle differences between this and that. You know what’s Kosher and what’s not Kosher. Believe me, if you study the rules of kashrut, they are complicated. You have to have a legal mind and an attorney to advise you to be absolutely sure you’ve done right.
Now, Ruth lived as a Jewess, and is still a Jewess, for many years and when the issue of kosher in her home came up, she was ready to go for it more or less until she discovered that you had to have two dishwashers. One for the plates that were used for meat and one for the plates that were used for milk. Her economical or unreligious mind just said: I won’t go that far. But that’s somewhat typical and there are much finer refinements than whether you have two dishwashers. We’re going on. approve the things that are essential [you know the subtle differences], being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher to the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, How would you describe such a person in one word? Pride, that’s right. Arrogance.
And you see, I think nothing creates pride more easily than religious knowledge. How many of us are in danger of becoming proud because we have knowledge? Yes, let’s be careful. you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? Now, brothers and sisters, I just want to ask you this: Don’t you think at the present time the world out there is saying this to the church? Don’t you think that it applies exactly to us who call ourselves Christians? You see, the boot is on the other foot now. The world still judges Jews by different standards but nevertheless, the focus of world attention in this part of the world, is on us who call ourselves Christians because we’re doing the things that we’re telling other people they shouldn’t do.
Listen. Last year Ruth and I traveled right around the world. And from Australia we went to Papua New Guinea and from there to Malaysia and from there to Singapore and from there to Indonesia. On the headlines of all those papers in all those nations there were the scandals that were taking place in the television ministry. Everyday on the headlines, lots of much more important news never made the headlines but the whole world heard about what the church is doing in America. See what Paul is saying? I want you to understand this is up to date. This is not just something from the past or just religious theory. This is reality. We just need to put ourselves in the place of the people to whom Paul was speaking saying: Could this be said legitimately to us today?
Verse 21, go back there. You who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal? You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? I’d have to say, and we’ll come to this more precisely later, living by rules against doing things makes you disposed to do them. We’ll come to that in greater depth. But let me suggest to you. You have a little daughter aged 5. You go out of the house one night and you come back. She’s opened all mother’s drawers and pulled out all her handkerchiefs and her underwear and so on and had a wonderful time. Well, you’re mildly provoked. You say: You shouldn’t do that. Then a week later you go out again and you say, Now, listen. I don’t want you to touch those drawers. Don’t you go near to those drawers. Do you know what goes on in that little mind? There’s just one thing I want to do. What is it? Open the drawers, you understand?
This is true. It’s true in religion too. Preaching against things ultimately makes people want to do them. I can remember growing up in my teen ages I didn’t have many restrictions in my home by comparison with many people, but anything I was told not to do, that’s what I wanted to do. So, this is true, and again, I want to be careful. I want to say these statements apply exactly to the same people in Israel today as they did nineteen centuries ago. The Bible is so accurate, so up to date. You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? I have to admit that I’m not quite sure why Paul says that. But let me show you something in the prophet Malachi which I think could interpret this. Malachi 3. Malachi is the book in which God held a reckoning with the Jewish people after fourteen centuries of the law. Not quite fourteen centuries, let’s say twelve centuries.
This is the message through Malachi in Malachi 3:7. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from My statutes, and have not kept them. Return to Me and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, How shall we return? [What do we have to do?] [And then God says:] Will a man rob God? Yet you are robbing Me! But you say, How have we robbed Thee? In tithes and contributions. So there God specifically charges Israel with robbing the sacred things. I think that’s probably what Paul had in mind but I cannot say that for certain. He said, you teach other people that you shouldn’t steal but you’re stealing from God. Could that be said of Christians today? Are some of us stealing from God? Are some of us putting our hands on things that rightfully belong to God?
I don’t believe that tithing applies to Christians as it applied under the Law of Moses but I certainly do believe that the tithe belongs to God. So when you help yourself to God’s portion, what are you doing? Stealing, that’s right. I suppose it’s much worse to steal from God than it is to steal from your fellow human being. We go on now with God’s attitude toward external ordinances. I think we’ve really covered that but let’s just look at it again. Verses 28–29. For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, [the Holy Spirit] not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. Paul is saying whatever you do outwardly isn’t what really matters. What really matters is, what is your heart relationship to God? You know that the word Jew is taken from the name Yehuda or Judah. And the meaning of Yehuda is praise.
So Paul says you’re only a real Jew, a real Yehudi [which is the Hebrew word for it] if your praise comes from God and is based on what you are inwardly, not on all your outward and external ordinances. I think it’s important to point out, as I understand it (and you’re free to disagree with me), but I believe that Paul is not saying in these Scriptures, everybody who believes in God is a Jew. I’ve heard that interpretation. I don’t believe that. We are members of the body of Christ in which both Jew and non-Jew come together and form one body. But being a Christian doesn’t make us Jews. Can you accept that? It’s very important, because there’s a teaching today that we’re all Jews and everything that was said about Jews and to Jews applies to us.
You see, what Paul is doing is notincreasing the number of people who are entitled to be called Jew; he’s restricting it to those who fulfill the inward conditions. This is so important because our attitude toward the Jewish people is very, very important in the sight of God. I’d like to turn to a similar passage in Romans 9 and here we’re dealing, as I said earlier, with God’s choice, God’s election. Paul is speaking about the unfaithfulness of many of the Jewish people. He says this with great grief and then he says in Romans 9:6 But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; Now again, that doesn’t mean that some people are not descended from Israel. What it means is some people who are descended are not Israel. It’s complicated but try and work it out.
What are the qualifications? Paul says: neither are they all children [that’s children of Abraham] because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: "Through Isaac your descendants will be named". That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants. So the vital qualification for being accepted as a true Jew or as true Israel is not the outward ordinances but it’s embracing by faith the promise of God. And without turning there we will find that in Galatians 6 well, we’d better turn there, excuse me a moment.
Galatians chapter 6 verse 15–16. Again it’s the same principle: it isn’t the outward but it’s the inward. For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. What really matters is what happens inside you by the power of God. And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. Now, there are both Gentiles and Jews. Those who walk according to this rule, the new creation, are Gentiles who’ve been born again by faith in Jesus, have this inner transformation which comes from the new birth. And then he says and upon the Israel of God. Who are the Israel of God?
Now, habitually Christians use that phrase to refer to the church, but I don’t believe that’s legitimate. The Israel of God is that section of Israel which has embraced the promise, acknowledged the Messiah and entered into the blessings of the New Covenant. Paul talks there about Gentile believers as those who walk according to this rule, and Jewish believers as the Israel of God. However, that is exceptional. I think in the whole New Testament there are only these three places.
Romans 2, Romans 9 and Galatians 6 where Paul limits the word Jew or Israel to those who are true believers. Throughout the rest of the New Testament, basically the word Jew and the word Israel are applied to all who fulfill the qualifications of being descended from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But here Paul is pointing out it’s not the outward that’s important, it’s the inward. Let me say in Christian terminology, it’s not the fact that you were baptized; the question is, what’s happened inside you? That’s where God looks, that’s the important issue. I have to tell you that always in dealing with religious people, this truth is unpopular. It’s unpopular with professing Christians, it’s unpopular with Jews, but it’s the truth. We need to give heed to it.