St Paul’s Letter to the Romans Ch.2:1-16
Posted on May 13th 2012 in St. Paul's Letters
St Paul’s explanation about the role of the Law has led him to show that God judges human actions irrespective of the possession of the Law. To have heard the Law is never sufficient. The inclusion of the Gentiles is made possible because they have a law written on their hearts that corresponds to the Law given by God to Moses. This law of the heart is embedded in created human nature, and is described by St Paul’s near pagan contemporaries (Cicero and Seneca) as the ‘Natural Law’. St Paul is not importing pagan ideas into the Gospel message, but using his reason to explain the common human experience of the internal voice that either accuses or justifies individual moral actions to a standard not of our making. This internal voice is the act of conscience and is not to be identified simply with self-consciousness because the judgement made by conscience goes deeper, and relates to our created nature.
St Paul’s argument shows that God does not judge just by external standards alone but by internal ones as well. Only God knows the internal moral struggles that each person undergoes to determine the right course of action.
The emphasis on the internal moral struggle is the very place where the gift of grace takes hold through the act of faith and reception of baptism. The external signs of membership, circumcision and the blood line will no longer be sufficient for salvation.
The need for God’s grace rather than reliance on human effort is made all the more necessary by the gap between Jewish claims about the power of the Law and actual behaviour. The Law and its identification with divine wisdom demonstrate that it holds the key to understanding human life. Yet despite this, St Paul says that the temptation to steal, to commit adultery or to rob temples remains even with the Law. This gulf between claim and practice leads to the dishonouring of God and is a problem common to all religions. The apparent ‘hypocrisy’ is only made worse by placing the accent on human effort with regard to salvation. The only possible boasting in such situations is in the power of God not the efforts of humanity.