Exploring Romans 2
Having chosen to step into the good path is only the beginning. The crossroads is not the finish line. The road less traveled by of Romans chapter One is not the journey’s end. Nor is it an easy path, a moving sidewalk of precast and predetermined progress. Stepping into this path does not guarantee we will never diverge from it again.
The early religious community to whom God’s tutoring was primarily directed had made that mistake at times. God had clearly communicated that He was pleased with people whose hearts, souls and minds were wholly set on Him; their hands and feet would then follow that inner lead. Somehow, though, they had gotten it backwards. They had chosen to make the external signs of their creed more important than the internal ones. The practice of circumcision, rather than reminding them of their high calling to live lives reflective of their inner purity, became a badge of deceptive pride to them. It was their membership card into the Old Boys’ Club of religiosity. Exclusivity was only a step away from smug self-righteousness.
We are not much different. There is something in each of us that tempts us to return to the self-confident swagger of badge-wearing externalism. Old habits die hard, and this one is particularly persistent.
The temptation to divorce external acts from their internal meanings is a real danger. We don’t approve of it in others – we call it hypocrisy – yet we may ignore it in ourselves. In his letter to the Corinthian believers written about the same time as the letter to the Romans, Paul gives an example that Greeks could understand. They were mostly non-Jews, so the circumcision example would not be relevant. But they must have been a vibrant and charismatic group whose pattern of expressing their faith was extraordinary. They spoke flamboyantly, they discoursed theologically, and they were willing to sacrifice their wealth for the cause; but even they were on the precipice of divorcing the true driving force of their actions from the actions themselves.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love,” suggests Paul, “I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Whether it is the symbolic badge of traditional spirituality that the Jews were prone to rely upon, or the charisma of knowledge and humanitarian effort that the Greeks practiced, the path Christ calls people to follow is first, last and always founded on God’s love.
Each day, almost every moment of each day, we come to a crossroads of decision regarding God’s love. We must choose to accept God’s indwelling Spirit of love and follow His direction in expressing that love, or choose to ignore that call. Behaving as we choose and then labeling it ‘love’ won’t work. Leaving the straight and narrow road and renaming the diverging path by some euphemism will not change its ultimate destination.
Yes, we are to express external signs of our commitment to Christ. Those signs, though, must represent a vibrant, living relationship with the Spirit of God who is in the process of transforming us from the inside out. Every step we take with our hearts attuned to His still soft voice is a crossroads, calling us to be genuine. A heart on the right path is a life on the right path.
(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons; Bob Embleton)