Sunday School Lesson

July 3

Lesson 5

Needing More than Law

Devotional Reading: 1 Peter 1:13-23

Background Scripture: Romans 2

Romans 2:17-29

17 Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,

18 And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law;

19 And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,

20 An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.

21 Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?

22 Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?

23 Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?

24 For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.

25 For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.

26 Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?

27 And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?

28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh:

29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

Key Verse

Not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. —Romans 2:13

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. State the difference between knowing God’s law and obeying God’s law.

2. Contrast the person who knows more of God’s law but does not obey with the person who knows less yet does obey.

3. Repent of failure to act on what he or she knows of God’s law.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. With Privilege Comes Responsibility

B. Lesson Background

I. High Calling (Romans 2:17-20)

A. Boastful Knowledge (vv. 17, 18)

B. Self-Assured Ability (vv. 19, 20)

II. Betrayed Calling (Romans 2:21-23)

A. Preaching but Not Practicing (vv. 21, 22)

B. Boasting but Not Honoring (v. 23)

III. Sad Results (Romans 2:24, 25)

A. Blasphemy (v. 24)

Corrupting the Calling

B. Uncircumcision (v. 25)

IV. True Sign (Romans 2:26-29)

A. Not Lineage but Obedience (vv. 26, 27)

B. Not Outward but Inward (vv. 28, 29)

What’s on the Inside?

Conclusion

A. Claiming Privilege

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember

Introduction

 

A. With Privilege Comes Responsibility

The story is told that when Queen Elizabeth II of England was a young girl, her father, King George VI, told her to do something.

“I am a princess,” she is said to have replied, “and I will do as I please.”

“Yes, you are a princess,” said her father. “And that is why, for the rest of your life, you will never simply do as you please.”

Privilege brings not just honor or power but responsibility. The greater the privilege, the greater the responsibility. Our lesson text is a solemn restatement of this principle. Paul reminded his Christian readers of Jewish background that their high calling as guardians of God’s law carried the responsibility of obedience. This is a responsibility that they, along with all people, had failed.

B. Lesson Background

Among Paul’s aims in his letter to the church at Rome is to demonstrate that the gospel is God’s power for salvation for both Jew and Gentile (Romans 1:16). Both had failed to submit to the God who created them and revealed himself to them, despite any claim of advantage one group might press over the other.

Although Gentiles had not received the special revelation of God’s law that had been given to Israel through Moses, Gentiles were nonetheless fully responsible for their rebellion against God. This is because God had sufficiently revealed himself and His will to them in creation itself (Romans 1:18-20; last week’s lesson).

In Romans 2, Paul turned to Jews to show them the problem of their own situation. Israel’s law and history stood together in Israel’s sacred Scriptures. That history showed repeatedly the failure of those who received God’s law to keep it. Any advantage that Israel had in receiving God’s law at Sinai had been squandered through disobedience.

This realization could come to Jews through more than just reading their people’s history in the Scriptures. Observing the world around them could demonstrate the same. Many Jews of the period regarded the priestly leadership of the temple as corrupt and illegitimate. Pressure to conform to social norms meant that many Jews lived more like their Gentile neighbors than as people devoted to God’s law. There were few reasons for religiously sensitive Jews to think that their generation was better at keeping God’s law than their ancestors had been. For those who thought otherwise, Paul had some sobering—and stern—reminders.

I. High Calling

                                                                (Romans 2:17-20)

 

A. Boastful Knowledge (vv. 17, 18)

17. Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God.

Paul addresses a portion of his audience very directly here, with emphasis on thou as if to speak to each Jewish Christian individually. Does a person call himself or herself a Jew as a way of claiming status as one of God’s people? Does that person rely on the Law of Moses to establish that standing? Does that person express pride in being a member of God’s people and not part of the pagan rabble who know nothing of the true God?

Paul is beginning to show that such confidence is misplaced. Since the dawn of Israel’s history, true membership in God’s people has depended on more than just belonging to the nation or receiving God’s law. Israel’s prophets decried confidence that was placed in outward markers of identity (Jeremiah 7:4; 8:8). Paul’s words are in line with theirs (compare Luke 3:8).

18. And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law.

The description of the person who claims privilege of membership in God’s people continues. This person has not simply received the Law of Moses but also knows it well, having been instructed in it continually.

How to Say It

centurion sen-ture-ee-un.

Cornelius Cor-neel-yus.

Gentiles Jen-tiles.

Isaiah Eye-zay-uh.

Jeremiah Jair-uh-my-uh.

Malachi Mal-uh-kye.

Sinai Sigh-nye or Sigh-nay-eye.

 

As a result, such a person can clearly describe how God’s law provides a better way of living than do the ways of the pagan world. This is the individual who loudly endorses the teaching of God’s Word, pointing out how far others have strayed from it. Being part of the “in-group,” knowing and approving of what the in-group believes, is for such a person the basis for believing that one is right with God.

B. Self-Assured Ability (vv. 19, 20)

19. And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness.

Now the description begins to look outward. A Jew can fairly claim that God has called the people of Israel to make Him known to the pagan nations around them. Surrounded by peoples who are ignorant of God and filled with moral corruption, it is easy to characterize others as blind and in darkness. It is easy to see one’s own knowledge of God’s law as the solution.

But notice how easily such a perception can turn to arrogance. When forgetting that God had to rescue Israel time and again from consequences of disobedience, the Jew can begin to imagine that God’s “chosen” people are simply better than others. This line of self-delusion leads one to become not a guide of the blind but one of the hypocritical “blind guides” that Jesus condemned (Matthew 23:16, 24).

What Do You Think?

What will be your role in improving your church’s efforts in being a “guide” and a “light” to those in spiritual darkness?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

In sharing the gospel

In improving your own discipleship

Other

20. An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.

As the argument continues, it becomes more obvious that Paul is describing one who takes a condescending position. The term translated instructor is used especially of those who teach children, and that implication is strengthened in the phrase a teacher of babes.

What Do You Think?

In what ways do Christians sometimes project a “holier than thou” attitude because of their knowledge of God’s Word? How do we deal with this problem?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Language we use

Attitudes we exhibit

Actions we take

Assumptions we make

Other

II. Betrayed Calling

                                                                 (Romans 2:21-23)

 

A. Preaching but Not Practicing (vv. 21, 22)

21. Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal?

Paul turns from describing the individual who claims privilege as God’s person to pointing out that person’s hypocritical failure. Claiming to be a guide, a light, a teacher is one thing, but heeding one’s own teaching is another. Are Paul’s readers practicing what they preach?

As Paul asks about stealing, we can imagine a person responding, “No, I have never stolen anything.” But we must keep in mind that being innocent of theft outwardly is not all there is to this issue. Jesus stressed that true righteousness exists on the inside as well as the outside (compare Matthew 23:25-28). The Law of Moses made the same point with the last of the Ten Commandments prohibiting coveting, which is an inward disposition (Exodus 20:17). Withholding of tithes to the temple (Malachi 3:8-10) or failing to give support to the poor (Isaiah 10:1, 2) were forms of theft in the view of Israel’s prophets. Selfishness constitutes theft from the standpoint of the God who examines the human heart.

22. Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?

The description of hypocrisy continues. Those who condemn the pagan world’s sexual immorality need to consider whether their own hearts harbor lust (Matthew 5:27, 28). Those who condemn idolatry need to consider whether their behavior is more in line with worship of an idol than devotion to the true God. Israel’s prophets had condemned hypocritical worship in the temple as being more directed to false gods than the true God (Jeremiah 7:9-11; etc.). Those who claim to know God’s Word must be at least as mindful of such things as they are of others’ failures.

B. Boasting but Not Honoring (v. 23)

23. Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?

Paul states the dangerous problem directly. The person who boasts of the law is the one who claims special identity and privilege because he or she knows God’s law. But if knowing does not lead to obeying, it is hardly of value. God is not at all honored by the person who knows His Word but does not follow it. To boast in such a thing is to invite condemnation, not to receive blessing.

The right response is to make our identity not in what we know but in what God has done for us. God’s people have always been God’s people because of His grace, not because of their knowledge or any accomplishment. To make our stand on God’s grace leads to obedience that reflects our gratitude to and dependency on the one who has saved us.

What Do You Think?

In what areas do Christians seem to need most to improve in making their practice of God’s Word match their knowledge of it? Why?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding what can be seen by everyone

Regarding what can be seen only by family members and close friends

Regarding what can be seen only by God

III. Sad Results

                                                                  (Romans 2:24-25)

 

A. Blasphemy (v. 24)

24. For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.

The place where this is written is the old Greek version of Isaiah 52:5. Thus the issue of bringing disgrace to the name of God is hardly new. Hypocrisy among God’s people brings His reputation into disrepute among those who do not know Him. Israel’s calling is to bring light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6). But Israel’s failure to obey God creates an excuse for the Gentiles to continue to reject Israel’s God.

Corrupting the Calling

Before the scandals of evangelists Jim Bakker in 1987, Jimmy Swaggart in 1988 and 1991, and Ted Haggard in 2006, there was that of Aimee Semple McPherson (1890-1944). Her notoriety was such that it resulted in a Broadway musical titled Scandalous: The Life and Trials of Aimee Semple McPherson. One synopsis of the play states that she “was the world’s first media superstar evangelist whose passion for saving souls equaled her passion for making headlines.”

And make headlines she did! She was divorced more than once (quite a scandalous thing in the first half of the twentieth century). She was accused of lying. She built a 5,000-seat megachurch in Los Angeles. In 1926, she was thought to have drowned in the Pacific Ocean, then rumored to have been kidnapped for $500,000 ransom, then strangely appeared walking alone out of a Mexican desert into Douglas, Arizona. She knew how to use the media, and they loved her for it. Her followers idolized her, but many other Christians saw her as an embarrassment.

The world enjoys finding cracks in the façade of Christianity. As the publicity circus around McPherson’s life demonstrates, this is especially true with regard to Christian leaders. Paul’s challenge to us, whether leaders or not, is to live with such integrity that the cause of Christ is never subject to reproach (compare 1 Timothy 3:2-7; 1 Peter 2:12). Do we?—C. R. B.

B. Uncircumcision (v. 25)

25. For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.

Circumcision was the sign that God gave to Abraham to show that God had given that man a covenant promise (Genesis 17:1-14). Circumcision identified the male members of the people of that covenant, bound to obey God’s commands and anticipating fulfillment of His promises. In that respect, circumcision was a valuable, important act for the people of Israel.

But to receive circumcision without keeping God’s law was to make this covenant marker meaningless. The prophet Jeremiah stressed that genuine circumcision is focused on the inner person (Jeremiah 4:4). To claim to belong to God on the basis of physical circumcision alone is to reduce God to one who cares only for appearances.

The issue of circumcision is important for Paul’s readers. Some first-century Jewish Christians insist that Gentile Christians must be circumcised to belong to God’s people. Paul, along with the other apostles and church leaders, insists that the fulfillment of God’s promises in Christ means that anyone can belong to God’s people without that indicator (Acts 15:1-29; Galatians 2:1-16).

What Do You Think?

What are some “externals” that may become sources of false confidence for today’s Christians? Why?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding ceremonies undergone

Regarding organizational affiliations

Regarding personal accomplishments

Other

IV. True Sign

                                                                 (Romans 2:26-29)

 

A. Not Lineage but Obedience (vv. 26, 27)

26. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?

To this point, Paul has described the person who claims membership in God’s people but does not follow God’s will as expressed in His law. Now Paul describes the opposite: the person who has no claim to membership in God’s historic people but follows God’s law nonetheless, knowing it as something written on the heart (Romans 2:15).

Visual for Lesson 5. Use this visual to start a discussion regarding how believers and unbelievers react to God’s truth.

A key example is Cornelius, a Roman centurion described as “A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway” (Acts 10:2). His generosity to the needy contrasts with supposedly devout Jews of his day who use tradition to sidestep the Law of Moses (example: Mark 7:6-13).

So if an uncircumcised person does what the law requires, that person demonstrates true identity with God’s people, true circumcision. The inward reality is what gives rise to obedience.

27. And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?

When Gentiles exhibit obedience to God, they provide a sharp contrast with the lack of obedience on the part of many in Israel. When Gentiles follow God’s law even though they do not know Him, they bring shame on Jews who claim to know Him but fail to obey.

So simply being circumcised, simply belonging to the right group, brings no advantage. In fact, it brings the threat of judgment for those who claim the identity but do not live by it.

B. Not Outward but Inward (vv. 28, 29)

28. For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh.

Paul sums up. Some (many? most?) of the Christians in Rome who claim special standing because of their Jewish identity and longstanding knowledge of God’s law have reduced His concerns to the outward only. But the God who made the world knows the inner world of everyone. The God who reclaims His world through Christ seeks to rule over all people both outwardly and inwardly. Those who appear to belong to God’s people outwardly but have no inner reality in that regard make a mockery of His authority.

The inward reality is where the problem exists for the seemingly righteous person. We may imagine ourselves “good enough” to belong to God if we consider only outward appearance and behavior in contrast with that of others. Yet the inward reality is what shows us our need despite our seeming status (Matthew 23:27). Likewise when our outward failures seem to condemn us, the inward reality of our readiness to receive God’s merciful forgiveness is what makes us able truly to be part of His people (Luke 18:9-14).

29. But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

In the final statement of this section, Paul ties together many of the earlier biblical strands that make the same point. The inner life—that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter—is what truly controls a person (compare 2 Corinthians 3:6). From the account of Cain’s sin against Abel, in which anger provided the sinful impulse the power to act (Genesis 4:5-8), to Jesus’ denunciation of hypocrisy among the religious leaders (Matthew 23:1-36), the Bible shows that our pride in ourselves masks the persistent evil that lurks inside.

God’s focus has always been first on the inward life. He spoke to Cain about that inward reality before Cain committed his terrible deed. He reminded Samuel, who was seeking the king whom God had chosen, that “man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). God’s aim has always been to write His Word on the hearts of His people (Jeremiah 31:33). The letter, simply knowing what God has said, offers no benefit if it is unaccompanied by the inner life. To live otherwise is to care more about what people think than about God’s evaluation. For Him to do His redemptive work in us, we must recognize our inner selves for what they are, surrender our pride, and allow God to create in us new attitudes of obedient submission.

What’s on the Inside?

In 1925, acclaimed poet T. S. Eliot wrote a 98-line poem titled “The Hollow Men” that envisioned the decline of Western civilization. The poem likened Western (Christian) culture to scarecrows stuffed with straw, which have the outward appearance of being alive but have no life inside.

Eliot’s words have proven amazingly predictive. Some 90 years later, we see the evidence in a post-Christian Europe, where many of the great cathedrals are now mere museums. We can also see the evidence in historically Christian Canada and the U.S., nations that are increasingly secularized in philosophy and lifestyle. Eliot saw the world as he knew it coming to an end “Not with a bang but a whimper,” as the spiritual forces that once gave life would simply give up and give in.

Jesus criticized religious leaders for appearing outwardly as “righteous unto men” while being “full of hypocrisy and iniquity” on the inside (Matthew 23:28). Some Christians in Rome apparently placed their faith in the externals of religious observance instead of the internal virtues of a living faith. The danger of becoming “hollow Christians” is ever with us. Beware!—C. R. B.

What Do You Think?

What are some good steps Christians can take to become better circumcised-in-heart?

Talking Points for Your Discussion

Regarding awareness of one’s situation

Regarding “blind spots”

Regarding interactions with the world

Regarding prayer life

Other

Conclusion

 

A. Claiming Privilege

The Israelites’ failure to keep God’s law affected not just themselves. God’s promise was that all nations would be blessed through Abraham’s seed (Genesis 22:18), that Israel would become a light for the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6). So it seemed that Israel’s unfaithfulness could prove to be the undoing of God’s plans for the world.

But the gospel reveals something vital. Though Israel proved unfaithful, God brought His plan to fulfillment through one in Israel who did prove faithful, namely Jesus. His faithfulness, seen in submitting to death on the cross to take the punishment of the guilty, fulfilled God’s purpose and solved the problem of human failure for both Jews and Gentiles. How great is our failure? The cross shows us. How powerful is God’s solution to our failure? The cross shows us.

For the vast majority of us today, claiming spiritual privilege because of Jewish identity or circumcision seems very foreign. But we know how easy it is to claim such privilege on similar grounds. Looking at the chaotic world around us, we are tempted to congratulate ourselves that we know God and His Word. It is easy to observe the ignorance of the world and contrast that ignorance with what we know of God. Then it is all too easy to take the next step and think the difference has to do with something special about ourselves.

We would be better off contemplating the contrast between the good that other people see in us outwardly and the evil that we know still lives in our hearts. That reflection will lead us to think how God has welcomed us by His grace despite our failures. That in turn will remind us of how much we have in common with the world and of how much we have to share with it.

B. Prayer

O God, we surrender our innermost selves to You! May we be Yours, inside and out. We pray in the name of Jesus, who helps us make it so. Amen.

C. Thought to Remember

Let the inward match the outward.


July 10

Lesson 6

Struggling Under Sin’s Power

Devotional Reading: 1 John 1:5-10

Background Scripture: Romans 3:1-20

Romans 3:9-20

9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin;

10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:

11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.

12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.

13 Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:

14 Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:

15 Their feet are swift to shed blood:

16 Destruction and misery are in their ways:

17 And the way of peace have they not known:

18 There is no fear of God before their eyes.

19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.

20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

Key Verse

By the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. —Romans 3:20

Lesson Aims

After participating in this lesson, each learner will be able to:

1. Summarize humanity’s situation in relation to God’s law.

2. Rebut the argument that, since everyone sins, it’s not a problem; God will save us anyway.

3. Write a prayer of confession and repentance for one area of sin that besets him or her.

Lesson Outline

Introduction

A. An Honest Look at Ourselves

B. Lesson Background

I. Humanity’s Problem (Romans 3:9)

II. Scripture’s Declarations (Romans 3:10-18)

A. Lostness (vv. 10-12)

B. Death (vv. 13, 14)

C. Violence (vv. 15-17)

Our Violent Century

D. Godlessness (v. 18)

III. Law’s Result (Romans 3:19, 20)

A. Blameworthy Before God (v. 19)

Our Guilt

B. Awareness of Sin (v. 20)

Conclusion

A. Saved from Sin’s Power

B. Prayer

C. Thought to Remember


Standard Lesson Commentary 2015-2016 (KJV).

"Suggestions for families are taken from Standardlesson.com,

Standard Publishing Group, LLC. Used with permission. More resources for families are available at Standardpub.com.


God Bless