In this passage, Paul turns around on the Jews what they had determined would bring them greater favor, and instead explains that the very favoritism that they proclaimed placed them instead at a great disadvantage. See, the Jews had claimed that they had no need for the grace of the Lord since they had the Law. Paul turns that around on them and explains that since they had the Law, they were in even greater need of grace, since the Gentiles would be judged without the Law, whereas the Jews would be judged by the Law. See, it’s this idea that the Gentiles would be judged by nature alone, whereas the Jews would be judged by nature as well as by the Law.
This is such a scathing statement to the Jews, who felt as though they, because of their lineage, were blessed, the righteous, the elect of the Lord. They considered this lineage to be a great blessing that put them above the unrighteous, the filthy, the non-elect Gentiles. And Paul turns this very concept around on them, stating that not only have they sinned, but, having received the Law, they, more than any other group, have no excuse for their transgressions. Thus, they, more than any other group, must flee to the Lord seeking grace. More than any other group, the “chosen of God,” must abandon their ways and their fleshly desires and run to the warm, saving embrace, of our Lord. And this awakening must have been a slap in the face to these believers, who thought that because they were, in fact, the “elect of the Lord,” that they would be forgiven their transgressions without seeking that forgiveness. Even moreso, this would have been doubly upsetting to the Jews who, as we read in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, wished to enforce these rules and laws against the Gentiles that they themselves were unable to keep (Acts 15:10).
Paul continues this scathing exhortation of the Jews by stating that, “it is not the hearers of the Law who are just in the sight of the Lord, but the doers of the Law who are justified.” See, building on the foundation that had already been lain, he continues to go further. To read, to know, to study the words of the Scripture, the Laws of the Lord, is to no avail if you do not put into practice that which you have already discerned. Knowing the Law of the Lord means nothing if you do not obey the same Law that you have spent hours and days, weeks, even years, learning and studying. It seems unnecessary to even state, however, knowing the speed limit will not prevent the ticket if I am caught speeding. We understand and even apply this to our lives in temporal terms, and yet, in the light of eternity, we ignore this admonition. We do our Bible studies, we learn the words and commands of our Beloved Lord in English, even in Greek, and yet, we do everything that we can to not have to apply them to our very lives. We claim to believe the words of Scripture, the words of our Lord, but never quite enough to turn our belief into action. We learn Jesus commands and then immediately turn our sights towards verses like Ephesians 2:8-9 (ignoring verse 10) to explain away the command of our Lord to commit ourselves to the work that the Lord has called us to. We attempt to use Scripture to explain why we don’t obey Scripture and then call it “Scripture alone,” neglecting the fact that Scripture demands those very actions. We do everything that we can to attempt to walk away from the words of Scripture, from the very words of our Lord, and justify it by claiming that it “isn’t what He meant when He said…”
Mere study of the words of Scripture alone will never save us. We have somewhere along the lines mistaken knowledge for maturity. St Mark the Ascetic teaches us to “read the words of Scripture by putting them into practice.” James teaches us that “faith without works is dead.” Jesus Himself taught us that “whoever loves Me will obey My commandments.” And, Paul here is warning us that merely knowing the Laws of God, merely knowing His words, isn’t enough. It is not those who are “hearers of the word” who are justified in the sight of God, but rather those who are “doers of the Law.” This is ever so important in a generation where those who are considered to be “walking in the faith” strongly are those who are willing to read the words of Scripture, to take time away from their families to study the words of Scripture, those who are willing to sacrifice whatever in the name of studying Scripture. However, we must be mindfully guarded that in learning the words of Scripture we don’t busy ourselves to the point of being unable to obey it, to abide in it, to live it. It’s so easy to walk past the hungry beggar on the way to a Bible study that we don’t even notice that they are there. It’s so easy to overlook a “minor sin” when we are focused on the sacrifice of our beloved Lord. It’s so easy to become so encompassed with learning the Gospel that we forget that it is supposed to be an active part of our lives. The commandment to love our neighbor isn’t just a theory, it’s a fact that we must be living. The commandment to love the Lord with all of our heart, soul, and might must be something that we actively seek, not something that we think will passively happen. The word of the Lord, the Holy Scripture, is transforming, but only inasmuch as we allow it to transform us. Only as much as we willing allow it to change us into being “doers of the law,” not hearers only.
May the Grace of the Lord be with you, my beloved family.