They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all. (Romans 2: 15,16)
Paul is really getting off to a strong start with his letter to the Romans. He has claimed his authority as an apostle of the good news of the Savior, Jesus the Christ. He has invited into faith discernment those who are not aware of, not connected to, and perhaps have no overt interest in the in-breaking kingdom of God. The cosmopolitan people of Rome would have some sense of this new assembly of people espousing a religious practice centered on the good word noted above, but what was to distinguish the followers of the Christ from all the other religions, gods, and cultic practices that abounded in those days?
That is Paul's uphill battle. It is what takes us into the body of the epistle: "Why should I care at all about your God...and what difference will it make in my life? In the life of the Empire and its citizens?" That is just one of the big questions being asked...and what intrigues me about the second chapter of the letter is that Paul makes no move to either entice or take on the "big" questions...not in this chapter. He trusts that if we have read/heard chapter 1, then we are ready to begin a conversation that will start with the simple basics and warm up to broader and deeper arguments for a new way of living in a new way of being....in a new kingdom borne of resurrection in the person of Jesus the Christ.
His challenge to the Romans, and to us, in chapter 2? Instead of looking at him, he asks us to look within ourselves. He calls us out on the fissure each of us has in us, that separates the interior/hidden self from the outer/visible self. He wants us to realize that in Christ, God does not even pretend to support the idea that we can have two faces, one for the private realm and the other for the public. How we feel and how we act on those feelings set us on our path to God. How we speak and how our thoughts form the words we are bold to speak (and those we hold back) are all known to God. Even our motives are transparent to the Holy One.
Be you Jew or Greek, one under the law or one who lives outside it, the Law of God exists and God's desire that we become agents of the justice of that intends exists as well. Out task is to seek it, and bring our wills and choice of action into deeper alignment with God's will and intent.You might see someone who is by all outward appearances Jewish (by dress, action, speech), but God determines their steadfastness not by outer manifestations, but by inner. You might be a Gentile, and demonstrate no visible outward loyalty to the rigors of Torah, and yet live it out in your heart.
Paul's taking us on in how we inhabit our lives is a smart track, indeed....it forces us out of arguing about God's nature and instead asks us to delve more deeply into our own. By seeking clarity of self, of motivation, of faith tied to action...then we prepare ourselves for the deeper waters in which we will find ourselves later on in the work.
Tie the inside to the outside. Line up your intent with your choice of action. Work on tearing down the separations we encourage in ourselves that allow us to act in one way when the righteousness of God beckons us in another. "See what is really there in you," says Paul. "Come to terms with that, be you Jew or Greek, doubter or devout...and then we will be able to make a beginning. THEN you will be ready to not only hear my gospel, but also to begin to live it...."
God is not partial (ref. 2:11), and takes us as we present ourselves...inside and out.....