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Enhancing God’s Reputation

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: Romans 2:17–24

Does your life attract people to the Christian faith or turn them off to it? It is important to remember that the reputation of God’s people in the world affects the way people in this world view God.


A newspaper article some years ago reported on a man who died at his desk in an office area shared with twenty-three coworkers. His head was resting on his arms at his desk, and everybody thought he was taking a nap. He remained there for five days before someone finally checked on him—and discovered he had died![1]

It is possible for professing Christians and even churches to be a lot like that man—they are at their desk, so to speak, but they are without any genuine spiritual life. It looks like they are spiritually engaged, but in reality, they are spiritually dead.

As the book of Romans unfolds, Paul addresses three categories of people: in chapter 1, the immoral person who is condemned before God; then in chapter 2, the moral person who also lacks genuine spiritual life.

Now beginning in Romans 2:17, Paul addresses a third category, the religious person—specifically the devout Jewish person who believes he is safe in his standing before God.

Paul is going to set the record straight. He had been a devout young Jewish man himself. And here he gives a list of six reasons why the devout Jew felt safe from God’s judgment.

First, Paul says in verse 17, “You call yourself a Jew.” The name “Jew” comes from the tribal name of Judah. They thought they were safe because they descended from the right family tree.

Second, Paul says here the devout Jews “rely on the law.” They felt safe because of their dedication to God’s law. They had a copy of it on their coffee table, so to speak.

Well, I know people who have a copy of the Bible today, but they have no relationship with the Author of the Bible. The Bible is just a good-luck charm for them.

Third, the Jewish people felt they were safe with God because they “boast[ed] in God.” In other words, they took pride that Yahweh was their God and they were His people.

Fourth, in verse 18, Paul indicates faithful Jews felt eternally safe because they knew “[God’s] will.” The word “will” here refers to the will of God revealed through the Scriptures. Israel knew the Bible said they had a special covenant with God. They knew the roots of their heritage and what God intended for them to become—that they were supposed to be a blessing to all the nations of the world. They knew all about God’s will for them. But beloved, there is a big difference between knowing God’s will and doing God’s will.

Fifth, these Jews felt safe because of their insight. Paul says they “approve what is excellent.” The Greek term “approve” means “to put to the test.”

The Jewish nation prided themselves in testing philosophies and worldviews. They assumed they knew what was truly essential for life. Paul is going to point out that they missed the major point in life—walking in joyful obedience with God.

Finally, number 6, they thought they were safe because of their biblical education. They were well “instructed from the law,” the Old Testament. “We got an A+ in Old Testament Survey 101.”

So, these devout Jews are saying, “We have the right family name, we have the law of God, we acknowledge that the God of Israel is the only true God, we have insight and knowledge, and we have graduated from Bible college.”

But to their surprise, Paul tells them that they are not safe with God at all.

Let me tell you, beloved, the warning is for everyone today—Jew and Gentile. It is possible for religious exercises to touch your mind without ever changing your heart. It is possible to be emotionally moved by religion without ever being spiritually awakened by the Redeemer. It is possible to be religious but not redeemed.

There are a lot of people who are going to miss heaven by eighteen inches—they believed certain truths about God and the Bible with their minds, but they never gave God their hearts. They owned a Bible, but the Bible did not own them. They were going to live their lives like they wanted.

Paul goes on to add here that the devout unbeliever is quick to tell everyone else how they should live their lives. Paul writes in verse 19, “You are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind.” They thought they were God’s gift to unenlightened people.

Paul says that they thought of themselves as “a light to those who are in darkness” (verse 19). But because the Jewish nation—as well as the Gentile world—rejected the Messiah, the true Light of the World, they tried to turn out the light rather than lead people into the light of Jesus Christ.

These religious individuals tried to present themselves as the standard of morality; Paul describes them as thinking they are “an instructor of the foolish” (verse 20). “Instructor” here can be translated “corrector.” We might think of this person as the referee who blows the whistle when someone goes out of bounds.

These self-righteous people are going around blowing the whistle, telling everybody where they are wrong, while they themselves are out of bounds. The truth is, they had created their own game with their own rules—and they considered their rules more important than a true relationship with God.

Well, Paul blows the whistle on them in verses 21-22:

You then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?

The truth is, they had broken the rules of righteous living. They were sinners just like everybody else.

This phrase about robbing temples is more than likely a reference to Jewish people melting down pagan idols and using the gold and silver for their own bank accounts, even though they taught that contact with such idols was defiling. Money was more important to them than God.

Now that Paul has exposed the true condition of these devout but unsaved Jewish people, he goes on to deliver the verdict from God.

First, they are guilty of ruining their own reputation. Paul writes in verse 23, “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.”

Back in Paul’s day, certain rabbis were teaching that the Jews were safe from God’s judgment if they had a copy of the Torah, the law—the first five books of the Old Testament.[2] In other words, they did not have to obey it; they just had to own a copy of it.

Their hypocrisy was ruining their own reputation. But that was not all. Because they violated the law of God, they were ruining the reputation of God. Their disregard for God’s law was a declaration that God must not be that holy or significant or important after all.

Beloved, if you do not take the Bible seriously, the world will never take God seriously. And that is essentially what Paul says, as he quotes the prophet Isaiah here in verse 24: “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”[3]

Not only does your hypocrisy and sinful lifestyle make a mess of your own reputation; it ruins God’s reputation as well. Have you ever thought about the fact that the reputation of God depends on your reputation?

The greatest obstacle to Christianity is hypocritical Christians. You can talk all you want about what you believe or how many Bibles you own, but the world does not care about your Bible or what you believe; they are watching how you behave.

Our actions, reactions, and decisions shape our reputation—but not just ours. God’s reputation is at stake as well. So, let’s behave in such a way that we improve the reputation of God in our world today.

[1] “Worker Dead at Desk for Five Days,” Birmingham Post, January 7, 2001.

[2] David Jeremiah, Romans, Volume 1: God’s Righteousness and Man’s Rebellion (Turning Point, 2003), 78.

[3] Isaiah 52:5.

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