Rambling through Romans (13): 2:12-29
12 Those who have sinned outside the Law will also die outside the Law, and those who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law. 13 It isn’t the ones who hear the Law who are righteous in God’s eyes. It is the ones who do what the Law says who will be treated as righteous. 14 Gentiles don’t have the Law. But when they instinctively do what the Law requires they are a Law in themselves, though they don’t have the Law. 15 They show the proof of the Law written on their hearts, and their consciences affirm it. Their conflicting thoughts will accuse them, or even make a defense for them, 16 on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the hidden truth about human beings through Christ Jesus.
Biblical faith is always and all the time about relationship and responsiveness to God. God never leaves himself without a witness. Inside the Law or outside the Law; inside the church or outside the church, God seeks a relationship with all who will know him.
Any who respond to God’s grace in the measure that they know it will be the “Jew” God desires all of us to be!
As Paul says in another of his letters: “Being circumcised or not being circumcised doesn’t matter in Christ Jesus, but faith working through love does matter” (Gal.5:6).
Responsiveness to God, or obedience, is what makes faith, faith. The ritual, communal, and doctrinal frameworks that order and direct our faith are life-giving to the extent they mediate our relationship to God. When they become ends in themselves, however, these things morph into religion. And as Paul said in Galatians, then they cease to matter. Or as he says here in Romans, the unchurched who do respond to God’s grace (in the measure they receive it) will judge those who religion consists is going to church, keeping the rules, paying tithes, etc.
Remember, Paul told us the gospel is power (1:16-18). Faith is our willingness to be grasped and changed by that power which has already reordered the world through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the circumcised in spirit of which Paul speaks here (v.29). Their praise comes from God. Religion, or lack of faith, keeps such power at arm’s length, preferring to try and avoid or use it for self-aggrandizement. Such people have uncircumcised hearts and receive their praise from other people no matter ow deeply involved with church they may be.