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Archive for January 11th, 2019

Romans 2:14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16 on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (emphasis added)

In the Apostle’s inspired teaching on the role of God’s Law in the Lord’s plan of salvation, Paul makes a keen observation. First, it is self-evident that the “work of the law is written in their hearts”, that is, the Gentiles, which means myself and probably most of you reading this. Second, God’s law is written into the “conscience”. Third, the conscience “bears witness” to the eternal and enduring validity of God’s Law, that is, everyone has a conscience. Fourth, the substance of the witness to God’s Law are the Gentiles’,“…conflicting thoughts that accuse or even excuse them.” It is on that part of the verse I will concentrate.

I remember cartoons which show a character with a little devil on one shoulder and a little angel on the other, as the character’s moral conflict, “conflicting thoughts” to do right or wrong. The actual conflict is the “…conflicting thoughts that accuse or even excuse them”. Everyone thinks and knows what is right as the Law is written into our heart. We know what is right and good but the further conflict is we should do the good, but we do the very thing we hate: see Romans 7: 13-25. The Lord’s spiritual use of His law is to accuse us that we don’t do the good. As the blessed Lutheran Confessors correctly taught: Lex semper accusat, the Law always accuses.

It is also self-evident that the conscience is fallen and in sin from the get-go and cannot stand the accusatory, blazing and penetrating, piercing light of God’s Law, by itself. The conscience cannot tolerate long the spiritual accusation that I must do good but I don’t want to,and I have not and there is, “hell to pay”. So the fallen conscience makes for itself a placebo cure for our conflicting thoughts that we must do God’s Law, “even excuse them”, that is, us. We come up with all sorts of excuses for ourselves and we hear them everyday, from others and ourselves:

“Oh, no one is perfect.”

“Everyone is doing it”

“We all make mistakes.”

“God will understand after all He forgives.”

“It’s not a big thing.”

“No one will notice.”

The excusing may be as simple as the shrug of the shoulders, “Whatever” and equally deadly. Maybe you have your own rendition of excuses. Note that many of the excuses above should have an exclamation mark, so emphatic is the excuse because of the Law’s accusation and our “conflicting thoughts”. The point here is this: they are our excuses trying to soften the Law’s just accusation. The Lord does not excuse us. He is not a self-indulgent Father: “Oh, that’s okay, do better”. There is no wiggle room for the Old Adam under the perfect light of God’s Law. There is no excuse. The Lord does not excuse, He forgives. The Lord does not excuse from the cross. The Holy Spirit points us ever to Jesus Christ.

After excusing ourselves,the next move of the accusing and excusing conscience is pointed to someone else: “Look, look at what that guy did! I’m not that bad!” Pride is always comparison: not only that I am better than the other person, but I am not as bad as my neighbor. As it is written:

Romans 2: 1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.

The inner Pharisee lurks and needs to be put to death. It revolves around the self. Every Gentile carries within “a secret miniature of the Last Judgment” (Rev. Prof. Martin Franzmann) and the Lord on “that day”, the day of judgment the Lord will expose the secrets of men. We can not hide from God as Adam and Eve tried to do. He did not shed His blood on the cross to excuse us. There is no escape no matter the fine tuning of the excusing machinations of the conscience, because He judges the sinner… and the only Way out is God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, from the accusing and excusing conscience to the conscience purified (see 1 Peter 3: 21):

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

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