Jewish converts to Christianity were a proud people, and rightly so because there is no one like the Jews. God gave them the law, the way of true worship and a homeland. God’s Son was born a Jew and said to the woman at the well, “salvation is of the Jews.”
Pride in one’s heritage is not a bad thing at all, unless it becomes the religion taking precedence over worship of the one, true God. Pride in one’s heritage might appear to focus on the past, but in reality we can deceive ourselves by thinking we are self-sufficient and have no need for God.
The Bible tells us: “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18) We must be careful that we have a right relationship with the Lord.
The Jews in Paul’s day made some dangerous assumptions based entirely on the past because their heritage was turning out to be the very thing that condemned them. The Jews were God’s covenant people, and it is reasonable to say they knew more about God than the Gentile believers.
The problem was they made this their religion, making their “boast of God” to everyone around them. They had religion but it was purely external.
Paul said the Jews knew much about God’s will and what was right and wrong based on the law, not the Gospel. They were so filled with pride in themselves that they believed they could serve as guides to spiritually blind people. Scripture teaches that a lost person is blind and in darkness, and the Jews thought they were qualified to bring Gentiles into the light.
They should have been teaching themselves, said the apostle. He listed a number of sins the Jews committed while supposedly leading people to God. Probably not everyone committed all of these acts, but they were common enough that Paul would say to the Jews, “you are breaking the very laws you teach.”
He said they stole, they were adulterous and they committed sacrilege. What was this sacrilege? It most likely referred to robbing God. Withholding anything from God amounts to sacrilege because this puts someone or something above God in a person’s heart.
The Jews certainly did not make the best use of their heritage and knowledge, and actually were a people who dishonored God.
Paul referred to the Jewish ceremony of circumcision, saying it is purely an external act and has no meaning unless a person perfectly keeps the law. Breaking the law, he said, made the Jew no better than the uncircumcised Gentile.
In fact, if an uncircumcised Gentile could perfectly keep the law that person would be better than a Jew in the eyes of God.
Of course, no one could perfectly keep the law. If the Jews really desired salvation and the praise of God, not men, they would seek the change brought about in their hearts rather than depending on external rites and signs.
Christians may also fall into a life that is far from true religion by placing our dependence in knowledge, background, the place we worship, even church denomination. We are in danger of depending on ourselves and what we do instead of depending on the Lord.
Christ must reign in our hearts. Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
The Sunday school lesson is written by Ed Wilcox, pastor of Centerville Baptist Church. He can be reached at [email protected]