God’s Standards

“What does all this mean? Even though the Gentiles were not trying to follow God’s standards, they were made right with God. And it was by faith that this took place. But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law instead of by trusting in him. They stumbled over the great rock in their path.”
Romans 9:30-32 NLT

In Jesus’s day, there was a group of Jews called the Pharisees. They were extremely religious and very diligent in upholding the Jewish teachings. They were very careful to observe not just the Law, the Jewish Talmud, but also the oral traditions that had been handed down from the time of Moses. Jesus had little time for their legalisms, saying in one of His encounters with them, “What sorrow awaits you Pharisees! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore justice and the love of God. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things” (Luke 11:42). What Jesus said highlighted their difficulty – they had become so legalistic and religious that they had lost sight what the Law was put in place for. The intent of the first commandment tended to be overlooked by them – Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength”. Jesus quoted this to them in another encounter, as recorded in Matthew 22:37-40, “Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments””.

Paul in his letter outlined the dilemma that the Roman Christians, a mixture of Jews and Gentiles, faced. How could God consider the Gentiles righteous, but not His chosen people, the Jews. Both factions had come to faith in Christ, trusting in Him for their current and future lives, but perhaps there was a remaining thought in the Jewish minds, that this wasn’t very fair. All that effort expended on trying to keep the Law, but to no avail. The Law to the Jews had become a stumbling block. It tripped them up by giving them a false sense of security. Many today claim to be “good people” because they keep the laws of the land, of the societies in which they live. But does this allow them to ignore having a relationship with God? Many Jews claim to have kept the Law, but was there perhaps a residual nagging doubt that they might have missed one?

So, as Christian’s, are we rule followers, or God followers? Do we think that it is enough to be a good member of society, giving to charity, helping our neighbours and so on? Do we believe we are put right with God by making sure we do religious things, like going to church, or do we diligently maintain a relationship with Him, trusting Him, loving Him, following Him? As I have written before, it is all about the state, the condition, of our hearts. God’s standards are too high to be reached by human efforts alone. 

Father God, we fall far short of the perfection You desire. But I thank You that through Jesus we can truly be righteous in Your presence. Thank You. Amen.

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