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“They Show That the Work of the Law is Written on their Hearts” - Reflections on Romans 2:15

By Richard Allen, December 20, 2021

As a grandfather to almost eighteen grandchildren, I’ve had ample opportunity to watch many children’s movies over the past years. One of our family favorites (especially with my granddaughters) is the Musical, “Annie.” A classic movie and Broadway play, crafted from the famous Depression Era Comic Strip of the same name, Annie is the story of a 10 year old red-headed orphan growing up in an orphanage in New York city, who dreams of one day finding her real mom and dad and reuniting their family. As the movie opens, you hear Annie singing from a window, high above the street in the poor neighborhood where her orphanage is located. Her song is a lament, or better yet – prayer of hope for her mom and dad, and where they might be at that very moment, living their lives as normal, well adjusted and decent people. While Annie fondly thinks of what a normal happy couple her parents must be, she sings out: “Their one mistake, was giving up me!” It struck me that, even Hollywood & Broadway know what normal, right living looks like! While they don’t necessarily agree with it, they can’t help but show from time to time what Paul says in Rom 2:15 “the work of God’s law written on their hearts!”

This is an amazing thought! As much as Hollywood & Broadway appear to be on a mission to destroy and demean mother-father families and mock traditional morals, someplace deep inside they acknowledge that, LIKE ALL OF US, THEY KNOW THAT THERE IS A RIGHT DESIGN FOR ALL THINGS, THE WAY THINGS OUGHT TO BE! As I sat and watched this delightful movie with my youngest grandchild, we marveled watching these talented young ladies sing and dance to: “It’s a hard nock life.” And I also noticed something else, the underpinning desire for “normalcy” that Annie envisioned. It wasn’t just that Annie was choosing to be nurtured by a mom and dad who loved her, it was that she imagined them to be people who lived happy lives, paying bills, playing piano, loving each other, and most of all, loving and wanting their baby, Annie! Not only was her thinking right, I knew in my soul that most of us feel the same!

As I reflected, I began to think of a scripture verse that corroborated this inner longing for what was good and right. And as I did, Romans chapters 1 and 2 came to mind. These chapters are not easy reading, or the kind of bible stories that we were told as children, but they are none the less important to a clear understanding of the truth of the Gospel! In chapter one, the Apostle Paul gives a lengthy “indictment” of mankind for turning away from the living God, and he links their “suppressing the truth about God” to the sad consequences and sinful behaviors that have plagued mankind ever since. The list is a clear diagnosis of the sinful actions of men and women, ending with his sad pronouncement:

“Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (Rom 1:32)

This verse tells us that contrary to the “do your own thing,” or “how can it be wrong when it feels so right” mentality that controls our age, Men and Women innately know that sinful behavior deserves judgment and death. Yet at the same time, they delight in others who join them in these same wretched behaviors! This contradicts the “spirit of lawlessness in this age,” one that claims there “is no right or wrong,” that we all determine our own ethics and values. But Paul isn’t done by a long shot. He continues on in chapter two to rebuke those who think themselves to be “righteous” and pass judgment on others who themselves commit the same sins:

“For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things.” (Rom 2:1)

He condemns those “who say one thing, yet do another” – whether they be Jew or Gentile for the next eleven verses, and then concludes his indictment in Rom 2:13-15 by saying:

“For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 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. 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.”

Some have wrongly interpreted the verses above to mean that: “Even if Gentiles who have never heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ - just do what the law requires (i.e. righteous living), they will be saved.” That’s absolutely NOT what Paul or the scriptures teach! This passage teaches that the “work of the law being written on their conscience affirms that: THEY WILL BE WITHOUT EXCUSE, WHETHER THEY HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE LAW OR NOT! This is an important concept to understand, and it’s clear from the context and to whom Paul was writing that this is exactly what he meant.

I’m not trying to prove that “all have sinned and come short of Gods glory”- whether they have the Law, Gospel, Scriptures or Conscience alone. This is made clear in God’s Word, and we all stand condemned! What I do want to focus on is verse 2:15 where Paul says that:

“Even Gentiles, who don’t have God’s written revelation, do have the witness of their conscience that show the “work of the law to be written on their hearts!”

This is what the producers of both the Broadway play & Movie Annie were revealing! While they constantly promote aberrant life styles, and decry normal gender roles as “a construct of male-dominated society,” truth is: they KNOW BETTER, and THEIR CONSCIENCES will one day RISE UP TO CONDEM THEM!

Let me also observe that “conscience” is not a perfect guide. Jesus said as much when He talked about those who would one day persecute His children:

“They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor me.” (John 16:2-3)

Conscience can be misguided, and can actually cause the unrighteous to do bad things. But one thing is for sure, our consciences do have some “basic understanding of right and wrong,” and will rise up to “indict us” on judgment day!

I do find it ironic that so many other movies besides “Annie” reinforce the “things that God requires” while the actors, producers, directors and entertainment moguls say the exact opposite. Here’s a couple examples:

  • The Elites in Hollywood constantly tell us that closing our borders, and controlling immigration is a great evil, that the people coming from outside the US are universally good people – just looking for a better life. But their movies constantly show that multiple groups seeking to do us harm (Al Qaeda, Hamas, MS13, and other bad guys) are using our borders to smuggle in Guns, Nukes, Drugs, Child Trafficking, all to hurt average people.

  • They repeatedly say that being armed with firearms can’t protect anyone from harm, but their movies almost universally say the opposite. And the heroes & heroines are those using weapons to protect the defenseless.

  • They tell us that infidelity and the “hook-up culture” is cool & victimless, but their movies show hurt and betrayal when someone cheats on their spouse or significant other, usually ending in them getting paid back in the end.

  • The official stand of Liberals in Academia and Hollywood says that we shouldn’t resist evil, that criminals are just misunderstood victims of economic injustice. If Capitalism and the Free Market were just done away with, everyone would play nice together and not be aggressive. BUT virtually all of the stories with political intrigue show that “the only way to stop an aggressor is to meet them head on with force!”

This is just a smattering of the “contradictions we see on the silver screen.” They would tell us that they make movies with these plots – not because they are true, but because they are just trying to entertain, and these themes / plots are what people “fear the most,” so they are willing to pay to see them. But that begs the question, why do the vast majority of movie-goers want to see “the wrong fail,” and “the right prevail?” What is that? And if “all white people are born RACIST,” why do all of the white heroes and heroines play sympathetic parts as people whom we like and respect? Again, I’m not giving them credit for doing what is right, but rather pointing out that “THEY ACKNOWLEDGE THE WORK OF THE LAW WRITTEN IN THEIR HEARTS!

It’s been said that there are only seven or eight themes in all stories – including movies. Here’s my list:

  1. Stories of Redemption (i.e. being bought back from slavery)

  2. Stories of Forgiveness (i.e. being forgiven by those we’ve wronged)

  3. Stories of Vindication (i.e. that right triumphs over wrong)

  4. Stories of Justice Being Served (i.e. a reckoning for both good and evil)

  5. Stories of Overcoming an Insurmountable Evil (i.e. the monster)

  6. Stories of Sacrificial Love (i.e. love conquering hate)

  7. Stories of Restoration (i.e. rags to riches)

While this list could have few additions, and may have some duplicates, my point should be well taken. These stories all speak to the “work of the law written in our hearts, either accusing or excusing human behavior.” This is because all of these stories echo with the deep longing that all of us as fallen men and women share, WE ARE LOOKING FOR SOMEONE TO CHANGE OUR LIVES, PUT THINGS RIGHT, AND RESTORE US, THAT IS, WE’RE LOOKING FOR A SAVIOR! There is only one story where all of these themes come together in one glorious story of Good News, Redemption, Forgiveness, Vindication, Justice, Evil being defeated and Our being Restored: That is the Sacrificial Love of Jesus Christ for His Church!

When Annie was singing about being reunited with her real parents, she wasn’t just longing for her human family being put back together. We all know we belong in relationship with God as our Father, and united by faith in right relation, with His Son in a Redeemed Family for all eternity. One day soon, everything will be made right, and both Humankind and Creation will be Restored. The old Christmas Hymn, “I heard the Bells on Christmas Day” is based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Several of the verses capture this longing that we all have, showing that “The Work of the Law is Written on Our Hearts.” We all long to be united with the People of God in Christ’s family forever!

Verse 3: And in despair I bowed my head, “There is no peace on earth,” I said, “For hate is strong, and mocks the song, Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Verse 4: Then pealed the bells more loud and deep: “God is not dead, nor does He sleep, For Christ is here; His Spirit near, Brings peace on earth, good will to men.”

Verse 5: When men repent and turn from sin, The Prince of Peace then enters in, and grace imparts within their hearts His peace on earth, good will to men!

Joy to the World, the Lord is come! Merry Christmas!

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