The moral law in our hearts

Acts 10:1-29, 44-48 Cornelius: a moral Roman hears the good news

What is this business of following ones conscience? People believe in it so strongly. And it’s not just the religious; atheists think it’s a good thing too. The Bible verse above is about Cornelius who was a Roman soldier in New Testament times. He was neither Jew nor Christian, but believed in God and gave generously to the poor. The Jews recognized this and respected him for it. But he wasn’t the only Gentile to have a conscience, there were others. Seeing this among Greeks and Romans, the apostle Paul said ‘When Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them’ (Romans 2:14-15).
Paul is saying that many people who do not know God’s law find the law within them. Their hearts tell them what is right and wrong and they practice the essence of the law given to Moses. Paul also claims that this awareness of good and bad is universal and divinely implanted. The same God who gave a law to Moses inscribed his morals on our hearts. I believe Paul is right. Let me give an example.
A man makes a woman pregnant. Should he take some responsibility for the child? Nearly every person from any culture would say ‘Yes, that’s right and fair.’ It’s a universal given. If the man refused, we would all say he was being unfair. But by what standard do we judge what is fair? We judge it by what we all know within. There is a universal law in our hearts and it knows what is right and wrong.
But let’s take this example a step further and ask if it would help the child if the father and mother lived together? Again most people around the world would say ‘Of course; it’s most healthy for a child to grow up with both parents in the home.’ This is natural.
Okay, let’s take another step. Would it help the child if the mother and father also loved each other? Again, it’s a given; we would all agree that it’s most healthy for a child to have parents that love each other. This is an obvious conclusion.
But what about faithfulness? Would it help the child if the mother and father were faithful to each other? Well, of course it helps. What child isn’t confused and upset when another lover arrives on the scene? The child needs parents that are devoted to each other. Again this comes by natural observation.
What about possessions? Should the mother and father share all they own? Sometimes people need to discuss this point a bit before they agree. But most people believe that true love shares everything. Sometimes when a partner withholds ownership of possessions from the one they claim to love they are just doing it in case things don’t work out. But is that love? I think most would say no. Or they may say it’s not yet real love.
What about making verbal commitments to each other? If we are agreed on all the above, does it make sense for the man and woman to pledge their lives to each other? Again most people would say ‘Yes, it’s natural for a couple who are in love to want to make a commitment.’
And finally, would it help the man and woman to have family and law hold them accountable to this commitment? Well, we all know feelings go up and down depending on our circumstances and it makes no sense to commit to someone if we are going to leave them the moment things get a bit uncomfortable. And we all know people who created a lot of hurt for their partner and their children when they broke their commitment. So, yes we need others to help us stay committed when we want to take the easy way out.
Now obviously I am building up a case here for men and women to get married. And even if you only agree with some of these points I would like you to take note of something. In all these points I have appealed to what is within us. I have not appealed to the Bible. And so we see that God’s law is not something that is thrust upon us, it is something we find within. Of course an atheist would want to say that the conscience and morals we find within are not necessarily God’s law. But explaining something that is moral and universal does get awfully complicated when God is left out.
But if you accept Paul’s view that it is God’s law on our hearts then I want to point out one more thing. I have used the example of a couple making covenant on purpose. It shows that covenant making is within us; it’s in our hearts. And if we agree that God put it there then we have just discovered by internal reflection that God is in fact a Covenant Making God. And this is what the Bible focuses on more than any other holy book. Old Testament and New Testament is simply Old Covenant and New Covenant. The Bible is a book of covenants. I am claiming along with Paul that the law we find written on our hearts reflects the Bible.
Now of course it’s Easter time, and when we look at the cross of Christ, we see just how far God will go to make a covenant with humanity. We also see it with the moral Roman, Cornelius. He followed the ways of God but had no covenant with him. Would God leave him like that? No way. God went out of his way to reach him. In fact he spoke to Peter through a vision, and then sent him to preach to Cornelius and his entire Roman household. It was unheard of for a Jew to enter a Roman house. But God had seen Cornelius’ heart and he was determined to bring him into covenant. God is a covenant making God. As you look upon the cross this Easter remember that you are a covenant making creature. God made you that way because he himself is that way.

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