Imagine you have a deadly disease and you need to have surgery. And as you’re in the waiting room, you look around and you notice the room is filled with all this glorious, beautiful, amazing stuff. You’re sitting in the most comfortable bed you’ve ever sat in. You’re surrounded by shining gold and glittering chandeliers. You’re feasting on this glorious food (because whatever surgery you’re having, you don’t need to have an empty stomach). So when the surgeon shows up, he says, “ok, it’s time. Let’s go heal you.” And you say, “wait, the chair, the gold, the food, doesn’t all this stuff heal me?” And he says, “no, that’s what the surgery is for.” Then, in a fit of rage, you stand up and say “then what’s the point of all this worthless garbage if it can’t save me from death?”
Now, the answer is obvious. That stuff is there to show you that, despite the disease coursing through your veins, the surgeon wants you to be at peace, wants you to know that you can trust him, wants you to know that he’s on his way to save you. So just because something can’t save you doesn’t mean it’s not a great and glorious gift.
This is the lesson Paul is teaching the Jewish Christians in Rome, who are essentially looking around at the gold and glitter of God’s Law and Revelation and saying, “well, if this can’t save me, what’s the point of this worthless, disgusting garbage? If circumcision can’t save me, if being given the Law of Moses can’t save me, if being given the Law and the Prophets doesn’t make me righteous and holy and more alive than these dying gentiles, what’s the point of any of this?”
The point, Paul tells them, is that all of these things are good. Receiving the Scriptures showed you that God wanted to make you His own, circumcision was a promise that healing was on its way. The Law was a reminder that you could not heal yourself but that the Great Physician was on His way, a reminder that you could not make yourself righteous but the Righteous One was coming. And the one who was surrounded by those promises was obviously more blessed than the one who wasn’t.
So don’t believe the lie of self-righteousness that tells you the bright, shining commandments of God are worthless dross if they don’t contribute to your salvation. Don’t believe the lie that the gifts in the waiting room are all garbage if they’re not tools you can use to perform your own life-saving surgery. The Law of God is good, and it points you to the greater gift, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the promise of the great physician who reached His nail-pierced hands into your soul, removed the cancer of your sin, and gave you the gift of eternal life.