Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Romans 2: 17-29
"Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you."
Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. If those who are not circumcised keep the law's requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.
A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God." (Romans 2: 17-29)
Christians sometimes refer to unbelievers as "sinners" (condescendingly) as if Christians were not sinners. This can easily turn into a hypocritical attitude.
Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons are extremely zealous in their works, known especially for knocking on doors. But they do it to work toward their salvation. The Christian, in contrast, should witness to others (evangelize) and do good works out of thankfulness and love to Christ Who has already saved them, and out of a burden for souls to be saved from Hell.
I am learning that, although we need to discern, test the spirits and guard against false doctrine (especially today when there are so many televangelists teaching false doctrine and even heresies), obedience (to Christ) is really more important than perfect doctrine. You can have all your 'doctrinal ducks' lined up perfectly in a row, but still be legalistic or prideful or a hypocrite.
"Circumcision of the heart" in verse 29 speaks of regeneration (i.e., being born again).
"And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." (Deuteronomy 30:6)
The true sign of belonging to God is not an outward mark on the physical body (i.e., circumcision), but the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit within (i.e., circumcision of the heart).
In verse 17, Paul addresses the person who considers himself to be religious. In Paul's day this person was the Jew ("Now you, if you call yourself a Jew..."). Today the person who fills this category could be the Fundamentalist, a church-going Protestant, a devout Catholic, or some other.
Just imagine what such a religious person might be thinking. Listening to Paul describe the pagan morality of the day, he would be quick to join Paul in condemning it. He might point out that things are in such a terrible state today. Immorality, lying politicians, crime, gay marriage, abortion, pedophiles, rapists, murderers, etc. If God is a God of justice, He will certainly judge all these wicked people severely. So preach it, Paul! Tell all those drug dealers, those terrorists, and all those terrible people what they need to hear! But leave me out of it, because I'm a religious person. I go to church, I've been baptized and confirmed, I sing in the choir, I take communion, and I support the church financially.
Paul's response would be that such a religious person still needs the gospel. Why? Because God is not interested in outward things alone; things like church membership, how many church committees you're on, whether you're a deacon or a greeter at your church, etc. God is interested in what is inside a person. The Bible says, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)
In Romans 2:17-20, the religious person of Paul's day makes eight important claims:
-God has given us His law.
-He has entered into a special relationship with us.
-Because we have been given His law, we know His will.
-We approve only the most excellent of moral standards.
-We are guides for the blind.
-We are light for those who are in the dark.
-We are instructors for the foolish.
-We are teachers of spiritual infants.
And each of these claims is actually true. The Jews did have important spiritual advantages and were to be lights in this dark world. "Salvation is from the Jews," said Jesus (John 4:22).
But knowledge of the ways of this true God is not enough! God judges according to truth and not according to appearances; according to what men and women actually do and not according to their mere professions. "Faith without works is dead." You can say you're a Christian, but if the fruit you produce is that of a wicked pagan, then your works show that you are not what you claim to be. Larry Flynt claimed to have had a 'born again' experience many years ago, yet he refused to give up "Hustler" magazine. If he truly had been regenerated and become a true follower of Christ, surely he would have repented of having been the owner and president of one of the major pornography magazines. An apple tree does not produce lemons. If you are a follower of Christ, you will do the works of Christ, not the works of the devil. I personally knew a guy who claimed to have 'walked with the Lord' for about a year at that time. Yet he was a male stripper. His occupational profession made his verbal profession (i.e., claim) of faith seriously suspect.
What Paul tells the Jew is that God is not satisfied with knowledge of the right way only. He is concerned with deeds, exactly what Paul has written to the moral pagan (Romans 2:6-16), and by that standard the Jew is condemned exactly as the pagan is condemned. He judges another, but he is condemned out of his own mouth because he does those very same things himself (compare Romans 2:1 and Romans 2:21-23).
If you go up to say, 100 people on the street, and ask each of them, "Would you consider yourself to be a good person?", almost all of them would answer, "Yes." However, if you went over each of the Ten Commandments with them, and if you pressed them to answer honestly, you would see that all of them will have broken the Ten Commandments. For example, the questions might go like this:
"Have you ever lied? Even a white lie?"
"Have you ever stolen anything, no matter the value?"
"Have you ever lusted? Jesus said in Matthew 5:28 that even if you just look at a woman to lust after her in your heart, you have committed adultery in your heart."
"Have you ever hated anyone? Jesus said in Matthew 5:22 that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment."
"Have you ever used God's Name as a curse word? That is called blasphemy, and is very serious."
"If, when you stand before God on judgment day, and he judges you according to the Ten Commandments, which are His Law---and we have only gone over a few of them---will you be guilty or innocent? Will you go to Heaven or Hell?"
"Jesus said, in Matthew 5:20, "For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven." In Matthew 5:48, Jesus said, "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."
"If you think you will still go to Heaven, despite your sins, because you say that God is a forgiving and loving God, then think about this: Imagine that a murderer or rapist stands before a judge, and the judge says, "I'm feeling good today, so I think I'll just excuse you, and let you go free. I know you've raped 30 women and then mutilated them and killed them, but I'm in a forgiving mood, so you are free to go, and all charges against you are now dropped. I'm setting you free to return to society." Would that be a good judge? Would that be a fair and just judge? No, of course not. Likewise, if God just arbitrarily forgives murderers, rapists, blasphemers, child molesters, adulterers, and other wicked sinners, simply because He's loving, then He is certainly not being a good Judge. He would then be a lousy, horrible Judge. He would not be just. He would not be righteous. He would not be exercising justice."
"Now, if a judge was getting ready to send that rapist or murderer to prison for life, posting a bail of a hundred million dollars (which that rapist or murderer could never even hope to pay), and someone stepped in and paid the bail for them, so that a legal transaction was made, and the criminal was set free, shouldn't that criminal be eternally grateful to the person who paid their bail? Of course!"
"In fact, someone did just that. The GOOD NEWS is that Jesus died, paying the price, so that you and I would not have to go to Hell. If we admit that we are wicked sinners, deserving of eternal punishment, and if we repent (turn away) from our sins and surrender ourselves completely to Christ Jesus and make Him the Lord of our lives, He will wash away our sins and make them white as snow."
But the Jew had one last argument regarding his being religious. He had been circumcised, and circumcision had brought him into visible outward fellowship with that body of covenant people to whom God had made salvation promises. It was like saying that circumcision (our counterpart is baptism) had made him a member of the church; and because he was a member of the church, his salvation was assured. Paul's reply is not that circumcision has no value. Sacraments have value in pointing to spiritual realities and in strengthening faith. But they do not have value as ways of salvation, since they are only external things and God looks at what is inside a person.
Paul does not reply that one does not have to be a Jew to be saved. Instead, he states that one has to be a true Jew, which is a matter of upright conduct that flows from a new life within. "A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly, and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code" (verses 28-29). God is concerned not just with our knowing the truth, but with our obeying its precepts, which we do not do. So, to become a true Jew, we need a Savior!