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Nearly 2900 years ago, the wisest man to ever live, said:
Jesus some 900 years later taught:
According to the Bible, the heart is the centre not only of spiritual activity, but of all the operations of human life.
And here we find Paul - focusing in on the heart of the matter when it comes to the Proclamation of the Righteousness of God.
Now, remember that Romans is all about the righteousness of God provided to the unrighteous through faith in the Gospel.
With that context in mind, Paul is writing to those who have already believed the Gospel.
Here in chapter 2 he is teaching these believers about God’s righteous judgement.
In (2:1-11) We found that mankind turns out to be poor judges because our perspectives are tainted by hypocrisy, but God is a just judge because His baseline is always truth.
Because God is the right and just judge of all, He alone is the one we are accountable to.
And in the midst of what we deserve because of our depravity, v. 5 teaches that He is kind, forbearing, and patient with us.
You see, God has been good to you, and his goodness has a purpose - which is to lead you to Him.
From there, in (2:12-16) God alone is our righteous judge.
Thankfully the gospel fulfills the Law and spares us from judgement.
Paul said in 2:11, that there is partiality or favoritism with God.
He then explains that everyone will be held accountable to what they did with what they knew - so that no one is excusable in His just judgement.
The Jew will be judged by the written law and the non-jew by the law that is written on their hearts.
Paul mentions that none are excusable, but that the only hope Jew and non-Jew have is in the Gospel.
He then takes it a step further in our passage today, primarily addressing Jews, and he speaks on their:
1. Misplaced Confidence (vv.
Notice with me vv.
Here we have a list of traits that relates to the blessings of the Jews as God’s people:
“rest on the law” – The Jewish people were given their identity by God through the Law after their Exodus from Egypt.
This phrase does not mean that they did not rely on God.
Rather, it meant that the Law was a means of spiritual blessing (see Psalm 19:7-11).
“boast in God” – This would have been an appropriate boasting in God’s mercy and kindness to them (see Jeremiah 9:24ff).
“know his will” - The people of Israel had been blessed by knowing God’s will as mediated through the commandments of God.
The Law mercifully identified who God was and what He desired.
The other nations of the world were not given this blessing.
“approve that things that are excellent”– This idea follows the knowledge of His will,.namely, that God helped His people understand what was the best way to live.
“instructed out of the law”– We have a summary statement here that captures the previous items.
Jews had been blessed with spiritual knowledge from God’s Law.
Again, this is a great list and that there was nothing wrong with any of this.
What is more, it was all true.
So Paul has just listed things with which every Jew would have agreed.
Paul does not stop with he traits of a good Jew, but lists another five things that relate to Israel’s understood purpose:
“you are a guide to the blind”– The Jewish people, through the Messiah, would be able to help those who were spiritually blind (Isa.
“a light to those who are in darkness”– Israel was to be a light to the surrounding nations, and the Law was supposed to be that light (Isa.
42:6, Ps 119:105).
“an instructor of the foolish”– Instruction was designed to be the way that Israel helped the other nations of the world.
“a teacher of children”– The words “foolish” and “children” are synonymous, so this is a restatement of the previous idea.
“having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth”– It seems that we have here another summary statement that highlights the centrality of the Law in the life and identity of Israel.
Pastor Mark Vroegop of College Park Church in Carmel makes a great conclusion to these verses when he answers the quetion:
What do we make of this this list?
The things listed here represent an excellent summary of how a spiritually-minded Jew would have seen him or herself, and nothing listed is either inaccurate or arrogant.
God intended for the nations of the world to come to Jerusalem because those nations observed the uniqueness and the blessing of God upon the people of Israel (see Isaiah 2:1-4 and Micah 4:1-4).[3]So
what we have seen here fits with that vision.
However, verses 17-20 are not merely a reciting of the blessings of Israel and her God-given mission.
It is a set-up for what comes next.
The problem is that Israel enjoyed all of these blessings and then allowed these things to become badges of self-righteousness.
Their confidence in their Jewish identity became misplaced, and Paul is about to show them the measured complications of such misplaced confidence.
2. Measurable Complications (vv.
Here we find Paul dismantling the self-righteousness of the Jew.
He highlights that all of the traits and mission emphasis of vv.
17-20 are in vain if their practice doesn’t match their profession.
In fact, their disobedience led to their dishonor of God (v.
23) and the Gentiles blasphemy against God (v.
In v. 24.
Paul is quoting from Isaiah 52:5, which in context was when Israel was destroyed as a nation and carried into exile because of their evil.
They were proclaiming about being God’s chosen, but they were proving that God was not able to save His own people.
And this is Paul’s point.
The self-righteous is actually not righteous in themselves, and actually proves the opposite to be true.
And in proving the hoax, gives a false pretense about the God they say they know.
Now, one of the fundamental truths of being a Jew was the outward sign of circumcision.
It symbolized the covenant between God and Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 17:9–14).
It was the expression of Israel’s national identity and was a requirement for all Jewish men.
Circumcision was a physical reminder to Jews of their national heritage and privilege.
Bruce Barton et al., Life Application New Testament Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2001), 589.
We find Paul’s understanding in vv.
3. The Meaning of Circumcision (vv.
This is a huge statement by Paul.
RC Sproul wrote about this passage:
There developed in the history of Israel a belief that circumcision, the sacred rite which was the sign of the Old Testament covenant, was all it took to be saved.
We have a similar confusion in the Christian church today where some people believe that baptism automatically guarantees salvation.
One rabbinic tradition says, ‘Circumcision saves from hell.’
The same rabbi wrote that Abraham himself sits before the gates of hell and does not allow any circumcised Israelite to enter there.
By implication, the way you lived made no difference.
In a similar way, some Christian groups have believed that the rite of baptism saves, and so baptism was delayed until the end of life to make sure all sins were “washed.”
But the issue of this rite being meritorious is that circumcision was given after Abraham was brought into covenant relationship with God and declared righteous because of his faith.
In Genesis 17 you find the symbol of circumcision given after Genesis 15 when God makes His covenant with Abraham.
So the picture is clear.
Circumcision is not the merit for right standing.
Nor is baptism.
Nor is religious manifestations of any kind.
Paul says, (v.
25) your religious acts are good, if you keep all of God’s law - but if you break His law, your misplaced confidence is counted as nothing.
He goes on in v. 26 - that even a non-jew, if he keeps the law will be counted in right relationship and will actually become the standard for the Jew who hasn’t fulfilled all the law.
In context, this would blow the mind and boil the temper of any committed Jew.
which leads us to some:
4. Momentous Conclusions (vv.
Verses 28–29 function as the ground (For) of vv.
In striking contrast to the Jewish beliefs of his day, Paul claims that true Jewishness and genuine circumcision are not ethnic or physical matters.
They are matters of the heart.
They are the work of the Holy Spirit.
If we take the context of Chapter 2 and apply the truths of these last two verses, momentous changes will occur.
Paul finishes with 3 statements that I’d like for you to write down this morning, if you would:
A. Don’t live externally-focused.
This is what Paul is explaining - that although Jews were born in the right family, were in the right location, and did the right religious activities - they actually weren’t right with God because of these things.
This is not just a problem for Jews.
It is a problem for all of us, in that it reflects what humans tend to do with spirituality.
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