Romans Chapter 2
First Baptist Church
Des Moines, NM
Well, here we are, finishing up chapter 2 of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. This is quite a deep book and it’s hard to do justice to even a chapter in 5 short studies, but I’ve certainly tried to hit some of the main points. What we’ve seen in chapter 2 is that no one- Greek or Jew, non-believer or believer, is able to rest on their good work or their religious piety when it comes to pleasing God. Salvation and escape from God’s wrath must come from another direction. Paul is going to show us that direction later in Romans, but for now, he’s setting up our inability to follow the law laid down by God. The gospel of Jesus Christ means literally “the good news” and it’s impossible to appreciate the good news until you are aware of the bad news. For instance, if I hand you a key, you’ll most likely look at me with a quizzical expression on your face and maybe say something like “What’s this for? I’m not locked up.” But hand that key to someone in captivity and they really appreciate it. Likewise, before we can truly understand Christian liberty, we have to understand our captivity to sin. This is what Paul’s doing in chapter 2 of Romans. He’s convicting of sin and then later on in Romans, he’ll show us the key.
Let’s see what Paul’s up to today. Our last few verses read like this:
Romans 2:28-29 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; (29) but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
Now, this is a startling statement! I guarantee you that if, a non-Jew and never been Jewish, said this to a Jewish person that I’d probably get accused of discrimination or hate crimes or something like that. But Paul is, first of all, not saying this in a hateful way at all. He’s not saying that Jews are less than Gentiles and that would, indeed, be hate speech. Instead, he’s showing how ALL people fall short of the glory of God. Secondly, Paul is himself quite the Jewish person. Here’s what he says:
Philippians 3:4-6 ... If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: (5) circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; (6) concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
Paul’s about as Jewish as they come and he has the right to say “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly…” And really, what he’s doing is showing the Jews how they’ve relied on the fleshly observance of the law instead of the spiritual observance. Recall his words just prior to our passage today:
Romans 2:25-29 For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. (26) Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? (27) And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? (28) For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; (29) but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
What Paul’s getting at, just as he’s been getting at this all thru this section, is that physical observance of the law is worthless if the spiritual observance isn’t there. “If you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” Paul then takes this to the logical conclusion with his statement “he is a Jew who is one inwardly…”
After discussing the purpose of physical circumcision and showing its negation when not accompanied by spiritual circumcision, Paul clarifies this point when he says “…circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter.” There should be no question now that Paul is talking indeed about the condition of the heart, not the mere obedience of the flesh. When people try to find justification through acts of the flesh, this is called “religion”. But when they acknowledge the futility of religion and seek a better way, they will soon bump into Jesus Christ.
Having stated that “he is a Jew who is one inwardly”, and showing that “circumcision is that of the heart”, Paul says “whose praise is not from men but from God.” Here again, he is driving our relationship not from man to man, but from man to God. This is what Paul was preaching when he started off this section with the words:
Romans 2:1-3 Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. (2) But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. (3) And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God?
People’s tendency is judge other people- a horizontal judgment, if you will. We tend to say things like “Well, I’m not perfect, but I’m not that bad. I have my good points.” Good compared to whom? Other people? What Paul’s driving at is that God is our standard; it is to God to whom we should be comparing ourselves, not other people. In this comparison, we all fall short. In addition, God is our judge. We, who are flawed ourselves- or as Jesus said in Matthew 7- have a plank in our eye should not be judging those who have a speck in their eye. God will do the judging and He’ll do it according to truth.
That we should seek praise from God and not men, is evident in several other passages including:
Matthew 6:1-6 "Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven. (2) Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. (3) But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, (4) that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. (5) "And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. (6) But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.
John 5:44-45 How can you believe, who receive honor from one another, and do not seek the honor that comes from the only God? (45) Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses youMoses, in whom you trust.
John 12:42-43 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; (43) for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
1 Corinthians 4:5 Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one's praise will come from God.
And there are many more examples, including all the examples of “good and faithful” servants, the parable of the talents, and so on. Another important example of a vertical relationship- man to God, rather than man to man, comes from:
Amos 7:7-8 Thus He showed me: Behold, the Lord stood on a wall made with a plumb line, with a plumb line in His hand. (8) And the LORD said to me, "Amos, what do you see?" And I said, "A plumb line." Then the Lord said: "Behold, I am setting a plumb line In the midst of My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore.
What’s significant about a plumb line is that it’s not a level. A level runs horizontally but a plumb line runs vertically. God is saying “set yourself up against the line that runs from man to me.” Compare yourself to other men and maybe you don’t look so bad, but set yourself up against God’s plumb line and you will see your crookedness.
And don’t think that you can straighten yourself out here. Lots of people say “Well, yes, I was kind of crooked in my youth, but now I’ve laid ahold of myself and have straightened myself out.” If you think that, then you should re-read chapter 2 of Romans several times. Here’s what God has to say as recorded by Jeremiah:
Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard its spots? Then may you also do good who are accustomed to do evil.
This is a rhetorical question in which God is saying “Fine! Go ahead and change yourself…just like the leopard can change its spots and the Ethiopian his skin!”
How then can a person recover from his or her previous errors? Religion doesn’t work. Good works are not good in God’s sight. It seems hopeless. Here’s what God tells Ezekiel, in talking about the Isrealites:
Ezekiel 36:25-27 Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. (26) I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (27) I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
We can’t clean ourselves up, but God can. In fact, only God can. At the same time, God is just and can’t simply pass over our transgression and ignore them. Someone must take the punishment and pay the price. This is why Jesus Christ came down from Heaven, because He and He alone could do this. Here’s what Paul tells us later in Romans about the key, the solution, the good news:
Romans 3:20-26 Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (21) But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, (22) even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; (23) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (24) being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, (25) whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, (26) to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
Romans 5:1-2 Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (2) through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
And so, as I said earlier, having shown the errors of everyone- Jew and Greek- Paul then offers the solution; Jesus Christ. Consider these words in your heart.
I’m Bryan Kimsey from 1st Baptist Church in Des Moines. Thanks for listening this week. May you have peace with God through Jesus Christ. Amen.
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