Book of Romans: Chapter 2 P2 - Outward observance of circumcision of the heart?

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Book of Romans: Chapter 2 P2 - Outward observance of circumcision of the heart?

by F Gordon

We will continue our study in Romans chapter 2. We are heading toward the good stuff but we are not quite there yet. In the first two chapters of Romans, Paul is getting his readers to go in one direction and it isn't until you get into chapter 3 that you find that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. So the first chapter was all about the fact that for even the heathen, who hadn't heard the gospel, there is enough evidence in creation for them to know that there is a God. Creation is evidence that there is a Creator. However if that light is rejected the wrath of abandonment comes in. God actually gives people over and allows the wickedness of their heart to continue.

Then you get into chapter 2, and last time we looked at Paul where he is addressing the moralist. Those people that think they are better than others. He bought out that no one lives up to their own ideals. You may think you have a higher standard; I wouldn't do this or that, but you also fail in many ways and will also face the day when judgment will come upon you. Paul also looked at those who don't have the law but they are also not taking heed to their conscience. So in the next verses in chapter 2 Paul actually addresses his own people, the Jewish people, who thought they had a certain standing before God. They believed they had certain privileges that might excuse them from the same judgments which God is going to judge the whole world by. Let's have a look.

Are Jews judged differently to Gentiles? No!

Romans 2:17-24 Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, (18) and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, (19) and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, (20) an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. (21) You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? (22) You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? (23) You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you," [7] as it is written.

Paul starts by addressing his own people, and he commences by listing some of the privileges that they had which gave them a position with God. In verse 17 we read 'indeed you are called a Jew'. In the Old Testament they had previously been called either Hebrews or Israelites, but pretty much from the Babylonian captivity onwards they bore this title 'Jew'. It actually comes from the tribe of Judah and the name means 'Praise'.

Paul says: 'You are called a Jew and you rest on the law and you make your boast in God'. Here you have the Jewish nation. They were given the oracles of God. They had the very words that God had given them which they were to actually reveal to mankind. They had His book. They had His law. They had His ways, His character and were trusted with what is righteousness; they were shown what sin is and that God loves righteousness and hates wickedness. Though they had all of these things encompassed in the law of God yet they failed to see the really big picture. They failed to recognize the Messiah and they failed to recognize their calling as a nation, which was to be a light unto the Gentiles. In the same way there is also the same thing in Christianity. Many of us have probably come across people who think they have a specific authorization of scripture. I remember running into people who only have the King James Bible and they would say 'We have got the one and only translation of scripture and God can only speak through this translation'. This is the way that the Christian church is similar to the Jewish nation. We have got pretty much every version of scripture available to us and with technology now at a touch of a finger, every commentary is available as well. It is all there revealing what God has done in Christ, yet we fail to recognize these wonderful truths that the Holy Spirit wishes to make known to us. The Jews missed their Messiah and they missed being a light to the nations. As it has been said 'they majored in minors'. Paul goes on to say 'You rest in the law and you make your boast in God'. So in some ways the Jews were boasting about the relationship they had with God. They were bragging about it. They considered themselves God's chosen people, (which they were), and not like the Gentile dogs. However, with all those privileges came responsibility. Paul goes on to say: 'You have got all these privileges, you have all these things given to you; you are preaching about it, but you yourselves don't live up to those very things by which you are called'. So the privileges that you have do not make you exempt from God's judgment.

The application today

You could apply this very thing to the Christian church. You could say 'You are called a Christian, you rest in the Gospel, you glory in God, you know His will, and you approve the things that are excellent; you are confident that you are a guide to the blind and a light to those who are in darkness'. We as Christians believe that we have God's word, God's light. But Paul says 'Therefore you who teach another do you not teach yourself? So what he is saying is that you can have all these things but your life has to actually back up that which you have been given. Here, Paul is talking about hypocrisy. The Jews were hypocrites. They had all these things but were not living up to what they had been given. The Christian church is guilty of this in the same way that the Jews were. How many times do you hear of a pastor, preacher or a leader speaking about adultery only to find out that he has ditched his wife and run off with the church secretary? As bad as it is, it does happen, not only now and again, but a lot. What of someone who is continually preaching about theft, then we find out that he has somehow cornered some avenue for himself where he has made money illegally. This is what Paul is saying here, that if you are going to represent something, if God has called you to something and you are preaching about it, then you need to have a look at your own behavior. Is it backing up that which you are talking about? The world looks at the church, either at the religiousness of the clergy and says 'I do not want any part of that', or they look at the extremes of Pentecostalism; which is the health, wealth and prosperity gospel, where you have the money preachers who are really just fleecing ignorant people.

What about circumcision and other outward things?

Romans 2:25-27 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?

The Jew thought that he had a special place with God because he had the word of God, he was in a relationship with God he was a guide to the blind and he even had circumcision which set him apart. Their relationship to Abraham was incredibly close and they relied on that as making them a special people. When Jesus came to them he said 'Whoever the Son sets free will be free indeed,' but they said 'We are Abraham's descendants, we have never been in bondage to anyone'. They were relying upon their heritage and not the Lord Jesus.

Circumcision came in because of the Abrahamic covenant and this set them apart from other peoples. About 160 B.C. there was a Grecian king called Antiochus Epiphanies who had conquered Israel. He was a nasty, nasty character and brought in all the Greek culture; their idol worship and all their sports and games, and he sought to rid the Jews of their Jewish beliefs. When he came to power he started to impose laws and one of them was that it was illegal to circumcise children. For the Jew this was huge because of their culture. Secondly he brought in a law that the Torah, God's law, was not allowed to be read. He was an interesting character and the type really of the one to come, the Antichrist, who will do the same thing in exactly the same way. He will come into this world and will impose cultures upon God's people and he will seek to change laws and ways, as it says in Daniel - 'this man will seek to change times and laws.' He will make things very difficult. When you look at western culture, particularly in America and Canada, things are changing. In some places the Bible seems to be the only book that is not allowed to be read. Bible in schools is going out the back door and there is a lot of pressure coming upon Christians. I think we love the thought that someday God will remove His church. We hope in the rapture. We hope that there will be 'a beam me up Scotty', so that the church will not have to go through anything, but this does not prevent us from persecution. The persecuted Christians in the world are already suffering greatly for their faith and we shouldn't expect to be exempt from trouble. It could come really quickly. Laws can be changed so that things that you hold dear are hard to practice. In the past it led to the Maccabean revolt and the pious Jews of the time rose up and said 'No' this is something that God has placed within us, and this led to great revival in Israel.

So Paul is saying here 'look, you are trusting in that you are God's people, that you have God's law, and that you have been given this right of circumcision, but you are still a breaker of the law, and therefore your circumcision means nothing. You are still a hypocrite."

What are some of the outward things that we have in the Christian church? We have baptism, confirmation, church membership. All of these things are good but if we are trusting in them to save us and to give us right standing with God, then we are no better than the Jews. This is what Paul is bringing out here.

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.

'For he is not a Jew that is one outwardly'. This is an interesting comment by Paul here. It raises the question 'What is a Jew'? There are many people who have flooded back to Israel that have been scattered throughout the world who call themselves Jews. Many of them are atheists but they would call themselves a Jew according to their heritage or their birth. Paul is saying that a real Jew is not one that is one outwardly but someone who inwardly has made a decision of the heart towards the Messiah. There has been a heart change. Somewhere along the line this person has gone from the outward things to that which is really important, the inward heart attitude of repentance toward the Messiah who has come to die for their sins.

'What is a true Jew'? Paul would say it is a Jew who is inwardly circumcised in the heart and in the Spirit. We should note that Paul is not extending the name "Jew" to mean anyone irrespective of their natural lineage, but is reducing the name "Jew" (as he was talking to his fellow Jews in this section) to those that are Jews by natural birth AND through the second spiritual birth.

In other passages Paul also brings out that all believers, irrespective of nationality and ancestors, are however in the line and seed of Abraham through their spiritual birth.

 Galatians 3:27-29 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. (28) There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (29) If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

What about those in the church? Can they rely on the wrong things?

It is the same with the Christian church. You may have been confirmed in a church. You may have been a church member. You may have even been baptized, but if there hasn't really been any real repentance as to what you are then there has been no real change of heart. Outward things don't matter if there is no inward faith and new birth.

Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 6:13-15 Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. (14) May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (15) Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.

Colossians 2:11-12 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, (12) having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

True circumcision is something that is done inwardly by the Lord Jesus Christ through our union with Him.

Conclusion - Be careful you don't just 'look' like a Christian

So Paul is saying here 'But he is a Jew who is one inwardly and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter'. So he is making a difference here. The Jews had the letter. They had the oracles of God. They had the written word, but he is saying that your relationship with God has to be more than that. It has got to be something of the heart. When I was thinking about that, I thought that the same could be said of Christians. What is a Christian? Is a Christian just someone who goes to church every week and observes the rules as a member of the church, or has the heart really been changed? Has it turned toward God? There is so much in scripture not only for the Jews, but for the church as well. In the Gospels you have the tares and the wheat, they look similar. It wasn't until the very end that things were decided, 'Well this is a 'tare' and that's 'wheat'.' They were all gathered at the same time, the sheep and the goats, the wise and the foolish. Even some said 'Lord, Lord didn't we do this or didn't we do that'. They thought they were active for God in what they were doing but He said 'I never knew you, depart from Me'. Their heart had never been changed. The same is true in many Christian families. Kids grow up under a culture of Christianity but is there real heart repentance when the child makes an individual decision for Christ? My son attends a Christian school and is at the age where everyone is getting into the party scene. He says 'this person is in our youth group, but now he is drunk from Thursday through to Saturday but he will come to youth group on Sunday night; and he does the same week after week'. There is this culture which they are in which has no real heart change. You can wash a house, but it doesn't mean that the inhabitants inside are clean. It's only the gospel, taken into the heart that can really make us clean.

When Paul is contrasting the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, it seemed to me a little bit like marriage. If two people were married and had a lovely day, but the next morning after being legally married and signing the deed of marriage the husband got up and said to his wife, 'It was an excellent day, you looked lovely. The waves are up, I think I will just pop over to the beach, I will see you a little bit later' so off he went. He surfed his heart out all morning, the water was warm and he had really good rides. Then he went home and said to his wife 'What's for lunch? Let's have a quick bite'. So we had a quick bite and then he said 'Look I can't stay long, some of the boys have booked a 'tee off' at 1 o'clock. So I will just waft this down and I'll see you a little bit later because I am just going to golf. So he went off to golf and played his heart out all afternoon, came back and said 'What's for dinner?' That's cool, I will just waft it down because someone's booked a bowling lane at the ten pin bowling alley for tonight. So off he went again but when he returned home there wasn't much response from his new wife. He got up in the morning and said 'Look honey I am just off on a fishing trip and I should be back in about 3-4 days time, just take care of things'. That would be the letter of the law. We could be married by the letter of the law but is there any union. In this case, none whatsoever. How long would it last? Our Christian lives can be lived like that. This is what Paul is saying here, it has got to be of the heart. Sadly, we can live our Christian lives in the letter of the law and have no real heart experience. We have got the word of God, we have all these things, but our heart isn't there. We are doing our own thing. Paul is saying here that we can actually treat God like that a little bit. We can be at meetings and have all these things on the outside but where is our heart in between time. To the Jews, he is saying 'a true Jew is one inwardly, one who has been converted, whose heart has turned toward God, and circumcision is not something that is done outwardly but it is a cutting away of the heart of flesh so that a believer might serve his Savior and be united with Him.

So that pretty much ends chapter 2 Paul is bringing everyone to the fact that there is none righteous, no not one, not even his own people. And that is what we shall look at next.