[Romans Study 7-2]
The True Jew And True Circumcision [Romans 2:17-3:8]
17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; 18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; 19 if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Believers Blaspheme God’s Name Among Gentiles
As Paul said in 2 Corinthians, believers ought to be the aroma of Christ in the world: “For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 2:15) Instead of being the aroma of Christ, many believers hinder people from coming to Christ. Many people say that they believe in Jesus but not in His Church and in Christians.
It is those who know only how to talk about God, but don’t know how to live out His commands, who make His name hateful among men. Their lives darken the picture of God and turn it into a caricature. The Lord is judged by non-believers through the lives of his servants, especially those who more zealously pursue God. Because of false and hypocritical lives of believers, God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles.
Real religion is a thing of the open heart and the open door. Judaism in the time of Jesus was a religion of the closed heart and the closed door. A Roman Poet Juvenal declared that if a Jew was asked the way to any place he would not give out any information except to another Jew, and that if anyone was looking for a well from which to drink, they would not lead him to it unless he was circumcised. A Jew can be likened to a person who knew the Law and not the Law Giver. He has a parallel in the New Testament in the man who tries to live the Sermon on the Mount but does not know its deliverer. Not knowing the creator of the Law but being preoccupied with the Law itself, the Jews shut themselves into a rigid community from which all others were shut out. With an air of superiority, the basic Jewish attitude to God was pride and to other men was contempt.
All mere orthodoxy, all mere knowledge concerning God’s will, is not only nothing to God but less than nothing. The more knowledge, the more obligation each person has. Rather, the essential thing is for us to accept in our hearts the Son whom God chose to reveal Himself through and strive to live according to His will. Then the testimonies of our lives will be able to influence the lives of others as well. “Wherever God’s Word may be preached, his precepts remain a letter and dead words so long as they are not received by men with a pure heart; only where they pierce to the soul do they become, so to speak, changed into Spirit” (Calvin).
25 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26 If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27 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. 28 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 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.
Who Is A REAL Jew?
In the Old Testament, circumcision was a command of God and a proud sign of membership in Abraham’s family, the chosen people. However, as God spoke through Moses, true circumcision was one of the heart rather than just the flesh: Deuteronomy 10:16: “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.” Deuteronomy30:6: “The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” (cf: Jeremiah 4:4; 9:26; Ezekiel 44:7)
How well did Paul remember the true meaning of circumcision! From verse seventeen in the first Chapter to the end of the second Chapter, the Apostle proves beyond any doubt or any reply that the mere possession of the law does not save you, and the mere fact that you are circumcised is not a source of salvation. It is circumcision of the heart, not of the flesh, that matters.
To be a real “Jew,” according to Paul is not a matter of pedigree but it is a matter of character. Thus it could be that a non-ethnic “Jew” could be more of Jew in God’s sight than an ethnic one. One is not a real “Jew”, someone truly belonging to God, because of the external marks as such, but by the spiritual reality. People will not be judged by God by our profession, ideas, or anything else, but by our total living and our total relationship with relationship with God.
Paul summarizes: “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.” (2:28-29)
‘Inward believer and circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit’—that is what matters and that is what a true believer means. A true believer is the one who lives according to “true religion” in which his overflow of the heart, from and in the Word of God, results in a right relationship with God. True religion is not formalities but it is life itself. It is life in the Holy Spirit. A true believer is the one who live this life. Where this happens, then everything is well with him and his relationship to God, just as God wants it to be.
The circumcision of the flesh, keeping formalities and customs of religion do not make us righteous nor true believers before God. Accepting God in our hearts, receiving His love, giving thanks for His grace, and trusting Him in our hearts—that is what is important to God and that is what make us true believers. Having a form of godliness but denying its power (2 Timothy 3:5), from such temptation we must turn away. How important is it that we do not fall into hypocrisy! We ought to reflect on ourselves in light of these fiery words of the Apostle.
What is it that saves us? What eventually saves us? Not keeping the Law or man-made legalities. But Sola Gratia, only by grace. Because of God’s love, I can become the true me that God wants me to be. It is only by the grace of the Father that I am saved. When Paul says that we gain salvation by faith, it is having an understanding of the grace God has bestowed on me. It is not a determination of believing, but faith is accepting the unfathomable, unconditional love of God that never changes and never asks of my sin though I am a sinner. The faith that doesn’t reject but accepts God’s love in my heart, it is this faith, the greatest treasure of his life, that Paul wanted to testify about.
Seek Praise From God, Not Men
“Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.” The Greek word for praise is epainos. Now when we turn back to the Old Testament (Genesis 29:35; 49:8), we find that the original and traditional meaning of the word Judah is praise (epainos). The word “Jew” (in Hebrew, “Yehudi”) is derived from the name Judah. The Jews, the believers should be the praise to be the worthy of the name.
How meaningless would it be if we do not gain any praise from God but only from men? We should remember what Jesus said about this issue: “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. (Matthew 6:1) By our sincere life and relationship with God, we should desire to receive praise from God not from men. “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your master.” What a glorious praise from God!
Republished with permission from Dr. Christy Tran, the author of “The Epistle to the Romans: Paul’s Love Letter from God.”