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Romans: 2.17-29 Notes #2

Romans 2:17-29 - COMMENTARY #2

Introduction: Security is on everyone's lips. A measure of insurance can come from reasonable health, reasonable financial security, a well equipped army can make our national borders reasonably safe. But what about eternal security? What about the blessed assurance of knowing what happens when you die? When people have the courage to think about it, they want some eternal guarantees!

Paul's passage is directed toward a group of people who have a misleading religious confidence. This group of people believe they have a right relationship with God and the promise of eternal life based on birth and association and religious ceremony. British theologian John Phillips said, "The heathen is a man with a perverted religion; the hypocrite is a man with a pretended religion; the Hebrew represents the man with a powerless religion" (John Phillips p.46)

  • Has anyone ever asked you the question, "Are you a Christian?" "Are you a believer?" "Are you saved?" If you answered, "I was born into a Christian home, I went to a Christian school, I was raised in a religious denomanation, I went to church, I was baptized, I have read the Bible, you might be suffering from "misleading religious confidence".

  • You might think, "that's your opinion". Not really. That's Paul's words written in the book of Romans. Paul had a lot of time to think and reflect about what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Paul wants the believer to be assured of his or her salvation. But Paul wants the delusion of false security ripped from the religious person. People who trust in religion are just as lost as those who have no religion at all. Jesus told his disciples Matthew 7:22-23; "Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?'23 "And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'

  • Sincere people can be sincerely wrong.

The False Assurance Of Origin (v.17a)

Paul wants to expose and destroy the false sense of security brought on by heritage. Jewish people took great pride in being called 'Jew'. We as Americans take pride in our country and identity. If your parents come from Europe, Asia, Africa you can take pride in your origin. The name Jew (from Judah which means praise) had both a religious and national connotation. Jew had a racial and religious distinction--and in both the

revelation of God and in their own minds--they were chosen people. Jews have been the object of scorn, ridicule and racial persecution for thousands of years. Yet for the Jew-- the name was a badge of honor. Many Jews living in Gentile cities even took on the surname Jew. Gino Geraci Jew.

The Jewish people were chosen by God to be the unique vessel of witness to the world and the eventual Messiah. God told Abraham

Genesis 12:3; "I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."

The Jewish people had lost sight of their holy calling. The Jewish people were supposed to be a light to the Gentiles. The Jewish people were supposed to share their God given revelations about the nature and character and plan of God to the Gentiles.

Jonah's attitude typified many of the Jews. Jonah knew God was a kind, merciful, generous God who was looking for reasons to forgive and restore. Jonah's reluctance was the reluctance of a person content to have and keep the truth for himself.

Many Jews--instead of looking at their heritage and origin as gracious blessing and gift from God saw it as a divine right--received by merit. Somehow they came to the twisted conclusion their blessing was based--not on God's grace and mercy but their own goodness. They felt superior and proud. Instead of boasting in their great God and His revelation--they boasted in their superiority as the recipients of the revelation.

They believed God owed it to them--to save them--on the mere basis of being Jews!

Pride in being the chosen people had led many to blindness of reality.

John 8:31-32;"Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed.32 "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

Many Jews were offended by Jesus' words. They were so deluded they thought being Abraham's offspring was sufficient to merit them a special relationship to God. We are Abraham's offspring. We have never been enslaved to anyone(!) How is it you say You shall become free (v.33). Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, Everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin"(v.34).

The Jews made the mistake of thinking being Abraham's offspring--made them inheritors of Abraham's spiritual heritage. Jesus told them if you are Abraham's children--do what Abraham did. Abraham wanted to know the truth. Abraham never tried to kill someone who told them the truth. Jesus was telling them the truth.

People today labor under the same false assurance! People think simply because they were born into a Christian home, or even had a Christian experience, own a Bible, received sacraments, belong to a church or made a profession of faith, God must save them! Some people think they are Christians by virtue of the fact they are not Buddhist or Hindu or Muslim. Christians are Christians by default. The Roman Catholic Church believes infant baptism confers salvation upon the recipient. One Catholic writer used this logic, "The faith which the infant lacks is replaced by the faith of the church".

  • Another person's faith cannot save you. Being raised in a Christian home by Christian parents cannot save you.

The False Assurance Of Information Or Knowledge (v.17b-24) Access to the truth must make you accountable to the truth.

The second false assurance, the second religious security Paul exposes is the knowledge of God's law. "and rest on the law". Paul means the Old Testament Scriptures. This would include all of God's revelation until this time. The revelation about sacrifices, covenants, blessings, moral standards, teachings about his nature, identity, and the plan of redemption. The apostle is going to point out four aspects of the revelation of the law;

  1. What they learned about the law (vv.17-18)
  2. What they taught about the law (vv.19-20)
  3. What they did in light of it (vv.21-22)
  4. What they caused by breaking it (vv.23-24) (see John MacArthur's commentary pp.151-152). (v.17b)

"and rest on the law"

These religious people relied on their possession of the Law (the Torah) as giving them a unique standing with God. Paul's criticism is not about the law--the Jews special relationship wasn't based on living what the Bible says--but simply possessing the Bible.

Doesn't that sound like some "Bible-believing Christians?" We even use the term--Bible church. Bible believer. But simply having a Bible doesn't make you a Christian. "He had a Bible--he must be a believer!" Not necessarily.

"and make your boast in God"

Is it wrong to boast in God? Not necessarily. The psalmist said, "I will make my boast in you oh Lord". So what's the problem? Paul is criticising the people who brag--they are God's favorites.

(v.18a) "and know His will" - They prided themselves in knowing the will of God as it is revealled in the Word of God (the ten commandments, the covenants and ordinances).

(v.18b) "and approve the things that are excellent"

In other words,they discerned or approved the things that were essential. They prided themselves on being able to make morally superior judgments--based on the word of God. They were far beyond the ignorant Gentiles who did not have the priviledge of special revelation. Think about the people who say, 'wow--our church is way beyond your church. We have the word of God. We have doctrinal accuracy and moral consistency.

(v.18c) "being instructed out of the law"

We have the Bible as our teacher. All of these things were God given privileges--not a reason to revel in smug superiority. These privileges rather than have a deepening walk with God--had a deluding talk--a boasting in self!! When they compared their spiritual enlightenment with the ignorance of the poor Gentiles--they thought--"we look pretty good!"

It's easy to see the smug superiority on others but not on ourselves! The Bible cuts both ways--it is a two edged sword--but so is the dagger of hypocrisy. The sword that pierces the religious heart of the first century Jew cuts into the heart of the 21st century religious person. It's easy to think we are OK because we know so much more about the Bible than the average person on the street. I get sick to my stomach when I hear the ignorance on radio and TV about the Bible. But I confess my anger is over their ignorance rather than the lost condition of their soul--to my shame! We can read the Bible in 30 different versions. We have access to Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Spanish, German, French.  It is a great temptation for the Pastor to strut into the pulpit with all the original language notes and still have a heart of stone.

We have a verse for every problem known to man. We have the light in a dark world-- but we shine the light only in the direction we are going--oblivious to the rest of the world. Pray God will open our eyes. Pray God will will reveal our personal delusion and pride and arrogant presumption.

(vv.19-20) Paul describes the arrogance and presumption in these verses. Follow Paul's train of thought--he moves from the delusion of priviledge to the deadly pride of arrogant leadership and presumption.

"you are a guide" "you are a light" "you are an instructor of the foolish" "a teacher of infants" The passage drips with pride, presumption, arrogance, condescention and scorn. The Gentiles knew it. Tacitus wrote about the Jews, "Among themselves their honesty is inflexible, their compassion quick to move, but to all other persons they show the hatred of antagonism". In Alexandria the Jews allegedly took an oath never to show kindness to a Gentile" (see Kent Hughes p.64).

That would be like fundamental Christians raising placards that say, "Kill the Fags" or "God hates Homosexuals" or "Burn In Hell". The very privileges that were supposed to produce saints--produced arrogant, self-serving--loveless shells of humanity.

Christian--beware of self-righteousness, self-centeredness, self-deception.

Jesus warned you in a parable in Luke 18:9-13; "Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:10 "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.11 "The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men- extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.12 'I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'13 "And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'

Are you feeling a little superior? Do you think you are right on and everyone else is right-off? This is not a sign of God's grace. When you come to a place of spiritual priviledge only to succumb to self-righteous arrogance--indicates your soul is in danger! The warning light should be flashing red! Our familiarity with holy things should never give way to presumption!

(vv.21-23) What happens if you have succumbed to the pride of privilege and presumption? Paul has some healing questions! Paul will get out the stick-pin and pop our self-righteous ballons! Like a festering boil--or a blister--that needs to be popped--the questions can bring healing--if you will let them. Paul asks the questions in such a way--that he insists on agreement.

Some of the Jewish teachers will guilty of some of these things, but not all. Everyone knew about 'loopholes' in the law for some refined stealing. The Talmud charged three of its most illustrious Rabbi's with adultery--long before anyone ever heard of Jimmy Swaggert or Jim Baker. People abhored idolatry and the dishonoring of God, but they robbed God's Temple by profaning sacred things--committing what one Bible writer called 'subtle forms of sacriledge'. Even if they did not do these things outwardly, they committed the crimes in their hearts. In just a few sentences Paul strips away their false security by having the law--instead of doing the law.

Their lives--like many of our lives--did not measure up to the truth they possessed! (v.24) Paul ends his cross examination with a burst of accusation! God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you".

Not only did they not measure up to the priviledge of having the truth--they disgraced it. The sacred name of God--which a good Jew would never utter with his or her lips--was actually blasphemed by the Gentiles with whom they associated.

If this is what it means to be a Jew--who needs Judaism or God. If this is what it means to be a Christian--who needs Christ or the church? Nathan accused the same thing to David, "by doing these things you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt" (2 Samuel 12:14).

God is not impressed by your claims--or my claims of orthodoxy--and neither is the world. What impressess the world--is the impression of a changed life--in Christ.

The False Assurance Of Religious Ritual (vv.25-29)

The third thing Paul does--he exposes yet another type of false security--religious ritual-- in this case circumcision. Many Jews placed their confidence or trust in this ritual--as acceptance into the community of God's chosen people. Some went so far as to believe that the act of circumcision (like the act of baptizing a baby) saved the person. Rabbi Menachem in his commentary on the book of Moses wrote, "Our Rabbis have said that no circumcised man will see Hell". Another said, "Circumcision saves from hell". The Midrish Tillim says, "God swore to Abraham that no one who was circumcised should be sent to hell".

You might be thinking, "Wait a minute, didn't God order the men of Israel to be circumcised? Didn't God threaten to kill Moses if he didn't circumcise his own son?

Genesis 17:10-12;"This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised;11 "and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you.12 "He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant.

God instituted this ceremony as a physical mark of His covenant with Abraham and his descendants. Certainly there is symbolism in the surgery. Our sin is passed from generation to generation. "The procreative organs needed to be cleansed of a covering. So man--at the very center of his heart is sinful and needs his heart cleansed. This graphic symbol of the need for removing sin became the sign of being a Jew" (see John MacArthur p.159).

Circumcision was important as an act of obedience to God and as a reminder to the Jews of their covenant relationship to Him. Paul points out the rite--in and of itself--has no spiritual power.

(v.25) "circumcision is profitable if you keep the law" in other words--the ceremony has value--if you obey the Bible. If you live in obedience to God's revealed will. To the faithful, obedient Jew--circumcision was a symbol of God's covenant, his blessings, his goodness, his protection of His chosen people.


Paul makes it clear--You aren't right with God simply because you have the truth. You are not right God simply because you play the Christian game of going to church, doing religious things, hanging out with religious people.


Donald Grey Barnhouse put this in perspective for the Christian.

"For he is a Christian who is one outwardly, not is that 'church membership' which outward in the flesh, but he is a Christian who is one inwardly; and 'church membership' is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter, whose praise is not of men, but of God'.

Don't be deceived, Familiarity with the truth is not the same as having a saving relationship with God in Christ. God is not fooled. There is a passage in the book of Ezekiel that reads like it was writtern for today.

Ezekiel 33:30-32; "As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, 'Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.'31 "So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain.32 "Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them".

The people talk about hearing the preacher. But verse 31 declares the true condition of their heart. They sit in church and look like the real thing, but in their hearts all they can think about is how they are going to make a little more money. Ultimately according to verse 32--nothing happens. You are nothing more that one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and you play the instrument so well, for they hear your words, but they do not put them into practice.

God is not fooled. You may not want to believe it--but earnest, confident, religious people will be lost--if they have not trusted Jesus as Savior. Some who can quote Bible verses will be told, "Depart from me, I never knew you.

The Old Testament knew circumcision was a matter of the heart.

Deuteronomy 30:6; "And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live".

Colossians 2:9-11; "For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.

11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,

Where does your confidence lie? Is it in your knowledge of the Bible or your religious affliation? If so--then you are deluded. True salvation is a matter of the heart.

Romans 10:9-10;"that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.