Text: Romans 2.25-29
Introduction: Good morning. We’ll be in Romans chapter 2 this morning – finishing up chapter 2. Later we’ll turn a couple of pages forward to Romans chapter 8. Romans 2 & 8.
I learned an outline of Romans from Bill Howery. This isn’t my outline. You don’t know Bill, but he was church planter in Italy for 40 years. He lost his wife to cancer in Italy, while serving there, planting churches. I love missionaries and the sacrifices they endure. So, this is a shout out to him…of sorts.
It might be a little over-simplified, but that fits me just fine. So, today we’ll finish out section 1 of Bill’s outline.
A preacher is taught in seminary to answer three questions when presenting a message. It works well for those who lead a Bible Study, as well. This was brought home to me in an interview I heard between Mark Dever and John MacArthur. Denver asked McArthur how he prepares his messages and his basic answer was answering these three questions:
- What does the Bible say?
- What does the Bible mean?
- What does it mean for me?
I’d like to outline my message around these three questions this morning. So, let’s begin with question #1.
What Does the Romans 2.25-29 say? Let’s read that together:
Romans 2.25-29: 25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps (fulfills) the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
Well, we read the text, but what does it say? Paul is in the midst of his argument toward the Jews. His argument is simply this (this is what the Bible says): God will regard uncircumcised Gentiles who keep the law as circumcised Jews. Gentiles are regarded as Jews if they keep, and the better word is fulfill, the law. Rd v 26; the answer is yes, and I’ll show you later why that is.
Since Paul has been laying it on pretty hard about works and obedience, this would be a good time to review how we got here.
You probably remember from the last few weeks that Paul has been presenting his case against the Gentiles and the Jews who dishonor God by their behavior. Jews have no room to be judging the Gentiles when they behave in the same manner. Paul says: Your behavior dishonors God in the same way the behavior of the Gentiles dishonors God.
I shared this flow or outline with our Community Group Wednesday night as we sat down to dig in a little deeper and it went well. So if you guys don’t mind, I’d like to get the flow of the passage to pick up on what Paul is saying:
- Romans 1.8-15: Paul tells the Romans that he longs to preach the Gospel there in Rome.
- Romans 1.16: Is the thesis of his book: The Gospel is the power of God for Salvation!
- V 17: the Righteousness of God is revealed.
- V 18: the Wrath of God is revealed, also.
- Romans 1.18-32: The Wrath of God is revealed against the sinful behavior of the Gentiles and thus, they need the Gospel. What is their sin? Immorality and Idolatry.
- Romans 2.1-16: As the Jews are getting excited at Paul’s preaching against the Gentiles and their sinful behavior that dishonors God, Paul pulls the rug out from under them and turns the tables on them. You Jews are no different, he tells them. You dishonor God by doing the same things they do. And so, you justly deserve the wrath of God that is coming.
- Romans 2.17-29: Paul continues with what makes this so bad: you have the law! Paul tells the Jews not to think for one second that they are exempt from God’s judgment because they have the law and (and, he’ll continue in our passage today) because they have the sign of circumcision that they are his people.
- So last week we looked at the Law portion of this text: v17-24
- This week we’ll finish up this little section with a look at circumcision in v 25-29
Transition: So this is what the Bible says: God will regard uncircumcised Gentiles who keep the law as circumcised Jews. Now, let’s answer the 2nd question:
What does the Romans 2.25-29 mean?
At this stage, Paul’s argument against the Jews can be summed up in two of these verses (26 & 29): 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And, 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
So, simply put: anyone can be a true Jew by being obedient to the Law, or fulfilling the law. Because, being a true Jew has nothing to do with external signs (circumcision), but rather, an internal commitment – it is a mater of the heart.
At this point there should be some confusion. Paul’s stuff can be weighty. I’m reminded of what Peter said in reference to Paul: 15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures. He almost sounds contradictory, but if you’ll follow his argument through to the end, I think you’ll begin to understand what he is doing.
Does this mean that we’re supposed to want to become Jews? Are we supposed to follow the dietary plans, enjoy the feasts and festivals, and practice the law as the Jews do?
If Chapter 1 is Paul’s declaration that he wants to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles because their behavior dishonors God and Chapter 2 is Paul’s declaration that Jews do the same and need Jesus, too. Then, why would he say such things like: He will render to each one according to their works and if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision. Why does Paul say they need the Gospel and then intimate that their salvation will be through works… by keeping the law?
I think it will help us if we’ll take the whole context into play. It looks like Paul’s argument is as follows:
- Jews are sinners (just like the Gentiles they judge) and are in need of being saved from the wrath of God (just like the Gentiles they judge). Jews need his righteousness and that righteousness doesn’t come (and indeed it can’t come) through a bunch of do’s and don’ts.
- Being Jewish isn’t a matter of external signs that show election, it is a matter of what one lives out (i.e.: obedience to the Law). So, Gentiles are truly Jews when they live out the spirit of the law. And, Jews who do not live out the spirit of the law are not really Jews. For having the law, and, as he says in these verses, having an external sign of God’s election upon them (namely, circumcision), doesn’t make them true Jews, either.
app.: So, here’s what I think Paul means and what he’s doing: Paul’s desire here is to get the Jews to see that they did not understand the Law and the prophets. By their actions, they think simple possession of the Law and circumcision is the key to their salvation. They miss… from their very own law… that salvation comes through faith in the grace of God. Faith is seen in the action of one’s life. A changed heart is detected by a changed life.
This was Jeremiah’s message. Allow me to read it: 7 The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. 3 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’
5 “For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever.
8 “Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the Lord.
They’re still holding on to the law, their traditions and the temple!
But there really is more here: Paul wants to push the Jews off of their fence called tradition. Sure, they’ve accepted Jesus as the Messiah, but they also are still clinging to the Law and ceremony, circumcision and the Temple. Paul is teaching them that the Gospel isn’t Jesus plus anything (i.e.: Jesus plus circumcision; Jesus plus dietary laws; Jesus plus ritual; Jesus plus tradition; Jesus plus…)
Think about this – that is what I’m asking you to do and that is what Paul is trying to get them to do – think about this: if Gentiles can get saved without the Law and a record of dos and don’ts, and if they can get saved without circumcision, then it stands to reason that the Jews have totally misunderstood their Bible! Now that, is a slap in the face.
But that statement means even more than that! Paul is gonna really pile it on think: it implies that the Gentiles are getting into the kingdom ahead of, and even in place of the Jews! And here’s where you should respond: (Pause) No! That’s right! Natural born Gentiles who don’t become Jews by tradition, but rather through a life change are taking the place of Jews in the Kingdom of God.
What does this mean for me?
How would you feel if I said: You’re not getting into heaven. No, the Mormons will go in your place. Feel that? That is why he is pushing the Jews like this. He wants them to feel the weight of their sin and the incredible message of the Gospel. For, in it the righteousness of God is revealed and so is His Wrath!
Look back with me at v 27: 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. This is your yes to v 26. Now look at v 28; for…
28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. Jews, don’t miss this, no one is a Jew… a true Jew through rules and rituals (the law & circumcision). And it brings it home in v29: 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
By the Spirit: this prepositional phrase brings it all together. Jews, this isn’t the work of your hands through ceremonial exercise. The Spirit of God does this on the heart, not by the letter (of the law) on the body. The Holy Spirit is the one who makes Gentiles Jews. Jews don’t make Gentiles into Jews by external practices to the letter of the law. No, The Holy Spirit circumcises the heart and changes Gentiles into Jews.
The former brings death: 2 Cor 3.6: 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
Ladies and Gentlemen, if you’re clinging to the hope of heaven through anything other than the Spirit’s life changing infilling, then you’re headed for a certain death … for the letter kills, but the Spirit brings life. The Spirit brings us into this wonderful new covenant. Where God promised in Ezekiel that he would replace our hearts of stone with hearts of flesh and give us a circumcision, not of the body, but of the heart. It is like there is this old, crusty hardened part of our hearts and God cuts that away, revealing the soft, healthy, fleshly tissue.
This new covenant is made available to you through the work of Christ on the Cross of Calvary. His shed blood at Calvary washes away sin through the faith that is placed in Christ.
When Paul says in v 27: 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? He is saying that the Christian Gentile has had the Holy Spirit circumcise his heart and the Law has become to him low hanging fruit in his life as he lives by this new moral code.
Let me tell you what this is not:
- This is not legalism.
- This is not salvation through good works.
- This is not ceremony which has to be observed.
This is a changed life by the work of the Holy Spirit.
I want to show you where Paul is headed here: Turn to chapter 8.1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. So there are two laws here: freedom and life or sin and death. For those who are in Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit has set you free from the law of sin and death. Rd 3a: 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.
The Law doesn’t bring life. The Law is weakened because people can’t keep it. It is impossible! But God has done for us what the Law could never do. And what is that? rd 3b: By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, Jesus who God in the flesh, lived this perfection of the Law. In him no sin was ever found. Keep reading in v4: 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled (here is that word for us again) in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
I have to admit: at this point I was intrigued! What is it about this thing called the law, it’s fulfillment of it and how Jesus fulfilled it and how we fulfill it?
Listen to this repeated theme:
fulfills NEAR law
|in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
|Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.
|Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
|For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
|Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
|If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.
|13 Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
To love is to fulfill the law. Love the Lord your God with all you heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And, Love your neighbor as yourself. That’s Jesus. And that’s the fulfillment of the Law. And we fulfill the law when the Love of God changes us and we begin to love like him.
1 Jn 3.14: 14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.
What is the first fruit of the Spirit: love…. Gal 5.22: against such things there is no law.
1 Jn 3.20: 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; 1 Jn 4.8: he who does not love does not know God.
Application: Having answered these three questions, what will you do?
- We are born into this life lost. Lost is a good word. If you were raised in the church, then get on your knees and thank God for your heritage – but many of us wandered through this life early on without a sense of purpose or meaning. We were lost and headed nowhere.
I’m reminded of John 3.16 – probably the most popular verse in Scripture. Say it with me: For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. What we miss is the next part in v17-18: 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. We’re condemned already…we’re born that way…all of us! We’re born into this life lost. That is your starting point.
With this in mind, let me ask you: have you ever done anything about it? A good way to know is to see if you love others. Do you love others more than you love yourself? I’m not asking if you love some people. I’m sure you love some people – people who are close to you. What lengths would you go to in order to show others that you truly love them? An honest assessment of this concern will reveal your heart – either of stone or of flesh.
- If you’ve never confessed your sins to God and found the forgiveness, you stand condemned today. Don’t let this moment pass. If you’ve assessed your heart and found that you are not a loving person – toward other believers or the lost, don’t let this moment pass. Come to Christ!
- Maybe you’re sitting here this morning and you’d say: you have, but you’re not where you should be. If so, would you pray that God would take your unloving heart of stone and replace it with a loving heart of flesh.
To be honest, there are always decisions God leads us to as he convicts us. I remember being convicted of my sin of not surrendering to the ministry when he had clearly called me. Maybe that’s where you are today. Maybe God is leading you to join this church and join us in ministry.
Whatever it is, I’d like to invite you to come talk with me or one of the staff members or elders. In a moment we’ll have a moment of silence to contemplate these questions. After a moment of silence, reflecting upon whatever God is doing in your life, I’m going to ask Frank Burgess if he’ll lead us in our closing prayer. When he is finished, I’d like to invite you back to the cornerstone area for some coffee and cookies and fellowship. Come talk to one of us, we’d love to help with whatever is on your mind.