Agonizomai: Romans Chapter 2<br>Excuse #7 - I Am Religious

Friday, January 09, 2009

Romans Chapter 2
Excuse #7 - I Am Religious
Response: God's judgment is according to reality, not religious profession.

Romans 2:17-29 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure 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 children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth–– 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” 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 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.


Jewish Religiosity

Paul gives a small introduction to the whole question of God’s dealings with the Jews and their response to those dealings. God gave them two notable things, in which they came to glory. One was circumcision and the other was the Law.

Circumcision was the outward sign of belonging to the descendants of Abraham according to the promise, and it was regarded as the seal of the covenant between God and the Jewish nation. Its symbolism became an idol, in a way. They mistook the symbol for what the symbol represented and made the outward sign dominant over the inward duty. It was given as a symbol of devotion to the God of the promise – of a heart thirsty and eager to serve and honour Him by believing in Him like their father, Abraham, by trusting God to perform all that He had promised to perform on their behalf. God would do and they would believe, showing that faith through their obedience. Does this sound familiar?

The Law, to which we shall come in much more detail later, came in three parts, namely – Moral, Ceremonial and Civil. The Moral Law is the Ten Commandments. Though given at Sinai, we should not think that this was the first time anybody had ever heard of such things. It was not. Recall that even pagans, who never received the Moral Law and mostly had never heard of it, nevertheless had it written on their hearts:
When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. {Romans 2:14-16}
All men have the law of God written on their hearts. Their conscience reminds them when they are violating it. It may be that God’s eternal moral law in fallen human hearts is a mere shadow of what it was – but I doubt it. I believe it is writ just as large and plain there as ever it was. The problem is not with the law or its faintness, but with the human heart and its self-hardening, ear-covering, conscience-searing preference for sin, which are the real reasons that God’s law glows so faintly within.

So the Jews, though they received the written code on tablets of stone directly from the finger of God, were receiving that which reminded them of what all men’s hearts really know to be true. How symbolic that they received the law on tablets of stone, for the stone surely represented the deaness and hardness of their hearts, and of all humanity’s, too.

But the Jews did with God’s law what they did with the symbol of circumcision – they carnalized it. They gradually perverted it by ignoring its spiritual nature, constantly hardening their hearts and turning to false, perverted, idolatrous ways, finally making it into a mere outward observance, ritual and tradition. Thus they came to the place Paul describes where they were willful law breakers, rendering the sign of circumcision no more than a meaningless vestige of history.

All of the benefits of being God’s chosen people were not simply in the symbols or the outward things, but were supposed to be in the inward parts – in the reality of a reverent and obedient heart devoted to God. As a Nation, they failed in this. And God’s judgment upon them came with terrifying wrath in AD70 when Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed, and the people were banished from Palestine. Their religiosity did them no good then, and it will not help in the Day of Final Judgment, either.

Christian Religiosity

What happened to the Jews is a warning to the church. Everything in Paul's argument regarding the Jews' false claim to self-justification - namely their chosen nation status and their religious system of worship – can be applied to today's church – simply substitute the words "Christian" for "Jew", "gospel" for "law" etc.
"If you bear the name of a Christian, and rest on having the gospel, and glory in God, and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the gospel; and are confident that you yourself are a guide of the blind, having in the gospel the form of knowledge and of the truth…"
Then would follow the searching questions of verses 21 and 22:
"…for do we not know teachers that teach others, but refuse to follow their own teaching? And preachers that denounce stealing, but are accused by the world of being themselves money-grabbers?"
So it would read:
"You who glory in the gospel, through your disobedience to the gospel, do you not dishonor God? The name of God is blasphemed among the unchurched because of you! Being a church member indeed profits if you are an obeyer of the gospel; but if you are a refuser of a gospel-walk, your so-called ‘membership’ is as good as being unchurched. If therefore a non-churched person obeys the gospel, shall not his stature be reckoned for ‘church-membership’ ? And shall not the unchurched, if they obey the gospel, judge you, who with the letter and ‘church-membership’ are a refuser of a gospel-walk? For he is not a Christian who is one outwardly, nor is that ‘church-membership’ which is 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."
This last form of self-justification, namely that we are observing religious things, is surely the most infuriating to God. Jesus hated religious hypocrisy and often preached and warned against it. It would be better for the Jews never to have had the law than to have so wickedly misappropriated it by keeping God's way of righteousness to themselves and turning it into a man-made means of self-justification.

And it would be better for false professors of Christianity never to have heard the gospel than to have turned it into the grace abusing, no-Lordship, carnal believism that poisons much of what purports to be Christianity today. A religion that is full of outward form, but lacking in inward reality, where there is little to distinguish us from the world, and where our meeting places have become entertainment centres to attract the ungodly, or to encourage the carnally minded with “clubby” social activities.

God still hates hypocrisy. He hates self-justification because it compounds sin by hiding the plain truth - that all men everywhere need to repent because they are sinners through and through. There is a remedy – but there can be no remedy for those that are not sick, as Jesus pointed out…
And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners." Mark 2:16-17
Try to think of it this way – preaching God’s unvarnished, undiluted truth about their condition to sinners is somewhat akin to putting a Medical Reference Volume in a room full of sick men. Some will soon enough begin to see in themselves the symptoms of every disease in the book, and will hurry off to the physician.

This is why Paul lays down the foundational argument in Romans that all men are "totally depraved" and all are equally and justly under condemnation and wrath. Unless men know this then how will they understand that they are sick? And how will they even know that they need a Saviour? This is the single most damnable fault of the purveyors of the modern neo-evangelical gospel – that because of a misplaced desire to attract people to the church they have gutted the gospel message of its power, neglecting the doctrines of the faith, including the total depravity of man and the need for heartfelt repentance from sin. For fear of offending people they put them instead in an even greater danger of hell. Imagine the shame, if not outright wrath, stored up for the gospel diluters - and tremble for them!

Next we shall come to Paul’s fuller treatment of some special objections of the Jewish Nation, God’s chosen people, before Paul summarizes his arguments to date, with support from the scriptures he had available at the time, showing that sin is a universal condition.


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