God will repay us according to our works and God shows no partiality in that repayment. Those who seek the glory and honor of God will receive eternal life. Those who are self-seeking will receive wrath and fury. It does not matter who you are or where you come from, these are the facts. To sum up this point, the apostle Paul taught that those who are doers of the law will be justified, not hearers of the law (2:13). The Gentiles were not hearers of the law of Moses, but they were doers of the laws of God, seeking after God. They have shown that the laws of God are written on their hearts, meaning that they are desiring God, loving God, and are seeking to God’s will. The Gentiles did not have the law of Moses by nature, but they are seeking after God. The Jews did have the law of Moses by nature, but they were not keeping the law and were not zealous for God.
This leads into the main point that Paul wants his audience to see. We need lives that are honoring God. Too often we lead hypocritical lives. This is the charge that Paul is bringing against the nation of Israel in this text. Are our lives honoring God? Or do our actions dishonor God? Let’s look at how presents this problem and gives the solution.
17 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.” (Romans 2:17-24; ESV)
Dishonoring God through Hypocrisy (17-24)
Paul begins by describing the special advantages that the Jews through the nation of Israel had from God. This is not a sarcastic statement, but a listing of the advantages Israel possessed. This is a long sentence listing where Israel had advantages, the things that Israel should have been. The people claimed to be Jews, but were they true to it?
Rely on the law and boast in God. Paul is not saying that the people were boasting in their own good works. That is not the idea. The point is that the Jews found security and comfort in possession of the law of Moses. Israel is not boasting in some sort of self-earned salvation, as many have charged. Rather, they boasted in God because the Creator of the world is Israel’s God. They were able to celebrate in God because God had chosen them by giving them the law of Moses and entering into a relationship with them. There is security and comfort in the knowledge that God had selected Israel to be his people.
And know his will and approve what is excellent. This advantage extends into knowing the will of God. They were instructed from the law of Moses so that they could know what was God’s will for them. What a blessing to have the written word from God to refer to, listen to, and know! Israel was able to discern what was right and approve what was good because they had the law as the basis to determine those things.
A guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, and instructor of the foolish…. This is exactly what Israel was to be to the world. Israel was supposed to be a guide to the blind, a light in the world of darkness, and an instructor of the foolish.
“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. (Isaiah 42:6-7; ESV)
he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6; ESV)
Because Israel had the law of Moses and knew the ways of God, they were supposed to teach the Gentiles. They were to be a guide to those outside of the covenant. But now the apostle Paul puts his finger on the problem: Israel was not these things. Israel was not a light to the nations. Israel was not a guide to the blind. Israel was not the instructor of the foolish that God wanted them to be. The people who were to be the light of the world have become part of the problem. Israel, rather than healing the sick, is now sick. Israel had failed in its mission to bring worldwide honor to God. So what had happened? Look at verses 21-24.
Israel was not keeping the law themselves. As Paul was pointing out earlier in this chapter, Israel had heard the law but was not a doer of the law. Israel needed to teach itself because it was not keeping the ordinances of the law of Moses. The problem was that Israel was hypocritical. Instead of being a guide to the blind, they were blind themselves. Instead of teaching the world, they needed to be taught by God. Israel has failed in what God intended for them to do. Noticing verse 23, Israel was dishonoring God by breaking the law of Moses. Rather than honoring God in their lives and in their teachings, they were dishonoring God. Because they were breaking the law, the name of God was being blasphemed by the Gentiles BECAUSE of the nation of Israel. Israel has been an utter failure. Israel has misused the blessings given to it. Israel has failed in bringing God worldwide honor.
Before we move forward in the text, we need to consider if these statements are true about us. We also have an advantage because we have God’s word in our hands. We know what we are supposed to do to be pleasing to God. We are also to be a light to the world, a guide to the blind, and an instructor of the people. Jesus, in wrapping up the beatitudes in Matthew 5, said, “You are the light of the world.” But are our lives bringing honor to God? Or do our actions dishonor God on a regular basis? What do our lives look like to the world and are we winning people to Jesus because of how we act? Or are we hypocritical failures just like Israel? I think we can agree that Christianity in general has been blasphemed by the world because of foolish, wicked actions by many claiming to be Christians over the past 2000 years. Are our lives honoring God to our neighbors and co-workers? Being a light to the world is not saying you are a Christian and showing up on Sunday morning. People must see your life as a reflection of the light of Jesus. Israel dishonored God to the world through their hypocritical lives. Do God a favor: worship God properly or don’t bother, because this half-hearted service is doing you no good and is dishonoring God to the world.
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. (Romans 2:25-29; ESV)
A Matter of the Heart (25-29)
Possession of the law is like circumcision. Both the law and circumcision are elements that made the Jews distinct from the nations. But neither of these aspects that set the Jews apart as being in a special relationship with God are of any value if the law of God is not kept. Possession of the law does not spare one from God’s wrath. Circumcision also does not spare one from God’s wrath.
One becomes like an uncircumcised Gentile in breaking the law of Moses. This means that you are not a member of God’s people and not in a special relationship with God. When the Jews did not obey God’s law, they were no better off than an uncircumcised Gentile. In verse 26 Paul points out that the Gentiles are becoming the people of God by keeping God’s law. Though uncircumcised (out of a relationship with God and not God’s people), they are coming into a relationship with God and are part of God’s people by keeping God’s law. Those who do not keep God’s law are excluded.
Further, the Gentiles condemn those who are circumcised. Why? Paul already drew upon that point earlier. The Gentiles condemn those who are Jews because the Jews had the law and were hearers of the law, but did not obey it. The Gentiles did not have the law of Moses but they are obeying God. Thus, the Gentiles are condemning the Jews. The Jews had the advantages but have not done what the Gentiles have done, that is, seek after and obey God.
Verse 28 contains some serious and contemplative words for Israel. You are not a Jew outwardly. Nothing about being the people of God is outward. A person is not a Jew by being circumcised or by being possessors of the law of Moses through being born of Jewish parents. These must have been startling words to the Jews who heard the apostle Paul, a former Pharisee and Jew himself. The name “Jew” and the attribute of circumcision belong to the people whose hearts are cut for God, not whose bodies are cut for God. Those who carry the covenantal marks of circumcision on their hearts are the people of God, not those who carry the covenant marks of circumcision on their body. Ezekiel prophesied that this is what God’s people would look like:
And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations. (Ezekiel 36:26-27; NLT)
A Jew is someone whose heart is right with God. The outward marks does not put one into a covenant relationship with God. Further, circumcision is the change of heart that is produced, not the cutting of the body. The person with the changed heart is the one who seeks the praise from God, not from people. Paul concludes this chapter with a word play. The name “Jew” comes from the name of the nation, Judah. “Judah” means “praise.” Now see the word play: the Jew receives praise from God, not people.
- Be a Jew. Circumcise the heart to be in a relationship with God. The cut, changed heart is the mark of being God’s child.
- Be a light. Do not dishonor God in your actions. The cut, changed heart will lead to a changed lifestyle that honors and glorifies God. People should see our lives glorifying God and be brought to honor God also.