Romans 2:1 NASB
Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgement, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.
Paul takes a shift from attacking the sins of the Gentiles and uses a diatribe style of communicating his next point. He is arguing with an imaginary person or group so that the actual reader cannot disagree with his quick u-turn of “self condemnation by passing judgement on others”. Paul needed his readers to understand that the very things he had just been speaking about (greed, deceit, boastful, etc) were the very things they were guilty of doing themselves! They who thought they were rightfully passing judgement upon others were just as guilty. The inconsistency of their spiritual lives and the necessity to see ones own sin was Paul’s objective. It hits home really hard when someone looks at you and says, “hey you! When you were mouthing off about how terrible those sinners were, you were doing the same things in your mind!”
Judgement is different then speaking the truth. Today, the two are so often confused. If I tell you that you are sinning and need to get right with God, you can say I’m judging you but to judge is to pass a verdict. Only God judges the sinner (judgement within the church is a different topic), we speak His truth but leave the judgement to Him. speaking the truth (like what Paul is doing here) may seem like judgement in of itself, but it is simply speaking the Word of God.
Consistency is the key to this passage. Paul is addressing the self condemnation of our self righteousness and revealing our own sin. We would be wise to give heed to this, judgement is reserved for God, don’t speak against someones sin if you are committing that very sin you are condemning. We must be consistent in our walk with the Lord, for without it we walk in sin and judgement of ourselves by judging others sins that we commit as well. This is truly a religious attitude that resembled the Pharisees who passed judgement on others who struggled with sin but condemned themselves because of their hypocrisy.
What this should encourage us to do is shut our mouths, speak less about others and focus more on the life Jesus has called us to live. To be consistent in our faith and obedience to Jesus. Less of us, more of Jesus. Less worrying about others and only focusing on Jesus. Less judgement, more truth and love.
Romans 2:2 NASB
And we know that the judgement of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.
The reader is first confronted with the fact they were caught with their hand in the cookie jar. They’ve condemned and judged others for the very things they practiced themselves. They’ve emulated a religious spirit that screams judgement and not mercy. They point the finger and then God says, “you who judge practice the same things.” And then, the judgement of God falls on them, and they know that they are guilty.
God is just in how He deals judgement and mercy. He’s just in that He is sovereign and all things are under His subjection and can only deal judgement and mercy in a perfect way which reflects His character. When God passed judgement on Egypt in His plan to bring the Hebrews out of captivity, He dealt with them forcefully and lethally. Pharaoh hardened his heart towards God, then God hardened his heart even more. God is just in how He dealt with Pharaoh and he and the Egyptians received exactly what they deserved. If the sinner falls under such a great judgement from God, how much more then those who claim the name of Jesus but with their actions deny Him?
In His own wisdom and sovereignty He has declared those who practice what they preach against, under the same condemnation that the sinner is who has completely rejected God.
If God allowed us to live in this cycle of passing judgement on sinners but allowed us to live in that same sin, He would be allowing a breach of the covenant He has created with mankind through the sacrifice of Jesus. This breach is that God’s people are not supposed to be living in sin and most definitely shouldn’t be pointing the finger at others when we fall in the same sins. Jesus didn’t put up with it when He confronted the religious leaders during his three years of ministry on earth, and the Father wont put up with it in the day of judgement.
Romans 2:3 NASB
But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgement on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgement of God?
And the Apostle Paul hits the hammer on the nail. He forces the reader to deal with the previous two verses in the context that when they pass this judgement on others while doing it themselves, they indict themselves of God’s judgement upon themselves. This comes in the form of a question and not a direct accusation. But it allows Paul to let the question sink deep in their hearts, “do you really think you will escape God’s judgement?” Like God’s wrath, we don’t like discussing the judgement of God. These are two very different things. God’s wrath is His righteous anger towards wickedness which can result in earthly/spiritual consequences. His judgement is His decree in how He will execute punishment or blessing on people for eternity.
“God’s judgement will be more full and complete, for it will be pronounced at the very last. It will be an eternal, irrevocable sentence— either of punishment or of blessing.”
Tertullian (c.210, W), 3.215.
Paul is speaking to those who profess Jesus as their Lord and Savior! He wants them to have no misunderstanding of the judgement to come. If you live in unrepentant sin, passing judgement on others and yet still do those same things yourself, you will face the judgement of God for your actions. We cannot be deceived and think that we can simply get into heaven on worthless faith. Worthless faith says all the right things and does all the wrong things and does not repent of them. Real faith is action oriented and does the things God demands from us. Real faith understands that judgement is coming and God will judge us according to our faith in Jesus Christ. The fact that we will stand before the Almighty God one day should put a great fear in our hearts. If there is no fear of God, there is no knowledge of God, and without knowledge of God how can we have real faith in His grace? This is not a works based salvation. But God expects His servants to be a works based people! Is a Master pleased with a lazy and wicked servant? No!
Judgement should cause us to stop and reflect on our lives. To reflect and ask God if we are living in sin and passing judgement on others and being hypocrites. The Pharisees were notorious hypocrites and Jesus rebuked them. Why would Jesus see us any different then them on the day of judgement if we lived lives that were of complete hypocrisy? This is not said to be mean spirited, but as a truthful and loving warning that we must not deceive ourselves and live in rebellion towards God. Confessing the name of Jesus and rebellion towards His Word make for a devastating confrontation on the Great Day of Judgement.
Romans 2:4 NASB
Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?
This question that Paul phrases is a response to his earlier examination of passing judgement onto others and falling under God’s judgement. He’s been asking his audience why they continue to sin by passing judgement, because judgement will fall on them. But! Though God is just and holy, He is also patient and kind. His kindness is like great riches. And why wouldn’t we think so? Paul has just shown that we will stand before God in judgement, how much should we desire His kindness towards us? It’s easy to look at God’s wrath and judgement and feel resentful towards His character. This truly stems from our pride because His wrath and judgement are perfectly balanced with His kindness, tolerance and patience towards us. We don’t deserve His kindness but He offers it knowing that it leads us to repentance which leads us to holiness. Without repentance, we cannot be forgiven of our sins.
Repentance shouldn’t be a difficult thing to do, but without repentance how do we receive His grace? Repentance is turning away from the practice of sin and turning to God in submission to His will. His kindness leads us there, and we shouldn’t take this lightly at all.
Not to get political, but here is an example of taking God’s kindness lightly and not seeing repentance for what it is, necessary to be right with God.
This is based off an interview with President Donald Trump regarding his faith in God.
“Moderator Frank Luntz asked Trump whether he has ever asked God for forgiveness for his actions.
“I am not sure I have. I just go on and try to do a better job from there. I don’t think so,” he said. “I think if I do something wrong, I think, I just try and make it right. I don’t bring God into that picture. I don’t.”
Trump said that while he hasn’t asked God for forgiveness, he does participate in Holy Communion.
“When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed,” he said. “I think in terms of ‘let’s go on and let’s make it right.’”
I don’t usually like CNN, but I wanted to show that even the most powerful man in the world can be in a place where he can profess Jesus as His Lord and yet miss out on one of the most basic doctrines of the faith, that being repentance. Repentance doesn’t save us, but we can’t come to receive God’s salvation without it. How can one be saved if they don’t turn to Christ?
“In Greek, the root meaning of ‘repentance’ is not ‘confession of a sin’—-but a ‘change of mind.’” Tertullian (c. 207, W), 3.316.
“Repentance is great wisdom. For he who has sinned understands that he acted wickedly in the sight of the Lord. He remembers the actions he has done, and he repents. He no longer acts wickedly, but he does good generously. He humbles and torments his soul because he has sinned.” Hermas (c. 150, W), 2.22.
The early church fathers all strongly emphasized the necessity of repentance to be right with God. Peter preached to the Jews in Acts 3:17-19 about their need to repent of their sins towards Jesus. Acts 3:17-19 “And now, brothers, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But in this way God has fulfilled what He foretold through all the prophets, saying that His Christ would suffer. Repent, then, and turn back, so that your sins may be wiped away,”
The act of repenting must precede the forgiveness of sins. Though the extent of God’s atonement has been made possible to all people, only through repentance can the sins be forgiven. Having real faith in Jesus means repenting of sin. The act of repentance doesn’t save us, but without it we cannot have real faith in Jesus. Real faith is believing and confessing Jesus, believing in Jesus is not like believing in Santa Claus like a child does. Believing is demonstrating action just as the disciples demonstrated themselves true believers by doing the things Jesus commanded of them.
So let us not take lightly the riches of God’s kindness, we ought to be grateful that God has granted us the grace to be able to repent and turn to Him. Without His enabling us to turn to Him we would be lost in sin and destruction. His kindness leads us to repentance and out of that comes the wiping away of our sins. How great is our God who desires to wipe away our sins?
Romans 2:5 NASB
But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgement of God,
God has offered His kindness and mercy to those who would repent. But Paul, in an urgency to wake his readers from spiritual lethargy, charges them with “stubbornness and an unrepentant heart”. Stubbornness is better translated as hardened, in the greek the word is “sklerotes” which denotes a callousness and hardness. So what the readers have done is built a callousness around their hearts. Instead of being humble and receptive of the words of Jesus they’ve become hard and resistant to the truth. What a dangerous place to be in, to know the one true God and believe in Him, but to have hardened your heart and be unrepentant in your heart and mind. The readers are faced with the truth that they have stored up the wrath of God for the great day of judgement. This reference Paul makes is the same that the Old Testament Prophets made towards “the day of wrath”. This isn’t in reference to punishment or disciple on earth but in the final day that God judges the whole earth. Mal. 3:2, Amos 5:18, Joel 1:15
This wrath is being stored up for those who are in rebellion towards God, and all of this wrath will be revealed in the righteous judgement of God. When we all stand before God, none will have excuse or an argument to God. All will either be condemned righteously under God’s judgement or be found innocent under the covering of the blood of Jesus.
“‘We must all appear at the judgement seat of Christ, and we must each give an account of himself.’ Therefore, let us serve Him in fear and with all reverence.” Polycarp (c.135, E), 1.34.
Paul’s focus on the wrath and judgement of God isn’t to scare his readers into religion and being better people. He’s trying to help them understand that there is a critical problem in the heart of mankind and it’s going to bring about complete destruction and judgement for those who continue in rebellion towards God. Paul was a fire and brimstone preacher of his own kind. He understood this better then most of what God’s judgement entails. His rich history in the Torah and all the Hebrew Scriptural books made him completely aware that it’s our sin and rebellion that brings God’s wrath upon us and it’s God’s mercy and grace coupled with our humility and repentance that beings about restoration and right standing with God. It would do us well to be well versed in the Old Testament prophesies of God’s coming judgement to help teach us to love and obey God.
Romans 2:6 NASB
who WILL RENDER TO EACH PERSON ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS:
The great day of judgement is not something I think we can fathom and fully understand. It will be the greatest day of all mourning and weeping for damnation for many as well as many who will rejoice for salvation. All peoples of all history will stand before God and give an account of their deeds. The problem is that all fall short. Paul is not contradicting himself in this passage, this passage is clarifying that all will stand before God (who shows no partiality) and all their deeds will be examined and judged by God. We are not saved by our deeds, we are judged by them. Only by faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ are we saved. Out of that salvation brings forth good works which we will still be judged by, but we stand justified before God not on account of our deeds but by the work that Jesus did on the cross.
This passage Paul is quoting is from Psalm 62:12 which is a long believed truth that God renders to mankind according to their deeds. God is just, and He will judge all of us according to what we have done on this earth. For those who have rebelled against God and lived in unbelief towards Jesus they will be judged according to their wickedness and receive their due penalty. For those who have faith in Jesus and live according to His commandments will receive judgement not according to their deeds but according to the deeds and righteousness of Jesus Christ. What a terrible things to fall into the hands of an angry God and to stand condemned before Him.
“This, then, is our reward if we will confess Him by whom we have been saved. But in what way will we confess Him? We confess Him by doing what He says, not transgressing His commandments, and by honoring Him not only with our lips, but with all our heart and all our mind…Let us, then, not only call Him Lord, for that will not save us. For He says, ‘Not everyone who says to Me, Lord, Lord, will be saved, but he that works righteousness.’ For that reason, brethren, let us confess Him by our works, by loving one another.” Second Clement (c. 150), 7.518.
What Clement so eloquently said, is so true to God’s character. Though our salvation is not of anything we do, or don’t do, it is in fact manifested like a tree bears fruit. If an apple tree is alive and well, it will produce apples. But if it is dead, it only awaits to be chopped up for firewood. We could not possibly hope to attain salvation by good works. God judging our works based on salvation would mean our demise. But God judging us based off of justification of Jesus’ righteousness in us provides us not only with right standing with God but also the ability and the mandate to do good works out of that salvation.
Romans 2:7 NASB
to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and and immortality, eternal life;
It’s easy to get emotionally shipwreck into a works based salvation if you take a passage like this without the proper context in how it’s being used as well being consistent with all of Paul’s soteriology.
Examples of evidence that it is not by our works that we are saved:
Ephesians 2:8-10 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”
Paul explains that it is by God’s grace that we are saved. Manifested out of a regenerate heart and real faith comes good works out of a believers life. Paul says that we are God’s workmanship, created to do good works. Not to be saved by them, but to do them for the sake of the glory of Jesus Christ.
“With respect to obedience to and doctrine, we are not all the sons of God. Rather, it is only those who truly believe in Him and do His will. Now, those who do not believe and do not obey His will are sons and angels of the devil….Those who do not obey Him, being disinherited by Him, have ceased to be His sons.” Irenaeus (c. 180, E/W), 1.525.
The early church father Irenaeus, though harshly explained, gives a clear picture that it is the sons who have faith in Jesus that will be saved, and the sons of disobedience who have denied Jesus who will perish. This isn’t a “work my way to heaven” but a “trust in the work of Jesus to get to heaven”.
Belief in Jesus brings about good works, this is why Paul emphatically displays the one who is judged by God that has faith in Him will be judged with mercy, not because of his works but because of God’s grace.
In perseverance believers do the works of God for glory and honor to Him and in the belief that eternal life and salvation will be given to them. It is so important that we understand this doctrine of salvation. It is this lack of knowledge that I believe prevents so many people from understanding their true standing before God. As we have earlier seen, God judges the sinner severely under His wrath and judgement, but reserves His mercy and kindness for those who have true faith in Him.
The question may arise, how do I know if I’m saved? If good works are some of the signs of genuine regeneration and faith in Jesus then that needs to be some of the criteria. If you have not shown any good works as a result of your salvation then you need to examine whether you’ve truly placed your faith in Jesus. When eternal destiny is at stake, why gamble with your soul? Place your faith in Jesus Christ, repent of your sins, and commit your life to obeying Him. He is faithful to bring you from death to life, faithful to impart His Spirit into you, faithful to give you new desires to do good things, faithful to enable you to persevere to the end, to eternal life with Him.
Romans 2:8 NASB
but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.
The contrast of v7 and v8 are stark. They don’t represent ones path to salvation or damnation, rather the outcome of salvation (regenerate, with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit) vs the fruits of unbelief in Jesus Christ. Verse 8 does not represent believers. It represents those who have willingly rebelled against God in their unbelief and wickedness. They don’t obey Jesus, they don’t love Him, they don’t have the Holy Spirit living inside of them, they are still dead spiritually. This isn’t judgement, this is stating the truth as to where someone stands before God.
Paul shows this contrast to help his readers understand that God is just in delegating rewards and punishments for righteousness and unrighteousness. The key being that righteousness comes from Jesus, and out of that righteousness comes good works in obedience to Jesus. Unrighteousness is the state of mankind without the covering of the blood of Jesus. Unbelief results in wickedness, wickedness bears fruit to spiritual death and spiritual death brings about God’s wrath and judgement.
There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Again, we have the contrast of the wicked vs the good. Essentially, a reward system in the day of judgement in which the soul of the wicked endures calamity and distress. One cannot even imagine on that great terrible day of judgement, when all those who have done wicked things are exposed and judged for what they have done. This passage is dealing especially with God’s judgement after death as Paul mentions “every soul”. There wont be any do overs, no reset button to undo a life of rebellion towards God. As judgement is exercised upon the wicked, they will only be able to face they’re due penalty. No one will be able to say anything against the judgement of God. After it has happened, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The weeping will be those who so desperately want to be forgiven and be with God, they will weep because they regret not having faith in Jesus when they had the chance. They weep because they realize that it’s over, they’ve received their judgement and there is no second chance. There is no mercy, there is no hope, no hope for rest or peace from eternal tribulation. Those who gnash their teeth do so out of anger. They grind their teeth and seethe in consuming hatred towards God for banishing them from heaven and eternal peace. They hate God even more then they did on earth because now they are reaping what they have sown and they now reap eternal torment without the hope of escaping. They spend all eternity hating God for they hate Him for His holiness and mercy shown to the faithful and wrath towards the unfaithful.
It’s interesting that Paul says that this tribulation is for the Jew first, and also to the Greek (anyone that is not a Jew). The Jews historically and strongly believed in God’s justice and impartiality towards mankind. This judgement is reserved first for the Jew because the Jew is the chosen people of God, given the Law of Moses and the Prophets who laid down the foundation for the Messiah, and they rejected Him. They are condemned first because they have been given such a greater blessings over the rest of the world and yet so many of them rejected the very one they longed and waited for. This is also why the gospel was spread to the Jews first and then to the Gentiles. God in His mercy and love for the Jewish people wanted them to experience the first fruits of the Gospel and then the Gentile would experience it as well.
Romans 2:10 NASB
but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Glory – (doxa) – The honor resulting of a good opinion. This glory signifies a manifestation of the acts of God and how He reveals Himself. Essentially, this glory is bestowed upon those who obey Jesus and exhibit His characteristics and nature. This glory isn’t something someone can conjure up themselves, it is given by God through the Holy Spirit manifesting through the obedient believer.
Honor – (time) – A valuing, or price paid or received. This honor indicates the inestimable value of Christ and His work in our lives. as obedient believers we receive this honor that we neither deserve or can comprehend how valuable it is. To receive the gift of honor from God is one of the most precious gifts we can attain. This honor of receiving the gift of salvation and indwelling of the Holy Spirit cannot be comprehended. There is truly nothing more valuable then this.
Peace – (eirene) – Harmonious relationships between men and also nations. This peace is the peace that gives rest and quietness to the soul. In a chaotic and wicked world, how little peace do we find in our communities, churches and homes. One must find the peace of God by doing good. By obeying Jesus’ commandments and living in submission to the Father, you enjoy this peace. Not that life itself is easy, but that you have a supernatural rest in Jesus and His work. You find peace between other people and manifest the fruits of the Spirit and rest in God’s grace.
These three things that Paul says are for the taking for those who obey God by doing good things has nothing to do with salvation. We are not saved by our works, but we certainly reap wonderful benefits by obeying the commands that Scripture give us. How often do we sin and not manifest the great glory of God and feel guilt? How often do we overlook the wonderful gifts God has given us and the forget the great work He has done to secure us? How often do we sin and miss out on the peace that God gives to us by walking in the Spirit in obedience? These three things are available and ready to be experienced by God’s people if we would do good things. Again, I must reiterate, these “good things” don’t save you or justify you anymore then you already are before God. They are a means of pleasing God, not grieving the Holy Spirit, not being chastised and disciplined, experiencing a higher level of gifts and blessing from God and to ultimately stand before God on the day of judgement and have your deeds judged in your favor not against it.
Romans 2:11 NASB
For there is no partiality with God.
There is no favoritism with God. He does not show partiality to anyone in regards to our final judgement. It would be our mistake to read this passage and not understand that God indeed gives blessings, talents and status at His discretion and wisdom while we live here on earth. Someone may spend their entire life poor and oppressed in a third world country with no hope of cultural or personal advancement but just as they entered the world naked and with nothing, so they will leave it. Someone may spend their entire life with unearned or even earned favor and standing in society but just as the poor person, they came into this world naked and with nothing and so they will leave it. The only doctrine of God’s partiality that matters is the eternal perspective. The life lived on earth is a blink of an eye in comparison to our eternity. We have not yet even began to live. And God reserves His impartial judgement for all His creation and with equal standards. When we all stand before His throne on the day of judgement, we will be judged for being righteous or unrighteous. This is the standard with all impartiality. He doesn’t care about our background, gender, race or status. He judges all with complete justice and fairness according to His perfect standard. This is because when we all stand before Him, none will say He showed favoritism towards anyone in regards to our righteous justification that is needed to be spared of His wrath. We will either be covered by the blood of Jesus Christ or we will receive the due penalty of His wrath and eternal separation from Him and His kingdom.
“Believe that everyone will be judged individually in the future and that every man will receive the just compensation for his deeds—whether they are good or evil.” Gregory Thaumaturgus (c. 260, E), 6.17.
In Jewish customs, the justice of God was widely believed and strongly emphasized. All throughout the the Old Testament Scriptures are glimpses of God dealing justice to people who sinned and also favor to those who obeyed Him. But what Paul is teaching his readers is that God will not show favoritism to them simply because they are Jews. Their ancestry to Abraham and abiding by the Torah will not give them a leg up on the Gentiles at least in regards to salvation. They will be judged just as equally as the Gentiles by their faith or unbelief in Jesus.
Romans 2:12 NASB
For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law;
Paul has established the impartiality of God towards both Jew and the Gentile. He is systematic in his approach to helping his readers understand that all will be judged before God. In fact, those who have the Law are going to be judged even more harshly because their level of understanding and knowledge of God and His righteousness is greater then those who don’t have the Law.
First he says, “For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law”. This is addressing Gentiles who don’t have the Law of Moses to show them their error. But we also know from what Paul said earlier in 1:18-21 that they are without excuse. Even without the Law, they knew better, and they still sinned. Their accountability for their actions are not nearly as high as the Jews. This isn’t in contradiction to the earlier passage that God doesn’t show partiality but merely the fact that those with greater influence and understanding of God will be held to a higher accountability.
Second he says, “all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law”. The standard that the Jew will be judged by is greater then the Gentile because they knew the ordinances and commandments of God. In James 3:1 he emphasizes that teachers are held to a stricter judgement because of their knowledge and influence over others. So the Jews who have the Law are not only judged by the Law because they have sinned under the Law but because they have a higher accountability to God because of their covenant with God and submission to the Torah. If anything, a Jew reading this ought to take a deep breath and realize that they more then most people need to heed to the grace of God through Jesus Christ. They are more knowledgeable and they themselves have the Law held over their head.
As we read Paul’s breakdown of condemnation without the Law and while living under it, it might feel overwhelming, it might give a sense a powerlessness within ourselves. And this is very true. As we continue on in Paul’s letter, we will understand why its so important that we are weak and powerless in our position before God. It is though our weakness and understanding of our state before God that then enables us to receive God’s grace and justification for the great day of judgement.
Romans 2:13 NASB
for it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.
What is Paul doing here? Is he raising hopes for the Jew that he can follow the Law and be justified before God? Or is he being consistent with his theological argument that from the previous passage in that those who are under the Law will be judged by it. If a Jew sins and breaks the Law, they are a transgressor of the Law and guilty, short of being righteous before God. Paul continues a strong argument despite that in Jewish customs they believed that hearers of the Law and not doers were guilty before God. But Paul makes sure they understand that even by just one failing of the Law they are guilty of breaking the entire Law. What Paul is hinting at is that ALL of the Jews have been hearers and fallen short of the Law. If the Jews wished to remain consistent in their theology with God in being justified by the Law, they would not make it, they would be judged as having not fulfilled the Law in its entirety.
The reality is that if we were to be judged according to our deeds, we would be found to be so hopelessly short of the standards of God. As Paul will later address, the Law was simply a means to reflect the character of God and to show us our sin which in turn reveals our need for a savior. The Law is good, but none can live to its standards without fault. Thus the idea that its the doers of the Law who are justified earmarks anyone trying to live by the that standard as a failure. But this is good, this is place a person needs to be, recognizing that justification can only come from someone who was perfect in the Law, and fulfilled it. The Law is simply the shadow of the substance. Only one Man was able to fulfill the Law completely and not lack in any doing of it. That was Jesus Christ. In Ephesians 2:8-9 it says; “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
Paul is determined to have us understand that we CANNOT attain salvation or retain it by doing good works. The Jews sought justification from God by obeying the Law, but even they fell short of it. God so desired to offer salvation as a gift not by our obedience to the Law or by good works but by faith in Jesus Christ. He is the fulfillment of the Law, and though Him we are justified.
Romans 2:14 NASB
For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves,
The Law of God is in harmony with the nature of man. Despite sin and its corruption in the heart of mankind there is still the stamp of God’s image on every human being. In Genesis 1:27 we see that God has made man in His own image, this image though distorted by sin is not gone. We know this by nature. Even without the Mosaic Law, man knows instinctively there is right and wrong. Right and wrong are not culturally created nor simply philosophical in origin. From Scripture we know that they are imprinted in our spiritual DNA. Even before the Law was given to the Hebrew people, right and wrong were known by people on the earth. Cain knew what he did was wrong when he committed murder upon Abel. God warned him beforehand that sin was crouching at the door. Cain knew both instinctively and by what God had spoken to him that he was wrong. Yet, he chose to sin. Noah knew the righteousness of God and preached it (2 Peter 2:5).
Even without the actual Law of God, man knows the Law instinctively by his spiritual DNA being that from God and by physical nature itself. After the fall of Adam and Eve, God did not leave mankind without reason or morality. Man simply chooses to ignore that internal Law of God. Out of all the people on the earth, Noah was righteous and obeyed that internal Law that was stamped on his heart. Its sad to think that only he and his family were willing to submit to this righteous Law of God, but it is also very telling of the actual state of man. Though he has this Law, he is not unable, but highly unwilling to obey it. This unwillingness to obey it is the primary reason for most of the corruption and wickedness in the world. We blame so much on Satan and yet forget to look at ourselves as the ones who choose to disobey not only the internal Law God has given us but the actual Law written on stone tablets. This is not to discount the wicked work of Satan but t remember that we choose to sin against God despite having the moral code of God within us.
Paul’s reason for comparing the Law of Jews and the internal Law of Gentiles is to show that all mankind is without excuse before God. We all know what is right and wrong, even without an actual Law written out on tablets for us. This all ties back to Paul’s argument that none are unjustly judged by God, all are condemned for breaking the Law. It may seem unfair because of the propensity we have towards sin because of the broken nature Adam passed onto us and being in a wicked world, but this simply points us towards a Savior who was sinless and didn’t break the Law.
in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them,
The conscience is of extraordinary importance to understanding both guilt before God and also our means to be right with Him. Our conscience bears witness of our conduct and our ability to comprehend the will of God. It truly is God’s design for our internal moral government. Despite the sin of Adam and the curse brought to earth through that disobedience, all mankind still has a conscience that is the sail of the ship of the soul. Paul affirms that even the Gentiles had the ability to have comprehension of God’s moral standard even without the written Law, it was a Law imprinted on their hearts.
Let’s not mix the standard that Paul says in chapter 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We know, that no one without faith in Jesus Christ can have eternal life and salvation. Yet, we must also acknowledge that despite our sin, we still bear the image of God, the Law of God on our hearts and a conscience that tells us when we have violated this Law. This may be an answer to our question, “why are some people more open to the Gospel then others?” I believe it has to do with this passage in particular. Paul says that their conscience either accuses them because of their rebellion and wickedness. They numb their conscience and make it callous towards the truth and the internal Law of God written on their hearts. When people willfully choose to sin over and over they harden their heart towards God, so when the Gospel is presented to them they, like Pharaoh in Genesis, harden their hearts more towards Him. This is in a sense how depravity works in a nation. Take the United States for example, over the last four to five decades we have seen a steady decline in morality in general. Even though all people know the truth, over generations and years of time, they harden their hearts towards God. Thus they make it harder and harder to accept the Gospel because of their hard heartedness.
The second category of people are those who Paul says their thoughts defend them by witness of their conscience. Though not sinless, they choose to not surrender their lives to a life of debauchery and live according the Law written on their hearts from God. Once they hear the Gospel, it resonates with them because it is a fulfillment of what has been written on their heart.
The Greek word for conscience is “suneidesis” which means “a knowing with or to know”. Our conscience knows what is true and right. God has given this to us for multiple reasons.
We are made in His image and bear His character within us. Despite sin, we carry the Law written on our hearts.
It helps us be more responsive to the Gospel because we already know that we have violated the Law of God.
In the day of God’s judgement, we will stand guilty or innocent and have no excuse because our conscience will bear witness to our choices that we have made.
It is so valuable for us to understand and take full advantage of the conscience given to us by God. It is a tool for us to better follow the moral standard of God and it is a tool to share the truth of the Gospel to others. We can use the conscience as a means to help others understand why there is right and wrong. Why they feel guilty when they do something wrong and why they feel happy when they do something good. God has created His world with incredible purpose and design. He has not left us without tools to see and understand our need for Him. The better we use these tools the more effective we will be in reaching the lost.
Romans 2:16 NASB
on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.
Let’s break this down as Paul concludes this thought.
“on the day” – This day refers to the day of judgement that he has been speaking about in the previous passages. All of this unrighteousness and righteous living accumulates towards that final day where we all stand before God.
“according to my gospel” – This isn’t Paul insinuating that he is preaching a different gospel from the other Apostles but referring to the gospel he has laid out systematically throughout his letter. The gospel that Paul received from Jesus is the same that is in accordance with the judgement God is reserving for all of humanity.
“God will judge the secrets of men” – This daunting truth, should make every person, Jew or Gentile, collapse in reverence before God. The Jew is judged by the Law of Moses and is found to be short of fulfilling it. The Gentile has the Law written on their hearts and break those internal Laws both visibly and invisibly in their hearts. The deeds of the heart and the deeds done in the secret of darkness are utterly visible before the Almighty God. The heart, which is the most secret and confident place of a human, is revealed in its entirety all day and forever before the Creator of that heart. What we do outwardly that receives praise from man, but is done for selfish reasons is known by God. When no one sees the lust and anger of our hearts God sees it plain as if we had outwardly done it. And we will be judged for it. The greek word used for “secret” is “kruptos” which means “secret, hidden, a secret place”. Where we feel the most confident in our sin, and the least vulnerable, God has called us out to show us His Omnipotence. Because we are judged not just by our external actions but our internal heart, it shows us that in order to be right before God, we can’t just have a change of external actions but an internal regeneration.
“through Jesus Christ” – This judgement all happens through Jesus Christ. He is the propitiation, the Savior, the atonement, the lamb who was slain and paid the price for us to be in relationship with Him. 1 John 2:2 “and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.” Made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus we can be found guilt free and justified before God or in our unbelief and sin found wanting and judged rightfully so.
This passage is such a wonderful reminder that God is not amiss on the secret life we have internally. This warning protects us, as the Holy Spirit brings conviction towards our sin that we harbor in our hearts. It also leaves us with the knowledge that God cares deeply about the heart. The heart is the problem and that’s where God wants to do His work in us. Without a heart change there is no escape from harboring and practicing sin.
Romans 2:17 NASB
But if you bear the name “Jew” and rely upon the Law and boast in God,
This new thread of thought from Paul from vs17-29 is aimed at disarming the Jewish readers by stealthily building them up in their already religious attitude and hypocrisy. The Jews were meticulously observant of the Law (even man made, made up ones) but so much so as to not please God but to please themselves. The Pharisees cared more about the Sabbath being upheld completely then a man be healed from a lame hand from Jesus. This was the religious spirit that Jesus and His disciples were leading people away from.
When Paul says, “but if you bear the name ‘Jew’”, he is addressing their heritage and religious adherence of being God’s one and only people. This belief system though right, has caused the Jews to be boastful and prideful with their status with the Law and with God. Paul is going to dismantle their pride (and ours) and help them understand that just because they hold the title “Jew” does not provide them with right standing before God.
Their reliance upon the Law and their boasting in God was a means of justification before God. A false pretense that observance of the Mosaic Law and confession of God’s providence will keep you safe from His judgment is to be self deceived. Translated to our modern time could look like this: You attend church, you read your Bible, you do good things, you follow the commandments of Jesus, you believe that Jesus is the Son of God….yet you have not been reborn, you still have not died with Christ and risen to new life with Him. You do many good things and confess many good things and out of that you presume your right standing before God. But God judges by a different standard. This standard can only be met by the blood of Jesus and newness of life in Him. Paul must force his Jewish readers to understand that their Law abiding and boastful confession of God does not save them.
Romans 2:18 NASB
and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law,
Continuing in this thought, Paul affirms their adherence to the will of God and following the essential teachings of Jews. They are informed, well versed, established in God’s ordinances. Do you see the pattern here? Paul is inflating the ego of the Jew, addressing any qualms they might have of their self righteousness before God.
This is the danger we can also be in, a self righteous attitude that presumes we are justified before God because of x, y and z. It’s interesting, that the more prideful and self righteous the Jews were, the more easily they were offended at Jesus and the things He taught. It wasn’t the righteous ones that followed Jesus, it was the humble ones who knew they weren’t good enough to be justified before God.
Years ago, my mentor Dr. Steve Schell told me something that I will never forget. He said that as Christian’s the longer we follow God, typically we are less burdened by sins that manifest as ugly things such as sexual sin and drunkenness. What mature Christians often fall into is the sin of pride. Pride comes when you’ve overcome the sins that less mature Christian’s still struggle with. Pride comes when you know Scripture better then others. Pride comes when you know what your pastor is going to say before he even says it. And the once humble and contrite heart towards God often becomes callous and cold. If we are not careful, we take the gifts God has given us and turned them into a burden upon ourselves.
The warning he was giving me was that as we progress in our walk with the Lord, we must always keep a humble and servant like attitude lest we become like the Jews Paul is addressing and rebuff the righteousness of God over our own.
Romans 2:19 NASB
and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,
The Jew thought himself a light of the Law of God. Chosen by God to establish the Law in belief and practice, they found themselves boastful and prideful in their adherence to God’s ordinances. They believed themselves to be a light to the Gentile even though the Gentile had the Law written on his heart vs15. Its true, the Jew was given something special and insightful to the character of God and His plan to redeem the world. However, this unique position of the Jew was not intended to give him a sense of pride but of humility. The Law ought to bring a sense of reverence and conviction of sin, but instead produced the opposite in them. This isn’t in the fault of the Law, rather mans condition revealed by the Law. The Jew thought they were a guide to the Gentile who lived in darkness. But little did they know, that the Gentile had the Law written on their heart and a conscience that also revealed to them the knowledge of right and wrong.
Paul is again, proving to the Jews that they are prideful and dependent on the Law for their righteousness. Why does Paul so aggressively break down the systematic pride of the Jew? The answer is right here in this passage. They are so confident in their status before God, so confident as to their moral standing in the world, so confident in their righteousness, that Paul must help them understand that this is all worthless. Their righteousness is not enough to be justified before God. The Law was not intended to be a means of receiving justification, it was a means of bringing a chosen people to their knees in humility and recognition of their brokenness before God. The Law pointed to Jesus, the Jew would rather have the Law and be judged by it rather then have Jesus and be judged by the covering of His righteousness.
Romans 2:20 NASB
a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth,
Continuing his thought towards the pride of the Jew and his relationship with the Law, Paul digs deeper and paints a picture of them being the representation teachers and mentors towards the “foolish and immature”. This is how the Jews had seen themselves in contrast to the Gentiles. They were the elite, the chosen ones, the ones who had God on their side. This pride is their downfall, this pride is what caused so many of the Jews to reject Jesus as their righteousness. They were locked in with the Law and couldn’t see their own blindness to their sin, their unrighteous hearts and their self righteousness that repel the grace of God.
The Jews were the appearance and embodiment of the knowledge and truth of God! They were the representation of God as a nation. They had the Law, the prophets, signs and wonders, and Jesus Christ who walked among them and healed them. They above all people should see the truth and life Jesus had presented them with, but they rejected it. For all the good the Law provided the Jew, the Law also placed the Jew in a level of accountability far above anyone else. God’s expectations for them were higher because they had more revealed to them and entrusted to them. With more knowledge, with more spiritual authority, with a defined covenant with God comes an accountability that exceeds those who are without. Paul is making it abundantly clear to his readers that they have a heavy weight hung on their neck, are they able to bear it? Are they going to be able to stand before God and give an answer as to whether or not they bear righteousness that satisfies God’s stipulations?
Romans 2:21 NASB
you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal?
Here comes the gut punch! The Apostle Paul says to them, “you, therefore” this is now bringing his argument of the Jew who held the oracles of the Lord back to face them head on. In all that they have been given, he now says you who have taught and preached all these laws of God and His ordinances do you now break them yourself? This is a gut punch because up till now, the listener is being puffed up by Paul’s admonition of their instruction of the Law, their being a guide to the blind, a corrector of the foolish, being the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, teachers and preachers of the Law….and they have been found guilty of breaching the covenant with God. Paul says, “You who preach that one shall not steal, do you steal?” Paul is showing them that out of their pride and reliance of righteousness of the Law, they have been found to be guilty of the very things they have preached against!
Paul’s heritage and up bringing is orthodox Judaism. He was a Pharisee of Pharisee’s and a rising star of the teachers of the Law. Who is more qualified to speak to the listeners of this letter then the one who WAS the chief of hypocrites? Paul admits as much in 1 Timothy 1:15 “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all.” Paul understands the conflicting emotions and rationalization a Jew might have towards Paul’s argument. He was more zealous and adhering of the Law then any of his readers and because of that he acknowledges sincerely how grievous his sins were against God and His Law. It is our pride that prevents us from seeing just how ugly and sinister our hearts our. We preach truth and righteousness and in secret defile our hearts thinking we are holy and adhering to God’s commands. It is out of this pride that the Jews suffered from that Paul so strongly speaks. His love for them and their condition before God was eternally damming if they weren’t in a place of humility, repentance and faith in the work of Jesus and His righteousness.
It isn’t by chance that Paul addresses theft in this passage. This passage and its specific reference to theft is tying into Jesus’ words in Matthew 23:1-3, 14
“Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.”
“[Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive greater condemnation.]”
Jesus addressed this hypocrisy extensively and they killed him for it. Paul is addressing it following in the footsteps of his Master knowing all too well that he was in their shoes not too long ago. In fact some of the Pharisees would even steal estates from wealthy widows through their power as jurists in the courts. They shoved the Law down there throats of everyone around them and condemned them if they didn’t toe the line, and yet they themselves fell short of the very things they burdened upon others. Paul is done with this pride, he is done with the hypocrisy and his listeners must adhere to the teachings of Jesus or suffer the same fate as the Pharisees who killed the very Messiah they preached they were waiting for.
You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?
There is no doubt that Paul is speaking to his readers in a deeper way just as Jesus had. In Matthew 5:28 Jesus says, “but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus started something revolutionary by getting to the heart issues of man. What the Prophets spoke about in the Old Testament regarding the wickedness of man comes to a whole new light as Jesus and now Paul is reiterating that even lust in the heart is adultery. The Jews were against adultery as it is the 7th commandment that God gave to the Hebrew people at Mt. Sinai. However, as we have seen in Israel’s history, they repetitively violate God’s Law in the physical form, now Jesus forces them to face their violation of God’s Law at a deeper level that is in the secret place of the heart. Someone can look righteous because they don’t sleep with someone that isn’t their spouse but are they really righteous if they look on and desire with lustful appetites someone that isn’t their spouse? Paul is tearing down the self righteousness of man one brick at a time. He is determined to show his readers that God looks way beyond just the actions but also deep into our hearts.
It’s interesting that Paul mentions the robbing of temples. Historically and lawfully Jews were to abstain from worshipping idols and any other god then the One true God. But even from that perspective we have the story of the golden calf in Exodus 32 where the people became restless for Moses’ return and they with the help of Aaron created an idol for them to worship. Even after they had just been delivered from bondage and slavery from Egypt they turn their back on God and worship a false idol. This story helps us better understand the condition man is in. Man, even though know he knows he shouldn’t worship false gods does so anyways because of the pride, lack of self control and lack of reverence for the One true God.
Why does Paul reference the robbing of temples? There is evidence that there was an accident that beckoned Paul’s reference to the robbing of temples, the reference given is from evidenceunseen.com
Grant Osborne, Douglas Moo, and John Stott argue that Paul is referring to robbing Pagan temples. After all, look at the grammar: “You who abhor idols.” How can Paul have the Jewish Temple in mind, when the parallel is hating idolatry?
While the practice of robbing pagan temples was “relatively infrequent” in history, it is not without historical precedent. Josephus records an incident in AD 19 in Rome, where four Jewish men convinced a Gentile convert (Fulvia) to make a sizable donation to the Jewish Temple. However, the men “they employed [the money] for their own uses, and spent the money themselves” (Antiquities, 18.82). Tiberius (Fulvia’s husband) had 4,000 Jews expelled from Rome because of this. Josephus writes, “Thus were these Jews banished out of the city by the wickedness of four men” (Antiquities, 18.84). Josephus also writes, “Let no one blaspheme those gods which other cities esteem such; nor may anyone steal what belongs to strange temples; nor take away the gifts that are dedicated to any god” (Antiquities, 4.207). This implies that the Jewish people were doing this, or perhaps, were tempted to do this. This would make sense of Paul’s indictment that “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (v.24).
You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? ‘THE NAME OF GOD IS BLASPHEMED AMONG THE GENTILES BECAUSE OF YOU,’ just as it is written.”
What worse testament to the world that you serve the One true God then to break the very laws God had given you? This is Paul’s rejection of his readers claim to godliness in connection to the Law. Through the centuries of Israel’s going back and forth between obeying God and breaking His commandments helps us to better understand why Paul is referencing Ezekiel 36:20-21 “When they came to the nations where they went, they profaned My holy name, because it was said of them, ‘These are the people of the LORD; yet they have come out of His land.’ “But I had concern for My holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations where they went.” The Jew’s boasted in their adherence to the Law, boasted in their reverence to God, boasted in their being the chosen ones and yet they are disciplined and chastised by God for profaning His Holy name by breaking those Laws and their covenant with Him. What mockery they make of the Creator by losing their blessings because of their rebellion. God’s name is smeared in the dirt and looked upon as a synthetic god just as the Gentile gods. God takes so serious the issue of His name being blasphemed. It’s disgusting, it’s undignified and it incurs His righteous anger.
The word blasphemed in the Greek is “blasphemeo” which is related to the railing at that Jesus incurred while on the cross. It’s to speak evil of and to revile against. So, because of the great breach of the Jew’s loyalty to God, God’s name is severely blasphemed among the Gentile nations. This is heavy blow to Paul’s readers as they most likely felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit reveal to them their sin against God.
For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.
Paul takes us back to the second most important image of Jewish identity with God, (the first being the Law) and that is circumcision. It might seem odd to a 21st century Christian to grasp how important this symbol was to the Jewish people. It all began with Abraham as a sign of his covenant with God Gen. 17:1-27. This sign was so important to the Jews that “tradition taught a picture of Abraham sitting at the gate of Gehenna to insure that no circumcised person be allowed to enter perdition (Gen R xlviii).” Everett Harrison Expositor’s
We see a three aspects of how circumcision has played out in the Israel story and into faith in Jesus as Paul is giving push back onto his readers:
He accuses his reader of being circumcised but violating his covenant with God by breaking the Law. The sign of circumcision was a Jew’s oath to follow and obey the Law. They have broken the Law thus rendering their circumcision nullified and worthless just as their ancestors broke the Law and were charged by God through the Prophets.
God had desired that Israel would not only be physically circumcised but also circumcised in the heart, Deut. 10:16 “Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more.” God desired more then just outward obedience but an inward faithfulness that was deep to the heart.
And finally, God promised to one day, circumcise His people’s heart. Deut. 20:6 “Moreover 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, in order that you may live.” This is all pointing to the day of Pentecost. By the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God’s people can finally be circumcised in the heart and love Him in the respect and fashion that He deserves and desires.
Inevitably, Israel violated their covenant with God and made their circumcision uncircumcision. It is by our transgression that we separate ourselves from God, and it is by His work on the cross that enables true heart circumcision for His people.
So if the uncircumcised man keeps the the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
Paul now reverts back to the Gentile believer who now walks in accordance to the Spirit. He’s telling the Jewish reader that even the Gentile has the ability to meet the requirements of the Law even though he is not circumcised Matthew 22:37-40 “And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment. “The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ “On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.”” Even the Gentile could live up the basic standard of God’s Law while living in the Spirit. This is one aspect of Paul’s mission to break down the barrier of Jew and Gentiles. Even after Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, there is still this tension between Jews who believe in Jesus and Gentiles who are graphed into the family of God. One of the main contentions the Jewish believers had was that the Gentiles were not abiding by the Mosaic and Levitical Laws. They weren’t observing the feasts and even pushed back on the idea of being circumcised (Acts 15). But the consensus from the Apostles and the elders was that Gentile believers did not need to adhere to circumcision or following the Law like the Jews did. The Gentiles were fulfilling the Law by living in the Spirit and adhering to the commandments of Jesus. This new concept was frustrating for the Jewish believers to accept but this was God’s plan. The Law was a signpost to point our sin, Jesus fulfills the Law and breaths out a new covenant that includes people from all walks of life and all nations of the world. What use is circumcision when you are already fulfilling the obligations Jesus has set before you? It’s pointless and Paul needed his Jewish readers to understand that it isn’t through circumcision that we are in covenant with God but through circumcision of the heart. It’s not that circumcision wasn’t important. God made it very clear to Abraham that it was! In one story of Moses, God was about to kill Moses because he hadn’t circumcised his son yet. Zipporah (Moses’ wife) rebuked Moses and circumcised their son to prevent the wrath of God coming upon them. It’s a scary passage and almost feels out of place especially since Moses was God’s chosen vessel to deliver the Hebrew people out of Egypt. However, it should signify just how important circumcision is to God. So much so, that He was willing to cut Moses out of His great plan. Circumcision is very important to God, but circumcision of the flesh is no longer the sign of the covenant between God and His people, it is circumcision of the heart. Without being circumcised of the heart your circumcision of the flesh is meaningless and you will be cut off from God.
and he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?
This passage can seem confusing but it is Paul continuing his thought pattern on hypocrisy from the Jews. Let’s break down this passage in order to make sense of Paul’s wording and phrasing:
“he who is physically uncircumcised” – this is referring to the Gentile who is not circumcised or bound by the Mosaic Law
“if he keeps the Law” – this is not referring to the actual written Law of Moses but the Law written on the heart as referenced in v14-15
“will he not judge you” – this is a rhetorical question as Paul knows the answer. He is inferring that Gentiles who keep the Law written on the heart will judge the Jew’s
“though having the letter of the Law and circumcision” – meaning Jews who have who have both the actual written Law given by Moses in the Torah and the sign of the covenant given to Abraham initiating God’s plan to set His people apart for Himself.
“are a transgressor of the Law?” – this question all relates to this simpl phrase of transgressing the Law. The Jew has essentially become an embarrassment in their failure to uphold the Law even though they are the most blessed and knowledgeable people of the One true God.
This passage underlines Paul’s message to the Jew that they have been the most blessed people (receiving the Law, God dwelling in the tabernacle and temple, miracles signs and wonders and the sign of their covenant with God which is circumcision). They have all these wonderful things and the expectation from God that they should be faithful to Him and unfortunately they fail.
For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But He is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter, and his praise is not from men, but from God.
It’s interesting that Paul tells his readers that a Jew is not one who simply practices the Jewish traditions and looks like a “Jew”. God is after something deeper and more meaningful. It’s not to say that circumcision and the Law weren’t beneficial, but they weren’t the end goal as intended by God. They however did become more of a boastful image that the Jew’s portrayed to the world and the real work that God intended went deeper then just the cutting of the flesh and adherence to a moral standard. God desires genuine people that are marked by their faith and obedience to Him by the circumcision of their heart.
The circumcision of the heart. What does that mean? Circumcision by the Spirit. This all relates to the new birth that Jesus talked about in John 3:5-8
“Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. 6Flesh is born of flesh, but spirit is born of the Spirit. 7Do not be amazed that I said, ‘You must be born again.’ 8The wind blows where it wishes. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.””
Paul is continuing the teaching of Jesus in that this is an inward work that must happen in the hearts of people in order to be justified before God and able to live the Spirit filled, Spirit led life that God intends for His people.
This new circumcision is what God has been planning since the fall in the Garden of Eden. The process of reconciliation between God and man, the process of restoration of what was broken will be completely made whole again.
How does the Spirit circumcise our heart? Such a powerful statement given to the Jews must have been astonishing for them to hear. It is a new birth, it is a regeneration, it is the power of God to bring something dead to life and set them apart as His own. But this time, the badge of allegiance isn’t a physical one, it’s a spiritual one that changes the person. In fact, what was the original purpose of circumcision given to Abram? Circumcision was given to him and his descendants as a sign of their covenant with God! This is the marriage, the union, the promise of life in God! Now, Paul is saying the the Spirit is doing a new circumcision that goes to the heart for a new covenant that is a covenant of restoration between us and our God.
This is all a very personal and spiritual thing that is happening to someone who is circumcised of the heart by the Spirit of God. It’s done not to please mankind or for personal gain or for praise from the world. It’s a covenant that happens between a person and God and it’s done for His good pleasure and purposes in which we graciously receive praise from God Himself. He is so pleased and delighted that His creation is being restored to Him that He praises His own work that He has done in us. What could please God more then to see His glory and handiwork accomplishing His great mission towards us by giving us new life in His Spirit.