A short thought on Romans 2:17-3:8
To back track through the book of Romans up to this point to give us context you will find Paul telling the Church in Rome that the Jews have failed and so have the Gentiles. But the Jews who cling to their Old Covenant Law are Pauls target in this passage. What do I mean by that, well the Old covenant Law, the Law given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai? In this passage we find out how the Old testament Jews and those that crucified Jesus on the cross failed as well at living up to what God wanted, and what that means for the Jewish Christians Paul was writing too and as with all scripture what it means to us here in 2014. When I first looked at this passage I opened up my Bible to find it’s all about circumcision and Jewish law… Great I thought how on earth am I going to relate this to us here now, well actually it doesn’t take long to peel back the layers to find actually this is dripping in relevance to us.
So I have three Points for us to look at from this passage, the first of my three points is that the way to salvation has changed.
We find in the first few verses of tonight’s passage, Paul making a point explicitly just to the Jews, He is basically saying to them “you live by the Laws which you, even though you are teachers, cannot abide by.
If you were to think of the High jump at the Olympics where they have to jump over the bar and land on the big crash mat. Well imagine that bar is the old covenant law, but the bar is set higher than can be achieved by anyone because though people try, they will never be good enough. People will always fail somewhere, it’s part of our sinful nature. So if you were to imagine that’s what Paul is saying to them, “look the bar is far to high.”
But yet they Boast in the law look at verse 23 (You who boast in the law dishonour God by breaking the law. ESV) they say look at us we Keep the Law we are much better than any of you lot. But actually because they fail at keeping the law, look what Paul says happens Verse 24 (For as it is written “The name of God is being blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” ESV). See not only were they breaking the law yet still claiming they were better, they also were causing other nations to think less of God to even go as far as Blaspheme, how did they do that, well by not fearing God, by worshiping Idols. So why is all this such a big deal, well, its actually quite serious, because for Jews, keeping the Law was their guarantee of Salvation, But see we now know through the Good News of Jesus resurrected that the only way to salvation is through Jesus, as Jesus says in Johns gospel “I am the way, the truth and the life no one comes to the Father except by me.” Thankfully through Gods grace, he sent his son to die for our sins. Knowing that we will fail, he sent the ultimate sacrifice, the law was never there as an act of Salvation it was there to show the people of Israel that they needed a Saviour. Let me just repeat that, the law was never there as an act of Salvation it was there to show the people of Israel that they needed a saviour. See my point here in the first few verses is that the way to Salvation has changed, its now only through Jesus, not through the faithful obedience and fruitless attempts to keep God’s law. Now, does this mean because the Jews showed us it is impossible to keep the law for thirty seconds we should ignore laws like thou shalt not Murder, actually no it should encourage us more to try to keep the commands of Jesus, and when we fail – as we will – then to rest in trust in Jesus’ forgiving power.
So, the way of Salvation has changed, now secondly the sign of Salvation has Changed.
As the passage develops Paul brings up the issue of circumcision and can I say for all the men reading this, Amen to Paul’s decision. There is no doubting if you flick through the letters in the New testament to the new churches, the Big issue was circumcision, like today the big issue is women in leadership or Homosexuality. So, the issue is, should all Christians become Jews first? Well lets see what verse 25 says firstly (For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law y, your circumcision becomes Un-circumcision. ESV)
What Paul is saying here, is that if you break the law and are circumcised you have basically nullified the fact you are circumcised. This is because the act of circumcision is a sign of Obedience to God that you will follow his Law as a member of his People. But then look at verse 26 (So, if a man who is un-circumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his un-circumcision be regarded as circumcision. ESV ) so actually the whole circumcision thing is more a sign of your obedience. So how on earth are we to relate circumcision to us? Well, we now have a new different sign of our salvation and covenant with God, Baptism. We have the gift of Baptism, which you can choose to accept as a sign of you being part of Gods family and respond with faith, or you can choose to ignore Baptism by disobeying Gods command, If you did this it would be like your Un baptised.. So therefore what does this mean about Baptism, what does it stand for, why be baptised at all.
Well lets look at verse 28-29 (For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 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. ESV) this tells us therefore that like circumcision, baptism is an outward sign of an inward change. You have baptism to show others “look I am different! I have been saved!” it is not just a sign to others like circumcision was for the Jews that you are different, But a sign to God that you respond to your faith by obedience in being Baptised BUT, and I want to make this point. if you’ve been physically baptised with water, but aren’t trusting in the cross and resurrection then you’re not saved, baptism is only a signpost to our salvation not the actual thing that saves us.
When a family go for a picnic they drive their car to a beauty spot, park their car in the car park, get their picnic out then they wander over to the sign that says Picnic area this way. It would be weird if they set their picnic rug up under the signpost and have their picnic in the car park. No, the sign only points to the place where they’ll enjoy the view and their picnic. It’s the same if, in the Christian life, we stop at the signpost of baptism instead of the real deal of a relationship with our Lord and Saviour.
And if that’s you, if you have stopped at the signpost, and want that real deal of a relationship with our Lord and saviour then we have people here tonight who will gladly talk to you about that, Anyway back into the text look at verse 29 again (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. ESV )
Paul tells us here, that circumcision – exactly like Baptism – is a Spirit thing, its like it says at the beginning of Ephesians, you have been sealed by the Spirit its like a big stamp that you find at the post office, which stamps on the item where you are going and who to, and if you believe in the Lord Jesus can i just say your stamp says Heaven. Praise God for that.
So, The way of Salvation has changed, now secondly
The sign of Salvation has Changed
All this sounds like change change change. For this reason there will be some liberals that will stand there and say that the God of the old testament is a different God, that God was having a bit of rough time and decided to relax and be nicer, be more loving when he sent Jesus. Well Paul tells us in the first part of Chapter 3 that is all wrong, the God of the New testament, OUR GOD is still the same God who Created the universe, the God who cast Adam and Eve out of Eden, the same God who sent the Plagues on Egypt the same God who forgave David his sin
s, the same God who said he would send a saviour, the very God who sent his Son to die for us on the cross, the very God who opened up a covenant of Grace with all on Earth who accept Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. Look at verse 1-3 of chapter 3 (Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? ESV ) So what Paul is saying here is that, actually, to have been considered a Jew was a blessing. You were considered Gods people, you were entrusted with the promised land, and what if some Jews were unfaithful, God is so much more faithful than our minds can comprehend!!
Paul then turns the discussion towards those that say “sin” if it makes God look more righteous! Look at Verse 8 (READ) Paul says that’s silly. He tells the readers that they will be judged for that! God does not look just and righteous because of that! God looks Just and righteous because he has sent a Judge in Jesus to give people the chance to repent, so you either repent, or you face the consequences. If a murderer was to be set free and another a man was charged people would be screaming injustice, and the same thing goes for Gods judgment. There is a line, you are innocent or guilty, of course as we have already seen there is no way on our own laurels we could ever be innocent, but by trusting in Jesus, that title of innocent is ours, but by rejecting Jesus by choosing to go your own way, well let’s just say “I’d turn round if I were you.”
To wrap up then:
Well there has been a lot in the passage. But hopefully what we can take from this is that the way to salvation has changed, it is now through Faith in Jesus Christ as your Saviour.
Secondly that the sign of our salvation of our covenant has changed we no longer have circumcision, we have baptism as an outward sign of an inward change. And finally that throughout the whole of time, we have had the same one true God, who is righteous, just and faithful and true at all times. So let’s pray that we don’t rest on our laurels, that we trust in Jesus and praise God that in him we have a just and faithful God.