10/05/15 Romans 2:17-29 “Spiritual Jews rather than fleshly Jews”


We have looked at the proclamation of the main theme, the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then looked at those who have disdained God’s truth and opposed His law for the sake of opposing it, consequently being rejected by God. Last week we looked at those who thought, that as God’s people, they were more privileged than those Gentile sinners. As true hypocrites, they condemned such sins in others that they excused in themselves. They were, after all, the Jews, God’s people! But their judgement was inexcusable.

Romans 2:1Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things.

When the Gentiles sinned, they were guilty, yet when the Jews committed the same sins, they retained the privileges of being God’s people!


Today we get to how the law is really applied, to the spiritual man and spiritual obedience. Instead of being a good Jew outwardly, it is required that he be a good Jew inwardly. As such, the Christian is being labelled here as a spiritual Jew, and Paul compares Christians with being the spiritual sons of Abraham in the following passage.

Galatians 3:1-91O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? 4Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if [it be] yet in vain. 5He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, [doeth he it] by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 6Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. 7Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. 8And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, [saying], In thee shall all nations be blessed. 9So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham.


Romans 2:17-2017Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God, 18And knowest [his] will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; 19And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, 20An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.


Here is where Paul openly states that he has been talking about the Jews in the first 16 verses of this chapter. They are proud of being Jews, proud that they have “The Law”, proud that they are God’s special people, proud that they know what God has called them to be – His special people. They are confident in their ability to approve what is good (and thus rejecting that which is not good) because they have a special knowledge of The Law of Moses (they sit in the seat of Moses)…

Matthew 23:1-25Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, 2Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat:


Paul says that the Jews are these proud people (Vs 17 – “thou art called a Jew”). Not only have they confidence in their understanding of God’s law, they claim to be instructors in the law, and, according to Jesus, they have even made up their own version of the law!

Matthew 15:9And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.


And they forced the people of Israel to follow their law or be condemned by God. (Yes, they not only believed that their law was the true law, but that they were also judge, jury and executioner!) They were confident in their knowledge of the law (their law!), able to lead the blind, and in this case the spiritually blind are indicated.

Matthew 15:14Let them (the pharisees) alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch.


The Jews, especially the pharisees, considered themselves people of the light, shining lights as beacons to those Gentiles living in darkness around them. Note that God’s people are indeed to be lights shining in the darkness.

Matthew 5:14-1614Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. 15Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. 16Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.


Note the prophecy of Zachariah (father of John the Baptist) concerning the coming of Jesus.

Luke 1:79To give light to them that sit in darkness and [in] the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.


Jesus said that those who were without God’s light were considered to be living in darkness, because it provided cover for their evil.

John 3:19And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.


And the whole world lies in wickedness (1 John 5:19) under satan who maintains blindness over those who are his in order to keep them in the darkness.

2 Corinthians 4:3-43But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: 4In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.


Our passage today in Romans talks about the Jew in general, but in particular it describes those who are using the law of man (teaching it as the commandments of men – Matthew 15:9) to gain and maintain their position in their society. Not all Jews of Paul’s day were such, but the pattern was clearly seen when Jesus was crucified. The pharisees cried out for His crucifixion, and the people cried out with them likewise. The pharisee considered himself to be ultra-wise, noting what Paul said about this.

Philippians 3:4-74Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: 5Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, [of] the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; 6Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. 7But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.


an instructor of the foolish etc – Paul, as a pharisee, once considered himself blameless, perfect according to the law of the pharisee. They were the most educated of Jews, the most learned. To become fully wise, you had to sit at the feet of a pharisee. Note that Paul sat at the feet of one of the most wise, Gamaliel.

Acts 22:3I am verily a man [which am] a Jew, born in Tarsus, [a city] in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, [and] taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.


The pharisee considered himself to be the teacher (rabbi) and those whom he taught were the foolish who hoped to be wise one day. They were the instructors of the foolish, and the teachers of babes (= childish, untaught, unskilled).

hast the form of knowledge – They pretended to be such wise people, knowing so much, and understanding so much truth in the law. In particular, this is the way they liked people to think of them!

Matthew 23:6-76And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.


truth in the law – When Jesus came up against the ‘truth’ of the pharisees, He had one word for it – lies!

John 8:44-4544Ye are of [your] father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it. 45And because I tell [you] the truth, ye believe me not.


Today the Jewish people (not only the counterfeit Ashkenazi Jew but even many of those who are actually genuine Jews) are largely bound by the Kabbalah, esoteric writings (connected to the Babylonian Talmud) that make the Jews to be more than God Himself, making themselves to be the rulers and the law of the world, much like the pharisees, only many times worse and heretical. These writings came from Babylon and corrupted the teachings of those returning from the exile in Babylon. This law of theirs places them (in their minds, that is) over all the other nations of the world, naming all non-Jews as goyim (cattle) under the control of their rulers, the Jews. The law is therefore applied to the goyim (non-Jew, Gentiles), not the Jews who are exempt because they alone are God’s people! The Jews thought that as God’s people they alone had the “light” to lead all other nations! Talk about the blind leading the blind!


Romans 2:21-2221Thou therefore which teachest another, teachest thou not thyself? thou that preachest a man should not steal, dost thou steal? 22Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, dost thou commit adultery? thou that abhorrest idols, dost thou commit sacrilege?


Again the Jews are being called hypocrites. They tell others what to do, but do they do it themselves? Do they practise what they preach? It appears that Paul is somewhat cynical in his statements about them here. It is likely that he is really saying that they do teach what should be done or not done, yet disobey it themselves, like Jesus’ condemnation of the pharisees in the following passage.

Matthew 23:3All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, [that] observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

They don’t practise what they preach! They are hypocrites!


Romans 2:23Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonourest thou God?


You boast that the law is everything, that you are people of the law, but are you above the law yourselves? Do you think that the law is only for common people and the Gentiles? Do you think you have special privileges that allow you to break the same law you preach to others?

Clearly the Jew (especially the pharisee) put on a show of holding the law in high esteem. However, as God’s people, they also clearly felt that they could manipulate the law to serve themselves; they were God’s special people (by covenant) after all! Note Asaph’s Psalm 73.


Romans 2:24For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.


This could refer to Isaiah 52:5-65Now therefore, what have I here, saith the Lord, that my people is taken away for nought? they that rule over them make them to howl, saith the Lord; and my name continually every day [is] blasphemed. 6Therefore my people shall know my name: therefore [they shall know] in that day that I [am] he that doth speak: behold, [it is] I.


How you treat someone is a measure of how important that person is to you. If God is so important, then they would treat Him better, obey Him better. Instead they act as though He isn’t worth listening to, that their opinion of what God thinks is more important than what God actually does think. This lack of respect (the Bible would call it lack of the fear of the Lord) shows up in how they revealed their God to the people around them. Thus, to make little of obeying God properly, to lack respect for God’s sovereignty, is to blaspheme His name. If you despise your God, then your religion will also be despised. What we think about God will be shown by how much priority we give to obeying His will. As it is said, that which is most important in your life is your god! Psalm 111:10aThe fear of the Lord [is] the beginning of wisdom


Romans 2:25-2625For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. 26Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?


Paul is actually saying that circumcision was useless as a sign if you didn’t keep the law as per the covenant. It’s a bit like baptism. Baptism on its own is useless too; it’s only an outward sign of what should have already taken place inside the person. Baptism without salvation is a sign that points nowhere. Likewise circumcision was a sign that pointed nowhere if they (the Jews trusting in the circumcision) didn’t obey the law.

1 Corinthians 7:19Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God (is what matters).

Galatians 5:6For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

Galatians 6:15For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.


Here Paul connects circumcision to baptism; without faith in Christ it is nothing.

Colossians 2:11-1411In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: 12Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with [him] through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. 13And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; 14Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;


God made a covenant with Abraham, setting Abraham apart from the rest of the nations, in order to become the start of the nation of God, Israel. The sign of this covenant was the circumcision.

Genesis 17:11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.


This meant that there was indeed a special advantage in being named a Jew, a special people of God who would accept them as His people and He would become their God. There were privileges attached to this, and the outward sign was that they were to be a circumcised people. However, merely being circumcised and disobeying the law was of no benefit at all. Just because someone got circumcised didn’t guarantee a special position with God. It was always an outward sign of inward trust in God’s law by His covenant with Abraham. That they had the law was little use to them, as useful as circumcision on its own, in fact, unless it was put into action!


James puts it better.

James 1:22-2522But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth [therein], he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.


It was the act of obedience to the law, not circumcision, that made them Jews. It is the act of obedience that Paul is talking about here. The circumcision represented their covenant with God to obey His law. Without that obedience, their circumcision was useless. If they broke the law, they might as well have been uncircumcised!

Then, in Vs 26 above, Paul says that if an uncircumcised person obeys the law, his uncircumcision will be considered as circumcision. In other words, physical circumcision as per the covenant with Abraham was not the issue, Rather, it applied instead to the purpose for which the circumcision was originally applied – as an outward sign of their inward acceptance of the law of God.


God requires your obedience, and those who deliver this obedience are the ones who belong to God’s covenant. It was better to be an uncircumcised yet obedient Gentile than to be a circumcised Jew who disobeyed the law of God!


Romans 2:27And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?


Paul teaches that the physically uncircumcised (Gentile) who obeys the law, will be better suited to judge the circumcised (Jew) who does not obey the law. In particular, if those of the circumcision (the Jews) didn’t obey the law, after having all the advantages of knowing the written law, every jot and tittle, they would be judged by the Gentiles who obeyed the law. In practical terms, it appears that the law-abiding Gentile would be an example of holiness to the law-breaking Jew. In other words, it was better to be a law-abiding Gentile than a law-breaking Jew! This has some application in the Gentile Church being wild olive branches grafted onto the natural olive stock after the natural branches (the Jews) were pruned off (see Romans 11:15-25).


Romans 2:28-2928For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither [is that] circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29But he [is] a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision [is that] of the heart, in the spirit, [and] not in the letter; whose praise [is] not of men, but of God.


Paul is saying that even if you were circumcised, you couldn’t be a real Jew if it were only physical. To be born a Jew may have been an advantage, but unless that Jew obeyed the covenant, fulfilling the law which God had revealed to them, then God would reject that person from being a Jew (or one of His people). (Remember Jesus came to fulfil the law, not to destroy it.) It was the inward change in a person’s life that made that person a real Jew, even if that person were born a Gentile! Paul emphasises the spiritual circumcision over the physical. Those merely physically circumcised sought the approval of men, while those who were spiritually circumcised sought the approval of God.


As we saw at the beginning, the true son of Abraham was the one who was spiritually renewed through faith in God and His gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ.

Galatians 3:7Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham.

The Christian, therefore, is a spiritual Jew, a spiritual child of Abraham, far better than just a physical descendant of Abraham without obedience to the covenant.

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