Statement of Faith
The Four Most Important Things We Could Ever Tell
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Wednesday PM Home Bible Study
June 11, 2003
In this larger section of Paul's letter to the Romans (1:18-3:20), he
is outlining a crucial aspect of his gospel. It is that aspect in which
he presents each man and woman with their helpless guilt before a holy
God, and persuades them to confess their need for the great theme of his
letter - "justification by faith". So far, he has spoken of the horrible
sins of the God-rejecting pagan (1:18-32). But as the unbelieving Gentile
moralist listens on - shaking his head and 'tsk-tsking' at the sins of
others - Paul pulls a fast one on him and shows that as the moralist condemns
others, he also condemns himself. He who condemns does the same things
Meanwhile, in Paul's argument, the Jewish man looks on and thinks how
grateful he is that he is outside the loop in all this. He thinks that,
because he is distinct from the Gentile world, he is also distinct from
their hopeless condition in sin. But that's when Paul catches the Jew
unawares in our passage this evening (2:17-29), and shows that he too
stands condemned before God. By the time Paul is through, no one is left
innocent; and all are forced to recognize their desperate need for a Savior.
As you hopefully can see, there's no 'anti-Semitism' in any of this.
Far from it, in fact. Paul - himself a Jew - clearly recognizes the great
advantage that the Jew has (3:1-2; 9:3-5; see also Deut. 4:5-8). But even
for those to whom there could be no greater external advantage of religion,
there is still the same absolute essential need - the need that is true
of all of fallen humanity - "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one
is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3). Paul's words
regarding the Jew in this evening's passage have application to everyone
who trusts in the externals of religion without being inwardly transformed
by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
We see, first, that ...
I. BEING 'RELIGIOUS' ON THE 'OUTSIDE' ALONE ONLY BRINGS CONDEMNATION
A. We can have all the 'outside' (external) features of religion and
boast in them (vv. 17-20). This was certainly true of the one who:
1. Was called a "Jew" (that is, identified with God's chosen people
- the name Jew being taken from Judah, the tribe of the sons of Jacob
through whom the Messiah would come. "Judah" itself means "Praise";
and so, it was a boast to be called one who lived to the praise of
2. Rested on the law (that is, who possessed it, studied it, copied
it, and were the esteemed trustees of God's self-revelation to the
world; thus taking confidence in their relationship to God's law).
3. Made his boast in God (that is, could rightly call himself a
member of God's chosen people - the apple of God's eye, as it says
in Zechariah 2:8).
4. Knew God's will (that is, could discern what God required of
people for godly living - something they could know through the possession
of His written precepts, judgments and instructions).
5. Approved the things that are excellent (that is, could through
the Scriptures genuinely discern what was true from what was false;
what was right from what was wrong; what was important from what didn't
really matter - thus having a clear sense of things as they truly
6. Could be confident that he was a revealer of God's truth to the
world, making him:
a. A guide to the blind.
b. A light to those who are in darkness.
c. An instructor to those who are foolish.
d. A teacher to those who are babes.
7. Was uniquely blessed in that he had the form of knowledge and
truth in the law.
B. Truly, no people group has been more blessed and has had a greater
advantage toward God than the Jew. But if the 'outside' features of
such things are all that we have, then those things will only bring
us condemnation (vv. 21-24). For the Jew, his possession of the law
- that which was his boast - brought condemned upon him because:
1. He taught the law, but did not teach himself.
2. He preached that a man should not steal, but then stole.
3. He said that one should not commit adultery, but then committed
4. He abhorred idols, but then robbed temples (probably a reference
to doing business with those who people who robbed temples, and then
profiting from the association; but may also have been a reference
to actually stealing from temples - see Acts 19:37. Deut. 7:25-26
seems to describe the idea of taking idols out of temples and melting
them down for their gold.)
5. He made his boast in the law, but then dishonored God by breaking
the law - thus giving the Gentiles cause for blaspheming God (See
Mal. 3:8; Isa. 52:5; Ezek. 36:20).
What a terrible condemnation!! Outside religion that only results in
unbelieving people blaspheming God!! This leads us to the confession that
II. 'OUTSIDE' RELIGION ONLY HAS VALUE IF THERE'S AN 'INSIDE' TRANSFORMATION
A. The 'outside' features of our religious expressions lose their
value if our 'inside' is not transformed (vv. 25-27). Paul certainly
recognized the value of the chief "symbol" that identified the Jew -
circumcision (v. 25; see Gen. 17). The Jewish man counted on this outward
display of religion as a sign of his covenant relationship with God.
But Paul also argues that this outward display did the Jewish man no
good at all if he didn't also fully keep th law. He argues that, if
even an uncircumcised Gentile kept the law (a hypothetical situation,
since no one ever has kept the law), then the uncircumcised Gentile
would be in better standing before God than the Jewish man who was circumcised
but who did not keep the law (vv. 26-27).
B. Paul argues that an 'inside' transformation is of more value to
God than an 'outside' religion (vv. 28-29). The Jewish man who trusted
in the externals didn't realize that what God was looking for was a
heart that was right before Him. That is, God was seeking:
1. An inward "Jewishness".
2. A circumcision of the heart (Lev. 26:41; Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer.
3. A religiousness in the spirit, not through strick, rigid obedience
to the letter of the law.
4. The kind of man whose praise is not from men (who can only see
the outside), but from God (who can see the heart).
* * * * * * * * * *
In closing, consider how William R. Newell paraphrased this passage
for us who call ourselves "Christians". "Thou who gloriest in the gospel,
through thy disobedience to the gospel, dishonorest thou God? The name
of God is blasphemed among non 'church-members' because of you! Church-membership
indeed profiteth if thou be an obeyer of the gospel; but if thou be a
refuser of a gospel-walk, thy 'church-membership' is become non 'church-membership.'
If therefore a non 'church-member' obey the gospel, shall not his non
'church-membership' be reckoned for 'church-membership'? And shall not
non 'church-members,' if they obey the gospel, judge thee, who with the
letter and 'church-membership' art a refuser of a gospel-walk? For he
is not a Christian who is one outwardly, nor is that 'church-membership'
which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Christian who is one inwardly;
and 'church-membership' is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the
letter, whose praise is not of men but of God." (Wm. Newell, Romans: Verse
by Verse [Chicago: Grace Publications, Inc., 1938], pp. 70-71.)
The point of all this is to drive us to despair of our own self-made
righteousness; so that we confess that we are sinners in need of a Savior,
and turn to Jesus Christ by faith for salvation. Has this message from
Paul had that effect upon you? Has it renewed in you a gratefulness to
God for His free offer of 'justification by faith'? Has it renewed in
you a passion to tell others?