Friday, November 10, 2006

Romans 2:28-29

A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God.

Paul offers a very different definition of what it meant to be a Jew than what his opponents accepted. And he teaches us here that the righteousness of the new covenant is inward and moral, though it is expressed outwardly. It’s not merely external and ceremonial and ritual and symbolic, as the Jews version was. Paul says that outward signs set forth an inward reality. And the inward reality in absence of the outward sign is as if you have the outward sign. And the outward sign in the absence of the inward reality is as if you have never received the sign. So the Jews addressed here were not true Jews, as they lacked the inward reality. In v.25-29, Paul underlines that Jewish people need the gospel by showing that Gentiles are actually becoming the true Jews. Gentiles—the uncircumcised—who grasp the real meaning of the law and have their hearts changed by the Spirit and live out the obedience of faith are, in reality, the true Jews. This was a staggering thought—Gentiles would be counted as Jews by keeping the law and inherit God’s promises to Israel, while the natural-born Jews perished in judgment.

A person is a true Jew—a true part of God’s redeemed people—if he fulfills the Law, if his heart is circumcised by the Spirit to love God. Deuteronomy 30:6 “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, so that you may live.” That’s what Paul is talking about here, and you don’t have to be a natural-born Jew for it to happen to you. John Piper offers 2 equations:

Law minus Spirit = (1) external religious ritual (like circumcision) (2) the need for the praise of man to keep you going (3) death, because the law becomes mere “written code,” and that kills.

Law plus Spirit = (1) internal circumcision of the heart (2) satisfaction in the praise of God, even if no man approves you (3) life, united to God in love by the Spirit.

Paul is showing the Jews that they’ve misinterpreted the law and its purpose. The inward reality is more important than the outward sign. That’s not to reject the sign. We must avoid making little of the sign. The sign is important. But the outward sign is not of the essence of the reality. So now, what of the person who has not been baptized? Many who come from certain church backgrounds do not understand this principle. Are you a Jew? Not an outward Jew, but an inward Jew?

Are you circumcised by the Spirit? Paul says if you don’t see in yourself the fruits of the Spirit, then you may want to question your faith. No doubt you look at your life and see a profession of faith. Do you also see true love and esteem for Jesus Christ? Do you love His Word? Do you acknowledge the authority of the Holy Scriptures and long to have your lives guided by them? Have you grown in love to God and love to neighbor? Have you seen the Spirit working in you His fruits that wage war against the flesh and its lusts and cause your hearts to be conformed to the desires of God? Have you been captured by the Spirit of Truth, and not the spirit of this world? Are you truly circumcised?

Praise is from God, not from men. The contrast between the truly righteous person and the only apparently righteous person is this: The truly righteous person longs to be righteous in the eyes of God, but the only apparently righteous person longs for the praise of men. Paul does a play on words in verse 29, when he speaks about the Jew whose praise is not from men, but from God. “Judah” is the word from which we get the word “Jew.” And the word “Judah” was connected in the Old Testament to the idea of praise or to the word “praise.” Genesis 29:35 Leah conceived bore a son, and said “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore, she named him Judah. Do you see the connection between the praise of the Lord and Judah? Notice again as Jacob speaks in Genesis 49:8: “Judah, your brothers shall praise you. Your hand shall be on the neck of your enemies. Your father’s sons shall bow down to you.” And so Paul says the true Jew, connected with the idea of praise, is praised not by men, but by God. The truly righteous person longs to have the affirmation of God rather than the affirmation of man.

Can you hear Jesus teaching in the background? Matthew 6 “Do not practice your righteousness before men to be praised by them; give, pray, and fast in secret.” The difference between inward and outward righteousness is that outward righteousness is only perceived, not real. It doesn’t penetrate the surface. It doesn’t flow from a heart which has been redeemed, spiritually regenerated by the work of God’s Holy Spirit. And Paul says, “Look at your life. And if your life only bears marks of that superficial righteousness, then perhaps your trust has been false.” If you find that your trust has been false, run to Christ now! Repent and believe. Confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and you will be saved.

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