No special privileges
no special privileges (rom 2:25-29)
A Christian is someone who fears God and His righteous anger against sin and has run to Jesus Christ for rescue. A Christian is someone who recognizes that our sin has separated us from the most amazing person in the universe and has run to God for reconciliation. Everyone else in the world, who is not a Christian is living in self-denial of one kind or another.
Open your Bible to Roman 1 as we continue our study through God’s letter to the Romans.
· A small number deny that God exists altogether, but to be honest there are not many of them because God’s revelation in creation so clear that almost everyone, everywhere believes God exists. Rom 1 deals with those who fall into that category and says, we are without excuse Rom 1:19-20
· A small number deny that we are sinners altogether, that we are not perfect. But there are not many who fall into that category either because God has written His law into our DNA so that our own conscience confirms that we are guilty. Rom 2 deals with those who are in that category and says, Rom 2:13-16.
· The vast majority fall into the category which says, I know I’m a sinner, I know I’m not perfect, I know I sometimes do some wrong things, even by my own standards – but….
· You answer to that question determines whether you are a Christian or not.
· What is the statement, the hope that you have, the reason that you have come up with to complete that sentence?....
· I know I sometimes do wrong things but I’m going to be ok, I won’t go to hell, God will be merciful because….
Excuses for escaping God’s wrath
· God’s merciful, He’s not going to judge sin that harshly. Rom 1:18. No, his wrath against sin is already evident, it can be seen in how he has handed people over to sin and the corruption and bondage and pain and destruction that it is already causes. This world is a very broken, unhappy place because God has given us a foretaste of the reward of sin – that’s the rest of Rom 1. Rom 1:32 people know wrath is coming and yet they just keep on in their sin.
· I know I do wrong, but I’m not as bad as those people over there, I’m not as sinful as others. I’ll be ok because I’m better than others….Romans addresses this excuse in Rom 2:1-5. Rom 2:1
· I know I sometimes do wrong, but I’ll be ok, because God is merciful. He won’t give me what I deserve, He’ll give me grace. He’ll somehow just let me off the hook. Romans addresses this false hope too in Rom 2:6-11. Rom 2:6,11. Everyone gets exactly what they deserve – no exceptions, no special pardons.
· I know I’ve done a lot wrong, but I didn’t know any better – nobody taught me or told me. Roman addresses this excuse as well in Rom 2:12-16. Your own conscience bears witness that you are guilty and God will judge you.
· I hold to sound doctrine, I’ve got a degree in theology and am a pastor and teacher of others. I’ve filled my life with every kind of rule and regulation and rigid discipline to try make sure I don’t break God’s law – surely that gives me some standing before God, some clemency for my sin? That excuse is addressed in Rom 2:17-24. Rom 1:17,1:23.
Rom 1-3 is systematically breaking down every excuse, every false hope that people might have that they will escape the rightful condemnation for their sins. So that God can say, “No-one has a right standing before God, no not one…. All have turned aside and are rightfully under condemnation” No-one will have any valid excuse on the day the stand before God to give an account for how they have lived.
This morning’s text then is Rom 2:25-29 and deals with another one of those excuses. I know I do wrong and am not perfect – but…..I grew up in a Christian home, I attended church and called myself a Christian. Some who are sitting here this morning are guilty of this excuse. You know you are a sinner and deserve to be judged for your sin, but your hope of escape comes down to the fact that you still attend church and are a member of a church have formally identified with God’s people.
You will notice in the text the repetition of the phrase “circumcision” which basically is a short hand way of referring to those who formally and externally identified with God’s people, those who thought they had special status and privileges just because they self-identified as a believer and were associated with God’s people. In modern terms we might say – those whose hope comes down to the fact that they have been christened as a baby, or baptized, raised their hand at some evangelistic crusade, or the fact that they are a member of the church or a Methodist in a long line of Methodists, or those who think that because I’ve grown up in a Christian home around Christians and because I know and understand the gospel intellectually and take communion and attend church – that somehow I will receive some special pardon on the day of judgment, that I’ll be ok.
If that’s you hope this morning, please pay attention to this text.
Read Rom 2:25-29.
The particular hope that this paragraph is dismantling is the hope based on special privilege.
So we’ll look at
· The value of circumcision (25)
· The significance obedience (26-27)
· The way to obedience (28-29)
THE VALUE OF CIRCUMCISION (25)
The Jews believed that they were God’s special people. The Jews had entered into a unique covenant relationship with them to be their God and make them His people.
Read: Gen 17:4-11
· Circumcision was the sign of this special covenant relationship that God entered into with Abraham and his offspring which became the nation of Israel.
· So as long as we are the offspring of Abraham and receive the sign of circumcision – we are in a special covenant relationship with God and will certainly not perish despite our disobedience.
· Circumcision was at least regarded by some Jews as a virtual guarantee of salvation, to quote from one ancient Rabbi “no person who is circumcised will go down to Gehenna.”
· Even though I may not perfectly keep the law, I’m circumcised, I’m in this special covenant relationship with God which affords us special privileges….
Paul says no – circumcision has value if you obey the law but if you break the law you come into the same position as one who is not circumcised. You are on equal footing, you are treated the same way.
3:1-2 He will go on to say there are many privileges when it comes to being a Jew, for one thing, the Jews were the recipients of God’s special revelation in the Law. They were entrusted with the word of God. That’s a great privilege with great responsibilities.
So he not trying to say there is no advantage in being a Jew, no benefit in having received the Law or being called out of Egypt. He is not saying they had no special privileges at all – but what He is saying is that these special privileges don’t extent to immunity from the final judgment. They don’t render God partial when it comes to judging people according to their sins. Circumcision is not a free “get out of hell” card.
3:9 Are the Jews any better off? No not at all, when it comes to being sinners worthy of judgment. That’s what the whole discussion revolves around from Rom 1-3 – the just punishment for sin.
Paul’s point here is that if you do not obey the law, your disobedience must be judged and circumcision doesn’t change that. Your disobedience puts you in exactly the same position as the Gentile who did not know God or receive any special privileges or revelation.
Church attendance, growing up in a Christian home, practicing the form and the ritual of even the “right religion” doesn’t take away your sin.
2: The significance obedience (26-27)
He doesn’t stop there, he takes the argument further by considering the hypothetical law abiding Gentile.
· He is not circumcised, not formally a part of this special people of God, the Jewish nation and yet he obeys the law and because of His obedience, God regards him as having been circumcised, as being part of the covenant people of God and in fact, by his good works he will stand in judgment over those who both received the law and the covenant of circumcision, but who are never the less law breakers.
· When it comes to judgment – the one who obeys the law is considered righteous and will be vindicated by God and the one who is disobedient will be judged by God – irrespective of any other status or privilege. Judgment is rendered to each one according to what he has or has not done – no other rules apply, no special privileges, no exceptions.
· He is applying the same principles that he introduced back in 6-11. Read 6-11. As I mentioned 2 weeks ago – God’s judgment works in both directions, perfect obedience merits eternal life and disobedience merits eternal death. He’s not saying that such a people actually exist, who will inherit eternal life by their persistent obedience – because of sin everyone rightfully earns death. The examples are theoretical or hypothetical in order to illustrate the point that God is completely just and His judgment is based on works.
· In case you disagree with me, just think about this. One of the first commands a Jew was called upon to obey was to be circumcised. How could there actually be a Gentile who as vs 26 puts it “keeps the precepts of the law” and yet doesn’t obey the command to be circumcised?
· If Paul had merely said – a Gentile who keeps the law will stand in judgment on you Jews who break the law, then we could be forgiven for thinking that Paul had actual examples in mind. But that’s not how he frames his argument – he says “If a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law” In other words if a man who breaks one of the first laws keeps the law – will not he be regarded as part of God’s people?
· He presents a logical impossibility, but his point is not to present an actual example but to illustrate the principle of judgment. God’s judgment is not based on whether you are circumcised or not, whether you are part of this special covenant people or not – it’s based on your obedience or disobedience.
· If you disobey, then you will be regarded as if you are uncircumcised – you are in the same position as those who are outside the covenant people of God.
· If you obey, then you will be regarded as if you are circumcised, as if you are part of God’s covenant people.
What is the principle by which God judges, by which a person’s status or standing before God is determined? Your obedience or disobedience to the law.
Which as the argument continues to unfold, leaves everyone in deep trouble on the day of judgment. We are all storing up wrath for ourselves, not merit. The law, our obedience, our good works as a way of gaining or maintaining a right relationship with God is a dead end street which only results in wrath. Which means that if God was going to reconcile sinners to Himself without subverting His own righteousness or justice – he would have to provide another way for sinners to be made righteous other than the way of law and obedience.
The gospel provides another way
The gospel is the account of how Jesus Christ gained eternal life by His perfect obedience so that he could offer eternal life by another way.
Read Rom 5:18-21
· Jesus Christ justly and rightly gained eternal life by His perfect life, his total obedience to the Law. And by his sacrificial death He satisfied God’s wrath against sinners.
· So his obedience merited eternal life and his crucifixion mitigated eternal death. He gained the reward of righteousness by his obedience and he paid the penalty for unrighteousness by his death.
· So the gospel is not based on God merely being gracious, or overlooking sin. It’s not grounded in a God who is too kind to punish sinners….
· The gospel is grounded in the only man, the God-man who was able to uphold and fulfill all righteousness and to satisfy all of God’s wrath against unrighteousness. It’s grounded in the accomplishments of Jesus Christ and God’s willingness to merit those who are in Christ by faith – with Christ’s own accomplishments.
When you are in the same team, it doesn’t matter who saved the penalty or who scored the goal – all that matters is the total on the scoreboard…..
Our problem is that much of the time we overestimate the value of our obedience and we undermine the value of Christ’s obedience. We want to come to God with all the things we have or have not done instead of coming to Him with all the things Christ has done. We want God reward our name and our accomplishments when its only Jesus name and Jesus accomplishments that have any eternal merit before God.
· The value of circumcision (25)
· The significance obedience (26-27)
The way to obedience (28-29)
Paul is not ready to get to the gospel yet but certainly in vs 28-29 he is beginning to point the way to it.
He speaks of a kind of circumcision here which does gain the praise of God according to the last part of vs 29. There is a kind of circumcision which God does approve of and reward.
· Men are generally not impressed with this kind of circumcision. It does not gain praise from man, but God the text says in vs 29
· It’s not merely external and physical. In fact, this circumcision cannot be performed by man. It’s not something man can do or accomplish.
· It’s an inward circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit. It’s a setting apart of the very heart of man from sin and corruption – unto God. So that the heart of man, the essential core of a person’s being belongs to God and no other.
· Here we already get the first hints that in order for someone to be in a right relationship to God – God himself must do something for man and in man. God Himself has to make man able to stand before Him and warrant His praise.
· Which is why he will say in 3:20-21 – through the law comes the knowledge that we are sinners – through the gospel comes God’s way of righteousness.
Circumcision, the Spirit and the Law
Again, let me connect this with the later chapters of Romans so that we can see how it all fits together.
· Circumcision of the flesh by the hands of man was a sign that you were part of the people of God under the old Covenant.
· Circumcision of the heart by the Spirit is the sign that we are part of the people of God under the New Covenant. The presence and work of the Spirit in you, is a sign that you are a believer and belong to God.
· You came into this right standing with God by the regenerating work of the Spirit and you continue to live out this relationship with God by the sanctifying work of the Spirit.
· You did not come into a right relationship with God by the way of the law and you don’t continue in this right relationship by the way of the law. The way of the law and the way of the Spirit are two different ways. The way of the law leads to death and the way of the Spirit leads to life.
· You didn’t come to God by that way, by the way of the law and you don’t walk with God by that way, by the way of the law. You have to die to the way of the law which leads only to death, so that you might bear fruit by the way of the Spirit.
· Rom 6-8 deal with our sanctification, how we live out our faith on a daily basis . Vs 6 we serve God, we walk with God, we live out our faith – not by means of the written code but by means of the Spirit. These are contrasting ways to live the Christian life which is why the whole of Rom 7 is an explanation of the powerless of the law to make us holy.
· Why its followed by Rom 8 – the power of the Spirit to make us holy. Read Rom 8:1-8
Which brings me to the main application I want to make from this text this morning.
Saved for obedience
The idea that God saves us from our sin in order to live in it, is completely foreign to the New Testament. God doesn’t save us from our disobedience in order to walk in disobedience. He doesn’t rescue us from the flesh and its power in order to leave us dominated by the flesh and its power. He doesn’t save us out of the world to be His special people so that we can go back and live just like the world. Salvation doesn’t only change our standing before God, but by the work of the Spirit it changes our very heart towards God.
The same Spirit who regenerates, sanctifies. The same Spirit who shows us the glory of God in the face of Christ and the ugliness of our sin, continues to draw us away from that sin to superior satisfaction in Christ.
There is a teaching that is rife within Chrisendom which says – trust in Christ, pray a sinners prayer and then get on living your life as if nothing has changed. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone – good works and obedience and submission and service to Christ are irrelevant.
But this text says – if you heart has not been changed by the Spirit of God, then you do not belong to Him.
· If you can’t see any change in your life, any evidence of the Sprits work drawing you away from sin and toward Christ -then you are not a Christian – irrespective of what you call yourself or other people call you.
· It doesn’t matter if you have the external signs, if you have followed the externa rituals and jumpte through the legalistic hoops – what matters is whether the Spirit has set your heart apart from sin unto God.
· If you can’t see any difference between you heart and your life and your desires and those of the world’s around you – then you still belong to the world and not to God. If the world praises you and thinks you are great and your way of living is wonderful, its unlikely that you have God’s approval.
· I’m not talking about sinless perfection, I’m talking about a way of life, a way of living which shows that the Spirit of God has circumcised your heart.
· IF YOU CAN’T SEE IT, IT HASN’T HAPPENED
This morning please don’t sit here and think that because you are sitting here you are ok with God. Formal association with God’s people is no hope for special privilege, special clemency on the day of judgment.
Ask yourself – has the Spirit shown you the ugliness of your sin and the beauty of Jesus Christ. Are you increasingly hating your sin and loving Christ more. Do you know Him – not formally and intellectually and doctrinally – but do you know him like a husband knows his wife – intimately and personally and passionately. Is He the love of your life?