Living in Grace and Faith
Introduction – In this Session, we will complete Romans 2, and explore verses 21-29. Romans 2 has been a very theologically heavy section of Scripture as Paul takes on the religious sinner and the religious spirit that manifests in those who believe they are self-justified and self-righteous. Paul is building the case throughout Romans that the only people that are justified before God are those who have faith in the atonement of Jesus Christ. Romans is the deepest theological explanation of the essentials of the Christian faith, the identity of God’s people and the explanation of the Spirit-led life of freedom for the child of God.
To grasp the impact and power of Paul’s closing indictment of the religious sinner, we need to see the context of the common culture in the text. As we move through these verses, we will key in on Paul’s direct references to the Jewish religious landscape that were prevalent in that time.
In Romans 2:21-29, there are 2 main movements in the text.
1 – Acceptance in God does not depend on outward works.
2 – The identity of God’s people are the people of faith who live by the Spirit.
a) In cultural context of these verses, rabbis of the First Century had exegeted the Law to the point where they believed that they could keep the Law perfectly. The Pharisee movement within Judaism certainly was attempting to live in purity and in fidelity to the Law. Jesus exposed this religious lie that says; “only the outward actions and conduct of the person count as obedience to the Law”. However, we know that God applies the Law to both the thoughts of our hearts and our actions. See Matthew 5:21-37, where Jesus destroys the Pharisees theological positions on Law Keeping. Jesus elevated the Law for the express purpose of exposing our need for a Savior, Jesus Christ. Galatians 3:24 says that the Law is a tutor that leads us to Christ.
b) The religious, self-righteous spirit continued in Church History and still exists today. In approximately AD 1114, Cardinal Cremensis, the Pope’s legate/enforcer who was charged with breaking up the marriages of priests was caught with a woman by another Cardinal. He excused himself by saying that was not a priest.
c) The reference to robbing temples, is a cultural reference to the common practice of merchant Jews profiting from the idolatry of the Roman Empire.
d) Hypocrites typically talk in high religious platitudes that rob them of humility and dependence on God’s grace, mercy and love. When we live in reverence and humility before God, then the judgment we carry towards others evaporates from our souls.
a) Paul is reminding the Law Keepers of the First Century that in the history of Israel and Judah, their disobedience to the Mosaic Covenant caused Gentiles to blasphemy the LORD. b) Joel 2:17 – Let the priests, who minister before the LORD, weep between the portico and the altar. Let them say, “Spare your people, LORD. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?”
a) To an observant Jew, circumcision was the sign of God’s Covenant with Abraham and his descendants. The fact that one was circumcised lead them to believe that they were guaranteed entrance into the Kingdom of God simply based on their national identity. Deuteronomy 10:16 warned against the Israelites against religious pride based on their national identity.
b) The Apostolic Church wrestled with this mindset as well. Acts 15:1- Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” The though here is that circumcision guaranteed their identities as children of Abraham, in addition their faith in Jesus’ atoning work on the cross.
c) Paul taught against this mindset in Galatians 2, 5, 6, and Colossians 2.
d) Eternal destiny is determined in the heart of person who believes and trusts that Jesus paid the price for sin and bridges the sin divide between a Holy God and Fallen humanity.
e) Like circumcision, baptism is a sign of our New Covenant relationship with God that lives in on the inside of us. Baptism is the outward confession of a heart that loves God.
a) In verses 28-29, Paul introduces the idea that the identity of God’s people is those who have found salvation in Jesus Christ; these are New Covenant people, contrasted to Old Covenant people who lived under the Law that was unable to justify any human being before God.
b) Notice the contrast between the circumcision of the flesh, versus the cutting-off of the carnal nature by the Spirit. Paul is building a case that expounds more as we progress through the Epistle to the Romans, that God’s people are not the national Jew, but the children of God who been justified by their like Abraham. Galatians 3:7-9 – Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.
c) See Galatians 2:23-29. d) We can only receive praise from God through faith. Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.