A Change of Heart.
No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people. – Romans 2:29 NLT
Paul now takes his argument straight to the Jewish people. And he knew a thing or two about what it meant to be a Jew. Paul was born a Jew, raised in a conservative Jewish household where he was taught the Law, and, ultimately, Paul became a member of the Pharisees, a leading Jewish religious sect. He was an expert in the Law and a fervent advocate of obedience to the Law. He had been circumcised as a child and trained by Gamaliel, one of the leading rabbinical scholars of his day. So Paul was no slouch when it came to the topic of Judaism.
But his point, as it has been all along in his letter, was that the Jews were just as guilty as the Gentiles when it came to their sin and failure to meet God’s righteous standards. In this section, Paul is not talking to any particular Jew, but seems to be addressing the nation of the Jews in general. “You who call yourselves Jews are relying on God’s law, and you boast about your special relationship with him” (Romans 2:17 NLT). Paul knew quite well that the Jewish people took special pride in their unique relationship with God. They understood themselves to be the apple of God’s eye – His special people – the chosen race. And they were right. God had chosen them from among all the peoples of the world to be His – to bear His name and to receive His law. God had showered them with His blessings and made countless promises to them. But they had somehow misunderstood God’s intent and had begun to believe that their Jewishness was what made them special. They mistakenly believed that just being a member of the Hebrew race was enough to guarantee a right standing with God. But all the way back in the book of Deuteronomy, God had made it clear why He had chosen them to begin with: “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; but it is because the LORD loves you, and is keeping the oath which he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:6-8 NLT).
In that same section of Scripture, God goes on to warn the Israelites that they must keep His commandments. He expected obedience and adherence to His laws. And over the centuries, the Jewish people had repeatedly broken God’s commands, refusing to live in obedience and submission to Him. For the Jews, it had become enough that they had been given the Mosaic Law. The fact that they didn’t really keep the law seemed to be a mute point to them. It was simply enough that they were Jewish and therefore, God’s chosen people. The average Jew in Paul’s day had become self-righteous and smug, believing that his Jewish heritage was all that he needed to escape the wrath of God. Everyone else was guilty and stood condemned because they were Gentiles, or non-Jews. But God had chosen the Jews that they might be a light to the Gentiles. He had given them His law so that they would know what He expected of mankind, and they were to live out that law in front of the Gentiles, showing them how the people of God were to live. But Paul bluntly accuses them, “You are so proud of knowing the law, but you dishonor God by breaking it. No wonder the Scriptures say, “The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you” (Romans 2:23-24 NLT).
For Paul, the issue was one of the heart. God is looking for Jews who are not just circumcised in their flesh, but in their heart. God is interested in Jews who are completed Jews, having placed their faith in Jesus Christ as their Messiah and Savior. Adherence to the Law and membership in the Jewish race was not going to be enough to save them. In fact, the Jew stood under greater condemnation because he had been given the law and knew what God’s divine expectations were, but had failed to keep them. “The Jewish ceremony of circumcision has value only if you obey God’s law. But if you don’t obey God’s law, you are no better off than an uncircumcised Gentile” (Romans 2:25 NLT). The Jew, like the Gentile, stood guilty before God and in need of a Savior. God had sent His Son to save all men, Jews and Gentiles alike. And all men needed to understand their guilt and embrace the grace made available by God through His Son’s death on the cross. God was looking for Jews whose hearts had been made right with Him. “…a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God” (Romans 2:29 NLT). The Jewish nation, the chosen people of God, still needed the same solution to their sin problem required by every other person. They needed a Savior. They needed to be made right with God, not based on some self-made righteousness or special standing, but through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.
Father, how easy it is to somehow think that we deserve Your grace and mercy. The Jews had become convinced that You were somehow obligated to accept them based on their ethnic background. They mistakenly believed that their Jewishness was all the justification they needed. But their hearts were just as guilty as anyone elses and they stood condemned just like every other individual. You are no respecter of persons. You are fair and just in Your treatment of all men. And Your offer of salvation is available to anyone who willingly accepts it, regardless of their race, religion, income status or any other man-made criteria. Thank You for Your grace that is available to all. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men