World English Bible translation
2:17Indeed you bear the name of a Jew, and rest on the law, and glory in God, 2:18 and know his will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, 2:19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide of the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 2:20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of babies, having in the law the form of knowledge and of the truth. 2:21 You therefore who teach another, don’t you teach yourself? You who preach that a man shouldn’t steal, do you steal? 2:22 You who say a man shouldn’t commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 2:23 You who glory in the law, through your disobedience of the law do you dishonor God? 2:24 For "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you," just as it is written. 2:25 For circumcision indeed profits, if you are a doer of the law, but if you are a transgressor of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 2:26 If therefore the uncircumcised keep the ordinances of the law, won’t his uncircumcision be accounted as circumcision? 2:27 Won’t the uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfills the law, judge you, who with the letter and circumcision are a transgressor of the law? 2:28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh; 2:29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter; whose praise is not from men, but from God.
In Today's Scripture Paul addresses explicitly the devout Jew. Some have suggested that perhaps Paul was specifically addressing Jews who had been proselytizing Gentiles. The Jewish people did not often seek to convince Gentiles to become Jews but the process was not entirely unknown. There were studies and rituals that a Greek could undergo and at the completion the "proselyte" would be considered technically a member of the covenant. However, native-born Jews often considered such persons second-class citizens. This attitude, along with the practice of circumcision of males, lessened the appeal of Judaism for most of the Gentiles in the ancient world.
Paul begins to speak to the devout Jew and lists all the benefits that one might expect to hear from one bragging about their heritage. As a Jew they might well think of themselves as, "a guide to the blind, a light to those in darkness, a corrector of the foolish," etc. Paul asks these people, If you have all of these benefits by being a Jew, why do you sin? Why do you steal, commit adultery, and rob temples? Your disobedience of the law dishonors God.
Then Paul quotes from what is probably a reference to Ezekial 36:22, "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." Paul's argument is not a new one. The prophets had often spoke of times when the people of God had brought dishonor on His name. Paul goes so far as to say that circumcision (being a Jew) profits only if one is a doer of the law. If a person violates the law he becomes a lawbreaker and no better than a Gentile.
True circumcision is not that done on the outward flesh but that which is done in the spirit and the heart. When God changes a man's heart on the inside, then he truly becomes one of God's covenant people.
In case some feel as though this passage is too harsh on the Jewish people, let me express what I have told every class that I have ever lead on Romans. In every church that I have ever worshipped in there are people that take the attitude that Paul is speaking against here. Many people are born into a denomination or have grown up in a church all of their lives and they regard their particular brand of "Christianity" as the only true "Christianity." I have seen this attitude in Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Baptist, Catholics, Methodist, Assemblies of God, and church of Christ followers. I strongly suspect that such an attitude exist in every denomination and possibly every church that exists.
I suppose it is a human response. "I belong to a devout and faithful people so therefore I must be devout and faithful." People mistake their relationship to a particular group of people with a relationship with God. This is the same attitude that Paul is criticizing. Paul was saying that a Jew is not really a Jew just because he was born a Jew and observes Judaism. A Jew became a Jew when the Torah became a living presence in their spirit and a man or woman sought to serve God with all of their heart. In the same sense, a Christian does not become a Christian because they have been raised in a Christian church and achieved all of the milestones that their church holds dear. No, a person does not become a Christian until God circumcises their hearts, until they die with Christ and are raised to a new, resurrected life.
God looks at the heart. He cannot be tricked or fooled by outward appearance. Your outward conformity does not impress him. The question is, when God looks at your heart, what does He really see?
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