Monday, May 29, 2017

JUST so we're Clear - Rom. 3:27-31

I’m going to be really honest about how I felt concerning last week’s message. About halfway through the sermon I could sense that all of us, including myself, were becoming a bit overwhelmed by the material. I was rushing to get through it all and I could tell that I was losing some of us in the room. Add to that discussions on words like “propitiation” and other heavy doctrinal considerations and it made for a really dense morning that I might sure was altogether clear (the fault is all mine). Romans 3:19-26 is a heavy passage that, when I have the chance to preach it again, deserves to be broken up into two smaller passages that each deserves their own message. As I considered how I might remedy the situation and reiterate/clarify what I said last week, I began to read on in Romans and discovered that Paul probably felt the same way I did after he wrote what I preached on last week. Why would I believe this? Because in verses 3:27-31, Paul pauses to ask and answer four questions that were probably on the hearts and minds of many in his audience after they interacted with the heavy material just presented. Hopefully in this passage we can obtain the clarity that Paul’s original audience sought about justification as defined earlier. 

1) Of What Can I Boast?-3:27a

The first question that is hypothetically posed to Paul is “Where, then, is boasting?...” (3:27a). This question betrays the tendency that many have of believing that they ultimately drive their fate, even in spiritual issues. Such a tendency was especially prevalent among the Jews who had developed entire systems that were designed to measure one’s righteousness—adhering to the law, customs, traditions, festivals, etc. However, the Gentiles were not immune from such measures also. Even to this day people morally judge others based on any number of outward expressions—the quality of their family, income, material possessions, level of education, etc. Truly all people make the mistake of assuming that they can justify themselves on some level based on performance. If this were true, people would have grounds for pride and be able to say something to the effect of “Look what I’ve accomplished” or “Look how good I’m behaving” or worse “Look what I have done to fix myself.”
If what Paul said in vv. 19-26 was true—i.e. that justification is by faith and not by living up to some kind of standard—it was hard to see where the room was for feeling proud of oneself. This motivates the first question—“Where, then, is boasting?” or “What can I then be proud of?”

Paul’s answer is as short as it is sharp—“It is excluded” (3:27b). In other words, there is no room for personal braggadocio in God’s plan of redemption.  Why? Because Jesus, not the individual has done everything to make salvation available, apply salvation to the individual, and see that salvation is accomplished. Jesus is the one who perfectly upheld the law when humans could not. Jesus is the one who was offered up as a satisfaction for sin when no other was worthy. Jesus is the one who conquered death when all other efforts proved futile. As a result, if anyone is able to brag, it is He!

Ephesians 2:8-9-“For by grace are you saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves, it is a gift, not of works lest any man should boast.”

If we want to understand justification properly we have to appreciate that it is not designed to bolster our resume, pad our ego, or to give us any sense of self-righteousness over others. God’s program of justification, and therefore salvation, gives the human person no room to boast in themselves.

2) What Kind of Law should I be most Concerned About?-3:27c-28

From the time that I 5 to when I graduated high school I took piano lessons. During these years I was taught by four different women who all had their own influence on my development as a musician. However, none had a greater influence than Gayle Dobbs—my latest piano teacher. When I began attending lessons with her, I learned that while I was already relatively accomplished for a middle-school aged musician, I was playing the piano all wrong. My posture was poor, fingering sub-par, and I had a nasty habit of reading what I wanted to the music to say rather than what was actually on the page. Needless to say, after years of endorsing bad habits, these tendencies were not easy to break. 
The same appears to be true of those to whom Paul was writing. After believing that they had some say so in their own righteousness through their adherence to the law or their consciences, it proved difficult for Paul to instruct them toward a more appropriate way of living. This lingering dependence on the law for righteousness by many in Paul’s audience is betrayed in the next question that they pose: “What Kind of Law should I be most concerned about?”

“By what kind of law? Of Works?” (3:27c). Other variations of this question that would communicate what is meant here might include the following: “What do I need to do?” “What rules must I follow?” or “What regulations, if followed, will get me closest to God?” However, all of these variations are more in keeping with the old, tired, religious tradition that Jesus turned on its head. This inquiry is totally missing the point that Paul made in verses 19-26.

In his answer, Paul plays along but then offers an entirely new (that is new to many in his audience) paradigm to consider—“No, but by a law of faith” (3:27d). In a brilliant example of contextualization, Paul says “If it is a law or standard you are looking for, here it is: faith!” Paul is hoping that his audience might learn to be as focused on their faith in God as they were their adherence to God’s law. Why? Because ultimately faith in Jesus is what justification/salvation is all about—not works.

Paul helps explain this by giving them the cliffs notes version of what he already said in verses 19-26—“for we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (3:28). The verb that Paul uses—“maintain”—means to think about something in a detailed and logical manner. Here, Paul calls the reader to really think about what he has been saying for some time now logically so that he or she might reach the same conclusion that he has on this matter.

First, God is absolutely holy and as such cannot tolerate any sin whatsoever. Human beings, no matter how closely they follow the letter of the law of God, fall short. Though they might work, improve, and follow orders (the law either written or internalized) as best they can, they still fall short of this standard. Something else, something miraculous must take place in order for people to be made right before God. This leads to the second consideration: Jesus Christ. Jesus came to earth as God made flesh, lived out the law perfectly (unlike everyone before or after him) and was then offered up as punishment for sins. God’s holiness was satisfied in punishing Christ instead of human beings, giving imperfect people the ability to have a relationship with a holy God. This leads to the third consideration—justification through faith. If sinful people place faith in a perfect Christ, Christ’s righteousness will be conferred upon them, thereby providing salvation. Works are not involved and the law is not a major factor. In fact, as mentioned earlier, the law only reveals sin—it doesn’t fix the problem (see 3:20).

To the question “what law should I be most concerned about?” Paul says “be concerned about faith!”

3) Is This Program for Me?-3:29-30

I imagine all of this talk of the law in this letter to the church at Rome could have made it seem as though the Gentiles were left out. After all, Gentiles had not received a formal law from God. This may have prompted a question that Paul endorses here for the sake of clarity—“Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentile’s also?” (3:29). A crude paraphrase of this might read “is this program for me?”

Paul answers with “Yes, of Gentiles also…” (3:29b). Justification by faith, in other words, was not just a correction for the Jews, but a promise for anyone who would believe—Jew and Gentile alike. The hope that comes from Jesus alone is not reserved for a specific ethnic group—it is available to all kinds of people.

To help make this point, Paul recalls a discussion he had earlier about a practice that separated the Jews from the rest of the world—“…since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one” (3:30). Remember what Paul said earlier:

Romans 2:28-29-“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”

In other words, God is not as concerned about outward symbols and genetic heritage as much as he is about the condition of one’s heart and the direction of one’s faith. Jew and Gentile, circumcised and uncircumcised are not the distinctions one ought to be concerned with. All are either lost or saved and all have the opportunity to be saved through faith. God’s program of salvation is the same for everyone. This program is for you, for me, and for all the world. 

4) Is the Law Irrelevant?-3:31

If all people cannot boast in the law, should be more concerned about faith, then is the law relevant anymore? This is the fourth question that Paul entertains in this passage—“do we then nullify the Law through faith?” (3:31a). The word “nullify” means to render ineffective or obsolete and this question very nearly asks that if Jesus has interrupted the paradigm of justification to this degree, can’t the law just be thrown out? I’m sure there were some looking for license to do all kinds of things now that following the law didn’t seem to score any points with God.

However, Paul answers “May it never be! On the Contrary, we establish the law.”
Though Paul does not yet elaborate on how justification by faith actually upholds the law here, he does argue very strongly that even though following the law does not save, it should not be thrown out entirely. After all, consider what Paul says in Romans 8:3-4.

Romans 8:3-4-“For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

The Law is compelling as it is a standard of righteousness—the very standard of righteousness that Jesus Himself fulfilled perfectly. However, the Law is also compelling as it reveals just how in need of Jesus people are. In people’s pursuit of upholding it and failing to keep it, they learn about their need for Jesus. What could be more important than that! Sounds like a good reason to keep it around.

To the question “Is the law Irrelevant?” Paul says, “No, it tells us we are not perfect and points us to the one who is.” Both of these are important uses of the law.

So What?

The questions Paul answers in this passage clarify a great deal about the important doctrine of justification. First, because Jesus has accomplished everything on our behalf, we cannot boast. Second, people ought to be more concerned about faith than they are the law (after all, why worry about something that cannot save you?). Third, justification through faith is the same for all people everywhere. Finally, though the law cannot save us, it reminds us that we need saving and points us to the Savior.

In response to what we’ve learned, perhaps I might conclude by asking a few questions of us.

Have you convinced yourself that you can save yourself by working hard and putting on a good face?

Are you more concerned about following a set of rules than you are resting in the arms of Jesus?

If your answer is “yes” to either of these, please know that Jesus has provided justification freely. All one must do is place their complete faith in Him rather, not in themselves, and quit striving and know that He is God. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The Miracle of Justification-Rom. 3:19-26

Years ago on a fishing trip with all of the Dickson boys (cousins and uncles included), we were rained out and decided to hit the theatres one afternoon for a showing of Apollo 13. It is still one of my favorite movies. This film is all about how a Houston-based NASA team guides an Apollo moon-bound crew safely home. At one point in the film, after disaster strikes the Apollo spacecraft, a group of NASA officials assembles in a room with a pile of random parts of the lunar module and is tasked with getting one piece to fit inside another using only those parts that are available. It is an extreme case of trying to fit a square peg in a round hole and to make matter even more precarious, lives are on the line.

Image result for Apollo 13 Movie images

This is similar to what Paul discusses in a major transitional passage in the Book of Romans. In Romans 3:19-26 Paul tackles the problem of mankind’s sin and God’s Holy wrath. How is a wicked race of human beings supposed to find salvation if a holy God is unable to tolerate any sin? The two teachings on justification provided in this passage will answer this question.  

Justification is Not Connected to the Law-3:19-20

Romans 3:19-20 act as a sort of transition from Paul’s teaching on guilt and sin to justification and salvation. Paul had gone to great lengths to point out how everyone in the world is guilty before God because of sin. Not only that, but as we learned in verses 1-8 of chapter 3, this problem of sin is no small issue. Sin renders people completely incapable of righteousness (both righteous speech and righteous behavior) and on a path leading to death.

People will learn as much about themselves every time they confront the Law of God—“Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God” (3:19). Here, Paul decides to use legal language to suggest that all people are guilty before the bar of God’s justice.

Inasmuch as all are under the law—whether that be the written law of the Old Testament or the law written on the heart—all are guilty because none perfectly follow the law. In the courtroom of life, the law testifies against the human person and the human person has no rebuttal. This is what Paul means when he says “it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed an all the world may become accountable to God” (3:19). The case the law makes against humanity is so compelling that is shuts humanity up! They have no case against the standard of God.

Just to be clear, Paul continues by saying “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin” (3:20). The very law that the Jews looked to in order to justify themselves, the very moral code that people believe they have in spades, actually condemns them. In fact, the very law that the Jews and others endorsed to make them righteous was not designed to accomplish this. The best that the law can do is point out the knowledge of sin.

There is a recent commercial for Lifelock that is analogous to what Paul is talking about here. Lifelock is an identity theft service that not only monitors accounts and credit cards, but promises to help remedy breaches and restore one’s full faith and credit if someone manages to sneak past the protections they provide. In the radio spot I’ve heard, the commercials talks about credit monitoring that any bank or credit card company performs, but them states something to the effect of “these services only monitor your credit and tell you when there is a problem.” In one version of the spot, they compare this kind of service to a dentist who tells a patient they have a major oral issue, only to then say that he/she can do nothing to help fix it! This is similar to the law. Though some were tempted to believe that knowledge of the law would get them out of a bind and make them right before God on some level, the law is only designed to point out problems, not fix them.

In other words, the law is capable of illuminating one’s need, not solving it. This important truth must be settled before Paul can move on to discuss the true nature of justification. Justification is not adherence to the law of God or found in good works that are in keeping with the law. The law’s purpose is to point out our need, convict us in court, and demonstrate how desperately we need the Lord to do what only He can do. Looking to the law for salvation is like unsuccessfully attempting to fit a square peg into a round hole. So if this method of solving the problem of human salvation from sin and God’s holiness is unsuccessful, is there any hope? Hurry! Lives are at stake!

Justification comes by Faith in Christ-3:21-26

In a huge pivot, Paul proceeds in verse 21 by saying “but now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets.” “But now” signals the transition from the sobering and depressing portrait of sinful humanity (1:18-3:20) to the celebration of the salvation available through God’s righteousness in Christ (Moo, 82). “Now” insinuates that there is a new era of salvation that has dawned with the coming of Christ. Christ is uniquely qualified to usher in this new era as He alone, apart from the law, has perfectly manifested the righteousness of God. In addition to pointing out the human need for salvation, the law (and the prophets) predicted that there would be one who could satisfy this need. This is what is meant by “being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets” (3:21). “Law and the Prophets” is one way to refer to the Old Testament witness as a whole. “Paul makes clear that although God’s activity of making people right before Him takes place outside the parameters of the law…it is an activity that the Old Testament looks forward to and predicts” (Moo, 82).

But where in the Old Testament does it predict that salvation is in Jesus? The better question might be “Where in the Old Testament is this not predicted?”

Genesis 3:15 predicts one who will forever annihilate the power of sin, the exodus story is one large illustration of how Jesus will free those enslaved to sin and bring them into freedom, the near sacrifice of Isaac and the replacement ram tell of Jesus’ substitutionary atonement for iniquity, Ruth’s salvation out of desperation via her kinsman redeemer is a beautiful analogy of how Christ accomplishes the same for his own, Isaiah 53 predicts the nature of this redemption on the cross, and the list goes on and on.

All of these passages demonstrate that while the law can’t justify a person in the courtroom of God, it does predict who can.

Paul expands on this as he continues his important delineation of justification—“even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ” (3:22a). Against those who would place their faith in the law, their own abilities, or in themselves for justification, Paul says that being acquitted from our sin and punishment in God’s courtroom comes through placing faith in Jesus Christ.

Ephesians 2:8-9-“For by grace are you saved through faith, and this is not of yourselves. It is a gift, not of works, lest any man should boast.”

To the question “How are sinners made right before God?” Paul says “God acts in Christ to put people in right relationship with himself. But this act cannot finally be accomplished without human response” (Moo, 83).

“People must believe in Christ to experience for themselves God’s righteousness” (Moo, 83). Paul makes this perfectly clear when he adds “for all those who believe;…” (3:22b). The participle form of “believe” calls to mind those who trust in the good news of Jesus Christ and in so doing become a follower of him. These are those who are acquitted of sin before God and are imputed with God’s righteousness, thereby rendering them in a right relationship with the holy Judge. To whom does this apply? Potentially anyone! “For there is no distinction.” Salvation is not reserved for an elite group or particular nation or specific ethnic background.

The potentiality for salvation matches the reality of sin—“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). This is the truth that Paul has reiterated time and time again throughout the beginning of Romans. Though it is quite bleak to gaze upon the world only to realize that all are standing trial because of their sin and in very real danger of deserved punishment, it is an equally compelling and yet glorious truth that people can, without distinction, be acquitted, saved, and receive God’s righteousness in Jesus Christ through faith.

Not only is justification by faith, it is a gift—“being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus” (3:24). In other words, rather than working for it or earning it, justification it bestowed. It not so much earned as it is freely given. That is why it is called grace and why salvation is so sweet.

Such a teaching runs complimentary with what Paul said earlier about the power of the law. Many had believed, especially the Jews, for many years that if they could just carry out the law, they would maintain a good relationship with God. However, as Paul has already said, the law is not good for that—it is only good at pointing out our flaws. Therefore, being right with God is not so much about one can do, but what God has provided.

When people could not redeem themselves, Jesus provided redemption and as a result offers justification as a gift of grace.

However, though the gift is free for the recipient, it came at an enormous cost to Jesus Christ. As Paul continues to describe the nature of justification, he reminds the reader that it came at a high price—“whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith” (3:25a). “Propitiation” is “the act of appeasing another person’s anger by the offering of a gift” and its use here helps the reader understand how God is able to tolerate those who are justified.  

Those who are still in their sin (see Romans 1-3) are wretched in God’s eyes. He cannot stand what He sees and His holiness requires that men and women be punished. In order to turn his wrath into blessing and relationship, God’s wrath upon the unbelieving world had to be satisfied (He has to punish it somehow). Enter Jesus who took the punishment for the unbelieving world. When Christ died on the cross, God’s punishment against sin was poured out upon Him so that it would not have to be conferred upon those who are justified by faith and have this satisfaction applied to their case.
To help illustrate this point, Paul applies a popular Jewish image—Passover—and says “this was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God he passed over the sins previously committed” (3:25b).

Centuries prior to the writing of Romans, God’s people were enslaved by the Egyptians. In an effort 
to change Pharaoh’s hardened heart and free the slaves, God issued several plagues that each exacerbated Pharaoh’s resolve. However, the last plague would change all this (at least temporarily). It involved an angel of death that moved throughout Egypt and killed the firstborn of every household—that is the firstborn of any household that did not apply the blood of a precious lamb on its doorposts. For these latter homes, death and wrath passed over. The blood of the lamb acted as a satisfaction for God—something died (a lamb) in the place of the first born—so that God would not have to execute any inside.

This is what Jesus provided on the cross for those who are enslaved to sin. Jesus is the perfect lamb whose blood was applied to the doorposts of the redeemed (those who believe in faith, receive grace, and are justified). As a result, when God’s holy wrath moves upon the earth, it passes over those who have been justified. God says—“someone has already paid for that one. Their case has already been satisfied and the penalty has been fulfilled.”

It is clear by this point that Jesus Christ, not the law, not the individual, is at the very center of justification. He is the correct destination of one’s faith, the One who redeems, the One who gives grace, and the One who provides satisfaction for the wrath of God. The centrality of Christ in God’s program of justification is celebrated in verse 26—“for the demonstration, I say, of HIs righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” He is the key that unlocks the potential for lost people to be saved, while preserving the righteousness of God.

 “There can be no gospel unless there is such a thing as a righteousness of God for the ungodly” (there is no good news unless sinful people can be made right). “But just as little can there be any gospel unless the integrity of God’s character be maintained” (God has to remain holy himself and punish sin). “The problem of the sinful world, the problem of all religion, the problem of God in dealing with a sinful race, is how to unite these two things” (God has to punish sin with death with people can be justified and escape judgment). The Christian answer to the problem is given by Paul…” It is Jesus Christ and his program of justification. (quoted portions from James Denney). Because He stood in the sinner’s place and received the wrath of God as the perfect sacrifice, He alone is able to bestow the grace of justification for all who believe and allow God to maintain His holy character.

So What?

As we’ve learned so far in Romans, mankind is in a desperate situation—even more desperate than those astronauts on the Apollo 13 mission. In our life’s journey to exciting places, sin has interrupted things and totally veered us off course. Something radical and miraculous must take place to get us home alive and safe. Like those astronauts on the Apollo 13 mission and the teams scrambling to fit a square peg in a round hole, men and women have worked hard to find alternative solutions to put themselves right with God to no avail. No amount of human ingenuity, good works, or law keeping is able to accomplish what Jesus alone has already provided.  Jesus is the answer to the problem of human sin. Praise be to God for the Lord Jesus Christ! He came, died in our place, and gives us his righteousness so that we can have a relationship with God! All we have to do is believe and follow Him! 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The Depravity of Depravity-Rom. 3:10-18

This past week I read about a terrible disease that kills from the inside out. It is a widespread harmful condition that people are born with and some never realize they have until it is too late. While the disease is discreet at first, eventually side-effects include behavioral changes ranging from psychosis to anger, to lapses in judgment, in appropriate relationships, harming oneself or other people, and death. This disease is called sin and Paul in Romans 1-3 has done his part to diagnose the whole world with this condition. Though the obviously lost (1:18ff) are presumed to suffer with sin, the moral Gentile (2:1ff); and the religious Jew (2:17ff) are not immune. Everyone has been infected with this and the only antidote is Christ. However, before Paul can provide the antidote to the church in Rome, he must describe the symptoms/manifestations of sin so that people might understand just how grave their situation is. He accomplishes this in Romans 3:10-18 in which he delineates three manifestations of depravity that require radical treatment.

I. MANIFESTATION #1: Incapable of Living Righteously-3:10-12

Paul begins his description of the manifestations of sin by referring to the Psalms. In fact, this entire passage is quoted from various psalms that describe the acute wickedness of mankind. Paul is, in other words, not offering something totally new or original. Sin is not some new illness that has just surfaced with new symptoms. Instead, sin is an issue that has plagued mankind ever since Adam’s failure in the garden. Therefore, the reference to the psalms serves as sobering reminder that the problem that existed in the Old Testament, existed in Paul’s time. However, just as people are often tempted to take their physical health for granted, it is possible that people had forgotten how wicked they were without God. Paul seeks to remind them of what is often ignored here in Romans 3:10-18.  

“There is none righteous, not even one” (3:10). This verse unequivocally proclaims that righteousness doesn’t exist in mankind, even in the least bit or in the smallest and loneliest of numbers. No one can claim immunity from the problem of sin. All are infected with the deadly virus and in desperate need. Verses like this illustrate the doctrine of universal depravity which simply asserts that all are sinners and fallen short of the glory of God.

However, instead of simply acknowledging the condition man faces, Paul moves on to describe several reasons why this is the case.

Just as there are several ways to catch a cold or a number of means of developing cancer, so too are people unrighteous for different reasons.

One reason behind this phenomenon of worldwide unrighteousness is a complete lack of understanding—“there is none who understands” (3:11a). No is righteous because no one understands God at all. They don’t understand Him, His Law, or His ways and therefore can’t understand His righteousness. How could someone live up to a standard that they do not understand?

Therefore, one reason mankind cannot live righteously is because, left to themselves, they do not understand God.

Another means of landing in unrighteousness is not seeking after God. Not only does the human race not understand God and, as a result find themselves in sin, but they don’t pursue God on their own. The verb used here describes a continuous and ongoing pursuit of something—lit. “there is none who is seeking for God.”

Years ago these hidden illusion picture books were really popular. However, I didn’t particularly like these pictures inasmuch as I could never find the hidden image. I could cross my eyes the right way or stare at my nose just so to see what was beneath the surface. Often, after trying for a few minutes, I’d give up and do something else. However, on occasion, when someone told me what the hidden image was, I was more likely to find it. This experience proved the old adage: it is hard to look for something if you do not know what you are looking for. The same seems to be true of those in Paul’s world and in our world. Because we do not naturally understand God, it proves difficult for us to seek after him. We might even ask: Why someone who doesn’t know about God, seek Him? Can we blame them? Would you seek out something you had absolutely no knowledge or understanding of?

As a result these two pathogens—nobody understands God and no one seeks after God-- Paul reveals that all men, knowingly or not, turn aside or away from God and therefore become useless. This is how the infection of sin presents itself. People prove they are infected with sin when they turn aside from God, His will, and His Word and pursue/worship other things in His place. Like an autoimmune disease that tricks the immune system into pursuing the body rather than infection, so too does sin in the life of an individual render him/her turned aside, manipulated, pursuing other things rather than God. The problem is, God alone is worthy of pursuing inasmuch as He is the only one who provide real life, hope, purpose, and joy. Money, if pursued in God’s place brings forth greed and all kinds of issues. Family, if worshipped instead of God will always prove insufficient unfulfilling. Success, if exalted over the Lord will leave one exhausted and alone.

In fact, not only will pursuing these things render an individual sick, frustrated, and anxious, these render an individual utterly useless. The word for “useless” here also means “perverse” or “worthless.” God cannot and will not use those who have turned aside from Him for in doing so, they become worthless.

Evidence of their worthlessness is witnessed in what they are capable, or better incapable of doing—“there is no one who does good, there is not even one”(3:12b). Paul in this point reveals that those who aren’t righteous, which is the whole world without Christ, is incapable of doing good. Why? They neither understand God nor seek God. As a result, they are worthless and incapable of lasting good.

II. MANIFESTATION #2: Incapable of Speaking Righteously-3:13-14

After describing how humanity apart from Christ is unrighteous as a whole, Paul moves on to describe how this unrighteousness is manifested in particular capacities. In Verses 13-14, Paul discusses how sin has affected mankind’s speech habits. He begins by saying “Their throat is an open grave…” (3:13a).  Paul’s powerful language suggests that the throat of the unrighteous is a pit of death, “an open grave.” Putrid, disturbing, and vile, this metaphor is a compelling image that demonstrates the disgusting character of the fallen throat. The verb used here describes a continuous state of being opened.  It never closes or shuts off from being a trap that leads to death.  What was created to be a life-giving and encouraging instrument has become a smell receptacle for the dead.

While the throat proves to be an open grave, the tongue continuously deceives, lies, or slanders—“with their tongues they keep deceiving” (3:13b). The implication is that those with this kind of tongue cannot help but deceive and join I the ranks of the father of lies himself!
John 8:44-“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Not only that, but in identifying with the great deceiver these prove to endorse the kind of behavior that God hates.

Proverbs 6:16-19-“There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers.”

Proverbs 12:2a-“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord,…”

Such lying and deception not only convicts the sinner, it proves poisonous to others—“the poison of asps is under their lips” (3:13c). The word for “poison” here also refers to “venom” (from a serpent) or “corrosion” (like rust). In other words, the lies that emerge from the tongue spread a corrosive and poisonous infection to anyone in close proximity.

However, this is not all an unrighteous tongue is capable of. Not only are destruction, deception, and death qualities of the fallen tongue, but so is cursing and bitterness—“whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” The mouth of those still in their fallen state is filled to the brim, nearly overflowing, with curses and bitterness. These come in a limitless supply of flavors including crude jokes, gossip, blasphemy, etc.

In verses 13-14, Paul describes one of the grossest symptoms of unrighteousness—a fallen tongue. It slithers in stinky grave known as the mouth, spewing poisonous lies and destructive speech to all who walk by, spreading its deadly infection.

III. MANIFESTATION #3: Incapable of Behaving Righteously-3:15-18

Another symptom/manifestation of unrighteousness is that people are incapable of behaving righteously. In fact, quite the contrary—people are given to egregious behaviors like murder. Not only are the lost Paul addresses here capable of committing hard crimes like murder, but it isn’t far from their repertoire of wickedness. Given the right circumstances, anyone is capable of anything.

After all, in a moment of weakness, even David, a man after God’s own heart committed adultery and then didn’t blink when he sent Bathsheba’s husband to the front line of battle to be slaughtered. Moses before him, after losing his temper, killed an Egyptian slave driver. For Samson, God’s chosen judge, killing was a sport. Even Peter nearly killed a Roman soldier when Jesus was arrested. As close as these were to murderous acts, so too are the wicked that much closer to heinous and violent activities like murder.  

To be sure, murder is not the only crime the unrighteous are capable of. However, in reflecting on the worst crime—taking another life that is made in the image of God—Paul is hoping to call to mind all crimes that fall within the scope of the unrighteous.

Inasmuch as the unrighteous are given over to all kinds of nefarious activities, Paul continues by saying “ Destruction and misery are in their paths…” (3:16).

Does everyone know how to get to Valley View Mall from here? One your way you know then that you will pass the Berglund Center and St. Andrews on your left if you take 220 North. The path you take (220 north) not only determines where you will end up, but what you will hit along the way. Just as the Berglund Center and the Catholic Church are along the path leading to valley View Mall, destruction and misery are the unrighteous take to their ultimate demise.  Like advancing through the stages of a losing cancer battle, the unrighteous find destruction and misery as they progress toward death and destruction.

Because they are on this highway to a literal hell, they cannot experience the path of peace—“and the path of peace they have not known” (3:17). They don’t know it, can’t enjoy it, and will not find it so long as they follow the path to destruction and misery.

Likewise, because they are on the wrong path, they do not have God before their eyes. If they did, they would understand and know the right path and would be on it.

Andy Stanley coined a phrase that is especially poignant and appropriate to consider here—“Your direction, not your intention will determine your destination.” People—lost and saved alike—have all kinds of good intentions for themselves. However, if they do not point themselves in the right direction (have the right thing before them to guide them), they have no guarantee of accomplishing anything.

This last phrase almost acts as a summary for the type of behavior Paul has just finished discussing. Those who are depraved, the entire human race from they time they are born to the time in which they are born again have no fear of God. As such they fear other things and will perish.

So What?

Why does Paul go to great lengths to delineate the acuity of depravity? What application can we possible draw from this topic today as believers and as potential Christian leaders? Now that we’ve explored how man is incapable of being righteous in his depravity, incapable of speaking righteously and incapable of behaving righteously, I want us to all realize the incredible transformation that has taken place in our lives as believers. God saved us from that! Praise the Lord! Not only that, but because of this we aren’t on a path of deception, death, or destruction, but on a path of peace, joy, and righteousness. Oh how great a salvation we enjoy in Jesus!

 However, I also believe that this passage serves as a reminder to us all of what we’re up against. The plague of sin is rampant and it is not pretty. Do not be fooled—sin not only hurts, it kills. Sin is gross and ought to be cast in its truest and most grotesque form so that we might be motivated to take the cure that is Christ to those who are afflicted. However, one cannot offer a cure for something with any credibility if they are suffering the same symptoms. Check yourself. Are you symptom free? Or do you too show the signs of your depravity?  

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Paul's Presser - Rom. 3:1-8

Have you ever met someone who is always looking to justify/acquit themselves, even when they are totally wrong? You know the type. They are caught in something or found responsible for a particular behavior or circumstance and they reason their way out of taking the brunt of any punishment. This type of person endorses phrases like “I was only trying to help” or “You should have told me…” or “Look on the bright side, had this not happened, this might have happened,…” etc. These appeals betray this very human tendency to reason our way out of culpability. The same was true for those in Rome. Paul has done a lot of convicting. The lost, the moral, and the Jew have all been called out as very much in need of the salvation that only Jesus can provide from sin. Everyone is a bit uncomfortable and bit challenged. Therefore, in anticipation of the attempts the Jews might make to justify their behavior or deflect the much-deserved scolding that has been dished out, Paul in Romans 3:1-8 asks and answers four questions that may have come up had he entertained a press conference at this juncture of his letter. These questions are the very kinds of questions clever/creative Jews may have come up with to justify their behavior or lessen the guilt. Let’s listen to how creative these questions get and how sharp Paul’s rebuke becomes.

Image result for Press Conference
1) Question #1: Can the Jews claim an Advantage?-3:1-2

In chapter 2, Paul tore the Jews a new one for two reasons. First, they were all talk and no action (2:14-24). Second, they looked good but weren’t inwardly transformed (2:25-29). The result—God’s name was being disdained by the Gentiles (2:24) and many in the religious community were far from God (2:29). I imagine that at this point some of the Jews would have asked “Well then what is so great about being Jewish anyway? I thought we were better off and enjoyed exclusive covenant promises with God?”  This is what is meant when Paul asks “Then what advantage has the Jews? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?” in verse 1 of chapter 3. To be sure, God had called the Jews and had given them special blessings/promises. However, Paul has been suggesting that these gifts were not a guarantee of salvation. What was the point?

Recently I was flying on an airliner and heard the stewardess voice a special welcome to the “elite” and “star-elite” passengers who had either signed up for a credit card at some point or joined some kind of membership affiliated with the airline. Though, at times, I’ve been asked to sign up for such a program, I could never justify membership into these “clubs” as  I don’t get to fly very often—at least not often enough for these membership to really mean anything or benefit me in any meaningful way. The same was true of many of the Jews in Paul’s audience. They had a membership that was “in name only.” The best they were getting out of being a part of the “elite” club was superficial points with their peers (see 2:29) or special greetings at the synagogue—nothing substantive. Many were probably wondering at this point in Paul’s presentation—what is this association really worth anyway?

Though many were probably tempted to throw away their card and break affiliation altogether, Paul slams on the breaks and answers his own question in verse 2 by saying “Great in every respect….” What advantage did the Jews have—great advantage! First, Paul says, “they were entrusted with the oracles of God…” (3:3). Again, as iterated earlier in this study, the Jews were given something that the world was not given in the Old Testament era—a divine credo handed down miraculously through Moses. Such a law made explicit what was known implicitly, though incompletely because of the image of God in man. Imagine the leg up that this would have proven to be for the Jewish people. 
They did not have estimate what God’s standards were nor did they have to guess what they had to do. While the world did their best to pedal along in the darkness without falling off a moral cliff—the Jews were handed the best way to live, glorify God, and bless the nations. This granted them every opportunity to shine brightly for the Lord and live abundantly in the land that God had given them.
Unfortunately, when God gave them Moses and the Law, God receive back grief and complaints. When He gave them the Promised Land, He receive back fear and trepidation. When He gave them a king, He received back idolatry. When he gave them victory, He received back arrogance and pride. Although God provided the Jews with every means to impact the world (“the oracles of God”), they thwarted these gifts and were sent wandering in a wilderness and later were thrown into exile.

Perhaps for me, signing up for a rewards membership with an airline wouldn’t matter. It might even prove meaningless as I wouldn’t use it as it was designed. However, for those who do, it can yield incredible rewards—free trips, other perks, etc. The same was true for the Jews. They had received the oracles of God! What could be better? However, this great gift and exclusive potential membership in the family of the Almighty wouldn’t matter much if it wasn’t applied rightly. However, if endorsed, it would reap incredible rewards.

To the question: “Can the Jews claim advantage?” Paul answers “Yes, though it is really too bad that they didn’t make good use of it.”

2) Question #2: Can God’s Faithfulness be Thwarted by Sin? -3:3-4

The second question that Paul answers is “Can God’s faithfulness be thwarted by Sin?” Verse 3 says “What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?” 
The tension in question is as follows: if God had made promises to the Jews and special provisions to this end, will the wickedness of the Jews render these null and void? In other words, can human error erase the promises of God?

Paul answers and says “May it never be!” (this is the strongest means available in the Greek language to answer negatively) “Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar…” (3:4a). God will remain true to his promise even though every person should turn out to be a liar.

Psalm 116:11-“I said in my alarm, ‘All men are liars.’

After all, it is not merely the Jews who have a problem with sin, it is everybody. God is faithful regardless of mankind’s ineptitude.

Paul carries on this thought by referencing David’s great prayer of penitence in Psalm 51. Therein, David confessed his sin with Bathsheba and acknowledged that God was justified in his judgment.

Psalm 51:4-“Against You, You only, I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.

God’s righteousness is not hurting when people, like David, do not hold up their end of things. Instead, God’s righteousness is proven even more as He enacts divine judgment. When the world goes on trial, God will always win the verdict as what He says is always proven right. In a way, human error is not an encumbrance for God, but an opportunity to demonstrate his righteousness differently—through His holy wrath.

To the question “can God’s righteousness be thwarted?” Paul says no. Every threat proves to be an opportunity for God to shine all the more gloriously.

3) Question #3: Is my unrighteousness really bad? -3:5-6

Whereas the first two questions are substantive and mature, the second two are a bit more ridiculous and juvenile. That said, Paul felt a need to ask and answer them. Question three is “Is my unrighteousness really bad?” Here is how Paul puts it: “But if our unrighteousness demonstrate the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms)” (3:5). “It could be implied from verses 3-4 that the unrighteousness of unbelieving Jews serves to magnify the righteousness of God. In that case, would it not be unjust of God to punish the Jew?” (Mounce, 105). After all, God is jealous for His glory. If unrighteousness in this indirect way gives it to Him, it would seem counterproductive to punish it.

That would be like taxing something that you hope people would buy more of. Instead, if you want people to purchase a particular commodity, you lower a tax or remove it all together. Applied here, if God wanted to be glorified in this way—that is through responding to sin—he shouldn’t tax unrighteousness with punishment, after all, it might keep people from behaving badly. Sounds twisted, but it is something Paul believed needed addressing.

Paul answers this question with “May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world?” (3:6). God cannot let sin go unpunished. He must judge unrighteousness. He is holy and in judging sin He is shown to be glorious. If sin provides the occasion for this glory so be it. God’s punishment against sin provides occasion for glory also.

4) Question #4: Can the Unrighteous Jew still be Judged? -3:7-8

The final question that Paul answers comes in two versions. The first reads, “But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judge as a sinner?” (3:7). Put another way “If my mistake gives God an occasion to show off his glory, why am I being punished?” If anything, these may have believed that they should be awarded. However, this is just as preposterous as the following scenario: If wrecking my car gives the car insurance people opportunity to do their thing, why not wreck the car to give them a chance to show their stuff? Or try this one on for size: Doctors wouldn’t have a job if there were not sick or broken people. Therefore, maybe I should take unnecessary risks and care very little for my health so that I can keep them in business.

Version 2 of this question reads like this: “And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), ‘Let us do evil that good may come’?...” (3:8a).

This past Christmas Audrey was able to put up a small pink Christmas tree in her room complete with ornaments and lights. She was so excited, and, as you can imagine, wanted to enjoy her tree well into the night while she slept. However, my wife and I told her that she would not be able to keep her Christmas tree lights on when she went to bed. Upon hearing this, my three-year-old said: “but Jesus says to let our light shine. You know, this little light of mine, I’m going to let is shine, remember mommy!” She’s three!! Boy, are we in for it when she is older L. The Jews were rationalizing in the much the same way saying here: “if our unrighteousness showcases the goodness of God (that He is a judge and judges righteously) shouldn’t we sin? If I disobey mom’s order to turn my tree off and keep it on, will not my disobedience allow my light to shine for Jesus?

This twisted logic, seen more recently in the carnality of my three-year-old daughter, was being 
framed on Paul and his fellow ministry leaders. Some were reporting that Paul was preaching this: if God is shown to be glorious even in sin, keep on sinning. However, Paul said nothing of the sort. Instead, just the opposite is true.

Paul says “their condemnation is just…” (3:8b). Those who believe God works this way will be condemned. Why? These do not have an accurate understanding of the grace of God nor do they appreciate the true nature of the salvation that Jesus offered. Those who believed that they can get away with sin on the coattails of God’s goodness are just as mistaken as my daughter who believed that disobeying mom will result in shining brightly for God’s glory. These are also just as in need of saving as my naïve little girl.

In answering the question “can the unrighteous Jew still be judged?” the answer is a resounding “Yes!”

So What?

Ultimately, according to the answers Paul provides to these four questions, people cannot weasel their way out of the full and complete culpability they have before God because of their sin. They should know better and God will prove faithful to judge them accordingly—that is, unless these confess their sin and embrace the Judge in faith. When I was young, I had a real problem with lying. Often times my motivation for lying was getting out of trouble. However, once a lie was exposed, my mother would often tell me, “Why couldn’t you just fess up? I wasn’t really made before, but now I really am!” If I had just confessed, it would have saved me a lot of trouble. Paul’s advice to the Jews and God’s advice to us is similar. God’s people are not the kind people that seek to reason their way out of their guilt. They are those who confess their sin openly and embrace the forgiveness that Jesus alone can provide.  “No more questions—just accept it,” Paul says. “You are a sinner in need of a Savior.”

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

The Real Circumcision Debate-Rom. 2:25-29

It is amazing what you can potentially learn about people from what they post on social media, plaster on the bumper of their car, or tattoo on their bodies. Such mediums provide a canvas upon which men and women paint a picture of themselves that they hope the world will see and use to judge them—their relationship status, their political leanings, causes to which they belong, how many honors students they have, favorite Bible verses, etc. However, perception does not always match reality.

This was true of many that Paul addressed in Romans 2:25-29. In this passage, Paul cuts through the façade that many had constructed in order to reveal a very hard but necessary truth that we can all stand to be challenged by today. Last week we learned that words are not enough and today we confirm the same about appearances.

1) The Value of Circumcision-2:25

To further indict the Jews that Paul called out in Romans 2:17-24, he brings up another distinguishing characteristic of their faith and practice—circumcision. Remember, the Jews were proud for at least two reasons. First, they had a law that no one else had. However, they believed that they were equally special because of rituals/practices like circumcision (and no other ritual/sign/distinguishing feature was more personal than that). Paul says, “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the law,…” (2:25a).

To understand the force of what Paul is saying, one must first understand the meaning of circumcision itself. To do this, we have to travel back in time to Genesis 17:9ff.

Genesis 17:9ff-"God said further to Abraham, 'Now as for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. THis is My covenant, which you shall keep between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant."

To punctuate the covenant God cut with Abraham and his future nation, God demanded a symbol that was personal and permanent. Male circumcision was such a sign that could not be undone. Also, in His command to circumcise, God desired a sign with special significance. To “sanctify” that member of a man’s body no doubt is connected to what is connected to what it is capable of—i.e. producing offspring. Furthermore, circumcision set in motion a tradition that was celebrated on the 8th day of a young boy’s life. Many scholars believe the number 8 symbolizes new beginnings. If this is true, applied here, each new boy represented a new and fresh era of God’s work on the earth.

Though these elements were involved in the genesis and praxis of circumcision, what is of primary concern to Paul here is another implication of this symbol. In addition to what has already been shared, circumcision was intended to imply death to the flesh—a setting apart to God and death to the world and carnal self. The physical mark was, in other words, a symbol of sanctification—other-ness. That said, this otherness was not demonstrable to the outside world. Instead, one had to join this private sign with public adherence to the other sanctifying agent God provided—the Law. To put it more simply, people cannot tell (on the surface), if someone is circumcised, but they can see whether or not someone is obeying the Law of God.

Therefore, Paul says, “circumcision is of value if you obey the Law” (2:25a). In other words, belonging to God in one way (circumcision) is only effective if you belong to God in every way (obeying His Law). The sign symbolizes the action and the action confirms the sign.

On the flipside, Paul says, “if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision” (2:25b). What was supposed to be an irreversible sign can be reversed and/or rendered ineffective if one does not satisfy the sign with correct action.

Paul holds no punches in the way that he characterizes the Jewish transgressor. In fact, he compares lawless Jews with the uncircumcised—“your circumcision has become uncircumcision” (2:25b). Though circumcision was practiced by other people groups in the ancient Near East (Semites, including the Ammonites, Moabites, Hebrews, and Edomites), only the Hebrews performed circumcision for spiritual reasons connected to a covenant with God. This was God’s stipulation for the Jewish people—that is ethnic Jews and those intimate connected to them (notice “you and your descendants in verse 10 and “in your house” in Gen. 17:13). That said, those people groups that the Jews most disdained on both a historical and personal level—including the Canaanites and the Philistines—rejected circumcision. In fact, often the Old Testament goes out of its way to describe Israel’s enemies as “uncircumcised.” Therefore, when Paul says here—“but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision,…”—he is comparing the people of God with some of the most hated people around. If God’s own people were going to behave lawlessly, they might as well not be circumcised and rendered no different than God’s enemies!

In describing the value of circumcision, Paul says that it is only as valuable as one’s obedience to God’s law. If people weren’t going to be obedient, they might as well not be circumcised.

2) The Application of Circumcision-2:26-27

If the Jews listening in to this presentation hadn’t fallen off of their pew yet, Paul was sure to get them even more uncomfortable with the following hypothetical application of circumcision espoused in 2:26-27. He starts this by saying, “so if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the law,…” (2:26a). I imagine those listening would have responded by saying “what do you mean ‘what if an uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the law? They can’t! They aren’t one of us!” In spite of such protestations, Paul is asking the Jews to consider, for the sake of the argument, a gentile who is, for whatever reason, keeping the law.

He continues and asks “will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?” The paraphrased version of this is “will not this uncircumcised gentile be more set apart than you if he keeps the law and you don’t?” As outrageous as this hypothetical scenario sounded to those listening, Paul’s point is valid. Is not action and obedience more weighty than ritual and symbol? In God’s economy, is it not obedience that he cares about more than symbolism? Who is more set apart, those who have the right appearance or those who endorse the right activities? Paul’s answer is clear—even if one is not physically circumcised, he can be set apart through obedience to God’s law.

However, Paul does not stop there. He continues and says “And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the law…” (2:27a). Here, Paul props up the same hypothetical individual to make an additionally biting point.

“will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?” (2:27b). Consider what Paul is telling these proud religious types. Earlier Paul spoke of the Jews as having the presumed moral authority over the Gentiles when he said the following: “but if you bear the name ‘Jew’ and rely upon the Law, and boast in God and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth,” (2:18-20). However, now Paul is saying that if Gentiles are doing a better job than the Jews at obeying God’s law and, by proxy, being set apart, will not the Gentiles be the ones with the moral authority to judge the Jews?

Again, as shocking as this must have been (for the gentiles to have some kind of moral authority over the Jews) none can escape Paul’s logic. Sure the Jews have circumcision, but if the gentiles are living out what circumcision represents better than those who have it, are not they the ones who have the moral high ground?

3) The True Nature of Real Circumcision-2:28-29

Ultimately, Paul’s major point in this passage becomes clear when he begins to elucidate the third element of circumcision discussed in this passage—the true nature of real circumcision. This is how he puts it in verse 28—“for he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh,…” (2:28). Labels, signs, rights, and traditions matter very little to God in the grand scheme of things. Sure, God had required Jews to be circumcised in their flesh. However, this was merely an outward sign of what was supposed to be true spiritually. In fact, according to Paul, it is quite possible to be “Jewish” (having received the Law and having been circumcised) and yet not be set apart to God.

This was surely a difficult pill to swallow. After all, so many Jews in Paul’s day believed that the Law and the rituals were more than enough to enjoy special status before God. Paul says this is not the case.

Instead Paul reveals “he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter,…” (2:29a). A circumcision of an entirely different kind, a spiritual kind, was necessary in order to be considered one of God’s people. This kind of circumcision is not performed on the flesh, but by the Spirit; it is not outward, but inward; it is not according to the letter of the law, but by a transformation of the heart. Those who have this kind of circumcision are those who prove it by doing it, not by bearing some kind of physical marking!

True circumcision results in praise from God and not from men—“and his praise is not from men, but from God” (2:29b). Many Jews in Paul’s day had the former, but not the latter. In taking the praise of God for granted, they were satisfied with chasing the praise of men exclusively. Unfortunately, though many believed that they were ok with God (they had their law and had been circumcised), their failure to obey God’s law meant that they were far from him.   They may have received that accolades of their peers, but they had no such things from who matters most.

Instead, it was those who were circumcised in their hearts, those who proved they were transformed through their obedience, those who may or may not even be Jewish, that were praised by God.

So What?

Ultimately, the three elements of circumcision discussed in this passage—the value, application, and true nature—coalesce and teach the following lesson: the only thing that God judges by appearance is the heart. Rituals, Rites, symbols, and traditions are mere symbols, what counts is what is inside, and this is judged based on one’s obedience to the Word of God. Those who obey it reveal in their obeying that their heart has been transformed. Those who disobey it consistently reveal by their persistent disobedience that they are far from God.

This is especially applicable for the “religious” today. Last week we learned that it is not enough to talk the talk, one must walk the walk. Today we learn that it is not even enough to look the part, one must be inwardly transformed. Both of these realities—walking the walk and inward transformation—only happen through a relationship with Jesus Christ who walked out of an empty tomb and transformed the world.