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Romans 2:25-3:5 by Robert Dean
Is there a sufficient moral pathway to God that a man can take on his own? As we continue in our study of Romans, Paul again reminds us how God demonstrates His Righteousness with regard to the human race. In this lesson we learn about the significance of circumcision and the difference between a circumcised and uncircumcised heart.
Series:Romans (2010)
Duration:1 hr 1 mins 24 secs

No Hope in Human Works
Romans 2:25–3:5
Romans Lesson #029
August 11, 2011

As Paul comes to the end of chapter two we see that he is reinforcing the principle that he has been teaching, that man on his own is unable to do that which meets God’s standard of righteousness. God can only have intimacy and fellowship with those who are equally righteous and in His grace He has provided a way to meet that righteousness. The problem with mankind is that ever since Genesis chapter three and the fall of Adam the point is that people just try to be righteous on their own. The problem with all works based systems. All religions seek to somehow provide a moral pathway to God by doing certain things, serving certain rituals and upholding a high standard of conduct that somehow we are going to measure up to the standard of God’s perfect righteousness. But the problem is that when we sin it is a violation, an infraction, of God’s righteous standard and there is nothing that can be done to compensate for that.

What Paul is going to show in Romans 2:25 to the end of the chapter is that real circumcision, the circumcision that matters, isn’t a circumcision that is external. It isn’t the ritual circumcision of the Mosaic Law, it is in internal circumcision, a spiritual removal of the flesh, i.e. the sin nature. This is embedded in the Hebrew Scriptures of the Old Testament. Leviticus 26:41; Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6. In the New Testament Paul emphasizes and develops what is already in the Hebrew Scriptures and he explains what it means to have a circumcised heart or to have humility as opposed to the arrogance of setting one’s own standard and thinking that somehow we can do that which pleases God.

Paul begins to give the Philippians a warning in Philippians 3:2 NASB “Beware of the dogs [Judaizers who opposed Paul], beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision.” These Judaizers were Jews who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah but had added something, and that was that there also had to be the observance of the Mosaic Law. So it wasn’t faith alone in Christ alone, it was faith in Christ plus observance of the Law. They were evil workers because of what they taught, because of their doctrine. The “false circumcision” is a harsh way of referring to those who are demanding that for someone to be truly saved they had to also submit to physical circumcision. [3] “for we [believers] are the {true} circumcision [spiritual, of the heart], who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” He is referring clearly to no confidence in both observance of the moral law in the Torah or the ritual of the Law.

There is a new school of Pauline interpretation that has reared its nasty, ugly head in the past twenty years called “the new perspectives on Paul.” One of the key figures in this group is N.T. Wright who is now teaching in one of the universities in Edinburgh. His a former bishop in the Anglican church. He is a brilliant man and this is one of the things that make it difficult to refute him, because he has mastered a host of disciplines related to biblical study. He has a skill in Greek and Hebrew that is surpassed by very few. He has mastered patristic literature, the literature of the early church fathers. He has virtually a photographic memory so that in any kind of debate he can just recall facts in minutia related to grammar and exegetical points that would drive most people back to their resource books to check out. He is able to just machine-gun this material at people both in terms of his verbal skills as well as his written skills. In this “new perspectives of Paul” what they say is that when Paul is arguing against the Law, that we are not justified by the works of the Law, he is really talking only about the ritual aspects of the Law, not the moral aspects of the Law. So he concludes that, yes there are some who may be saved because they have followed the moral law. He has two ways of being saved; justified by faith alone in Christ alone or observing the moral teachings of the Law. The problem is that Paul never does distinguish between the moral and the ritual. The term “flesh” in verse 3 covers everything, both ritual and moral.

Then he goes on to say that this was what he once emphasized in his own life. Philippians 3:4 NASB “although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more.” The point is that if anybody has the right to think they can get to heaven on the basis of their morality, their observance of all of the Law, both the ritual and the moral Law, it would be him. Then he begins to list his spiritual resume according to the value system of the Pharisees. [5] “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; [6] as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.” Paul says there is a righteousness in the Law. It is not the absolute righteousness of God, it is a human righteousness, a relative righteousness; and he says according to that lower standard of righteousness he was blameless.

Philippians 3:7 NASB “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” In other words, everything that was of value in his priority system, under the works system of the Pharisees, is just loss for Christ; it has no value whatsoever. [8] “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” Isaiah 64:6.

Romans 2:26 NASB “So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?” The theme of Romans is how does God demonstrate His righteousness in relation to the human race? And it demonstrates that God is indeed righteous in all of His dealings with the human race and that His requirement of every human being is to measure up to His righteousness. And God is so gracious that what He does is provide the righteousness for us because we cannot do it on our own. Paul asks this rhetorical question: “will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?” Remember what Paul said in verse 25. Therefore isn’t an uncircumcised man who keeps the righteous requirements of the Law superior to a circumcised man who doesn’t keep the Law? So the person who really demonstrates circumcision isn’t the one who is physically circumcised but the one who is truly obedient to the Law because that demonstrates humility rather than arrogance. That is the essence of the circumcised heart.

Romans 2:27 NASB “And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter {of the Law} and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?” He is thinking hypothetically here. Isn’t somebody who isn’t circumcised keeps the Law 100 per cent superior, and don’t they have the right to judge you who, even though you are circumcised, fail to keep the Law? The answer would be yes, emphasizing that it is the righteousness in character, not the overt act of circumcision that is of significance.

Romans 2:28 NASB “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.” What really makes you Jewish, he says, isn’t that you have been circumcised physically; what makes you a Jew is what also takes place internally. There is a physical requirement in that you are not a Jew unless you are a descendant of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but that only makes you a Jew outwardly, not inwardly. So the true Jews on the Old Testament were the Jews like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses Aaron, Joshua, Gideon, Caleb, David, and all of the other believers in the Old Testament who trusted in God, who were humble before God. These were the true Israelites because they had an external circumcision as well as an internal one.

Romans 2:29 NASB “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.” Paul doesn’t make this up. He got it from Moses in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, from Isaiah, from Jeremiah; all of these passages in the Old Testament talk about a circumcision of the heart. And it is by means of the Spirit. It is the same thing that we see in other passages related to walking by the Spirit, being filled by means of the Spirit. It is not by the external observance of the Law.

Romans 3:1 NASB “Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision?” The issue: If circumcision doesn’t get you into heaven, if it doesn’t solve the righteousness problem, then what value is it? On what basis do you get into heaven? How are you going to solve the righteousness problem? That is a question that everyone has to ask. Paul’s answer is that circumcision was never designed to be the answer to the righteousness problem. He uses two different words here as he asks this question. “Advantage” is the Greek word PERISSOS which as a meaning of something more, something in addition, something beyond the norm, and it is used to refer to something that is extraordinary or advantageous. We could translate this “what more, then, has the Jew.” Or, “what is there left for the Jew?” If circumcision is nothing then what more does a Jew have? Nothing. The word translated “benefit” is OPHELEIA which means advantage, gain, benefit, help, sometimes value. The answer: There is much advantage; they had a lot of advantages. It doesn’t mean that they are justified or that those advantages solved the righteousness problem because they still have the problem of breaking the Law. That is why they had the sacrifices.

Romans 3:2 NASB “Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.” The first advantage was the Scriptures. Literally this is the words of God, the Greek word LOGOS in the plural. It was through the Jewish people that God entrusted His revelation. What Paul is saying in this verse is that the value for the Jew is that he had information about God given to him that the Gentiles did not have. God has revealed Himself to the world through the Jewish people. This is affirmed in the New Testament in Acts 7:38 NASB “This is the one who was in the congregation in the wilderness together with the angel who was speaking to him on Mount Sinai, and {who was} with our fathers; and he received living oracles to pass on to you.” Romans 9:3, 4 NASB “For I could wish that I myself were accursed, {separated} from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the {temple} service and the promises.”

Romans 3:3 NASB “What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it?” The words translated “not believe” here is the Greek APISTEO, the same word that is used in verse 4. The point is not belief versus unbelief, it has to do with being entrusted with something or faithful with the text. It should really be translated “What if some were not faithful?” What if some of these Israelites were unfaithful, i.e., in the task of preserving the oracles of God. Would their unfaithfulness make the faithfulness of God without effect? Or, abolish it—KATARGEO, abolish or nullify. In other words, would man’s failures nullify God’s faithfulness and His righteousness? Paul says, absolutely not.

Romans 3:4 NASB “May it never be! Rather, let God be found true…” The focal point is that God is true, the one who is perfectly righteous, and He is the one who is going to maintain that righteousness over against man who is not. Paul introduces the concept of truth here, ALETHES, which is parallel to being faithful. And what does that parallel? Being righteous. He is connecting the truthfulness of God to the faithfulness of God to His righteousness. “… though every man {be found} a liar, as it is written, ‘THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED.’” If we take this and compare it to Psalm 51:4 it will be noted that there are some differences. That is because the Bible that the apostles carried and had with them and used in the Greek culture was the Septuagint (LXX). The differences are that in Psalm 51:4 in the LXX it is worded a little differently than it is in the Hebrew text. It may not be accurate in translating the Hebrew text but it is still true because God the Holy Spirit in the process of inspiration had the apostles quote from the LXX, which may not be an accurate translation of the Hebrew, and it becomes inspired at that point. Psalm 51:4 NASB “…So that You are justified when You speak And blameless [vindicated] when You judge.” In the LXX the word “blameless” is the word NIKAO, victory. It really has the idea of being vindicated or victorious. In other words, this is a vindication of God’s justice as it uphold His righteous character.