This morning we will continue our emphasis on the necessity of salvation. Thus far we have discovered that those who suppress the truth of God (atheists and nonbelievers), those who pervert the truth of God (pagans and idolaters), and those who self-righteously pursue God are all subjects of His divine wrath. Each of these categories of people are unrighteous in some fashion or another; that is, they are not “right” in their relationship with God and are in need of salvation.
When we began this series of sermons last month, we talked about some of the characteristics of the church in Rome. It is most likely that there were several small gatherings of Christians who met in homes across the city for worship. The entire congregation itself was probably quite diverse, and most certainly consisted of both believing Jews and Gentiles. Recognizing this distinction, in several places throughout his letter to the Romans the apostle Paul specifically addresses and/or appeals to one group or the other. Such is the case today...
In the later half of chapter 2 Paul identifies yet another unrighteous group of people - the presumptuous. These are individuals who presume that they are saved simply because of who they are. At the time this letter was written, many Jews assumed that they were righteous simply because of their Jewish heritage and birth. Believing themselves to be saved already on the basis of their identity, these people saw no urgent need for obedience or submission to the Lordship of Christ.
This same type of faulty thinking still exists today. Though not necessarily Jewish, many supposed Christians believe that they are saved because of their identity. Some presume that because they are members of a certain church, or children of certain parents, or walked an aisle many years ago that they are automatically redeemed. Such assumptions are horribly misplaced.
I. HEARERS ALONE ARE NOT JUSTIFIED (Romans 2:12-16)
The Jews were the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They were God’s chosen, covenant nation through whom He sought to further reveal Himself to the rest of the world. Through His servant Moses the LORD provided Israel with the Law, that they would have a comprehensive written collection of His standards to study and abide by.
The Gentiles, on the other hand, did not have immediate access to or intimate knowledge of this Law. They were descended from other ancestors, and did not share in the Jewish heritage or religion. Even still, the revelation of God was “evident within them” to the extent that they could understand the difference between right and wrong.
The law of the Gentiles had been ascribed internally, written within them. Whether someone had the law visibly written on tablets or invisibly written on their hearts, both groups would be judged based upon their obedience to the commandments which they’d been given. As we discussed last week, trying to attain salvation through obedience to the law is a form of self-righteousness known as “legalism”. It can be a problem for the Jew and the Gentile, because each has some form of the law to follow. In either case, the Bible is clear that perfect adherence to the law is impossible for any person and all are guilty as a result of failure to keep it.
But notice the implication of this passage… the Jews presumed themselves to be justified simply because they had heard the Law. In other words, because they had been chosen by God to be the recipients of His commandments, the Jews reasoned that they themselves must be redeemed. Actual obedience to it was not significant. And as the exclusive possessors of His law, they further concluded that all of the Gentiles must be wicked.
II. MISREPRESENTING GOD (Romans 2:17-24)
The Jews had taken God’s law and kept it largely to themselves. God had intended them to become “guides to the blind” , “lights to those in darkness”, “correctors of the foolish”, and “teachers of the immature”. Put another way, the LORD wanted to reveal Himself to the entire world through the nation of Israel so that all people would come to know Him. Unfortunately, with rare exception, the Jews had chosen instead to selfishly hide their light under a bushel.
Paul challenges these presumptuous and stingy Jews with several questions. Why would you speculate that others are guilty and you are not when both of you commit the same sinful acts? How is God fair and just if He condemns some and excuses others for doing the exact same things? Yet the fact that these questions were even posed reveals that many Jews assumed that they were saved not on the basis on what they did per se, but rather on the basis of who they were.
This type of lofty attitude among the Jews led to deep-seated resentment for them among the Gentiles. The ongoing tension between these two groups is obvious throughout the Scriptures. On top of this, because of Israel’s contemptuous behavior Gentiles everywhere blasphemed God’s name. The people who had been especially chosen to represent the LORD among the nations had become so pious and hypocritical that the nations despised God.
As professing Christians, we share the responsibility of being God’s representatives in today’s world. How are we doing? Do people praise God’s name after seeing and hearing us? Or… do they see us and say, “If that’s what it looks like to be a follower of Christ I’d rather pass”?
III. CIRCUMCISION OF THE HEART (Romans 2:25-29)
Circumcision had been practiced by the Jews since the days of Abraham. It was a physical, outward marking that identified his descendents. Yet, this identifier was meaningless and invalid if the circumcised person was a violator of the law, which all of them were. Thus circumcision was no more consequential to salvation than uncircumcision, a fact that certainly upset some of Paul’s Jewish readers.
The Bible explains that a true Jew has had a circumcision of the heart which is performed by the Spirit of God. Their righteousness is not vested in an outward profession of who they claim to be, but rather is vested in an inward change that God himself imparts.
Walking an aisle and saying the sinner’s prayer doesn’t make you a Christian, anymore than being circumcised in the flesh makes you a Jew. While the prayer is of some importance, a true Christian is one who has had a transformation of the heart. They have been radically changed on the inside, and this reversal becomes increasingly apparent on the outside. It is something that God does within us when we sincerely commit our lives to Him.
Most of us dislike those who think that, because of who they are, the law doesn’t apply to them. Many prominent politicians come immediately to mind. They consider themselves to be above the law, and live as if they will never be held accountable for their behavior. While this may sometimes be the case here on earth, no one will escape the righteous judgment of God.
As we close this morning I want to touch on a concept that is widespread throughout Christian circles today. It is an easily embraced theology that pleases our ears and appeals to our senses. It has come to be known as “cheap grace” or “free grace” and is advocated by many of the most well-known preachers of our day.
“Cheap grace” is the idea that once a person receives Christ unto salvation, their thoughts and behaviors no longer matter. Proponents of this way of thinking suppose that born-again Christians can go on sinning just as they had before their salvation, and no real change is expected by God. According to this theology, accepting the grace of God doesn’t cost a person much since they can continue living in whatever sinful manner that they choose. Thus, it is a “cheap grace”.
While salvation in Jesus Christ may be free, it certainly comes with a price. We must take up our cross daily and follow Him. Those who reckon to have the grace of Jesus as Savior without any submission to Jesus as Lord are grievously mistaken. Their disingenuous treatment of God is equally as vile to Him as the behaviors of the unrighteous. Assuming themselves saved, they are actually just as lost as the most miserable of sinners.
Jesus may love you just as you are, but He will not leave you just as you are. Those who claim to be saved but continually remain unchanged are presuming upon God’s grace, just as these Jews were that Paul was addressing in his letter.