Walk the Talk

Romans 2:17-29

Thus far in chapter 2 of Romans, Paul has been speaking to the depraved and the moralist about the great principles that Christ will employ on the Day of Judgment. There will be NO ESCAPE, NO EXCUSE, NO SECOND CHANCE, NO ETERNAL LIFE, and NO FAVORITISM for those who have NO APPRECIATION of the kindness, tolerance and patience of God.

In today’s passage, Paul addresses the religious person who does not WALK THE TALK. Probably, the religious person is the hardest to reach with the Gospel. There is nobody too bad for Jesus Christ to save, but there are millions who think themselves too good.

Few people were more religious than young Saul of Tarsus. He testified to King Agrippa in Acts 26:5—

According to the strictest sect of our religion, I lived as a Pharisee.

Paul knew all about religion and how it can make a sincere and zealous person the enemy of Jesus Christ. He wrote in Philippians 3:4-6—

If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.

Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews and lost! His Orthodox Judaism counted for nothing! He was attached to form, ceremony, liturgy, religious precepts and practices, and the attitudes that grow with such attachment, and was alien to the grace of God.

The Spirit of God has inspired the apostle to show how completely men are lost, whether they are an atheist or religious. Even believers in Christ need to know this. It enables us to know from what we were saved and how utterly condemned we were, and how completely unable within our environment or ourselves we were to recover ourselves.

It is this knowledge that enables us to appreciate the salvation of God in Christ. Though we may have not descended to the awful depths described in Chapter 1, but for the grace of God, we would have arrived at that place. This alone should be sufficient to arouse in us that pressing need to worship God and spread the Good News of salvation to others.

With devastating logic, the apostle has proved that the pagan world stands condemned for its failure to live up to the revelation of God in nature and conscience.

With the same logic, the apostle invades the realm of the religious man and proves that he too is lost. By profession and practice the Jews stood separate from the Gentile. Regrettably, the Jews had taken a God-given religion and converted it into Judaism. Judaism led the Jews off the narrow road on to the broad road as they lapsed into a condition of complacency concerning their own spiritual welfare.

Profession of religion, even though it be divinely revealed religion is not enough if the one who professes religion is not in some sense transformed by it. One must possess religion, not just profess it. Outside of a personal surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ, religion has no value.

Like the pagan, the Jew has the revelation of God in nature and in his conscience. But, he also has a special advantage—the written revelation of God in the OT. However, this threefold privilege only serves to condemn the Jew three-times.

When this final privilege of the Law is swept away, the inevitable conclusion is that the entire world stands guilty before God.

The case Paul’s makes against the Jew of the first century is equally true for Americans today. God’s Law—His entire revelation the Bible—is available to every American. On the day of Judgment, what American will be able to say to Christ, “I didn’t know that the Bible existed?” It’s mentioned one way or another in the news media almost every day.

Anyone in the United States may go into a public library and read the Bible without cost. There will be no excuse on Judgment Day for not knowing its contents.

Availability equals responsibility! And responsibility brings greater condemnation! Access to the Truth results in accountability to the Truth. To have access to a Bible greatly increases a person’s responsibility in the sight of God.

The Jew had access to the Scriptures from a child. He was taught in the synagogue, was made to revere and keep the Sabbath, was made aware of his need of a sacrifice, and was indoctrinated in the truth of separation.

These were no trivial advantages in a day and age when most people were pagans and steeped in superstition and idolatry. When all others groped in darkness, the Jew could lean back upon the Law. So the Jew not only had the advantage of Hebrew birth, he also had the advantage of the Hebrew Bible. However . . .

ON JUDGMENT DAY, THERE WILL BE NO REFUGE IN THE LAW. Romans 2:17-21—

Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of infants, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth.

Zealous Jews of the first century listened to their rabbis set forth their own conclusions on the Law. The Jewish rabbis erroneously declared that a study of the Law is equivalent to keeping of all the commandments. Upon such teaching, the Jew rested—that is, he trusted and leaned.

The Jew boasted of God as a national asset, of knowing God’s will, of approving the things more excellent, because he was instructed out of the Law. He made claims of himself in relation to others, such as being a guide to the blind, a light to those in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, because he possess “the form of knowledge and truth” in the Law.

But of what value were all these claims? Was there any evidence that these claims had first of all been realized in themselves? By a series of statements that the Jew would apply to himself, Paul asks a precise question that simply says—“Why don’t practice what you preach?”

It is a solemn thing to have access to the truth, to have been born into a family where the things of God are common knowledge and where the Bible is a well-read book. Such privileges are weighted with awesome responsibilities, and woe betide the person who takes them for granted. To have been raised in circumstances of spiritual privilege and to become a religious larcenist exposes a person to searing condemnation.

The Jew had a relationship with God because he was instructed by the Law. Hence, he was to be an instructor and teacher of the Gentiles—a light for a blind and dark world.

In fact, the Jew set himself up as a teacher of others and did so with contemptuous pride and with deep scorn for the ignorance of others not so fortunate as himself. The Jew looked with infinite disdain upon his Gentile neighbors for their profound ignorance of even the first principles of matters made so clear to the most illiterate Hebrew in the Law of God.

With verses 21-24, Paul begins to cross-examine the Jew in order to underline the condemnation which goes with a mere head knowledge of truth divorced from a life of obedience to God. A religious experience which is all talk and no walk will not stand the test on the Day of Judgment.

First, Paul’s cross-examination is an indictment of SPIRITUAL INSINCERITY, verse 21—

You, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself?

This is a common enough fault in religious circles and one into which it is easy to fall. Since true teaching has as its goal the changing of behavior, the teacher must apply his precepts to himself before applying them to others. Otherwise, the teacher is a hypocrite!

Second, Paul’s cross-examination is an indictment of SPIRITUAL INSENSITIVITY, verses 21-22—

You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?

To preach against sin and remain spiritually insensitive to sin in one’s own life is being a hypocrite. In addition, Jesus pronounced WOES upon those who did not walk their talk. He said in Matthew 23:13—

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.

Third, Paul’s cross-examination is an indictment of SPIRITUAL INSOLVENCY, verse 23-24—

You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Far from being an asset, the Jew’s access to the truth was a liability for which he will be terribly accountable on the Judgment Day. For there is nothing that will turn strangers away from the Truth faster than misbehavior on the part of a professed believer.

Paul’s quote comes from Isaiah 52:3, where Yahweh’s name is constantly blasphemed by the Babylonians who had taken into captivity God’s people. The Jews were captives because they dishonored God and broke His Law. They had made a mockery of God and caused His name to be mocked!

Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker and King David caused the name of God to be blasphemed. When David sinned with Bathsheba, Nathan the prophet indicted the king with these unforgettable words of 2 Samuel 12:14—

By doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, {that is they blaspheme the name of God].

Mere orthodoxy in religion does not make one more acceptable with God. Nor does it impress men either, for they look for reality in religion and quickly detect a mere pious pose.

The Jew did not teach himself. He stole like Gentiles. He committed adultery. He engaged in idolatry. By breaking the Law, he dishonored God. Instead of being what he claimed in relation to the Gentiles, his conduct actually turned out just the opposite. God’s name is blasphemed among Gentiles because of the Jew’s conduct that led Gentiles to affirm untruth about God and the things of God.

A person is spiritually insolvent who he does not live the Law. That’s the point of this chapter as summarized in verse 13—

For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.

The religious person usually feels secure because he is scrupulous in keeping the rites, ordinances and rituals of his religion. Paul now shows that mere rituals give no preference with God.

ON JUDGMENT DAY, THERE WILL BE NO REFUGE IN CIRCUMCISION. Verse 25—

Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised.

The value of any divinely authorized ritual is directly related to the law that God has given. In other words, a rite or ritual is meaningful only insofar as it is the outward expression of an inward experience. No outward ceremonial act can have any value if it is not related in some way to a dynamic, personal, scriptural spiritual experience.

Unfortunately, the Jewish rabbis erroneously taught that Abraham sits at the door of Hell and does not allow any to enter who are uncircumcised. Therefore, the Jews trusted in this rite for their salvation, just as many members of the church erroneously trust in the rite of baptism.

But the fact is that rites do not safeguard or save anyone! Circumcision was an outward seal or evidence that a Jew belonged to the line of Abraham. But it was purely external. The real evidence of belonging to the family of Abraham was not circumcision, but the keeping of the moral obligation laid down in the Law.

And there’s the rub! For circumcision to be of any practical value, the Jew must keep the law of God— something humanly impossible, and to break the Law is to render the ritual null and void if it had any power to save!

Failing to keep the Law only indicts the Jew and serves as evidence that inwardly he does not possess the nature of Abraham, nor is he subject to the authority of God in the Law. For whatever reason the Jew submitted to circumcision, it was not because he bowed the knee to the Law. Therefore, his circumcision was a mere empty formality that had no meaning at all. It was really equivalent to uncircumcision.

For God told Abraham in Genesis 17:11—

You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.

CIRCUMCISION is an outward SIGN of the Abrahamic Covenant. Also the circumcision made in the flesh was designed to point to the purification of the heart from all unrighteousness, as God particularly showed in the Law itself. Deuteronomy 10:16—

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.

Salvation in the OT and NT is two-sided—there is man’s part and God’s part. The Israelite is commanded by God to circumcise his heart by loving the LORD with all his heart. But man cannot love the LORD whole-heartedly without God’s help.

Jews might be astonished to learn that there is more in the NT about CIRCUMCISION than in the OT. Shortly before his death, Moses gave the spiritual meaning of circumcision in Deuteronomy 10:16—

Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.

Spiritual circumcision is turning away from one’s own ways and following the ways of God. Repeatedly, God tells man that the divine way is perfect and flawless and He desires men to walk therein. CIRCUMCISION OF THE HEART is necessary to walk in the ways of God. It is the objective of the NEW COVENANT in Christ’s blood. Moses predicted this circumcision in Deuteronomy 30:6—

The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

This promise remains yet to be fulfilled for the nation of Israel. Their heart, as a people, has never yet been circumcised; nor have the various promises in Chapter 30 of Deuteronomy been ever yet fulfilled. Why? The Jews as a people have not received Christ! John 1:10-13 explains—

He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

The BORN OF GOD are the circumcised of heart. Every born again Christian receives a circumcised heart at new birth according to Colossians 2:11-12—

In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

Like the physical operation of cutting away the foreskin, spiritual circumcision requires an operation in which God gives a person a new nature. By the power of His Word and Spirit, Christ changes and purges the heart from all godlessness and wickedness, and inclines the heart to love Him.

God repudiates formalism without a heart change, and the man who trusts in rituals and ceremonies without having a definite change of heart is in the folly of self-deception.

Man’s nature is so self-centered that he cannot even hear God unless there is a circumcision of the EAR according to Jeremiah 6:10 (KJV)—

To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? Behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the LORD is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it.

This should be a searching, solemn word to every one of us. If you find no joy in the study of the Word of God, if you do not wish to listen to His voice, cry unto Him to circumcise your EAR, to destroy, if need be, every interest that would distract your attention from hearing His voice. Fifteen times the Lord Jesus cries out—“He who has an ear let him hear!” Today we must cry out, “Lord circumcise my ears, that I may hear.” Without a circumcised EAR, there is no circumcised HEART.

We must never forget the Bible is a two-edged sword the circumcises our heart according to Hebrews 4:12—

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Furthermore, we need to have circumcised lips if we are going to TALK THE TALK. Moses understood this necessity when he told the LORD in Exodus 6:12—

But Moses said to the LORD, “If the Israelites will not listen to me, why would Pharaoh listen to me, since I speak with faltering/uncircumcised lips?”

Isaiah found the answer when he cried in Isaiah 6:5—

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

The LORD sent seraphim with coals of fire from the altar to touch Isaiah’s lips. They were coals from the altar upon which the blood of the lamb had ripped. Judgment for sin had been satisfied by the death of the substitute, and righteousness and power could now be provided for the prophet.

LIPS purged, EARS wide open to God’s Word, and a CIRCUMCISED HEART that desires to walk in God’s way are the signs of being a new creation. Paul writes in Galatians 6:15—

Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.

The circumcision of the heart done by Christ is an inward purification of the heart. It is a seal of righteousness or justification that comes by faith according to Romans 4:11—

[Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. So then, he is the father of all who believe but have not been circumcised, in order that righteousness might be credited to them.

Abraham was not justified by his outward circumcision, but by a righteousness that he had before he was circumcised, a righteous that is by faith! Circumcision of the Heart is a matter of faith, not a knife! God is the Father of all them that believe. Both Jews and Gentiles, circumcised and uncircumcised are made righteous by faith. That’s Paul’s point in verses 26-27 —

If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a law-breaker.

There are those of faith who can be found among the Gentiles. Uncircumcised Noah condemned the world before the flood according to Hebrews 11:7—

By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

Jesus taught in Matthew 12:41-42—

The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now one greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now one greater than Solomon is here.

The uncircumcised Ninevites repented and the Queen of Sheba believed without the written code. If a Gentile’s deeds excelled those of a Jew in righteousness, that very fact condemned the Jew, who had immeasurably better set of standards in the Law.

Therefore, circumcision has no value! It is a mere empty formality that had not meaning at all. It was really equivalent to uncircumcision. The clarity of Paul’s logic is intended to unmask the heart of the Jew and arouse his indignation. A Gentile, who makes no claims such as the Jew, when he keep the righteousness of the Law, even in uncircumcision, demonstrates a closer affinity to the Law than does the Jew. His uncircumcision ought to be counted for circumcision. Certainly, his nature is revealed by his keeping the law and serves as condemnation of those who claim relation to the law and yet transgress it.

There is no refuge in circumcision—the Jew is utterly defenseless. He falls under the wrath of God. Galatians 5:6 asserts—

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Faith is expressed by love and love is expressed by keeping God’s commandments—His Law! Jesus said in John 14:15—

If you love me, you will obey what I command.

Everything that is said of CIRCUMCISION in the Scriptures is equally true of BAPTISM. Neither circumcision nor baptism saves anyone! Both are outward signs of a covenant relationship with God, but without the inward reality of faith and love, they are even valueless as signs.

ON JUDGMENT DAY, THERE WILL BE NO REFUGE IN NATIONAL BIRTH. Verses 28-29—

A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.

It was characteristic for the Jew to take refuge in his nationality. He loved to trace his lineage back to Abraham, but Jesus warned that even though a Jew may be able trace his physical lineage back to Abraham, that is only part—and the least part—of his relationship with God. There must also be a spiritual relationship to Abraham by faith.

The rite of circumcision does not make one a child of Abraham nor does the ordinance of baptism make one a child of God. For example, at the age of thirteen, Hebrew boys go through a ceremony know as BAR MITZVAH. For when a boy reaches his thirteenth birthday, he is believed to have attained the age of responsibility and religious duty. But performing the ceremony does not make a man out of a boy. There is far more to manhood than that. Nor does performing a ceremony make a person a Christian; there is far more to it than that.

Let’s reread verses 28-29 substituting CHRISTIAN for JEW and BAPTISM for CIRCUMCISION—

A man is not a CHRISTIAN if he is only one outwardly, nor is BAPTISM merely outward and physical. No, a man is a CHRISTIAN if he is one inwardly; and BAPTISM is BAPTISM of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.

Our text warns that on the Day of Judgment, God will tear away every mask and disclose the skeleton that lurks behind the pretense of life.

The person who is truly saved WALKS THE TALK. The Christian has circumcised EARS, LIPS and HEART. Without these three circumcisions, those who profess to be Christians are hypocrites. And profession of religion without possession of Christ is valueless.

Likewise, teaching and preaching without practice is hypocrisy.

And talking without walking the talk results in God’s name being blasphemed.

There is the great alternative that is set before us as Christians as we approach the New Year. We can live in such a way that men will blaspheme the name of the LORD because of us. Or we can live such a way that men will see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.

Live as a hypocrite and you will receive the praise of men.

Live with a circumcised heart and you receive the praise of God.

WALK THE TALK!

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