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Jim Davis

Romans 2:28-29
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. (NIV)

Very rarely do I take liberty to change the wording of scriptures. But I would like to take the liberty with the foregoing verses. I would like to change the word "Jew" to "Christian" and the word "circumcision" to "baptism". The church is the Israel of God today (Galatians 3:29) and baptism does correspond to Jewish circumcision (Philippians 3:3; Colossians 2:11,12). I am certainly not stretching the truth as I apply these verses to Christians. It may help us understand the essence of the first three chapters of Romans to our personal lives.

Romans 2:28-29
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 a circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God. (JD's translation.)

The words "Christian" and "baptism" are certainly not in the original manuscript, but the scriptural teaching in this chapter of Romans certainly seeks application to the Christian community. How often is God's name blasphemed among the world for the way Christians live? The Christian community certainly receives no praise from God when such happens.

Losing Sight of Who We Are

The Jews saw themselves honored by God because of who they were. As sons of God they enjoyed the glory of God's divine presence, the covenant, the law, the system of worship and the promises of God. They saw themselves honored in that God had given them written revelation and had them circumcised to mark them as his children from birth. God honored them by giving them so much. However, as they focused on their special privileges they gradually lost sight of the really important --- the inner condition of the heart.

Deuteronomy 10:15-16
Yet the LORD set his affection on your forefathers and loved them, and he chose you, their descendants, above all the nations, as it is today. Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. (NIV)

The instruction received through God's revelation in the Old Testament was reduced to a body of knowledge, which was used to instruct, teach and guide the blind, but found no application to the heart. The Jews lost sight of how God desired to circumcise their hearts.

Deuteronomy 30:5-6
He will bring you to the land that belonged to your fathers, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 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. (NIV)

Even today what God did for the Jewish race is almost unbelievable. However, what God did for the Jews, he was also doing for you and me. As we begin to think about this aspect of God's grace to the Christian community, we may become as exclusive as did the Jews. In a world turned in on self, it is not difficult to lose sight of what God is calling us to be. It is easy to overlook the really important value of the inner man of the heart.

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. (NIV)

Peter writes, "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." (1 Peter 3:3-4 NIV)

How Do We Dishonor God?

Romans 2:21-23
. . . you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? 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? You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? (NIV)

It is possible to develop an outward conformity to the rules with no inward attitude. God not only judges according to the truth (2:2), and according to deeds (2:6), but he also judges according to the attitude of the hearts (2:16). God sees what is in the heart.

For those who preach truth today, do we live by the truth? Do we seek the unity in which we so fervently believe others should seek? Do we forgive as we have been forgiven? Are we as gracious to others as God is to us? Do we speak to people how we wish to be spoken to? Do we treat others like we wish to be treated? As we understand our need of grace, do we extend the same grace to others?

A judge in juvenile court once had an unnerving experience. When a youngster who had been caught stealing from a farmer's field was brought before him, he said, "Son, what do you have to say for yourself?" The young culprit looked at the official repentantly and then asked plaintively, "Judge, didn't ya ever steal a watermelon when you was a kid?" Startled by this question, the magistrate blushed. After a long pause, he said, "Though the boy has done wrong, I have decided under the circumstances to dismiss the case." He was embarrassed because he realized that he was as guilty as the defendant!

The easiest way to become religious and ungodly at the same time is to focus on what God has done for each of us, while ignoring the needs of others. The day is long gone when the world was converted by three lessons on "What Must I Do to Be Saved?" and fifteen stanzas of "Just As I Am." The world must see the Word of God come to life in those who claim to have their lives focused on God. The world is acutely aware of our problem of not practicing what we preach.

Why are your works so important? Simply because your works reveal what is in your heart. Whatever is inside must eventually come out. This is a great principle that reveals itself in many ways. If you are angry inside, that anger must eventually reveal itself. If you are bitter, that bitterness will bubble to the surface. If you are a greedy person, your greed will show itself in your actions. If you are a bigot, you can't hide your bigotry forever. If you are a chattering fool, soon enough you'll open your mouth and prove it to the world. Likewise, if you are merciful, mercy will come forth. If you are gentle, the world will soon see your gentleness. If you are thrifty or wise or trustworthy or loving or a peacemaker . . . whatever you are on the inside will be seen in the way you live.

I have inserted some words in brackets to make the lesson relevant to Christians in the 20th century and to bring the message home.

Romans 2:17-21
Now you, if you call yourself a Jew [Christian]; if you rely on the law [grace] and brag about your relationship to God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by [grace] 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-- you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? (NIV)

What is it that the people of the world really want? What would make a difference to them? The familiar words of Edgar Guest provide an answer:
 

I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I'd rather one would walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye's a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example's always clear;
The best of all the preachers are the men who live their creeds,
For to see good put in action is what everybody needs.

I soon can learn to do it if you'll let me see it done.
I can watch your hands in action, but your tongue too fast may run.
And the lecture you deliver may be very wise and true,
But I'd rather get my lessons by observing what you do.
For I might misunderstand you and the high advice you give,
But there's no misunderstanding how you act and how you live.

One good man teaches many, men believe what they behold;
One deed of kindness noticed is worth forty that are told.
Who stands with men of honor learns to hold his honor dear.
For right living speaks a language which to every one is dear.
Though an able speaker charms me with his eloquence, I say,
I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day.


That last stanza contains a powerful image: "Men believe what they behold." They don't believe what you say, they only believe what they see. If the two don't match up, your words will be disregarded. Those of us who make our living by moving our lips ought to ponder that thought carefully.

It is our obedience, which persuades the world to praise God.

2 Corinthians 9:12-15
This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God's people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift! (NIV)

Seeking God's Praise

Today we hear much about turning our worship services into praise services, but here Paul is teaching us how to turn our lives into lives praised by God. Try to imagine what lives praised by God would do for our worship services. It would be a service truly filled with God’s power.

Romans 2:28-29
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. (NIV)

A believer was trying to teach an infidel about the saving power of the Lord Jesus. The atheist rudely interrupted him, demanding, "If the Bible is true, how can it say that David was a man after God's own heart? After all, he committed murder and adultery!" Thoughtfully and calmly the believer replied, "If you read the account in 2 Samuel 12, you'll realize that you are living proof of the truth of that Scripture. It records that Nathan said to the king, 'By this deed thou has given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme.' But you forget, David was called 'a man after God's own heart' because he confessed his sin, was forgiven, and lived a life of faith."

It was because of David’s willingness to repent that God praised him for having such a good heart. This is why we see such glorious powerful praise in the psalms, which David wrote.

John 5:44
How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God? (NIV)

2 Corinthians 10:17-18
But, "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord." For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. (NIV)

1 Pet 1:6-7
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith-- of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-- may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (NIV)

Conclusion:

The message of judgment is precisely the message modern man needs to hear. It reminds him that Someone is up there listening, paying attention, taking notes if you will, on everything he says and does and thinks. As frightening as that may be (and it is truly frightening if you dwell on it), it is also tremendously reassuring because it means that God not only knows all about you, he cares about the minute details of your life. In fact, he cares so much that one day you will have to answer for the way you have lived upon this earth.

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