Devotion In Motion
In the classic Walt Disney animated film. The evil queen has a magic mirror and every morning and evening she stands in front of it and asks a question “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?” and for the longest time the mirror answers that it is the queen until someone else is born who she cannot hold a candle to, Snow white!.
In the same way Paul is about to show us that when we too look into a mirror and see who we are and everything we have done we might also tend to think we are the fairest of them all but we are not.
“In the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.” In Other Words We’ll be judged by the opportunities we received, but one day that judgment will be public and open for all to see. All “the secrets of men” will be brought into the light of day. In Matthew 10:26 Jesus says, “For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.” There are no secrets with God.
I read of a woman from Lansing, Michigan vacationing in sunny Florida. This woman wanted to do a little nude sunbathing so she found a secluded spot on the roof of the hotel. Within a few minutes the manager was beside her insisting she put her clothes on. She thought no one could see her, but she had actually stretched out on the dining room skylight. Here’s a warning, if you go to court with God your life will be naked and open for all to see! If you don’t want all your skeletons and dirty laundry dragged out of the closet for everyone to see, you need to cop a plea!
Find a way to settle out of court. There is an alternative – the Gospel of Jesus Christ! Verse 17, “Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest (or rely) on the law, and make your boast in God…” In chapter 1 Paul prosecuted the heathen. Now in chapter 2 he’s exposed the hypocrite. In verse 17, it’s the Hebrew’s turn. In the OT the Jews were God’s chosen people. They had a proud heritage, but they let their heritage go to their head. They assumed because they were Jews they were exempt from God’s judgment. Jewish tradition said Abraham sat at the gate of Hell to keep all gentiles in and all jews out regardless of the life they lived. Trypho, a Jewish writer, once said, “They who are the seed of Abraham according to the flesh shall in any case, even if they be sinners and unbelieving and disobedient towards God, share in the eternal Kingdom.” The Hebrews or Jews were brimming with false confidence! Here’s what the Jews overlooked – the Bible teaches that the greater the privilege the greater responsibility. Rather than exempt from judgment, because of their enormous blessings, the Jews were due a stricter judgment!
Paul continues to innumerate their advantages in verse 18… “And (they) know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, 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, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law.” The Hebrews were the caretakers of the Scriptures. They wrote the Bible – they read the Bible – they copied the Bible – they studied the Bible – they taught the Bible… they just failed to obey the Bible! The word “instructed” in verse 18 is the Greek word “katecheo” – from which we get our English word “catechism.” It means “to teach by repetition.”
Scripture was drilled into their heads, but it never penetrated their hearts. The Jewish synagogues were full of the same people who sit in churches today. They’re going to miss heaven by 18 inches. The Word they know in their heads has never worked its way 18 inches down into their heart. Verse 21 “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? The Jews weren’t obeying the Law – certainly not its intent – but they eased their conscience by teaching it. If you went to college the joke was if you couldn’t make it in the business world you ended up a professor in the business college. It’s said, “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”
The Jews were zealous teachers, but horrible doers. Paul asks them in verse 22, “You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” Seventy years of hard labor in Babylon had cured the Jews of idolatry. The Jews hated idolatry. An idol robbed God of the glory and preeminence due His name. Yet Paul says the Jews have ripped God off in more subtle ways. We too can rob God! Malachi 3:8 asks “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.” The unwillingness to give God a tenth of our income is nothing less than stealing from God. In the Bible the first-fruits – the first tenth of what you made or grew didn’t belong to you – it was considered God’s possession. Verse 23, “You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? For “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you,” as it is written.” Here Paul quotes Isaiah 52:5. God intended for the Jews to be a light to Gentiles, instead they were a hindrance.
Verse 25, “For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” Here’s another assumption the Jews made. If a man was circumcised he was right with God. One Jewish scholar wrote, “Our Rabbis have said that no circumcised man will see Hell.” The Jewish Midrash puts it, “God swore to Abraham that no one who was circumcised should be sent to Hell.” The Jews felt safe, and spiritually secure, because they were circumcised. But Paul reminds them that circumcision is just a symbol. What matters to God is the condition of the heart. And there are Christians who’ve made the same mistake. They’ve substituted symbols for substance, replicas for reality. People think if they’ve been baptized, or take communion, or worship on a certain day, or join a specific church, they’re now acceptable before God. Charles Hodge writes, “Whenever true Christianity declines, there is a tendency to lay undo stress on external rites.”
Ritual and tradition can be a cover-up for what’s lacking in the heart. Form can never replace faith! But faith can take the place of form… “Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?” If an uncircumcised, pig-eating, Sabbath-working Gentile loves God, and has faith, he ends up more acceptable to God than the orthodox, kosher, circumcised Jew. Pleasing God is about faith not form. “And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you (he’s speaking to the Jews) who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? 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 of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” To a Jew this was a two-by-four between the eyes. Paul rattles them. They put so much confidence in their fleshly circumcision, but Paul tells them true people of God are circumcised of heart. They trust and obey. In Deuteronomy 30:6 God made a promise to Israel, “The LORD your God will circumcise your heart… to love the LORD… with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” Physical circumcision was merely the symbol of a deeper cut – a cutting away of the sin nature. We need our wings clipped. If you’re going to domesticate a duck you’ve got to clip its wings, or at the first hint of winter it’ll fly south.
In the same way, we’re prone to fly south on God. The tendencies, and propensities that cause us to fly the coop and run from God need to be clipped. A genuine child of God – the person Paul would call a true Jew – has experienced spiritual surgery. He’s been born again! The Spirit replaces a callous heart with a caring heart. Love replaces lust. Being a Christian is not the work of a scalpel, but the work of the Spirit.
Romans 3, “What advantage then has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision?” This is the argument you’d expect from a Jew who’d just finished reading chapter 2. If being born a Jew, and being circumcised, doesn’t make you right with God – is there any benefit to being Hebrew? Paul answers, “Much in every way! Chiefly because to them were committed the oracles of God.” The word “oracle” refers to “a divinely inspired message.” The advantage of being a Jew was their access to Scripture. God’s Word spared the Jews pitfalls common among the pagans. In his book “None of These Diseases,” Dr. S.I. McMillen describes how many of the OT laws helped the Jews avoid various diseases. In the Middle Ages when the bubonic plague swept across Europe, the one group of people largely unaffected were the Jews. Their dietary and hygiene laws prohibited the deadly disease from spreading into the Jewish community.
Verse 3, “For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect?” Here’s another argument Paul anticipates. If a man is saved via God’s faithfulness, not his own – then what of those who aren’t saved, does it mean that God has proven unfaithful? “Certainly not! Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar. As it is written: “That You may be justified in Your words, and may overcome when You are judged.” On occasion someone will complain, ” I’m struggling with sin, but God refuses to deliver me. I really want His help, but it’s just not working for me.” The truth is, I have a choice to make… God promises to His part – if we do our part! So if it’s not happening, then who’s the one that’s dropping the ball? I choose you! Either you’re a liar or God is a liar! And quite frankly I’m siding with God! As Paul put it, “Let God be true but every man a liar.” You might need to take another look at you! “But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.) Paul will do this at times. He’ll use silly arguments to answer the questions of silly men. Here’s an example… When man sins, God judges righteously. So some smart elect might ask, “why shouldn’t we sin more and more? If our sin puts God’s righteousness on display, then don’t we do God a favor by sinning?”
It’s a silly, stupid argument, but Paul is dealing with silly, stupid men. He answers, “Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world? For if the truth of God has increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still judged as a sinner? And why not say, “Let us do evil that good may come”? -as we are slanderously reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just.” Even though God displays His glory and righteousness in the judgment of our sin, you and I are still responsible for the deeds we do. “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all.” In fact, Paul is just as accountable before God as the next guy. “For we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.” Everyone is accountable.
This has been Paul’s point for 3 chapters. The heathen, the hypocrite, and the Hebrew – Jews and Gentiles – all are sinners and deserving of God’s wrath! We need to add a verse to the Sunday School song, “Red and yellow, black and white – we’re all sinners in His sight.” We are all “under sin.” The phrase “under sin” or “hupo harmartia” means “under the power, or sway, or domination of sin.” Man’s problem is not that he’s sinned, but that he’s controlled by it. He’s mastered by sin. Outside Christ it’s his basic instinct. Verse 10, “As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one…” Of the 100 billion human beings who have walked this planet there’s been only one person who was righteous in God’s eyes – and His name is Jesus! “There is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God.”
Did you hear about Ringo the duck who made his home at the city park in Toronto. Ringo poked his bill through the pull tab off a Cola Cola. With his bill stuck shut, he had no way to eat and was on the verge of starving to death. An enormous rescue was launched. Park officials tried to lure Ringo with food. They hired a champion duck caller. But Ringo mistook all these attempts to help him, as threats. He ran from the very people who wanted to save him. This has been man’s reaction to God. He loves us. He sees that we’re starving to death, and wants to help us, but we keep trying to avoid Him. “They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable…” The Greek word translated “unprofitable” was used to describe spoiled milk. God looks at the combined efforts of all humanity and says we all stink! “There is none who does good, no, not one.” There is none, there is none, “there is none who does good...” Paul shoots us down with the none gun. Verse 13 describes us all, “Their throat is an open tomb; with their tongues they have practiced deceit;” “the poison of asps is under their lips;” “whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.” “their feet are swift to shed blood;”
Paul begins with our mouth – he highlights the venom we can release with our tongue. He ends with our feet. He’s saying we’re sinful from head to toe. Verse 16, “Destruction and misery are in their ways; and the way of peace they have not known.” “there is no fear of God before their eyes.” There you have it – case closed! God has rendered a guilty verdict on all humanity! Once a man was strolling down the street carrying his Bible over his shoulder in a leather case. Some kids thought it was a camera bag, and asked if he’d take their picture. The man said he already had their picture. They wanted to see it, so he opened his case and pulled out the Bible. He told them, “This is your picture” – then he read them Romans 3:9-18… The man went on to share the Gospel. And this is what Paul does. He’s shown us our picture. It’s bleak. But now he is going to explain to us God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. AmenVictor Tafoya
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