Behold, you are called a Jew, and you rest in the law, and you make your boast in God, and you know His will, and you approve the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; and you are confident that you yourself are a guide of the blind, and a light to them that are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hath the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law. You therefore that teach another, do you not teach yourself? You that preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You that say that a man should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you commit sacrilege? You that make your boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonorest God. For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.
Father, as we look into Your word, we pray for wisdom again, as we recognize that these passages of scripture that we’ve been looking at over the last several weeks are heavy passages of scripture, convicting, and Lord, we know that that conviction of Your Spirit is ultimately to draw us closer to You. We thank You that, as we saw last week, Your kindness leads us to repentance, and You are a good and kind God. So God speak to us today, give us understanding by Your Spirit, transform us by the renewing of our minds we ask, for we ask this in Jesus’ name; and all God’s people agreed saying, Amen.
You can be seated.
“You are inexcusable,” says Paul, “whosoever you are.” The wrath of God will be revealed from God, from heaven upon those that walk in continual and open practice of hedonistic humanity. We saw that in chapter 1, verses 18 through 32; Paul is bringing conviction by the word of God upon those who walk in open rebellion to God by their actions, by their behavior; and he lists a number of different sinful behaviors, 24 of them actually are listed there at the end of chapter 1 of Romans. And he makes very, very clear that you are inexcusable, you who walk in this, because you know, through creation around you and through the conscience that God has placed within you, you know that walking in those things is against Him. And then we move from there to the moralistic judge. In chapter 2, verses 1 through 16, Paul makes very clear that they also are inexcusable; they may not walk in open unrighteousness, they may not commit adultery in their actions; they may not murder someone, but their ungodly heart is, it has conceived adulterous lust, it has conceived murderous wrath, and so they are guilty of the same. Just as Jesus said on the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it has been said of them of old time, ‘You shall not kill,’ but I say unto you, if you’re angry with someone without cause, you have murdered them in your heart.” You’ve heard that it has been said, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ but if you’ve lusted after someone of the same or opposite sex, you’re guilty of the same.” And so God is the just Judge. He is the one who, with righteousness, will pour out wrath. The scriptures say, there in Romans, chapter 1, verse 18, and Romans, chapter 2, verse 5, upon both groups of people we see the wrath of God being revealed from heaven; that there is a day appointed for the wrath of God. And the scriptures reveal what that day will look like, and it’s not a pretty picture at all. There is not a single person that we would want, even if we counted them as our enemy, there’s not a single person that we would want to be under the wrath of God, the eternal wrath of God. So Paul makes it very, very clear that these two groups of people, the hedonist and the moralist, they are both under the wrath of God: one because of their open practice and sinful rebellion against God; the other because they also have a sinful heart.
And so we see in Romans, chapter 3, the concluding section of this, beginning in verse 10, that “there is none righteous, no, not one. There is none that understands, there is none that seeks after God. There is none that does good, no, not one.” And this whole passage is given, verse 19 of Romans, chapter 3, to show that all humanity is guilty before God. Verse 23 of chapter 3, “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” So, there is a day coming, where God, through Jesus Christ, shall judge the concealed secrets of humanity. That’s what the last verse we saw last week, verse 16, says very, very clearly, “In that day,” Romans 2:16, “In that day, when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ.” This is what the gospel declares. And we often think, well the gospel is good news; I mean that’s what the gospel means; but that doesn’t sound like good news; that there is coming a day where God will judge the secrets of men’s hearts by Jesus Christ. John, chapter 5, the Gospel of John, Jesus reveals that He is the Judge; all judgment has been committed into His hands, and He will sit on a throne of judgment. The book of Revelation reveals this for us, what it will look like. Jesus speaks about it in the Olivet Discourse in Matthew, chapter 25, that groups of humanity are separated; there on one side, the right, are those who sought the Lord and followed the Lord, and there on the left are those that did not, and judgment will be poured out. That doesn’t sound like good news, but what that does, and it is a part of the gospel, is it reveals the glorious nature of the good news. It makes the glorious nature, it makes the good news more glorious, when it is set on the backdrop of our lostness, of just where we are.
Well, we see here the hedonist, the one who lives in open rebellion towards God, their practice displays that they do not follow God. Then we see also the moralist, as judged by God. But there’s a third group of people. What about the believers, the true believers? What about those that have taken vows, and are bound under covenant? What about those that have not only not walked in ungodliness, but they have sought to live righteously? What about those that have the law, and seek to keep it; those that live by a codified ethic, and it’s not of their own creation, they didn’t make it up, but it was actually given to them by God, there in the book of Exodus; that Moses went up on Mt. Sinai, and God Himself gave to a group of people His Law? It’s God ordained, God planned. The only religion on the face of the earth created by God – Judaism. Every other religion is man’s creation, but that was given by God; a codified set of laws that one is to live by, and that if they would live by these things, well then that’s what righteousness would look like. What about those that have those things; those that have been called out and chosen as a special treasure of God? That’s what the old covenant, that’s what the Old Testament describes the nation of Israel as: a special treasure of God, His own choosing.
Well Paul now zeroes in on that group of people, here in verse 17 of Romans, chapter 2. We’ve already looked at the hedonist, there in Romans, chapter 1, verses 18 through 32, and then the moralist, in chapter 2, verses 1 through 16, and now we move to the religionist. “Behold, you who are called a Jew,” verse 17, “and you rest in the law, and you make your boast of God, and you know His will, and you approve the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law, and you are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light of them which are in darkness, an instructor of those that are foolish, a teacher of those who are babes,” or infantile, “which has a form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.” Paul zeroes in here in these verses, verses 17 through 20, and he identifies ten privileges that are accounted to this people, these called-out ones, that identify themselves as Jews.
Now that term, that word, Jew, it is the short for Judah, and one of the tribes of the nation of Israel was the tribe called Judah. And there, after King David had died, and Solomon became king over the nation of Israel, the nation was one at that point in time under Solomon; and then after Solomon had died, he left his kingdom, he left the kingdom of Israel to his son, who was a fool. And he didn’t receive counsel of those who were with him, he rejected their counsel, and so the nation was split into two groups. And there were ten tribes, there were 12 total tribes of Israel, and ten of them, they kind of stayed together in the northern part of what is modern day Israel, and then were two tribes – Judah and Benjamin – in the south. And Judah and Benjamin, they were the tribes that held the city of Jerusalem, where the temple was; and that was the only place where God had ordained, or allowed that He could be worshipped by this group of people, there in Jerusalem. And so that group, called Judah, they held Jerusalem. Several hundred years later, after the nation of Israel continued to depart and walk from God, the northern ten tribes, they had fallen into deep, deep idolatry. And so, as a result, God judged them. In the 8th Century BC, the Assyrian army came and led them away captive, and destroyed the northern ten tribes. They came to be known, from that point, as the lost tribes of Israel. Two hundred years later, the southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin, they also had descended into idolatry; that is the natural tendency of humanity, as we saw in chapter 1, to descend towards idolatry, and ultimately immorality. And so during the time of the rise of the Babylonian Empire, under King Nebuchadnezzar, the nation of Israel, Judah and Benjamin, those two tribes, they too were judged. In 586 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar had been laying siege to the city of Jerusalem, and in August of 586 B.C., the temple was destroyed, and the people were led into captivity there in Babylon for 70 years. And at the end of 70 years, when they were released, and a very large group of them went back to Jerusalem to rebuild the city, and to rebuild the nation, they largely called themselves by the name Judah, or Jew, after that point. And so it was an identifier to a racial group, but it was also an identifier to a people group who followed a God, who is the God revealed in the scriptures – the one true God.
And so he says here, Paul does, that, “Behold, you who are called a Jew.” Now, that word Judah, it means He is praised. And the people who were under that name, Jew, they recognized that God had poured out a blessing upon their father, Abraham, and that blessing was to be extended to the whole nation, but ultimately that blessing would be the coming of the Messiah. Jesus is the root of that blessing. But by the time that Paul is writing this, the nation of Israel, the Jewish people, they counted themselves as the ones who were to be praised, and they were looking forward to a conquering king, a Messiah to come and exalt them above all nations, because they expected, because they were God’s “called-out ones, chosen ones,” they expected to be the nation above all nations, the ones that should be praised and honored. And so when Paul says, “You call yourself a Jew,” it meant something, it wasn’t just a racial identifier. They expected that there was coming a day when they would cast of Roman oppression, when they would cast off the Roman Empire, and everybody would look to them as the nation above all nations, the ones that ought to be praised, the people that should be praised. That’s a pretty heady thing, don’t you think? I mean, we live in a nation where we say that we’re the greatest nation on the earth, and we’re accused of being very arrogant and proud in the rest of the world, for saying that we’re the greatest nation on the earth. And in some respects, maybe that is, you know, a part of our pride. You know, we could go into all kinds of discussions about it. But imagine if we were the nation saying, “Listen, there’s coming a day where we’re going to be praised and honored by all of you.” That’s saying something completely different than recognizing that this is a place where many people from all over the world want to come because the opportunity and the freedom. It’s totally different to say, “We are the ones that ought be praised.” That’s what’s contained in this idea that “you who are called a Jew.” You think national pride is a big deal in America. You ain’t seen nothing until you look at 1st Century Israel.
Not only that, he says, “Not only do you call yourself this people that ought be praised, but you rest in the law,” and that could also be translated, “you rely upon the law.” They, by the very fact that they were the possessors of the Law of God, now this wasn’t ordinances that they created, this isn’t something that they got together and legislated, this is something that God gave. In their history, in their view of how this came to be, Moses, in Exodus, chapter 20, went on Mt. Sinai; the nation of Israel, the people were encamped down below; God came down upon that mountain, in the visible presence of a cloud, and He actually gave to Moses the tablets upon which were written the Law, and they were given to him by an angel. I’m mean, that’s a pretty awesome thing. And so, if you could imagine, these tablets came from heaven, heaven is meeting earth, and they’re given into the hands of this man, Moses, who takes them down the hill, and ultimately, you know the story if you’ve read through Exodus, or if you’ve seen The Ten Commandments. Charleton Heston did a pretty good job on that one. You know, he comes down the mountain, and the people are not engaging in worship of God at all, and so he casts down the…they’re broke, and the whole thing, you know. But ultimately, God gave this Law, it wasn’t something that He got together with his elders and came up with a plan on how we ought to live. God ordained. So, imagine, you are in a possession of this awesome thing that has come down from heaven – the Law of God…capital LAW. The Law.
Not only that, we see there in verse 17, “You make your boast in God.” They bragged, the NIV says, “You brag about your relationship with God.” They were God’s chosen people, the scriptures say, Deuteronomy, chapter 32, verse 10, they were “the apple of His eye.” The apple of God’s eye, the Creator of all things seen and unseen, who spoke and there was light; who spoke and there was earth, and universe, and stars, and He formed man of the dust of the ground, and He called forth Abraham, and He says, “you and your descendents are the apple of My eye.” That’s something to maybe be boastful about? What do you think? I mean, maybe get a little bit of a fat head over that one. We’re the apple of His eye. Deuteronomy, chapter 7, He says, “I didn’t choose you because you were bigger than all the nations of the earth, I chose you because I loved you. You were the least, you were the nothing, but I chose you because I love you.” And so Paul says, “You that are called a Jew, you expect to be praised, you that have the Law come down from God, you who brag about your relationship with God, because you are His peculiar treasure, His special treasure.” Psalm 135, verse 4 says that the nation of Israel, this group of people, descendents of Abraham, God’s special treasure.
We see further in verse 18, “and you know His will; you know His will.” You know what He wants. Now a few weeks ago, when we were talking about the hedonist, in Romans, chapter 1, and we saw that “the heavens declare the glory of God; the earth shows forth His handiwork. Day unto day they utters speech, night unto night their voice goes throughout the whole world. There’s no tongue or language where it’s not heard,” there from Psalm 19. So, all of humanity has general revelation; creation declares that there is a Creator. Beyond creation is the conscience, that inner moral law that God has planted there to remind us that there is a moral Lawgiver, who’s put that code there. So we have creation, we have a conscience to declare that there is God. That’s what we call general revelation. But by general revelation, our understanding, our knowledge of God is limited; limited to three things: number 1 – God is; number 2 – God is intelligent; and number 3 – God is powerful. When you look at creation, when you looked at all that He made from nothing, ex nihilo, you see in that, that God is; that He is intelligent, He’s got to be awesomely intelligent to be able to make what He made; and He’s got to be powerful to be able to put everything into motion, to make it happen. He has resources of power that we can’t even fathom. But that’s all we really know about this Creator, when we look at His creation. He is, He is intelligent, and He is powerful. There’s a lot we don’t know by observation; because one person, in observing all that we see here in the world, they look at it and they say, “Well, God is beautiful; God is a god of aesthetics, look at what He’s made, it’s awesome.” And another person, looking at the same creation, sees the chaos of a tornado coming through and killing a hundred people, and they say, “There’s no way that God is awesome, and beautiful, and good; He is bad, and He is mean, and vengeful.” So, looking at the same creation, you come to different conclusions. And so, there is another step of revelation beyond general revelation, called special revelation. Special revelation is the way whereby God speaks into the world of His creation, He speaks into the world of humanity in a language that they can understand. It’s where we get prophetic utterance. The nation of Israel, they had special revelation, a step beyond just understanding that God is, that God is powerful, that God is intelligent; now they understand His character. They begin to get to know His will. The only way that you can know His character and His will, is by Him actually speaking into creation; and there in Genesis, chapter 12, God speaks to man. He speaks into a man in a language he can understand…in Hebrew. And He says to this man, “Abraham, get out of your country, from you father’s house, to a land which I will show you, and I’m going to make you a great nation.” And from that point on, we see special revelation; the whole of the old covenant is filled with special revelation, as God, through men that He called, He speaks – through prophets. And He reveals His character, He reveals His goodness, in Exodus, chapter 34, we see Him revealing His forgiving nature, His mercy, His compassion, His love. We see Him showing His will in the book of Leviticus; this is how you are to live, this is how you are to walk. And so here Paul says, “You who are called a Jew, that is to be praised and honored, you that rest in the law, you rely upon that law that came from God, you make your boast in the fact that you know God, because you know His will.” The rest of the world knows that He is, that He is intelligent, and that He’s powerful; but you know something more, you know what He’s like. He made His ways known unto them. You know His will, what He wants. And as a result, he says, in verse 18, “You approve the things that are more excellent,” you approve that which is superior by instruction, because you’ve been instructed by God through special revelation from His Law, and from His prophets, you are able to discern what is right and what is wrong to a greater extent than the person who only has the moral code written in their inner fiber. You know better than anyone else what it is that God requires of you, “but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk in humility.” You know, because of revelation, that which no one else knows. And so you’re able to discern, that’s what that word “approve” translated in the King James Version, could also be translated, you’re able to discern what is right. Because He’s instructed you, He’s shown you.
He goes on there in verse 19, he says, “You are confident in your guidance of the blind.” They, the Jewish people, they were confident, they were boastful that they were the guides of the feebly lost Gentiles in the world; those people, they’re going around…they don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t know how they are to live; they don’t know what is right; they don’t know what is wrong. And we have been given the Law of God, we have been given God’s special revelation, through prophets, Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, Malachi; we know these things. But they don’t know, and so we are guides to them. They’re like poor, pitiful, blind, lost feeble creation, and yet we are the guides to them. There’s no haughty pride in that; is there?
Not only are they confident of their guidance to the blind, but he says there, in verse 19, “You trust that you’re a light to those who are in darkness, those miserable hedonists, those blind moralists, they grope about the world, walking in darkness continually, not knowing that they’re headed towards destruction, but, what does he go on to say, “You’re instructors,” verse 19, “You’re instructors of those that are foolish.” You, the Jew, you who are discipliners of those foolishly lost heathens, those Gentiles that are mindlessly ignorant, but you, you are teachers of those that are infantile, those that are babes, he says. You’re able to come because you are masters, and doctors of the law, and you’re able to show them: this is the way, this is what is required of you, and you’re not living that way. They were able, he says, to instruct, as teachers of those infants. And lastly, number 10 – you are possessors of knowledge and truth in the law, possessors of knowledge and truth in the law. So he lists ten things here that are privileges of the Jewish people, those who descended from Abraham. He says of them, that they are privileged because “you call yourselves Jews,” relying upon God’s law because you boast that your special relationship with him, because you know exactly what He wants. You know what is right because you’ve been taught in the law, you have special knowledge, special information, and you are able to school or tell everybody else, this is the way that you are to walk.
And so this is Paul’s description of what it would mean to be called a Jew. It really meant something, it wasn’t just a racial term that they identified themselves by. There was a lot contained in this. And remember, if you will, that the one who wrote this letter is himself Jewish by birth. He is himself a Pharisee, in that he was trained to be among the religious sect in Israel, one of the greatest religious groups in Israel, the Pharisees, he was one who was trained from a very young age to not only know the scriptures, but to apply the scriptures, and to live the traditions of Israel. It was common among the Rabbis, the Pharisees, like the apostle Paul, to memorize the entire Pentateuch, that’s the entire first five books of the Bible. How many of you have a hard time memorizing one verse? It was common among them to memorize the entire first five books of the Bible, and then to go beyond that, to learn the Psalms, and then to memorize the history of the nation of Israel; that would be Kings and Chronicles, Esther and Nehemiah. This guy knew the scriptures. Awesome intellect. And so we have a glimpse into the mind of the self-righteous religionist. You see, it was wide-spread among the Jews of that day, the belief that their salvation was virtually guaranteed simply because they were Jews. “No way that we’re not going to heaven,” was the mindset. No way that they would ever think that “we who descended from Abraham, we who are the children of the covenant, represented by circumcision; we who are the possessors of the Law of Moses; there is no possible way that we will not be in heaven. We’re the apple of His eye. We’re His own special treasure.”
And so Paul says, verse 21, Romans, chapter 2, “You, therefore, that teach another,” you who consider yourself to be a guide to the blind, and the teacher of those who are infantile, “You, therefore, that teach another, do you not teach yourself? You that preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You that say that a man should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you commit sacrilege? You that make your boast in the law, through breaking the law you dishonor God? For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles through you, as it is written.” He’s probably referencing one of the many passages in the Old Testament, something like Isaiah, chapter 52, verse 5, that makes very clear, because of the actions, the way that the Jewish people lived during the time of Isaiah, God was blasphemed, God was dishonored, spoken against, because of His people. “You, therefore, that teach,” says Paul, you count yourselves to be guides of the blind and instructors, that is “masters” or “doctors” of the law to those who feebly don’t understand it. “You who teach, do you not teach yourself?” You see, one of the striking verses, that only really becomes striking when you begin to teach God’s word, is James, chapter 3, verse 1, where James says, “Let not many of you become teachers, because you will receive a stricter judgment.” Every person who ever teaches God’s word, whether they’re teaching in the 3- and 4-year old classroom, or they’re teaching in the seniors’ Bible study, they’ve probably come upon that verse, and they actually questioned, “Should I really do this?” “Let not many of you become teachers.” And after saying that, can I just say, “We need some help in the children’s ministry?” No. Because, you’re going to receive a stricter judgment, says the apostle James. So Paul says to this nation, Jewish people, “You that teach…” Everyone that brings forth God’s word, in teaching it, that begins to search the scriptures and look through it, it’s hard to do so without being confronted with the reality that you don’t measure up. That’s a good thing, that’s the way God created His word; that’s why this is called a “living and powerful” word, that is “sharper than any two-edged sword,” that cuts deep, Hebrews, chapter 4, verse 12. It reveals the thoughts and intents of the heart. So, the word of God is living and powerful.
He says, “You, therefore, that teach these things, you that suppose yourselves to be guides to the blind, and a light to those in darkness, instructors of those that are foolish, teachers of those that have no knowledge. You that have a greater knowledge, because it’s been given to you thorough special revelation, and you brag that you have a relationship with God, greater than any other, and not just mere religion. You have a relationship with God, and not just mere religion.” Now I recognize the context here is speaking to the nation of Israel, but when we read through it in this way, we also recognize that we say the same things. Don’t we? Don’t we say, “We don’t have religion, we have a…relationship?” Don’t we read verses like 1 Peter, chapter 2, verse 9, and say, “We’re his special people, His own peculiar people, and royal priesthood, His chosen nation?” We say those things. Don’t we say that, “Listen, we’re a light the world, and those that are in darkness?” Yes, we say those things. The context is the nation of Israel, but don’t fail to see the way it applies to us, 2,000 years removed from one of the most self-righteous of peoples. “You that preach, ‘thou shalt not,’ do you?” It’s a striking question. “You that preach, that you shall not steal, do you steal?” Now, you can almost hear the response to that question: “Of course not!! We don’t steal. We know that that’s against the commandments…the 8th Commandment. Thou shalt not steal. Of course we don’t do that. The scriptures tell us not to do that. We know that we ought not do that. Not only do the scriptures tell us we should not do that, our own conscience bears witness that we ought not do that. So of course we don’t steal.” It’s easy to see how others break the law, when you are an expert in it. Right? “We would never do that.” And we parse all the different ways that, you know, you could get around it; but we would never ever steal; never take something that is not ours. But the question is, can we see, as we’re instructing others in what they ought not to do, can we see how we might also break it? You see, one of the greatest difficulties in teaching the scriptures is not allowing yourself to be examined by them. Because whenever we become those who are experts in the scriptures, and we’re reading the scriptures for the purpose of sharing it with other people, then we’re looking at the scripture and how it applies to them and not us. This is one of the greatest downfalls for pastors. You can pray for your pastors about this. That instead of actually self-examination by the scriptures, biblical self-confrontation, they constantly read the scriptures, even during their devotional time, and the frame of reference is: “How would I share this with another?” I know because I am one. It’s a danger. And so that’s one of the greatest problems, is we have a hard time examining ourselves with the scriptures. We start to think, “How would I present this; how would I share this with this person, because they’re really breaking this one? Right? And we all know that we’ve sat in Bible studies before, that as we’re hearing the word being preached to us, we’re thinking, “So-and-so needs to hear this so bad. I’m going to get them the CD. I’m going to send them the link to the YouTube video. They need to hear this.” Anybody ever had that thought. You’re laughter, it totally nails you, I know it. I have too. Do you steal? “Of course not!!” But as we’ve considered, the issue is not the physical act, but the inner heart motive. And so the physical act just proves that the inner heart motive was there all along; it just reveals what was already in the heart. Of course, we can only catch and convict one that has physically stolen something, but a thief is a thief as soon as he has made the decision, in his heart, to take something that is not his. So the question is: “Do I steal; do I have that resident in my heart?” Theft, note this, theft is just the fruit of the root called covetousness, which comes forth from the seed called greed. Theft is the fruit of the root called covetousness, which is birthed from the seed called greed.
In 1930, November 16th of 1930, there was a woman by the name of Henrietta Garrett, who died at the age of 81, in the city of Philadelphia, and when she died, she had a total wealth of about 22 million dollars, in 1930. It equals about 230 million dollars in 2012. That’s a little bit of coin. And when she died, she died with no will. And they didn’t have any immediate heirs. Over the course of the next seven years, more than 25,000 apparent heirs came to the surface, represented by more than 300 lawyers, from 47 different states, and 22 other countries. It took 25 years to deal with that case. They actually exhumed her body in September of 1937, maybe to try and find…some rumor had been spread that the will was with her, in the casket. And so they exhumed her body to try and find if they could find this thing. It was never materialized. Now I wonder how many of those 25+ thousand individuals would have said, “Well I don’t steal.” But in the process of that, there were 12 that were fined, 10 that received jail sentences, 2 that committed suicide, and 3 that were murdered through the process of all of that 25+ years. At issue is not the physical act of stealing, but the heart condition of sin – greed and covetousness.
And even this great Pharisee, the apostle Paul, when we get to chapter 7, he’s going to reveal, I believe, that one of the sins that he dealt with was the issue of covetousness and lust, internal greed. But he was a Pharisee, so the way he lived, it looked upright, it looked perfect, it looked good. You wouldn’t be able to find anything that he did that conflicted with the law, because he says in Philippians, chapter 3, “According to the law, I was blameless.” And then Romans, chapter 7, “until I realized the law says, ‘thou shall not covet.’”
But not just theft, what about adultery? As Paul highlights that here in this passage, “You that say,” verse 22, “you shall not commit adultery. Do you commit adultery?” Again, you can almost hear the answer, “Of course not, I would never do that.” The question is not, “Have you done it, or would you do it?” But rather, “Have you done so, in your heart, in accordance with what Jesus says in Matthew 5:27 and 28,” that when you lust after someone in your heart, that you’ve committed adultery. Adultery and fornication are matters of the heart. The actions don’t happen if the inner heart decision isn’t made first. The story is told that a wealthy-looking businessman gets onto an airplane, and he sits down next to a beautiful woman; and as they take off, he turns to her and he propositions her for a million dollars. She looks at him and says, “Are you serious?” somewhat aghast at what he said. He apologized and looked the other way, but a few minutes later she said, “Really, are you serious?” And they agreed. As they began their descent, he said to her, “Listen, I don’t have a million dollars, would you do it for 50?” “How dare you, what kind of woman do you think that I am?” To which he responded, “We’ve already established what you are, now we’re just haggling over price.” It’s an issue of the heart.
“You preach against idolatry,” Paul says, “Do you commit sacrilege?” There is a lot of discussion among Bible teachers about what is meant by this – “Do you commit sacrilege?” But there is some consensus that Paul is referring to those who might well make profits from dishonest practices connected to idolatry, although they themselves would never be involved with it. They themselves would never go to a temple to worship an idol, but they were involved in the trade of small idols; they were involved in crafting those things to make money. So they themselves directly didn’t involve themselves in the industry, in the sense of actually partaking of it, but they were fueling the industry by their work, and they were being fed by the industry through what they received from it. And so Paul says, “You say, ‘Do not commit idolatry,’ but are you connected to it in some way, in this matter?” “You boast in the law,” they bragged about having the law. “We have the law from God,” and yet they dishonored God by not practicing His law. Perhaps the greatest illustration of this found in the crucifixion of Jesus in John, chapter 18, when Jesus is being tried before Caiaphas, the high priest. They could not put Him to death because they were under Roman government, so they had to get Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, to say, “Okay, you can kill Him.” So they go to the hall of judgment, they go to the Roman hall of judgment, which was considered by the Jews to be Gentile territory; and there in John, chapter 18, verse 28, it tells us that the Pharisees, the chief priests, those religious leaders would not enter into the Roman court because it would defile them and they couldn’t partake of the Passover that afternoon. Now what a minute, you have just conspired and lied to kill Him, but you don’t want to step into Gentile territory, lest you be defiled and can’t partake of the Passover. Something’s amiss. Something doesn’t fit. “You boast that you have the law, but you dishonor God by not keeping the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed because of you.’” When unbelievers see the hypocritical outworkings of the religious, they dishonor God; they blaspheme Him for what they see.
An interesting story in 1 Samuel: The nation of Israel, they go out to fight a war against the Philistines. And the Philistines were stronger then them, but the nation of Israel thought, “Well, the only way we can win this war is if we take the Ark of the Covenant of God with us. Now, the Ark was this 2-foot by 3-foot box, made out of wood, overlaid with gold, that was in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle, the place where the people would connect with God. On top of it were 2 outstretched angel wings, the angels had their wings outstretched upon it, and that top part was called the Mercy Seat, and this is where God would come in His visible glory to meet with the people. And so, they said, “Well, we can’t beat the Philistines unless we have the Ark.” Because the first day they went to battle, they got beat up. So they said, “Let’s get the Ark, let’s bring…that’s what happened, we didn’t have God with us when we went out to battle. We need our ‘lucky rabbit’s foot,’ the Ark.” And so they brought it into the camp, and the people, they screamed with a loud roar when they brought this into the camp. And the Philistines in the camp across the valley, heard them scream. It’s like if you’re at a football game and you just hear everybody screaming. And they go, “Whoa, what’s happened?” And the Philistines said, “Surely the gods of the nation of Israel have come among them.” And they were afraid. The gods of the nation of Israel. What does that indicate? It indicated that these people, the nation of Israel, who were to have one God, the only true God, and they were to be the priests of that one God, they were living with idolatry, so that their closest neighbor said, “They don’t serve one God, they have many.”
Well, the Jew would probably respond, and Paul knows the response well, because of his heritage, they would say, “Well, it’s not about keeping the law, because we recognize we can’t keep the law perfectly, it’s about our lineage from Abraham.” The promised blessing. Look at verse 25 of Romans, chapter 2: “For circumcision, it profits if you keep the law, but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision is made uncircumcision.” You see, circumcision, not something you typically talk about, right, circumcision was the sign, the visible outward sign of the covenant relationship that God had made with Abraham, the father of the nation of Israel. And so a command was given, that every male child, by the time they were eight days old, was to be circumcised as a sign that they were the children of the covenant. Now this isn’t necessarily a sign you wear outwardly and show everybody, but it was the sign of the covenant. It represented that they had entered into a covenantal relationship with God. It similar, although different, I recognize, it’s similar to the idea that when you’re married, you wear a wedding ring; and that wedding ring is a sign of the covenant relationship that you have with your spouse. It is not…if you lose your wedding ring, it doesn’t mean that you’re no longer married, because the marriage goes deeper than just the visible sign. And there are certain benefits and advantages to being married, privileges to those who are married. But, if you wear a wedding ring, and you’ve not entered into the covenant, or you do not keep the covenant relationship with your spouse, you don’t enjoy those privileges and those blessings. And so what Paul is saying here is, “So what, you have the visible sign of the covenant with Abraham. So what, you are showing that you are children of Abraham. If you’re not keeping the law, the covenant is disannulled. The covenant is broken if you’re a breaker of the law.” Verse 26, “Therefore, if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcison be counted for circumcison? And shall not the uncircumcison, which is by nature, if it fulfill the law, judge you, who by the letter of circumcision, by the letter and circumcison, do transgress the law?” So Paul says this, he says, “Listen, if you have the sign of the covenant, that you’re a descendant of Abraham,” and God had given a blessing upon Abraham and his descendants, Genesis, chapter 12, verse 3, “if you are not keeping the law, then you’ve broken the covenant.” But let’s imagine that there’s a Gentile, a non-Jew, who’s not a descendant of Abraham, and they are seeking to live in a righteous way, and they are living out righteousness that you are not living out, doesn’t their life judge you, and show that, “Hey wait a minute, there’s a real problem with the way that you’re living. So what if you have the covenant.” “For,” verse 28, “he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not of the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
The great problem with religion is that religion is only skin deep. Religion can make an individual reform their practice, and live in a way that looks more moral, it looks more upright; but religious individuals have, well, they have this codified set of standards and guidelines that govern their actions. And a lot of times they allow those governed actions to represent them as being righteous and good, when in reality, their heart is still bent against God. And so, the scriptures reveal that circumcision, your religion, should not just be something that’s worn on the outside, but it should affect the internal reality as well. This is not just something in the new covenant, this was spoken by Moses when he gave the Law to the nation of Israel. Deuteronomy, chapter 10, verse 14, says this, “Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord’s thy God, and the earth also, and all that is therein. Only the Lord had delight in your fathers to love them, and to choose their seed after them, even you above all people, as it is this day.” So he says, “Listen, God owns everything, everything’s His, but He chose to separate a group of people, your people, the nation of Israel to be His people.” And then Moses says this, verse 16, “As a result, circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.” He’s chosen you, so therefore, because He chose you, live in a way that’s upright and righteous from the heart, not just externally. The prophet Jeremiah says the same thing, Jeremiah, chapter 4, verse 4, “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord,” that is to separate yourselves to the Lord, “take away the foreskins of your heart, you men of Judah, you inhabitants of Jerusalem, lest God’s fury come upon you like a fire, and burn, that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doing.” So, here again, 500 years before Jesus came, the nation of Israel, the Jewish people, they said, “We have circumcision, we have the law, we’re descendants of Abraham, we have the temple, we have the priesthood, we’re okay. We can continue to go and bow down to idols, we can continue to walk in immoral practices, but we’re okay.” And God says, “No, My fury’s going to come upon you, just in the same way that My fury will come upon those who refuse to repent.” The new covenant, that is what we just remembered in partaking of the bread that is broken and the wine that represents, the grape juice that represents His blood; that represents the new covenant, Jesus said, “This is the new covenant in My blood.” Now that new covenant is that God deals with the heart, and not just religious external action. Jeremiah 31, verse 33, “’But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days,’ says the Lord, ‘that I will put My law in their inward parts, and write upon their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.’” Ezekiel 36, verse 26, the prophet Ezekiel says, “’A new heart also will I give to you, a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away your stony heart of flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh.’”
So, as we conclude, the hedonist, Romans 1, verses 18 through 32, who walk in open practice of rebellion towards God, walking in sinful things that are against God’s nature, they’re inexcusable, they’ll be judged. The moralist, chapter 2, verses 1 through 16, who have a religious ethic, a moral ethic, and they follow this, and they think they’re good, and they point the finger as a judge against those who walk in bad things, doing things that aren’t good, God says, “You’re inexcusable, you also will be judged.” The day of God’s wrath will come. But not just the hedonist and the moralist, but the religionist, the self-righteous, the Jew who says, “Hey listen, we’re a blessed people because of our descent from Abraham, we have the law of God, we are the leaders, we’re the guides to the blind, we’re the light to those who are in darkness. God says, “Listen, unless you are converted, you are will in no likewise see the kingdom of heaven.” And so the conclusion is this: “There is none righteous, no, not one. There is none who understands,” this is Romans 3:11, “there is none that seeks after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that does good, no, not one. Their throat is as an open tomb; and with their tongues they have used deceit, and poison of asps,” or venomous snakes, “is under their lips; their mouth speaks forth cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood; 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. Now we know that whatsoever things the law says, it says to them that are under the law; that every mouth may be stopped, and that all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law shall no flesh be justified in His sight; for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” And so what Paul has been doing here is deconstructing all the different worldviews of humanity, the hedonist, the moralist, the self-righteous religionist, and he has shown – You are guilty.
From there, we move to this, “But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifest, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all that believe; for there no difference; for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And that’s where we’ll go next week; to the good news. Amen?
Let’s stand together.
Father, we thank You for Your word that is clear. We thank You that You hold nothing back in revealing to us where we are at, in respect to You, that there’s nothing that we can to do to make ourselves righteous – by the deeds of the law, no flesh will be made righteous in Your sight. But Lord, we thank You that You, through the work that You did on our behalf, are able to save to the uttermost, those that come to You through Your Son. Father, thank You for making a way for salvation. Strengthen us to proclaim that to those we come in contact with, for we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.