The Jews and the Law, Rom. 2:17-29
Through the remainder of chapter 2 Paul continues his indictment of all humanity, demonstrating universal need for the gospel of Christ. Having discussed God’s righteous and infallible principles of judgment, Paul takes a satirical approach to exposing the hypocrisy of the Jewish nation. The Jews had long viewed themselves as superior to the rest of the world. In reality they were no better at all. Though God’s chosen nation for the Mosaic Age, they broke the very Law upon which they based their boasting. Paul wrote quoted Isaiah in saying, “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (2:24; Isa. 52:5). Let this be a lesson to Christians—we are also sinners, just saved sinners. We must be sure that we do not give the world grounds for saying, “They are merely a self-righteous, judgmental bunch of hypocrites.” We must be a light to lead people to God, not a stumbling block which prevents them from finding him. God expects better things of his own people. Peter wrote, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Pet. 4:17).
Circumcision, performed on newborn Israelite males on the 8th day of life, was a physical sign of the covenant between God and his people (Lev. 12:3). But a sign alone did not seal the Jew’s salvation. There was advantage in being a Jew, a member of the nation of Israel. They had the covenant, the Law and all its instruction for holy living. Yet, the sign of circumcision meant nothing apart from adherence to the Law and loyalty to the Lord. Those who know better must do better. James wrote, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins” (James 4:17). The Jews boasted of their knowledge, but Paul charged them with dishonoring God by breaking the Law (2:23). God’s people have long been tempted to rely on outward signs without changing their ways. The Law was not a good-luck charm and circumcision itself did not constitute the Jew a better person. It was worthless apart from obedience. The uncircumcised, upright Gentile was just as good as the Jew.
Paul was making every effort to convince the Jews they were as much in need of the gospel as were Gentiles. Physical Israel had been the covenant people of God for 1500 years, but those days were past. Paul begins to use circumcision in a spiritual way, referring to the removal of sin from the heart (Col. 2:11-12). In the gospel age, baptism is the defining moment in conversion. There the obedient, penitent sinner finds cleansing by the blood of Jesus (Acts 22:16). There new life begins (Rom. 6:1-4). But that new life must continue. The baptized person cannot say with finality, “Well I have been baptized and that’s all there is to it.” Further, we who are members of the body of Christ cannot say to the world, “I am a member of the church and I am better than you.” We are people of great privilege, but with great privilege comes great responsibility. The Old Testament Jews believed once saved, always saved. That stance was a fallacy and the same is true today. We must obey the gospel to be saved, and we must live by the new covenant to be saved eternally (Rev. 2:10).
My comments are not an inspired commentary, but rather a few words to draw attention to the background, context, and dynamic situation of the book of Acts. May God bless your reading of His Word. T.C.