The Faith of Abraham Is Not Faith Alone

When people say that salvation is by faith alone, they define faith incorrectly, or they ascribe faith to the wrong person. They believe that faith is merely a mental process or that it comes only from God. They often use Ephesians 2:8–9 to confirm their belief:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.

The problem, however, is that Paul does not express in this passage that we are saved by faith alone. Furthermore, there is no indication that faith is directly from God. If we truly want to understand these verses, the best way to do so would be to refer to the conversion account of those to whom Paul writes this letter, that is, to the Ephesian Christians (Read Acts 19), as he is simply recounting their moment of acceptance of Christ. However, instead of analyzing the Ephesians’ response, I want to focus on Abraham, a biblical character Paul discusses in his letter to the Romans. If there is anyone besides Jesus that we could look to as a model of faith, that person is Abraham. I believe he is the best scriptural example to analyze because he is considered the father of all those who have faith in Christ (Rom. 4:11,16). God chose him as the one through whom all nations would be blessed, and his choice was on the basis of faith.

Paul makes an important statement in Romans 1:17 that serves as a focal point of his entire letter. He says, “For in it (that is, in the gospel) the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith.’”

This statement cited from Habakkuk 2:8, “the just shall live by faith,” can also be worded as follows: “the [just by faith] shall live.” Notice that I place brackets around “just by faith” to highlight the idea that one is made righteous by faith, and thus, receives eternal life. We therefore can all agree that faith has a significant role in justification and salvation.

After he establishes that all humankind is guilty of sin in the sight of God, Paul clarifies that neither Jew nor Gentile can use the Mosaic Law as a means of justification. He says in Romans 3:27–28, “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law.” Then he uses the example of Abraham to show how one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. He says that Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness (Rom. 4:3). That is, Abraham was justified by his faith, not by God’s faith. Notice that Paul says in Romans 4:16 that the promise is for those who are of the faith of Abraham. He does not say the faith of God. Therefore, we can conclude from this account that the faith spoken of in Ephesians 2:8 is not a faith that belongs to God, but rather a faith man has in Christ through God’s word (See Romans 10:17). Note also that the original statement in Habakkuk 2:8 is that the just shall live by his faith; that is, it is the faith of the righteous person.

We can also determine from the example of Abraham that faith is not simply a mental process, but rather, it involves taking action that is rooted in trust. James says that faith is dead without works (Jas. 2:14–17):

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

He later uses Abraham as an example (Jas. 2:21–24):

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.

Here we see that Abraham did not just mentally believe God; he took action in obeying the Lord’s command to sacrifice his only son (Gen. 22:18). Abraham’s faith and obedience went hand in hand, showing that they were not separate things. Therefore, a correct definition of faith is that which includes trust and obedience to God’s word. One cannot be saved by faith alone or by works alone because one is incomplete without the other (Jas. 2:22).

Being justified by faith and obedience does not nullify the grace of God. Paul says in Romans 4:4–5, “Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” Abraham clearly did not earn justification by his obedience, because if it were so, it would not have been a gift from God, but rather a debt owed to him. When we say that one must be baptized to be saved, we are simply stating that obedient faith in God is essential, not that it merits salvation as a work of righteousness. In Titus 3:5, Paul shows that baptism is not intended to be a work of righteousness:

Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

The contrastive conjunction “but” distinguishes works of righteousness from the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, these two being the rebirth in baptism Jesus speaks of in John 3. Without them we cannot be justified, nor can we enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5). Therefore, if justification and entrance into the kingdom is obtained in baptism, as is stated in Titus 3:5 and John 3:5, it stands that baptism as a work of faith is essential for salvation, and not mental belief alone.

Advertisements

Ekklesia

Christ is going to save only one ekklesia, so it behooves all of us to be in the right one. Ekklesia is defined in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon as follows: “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly.”

This term is used in the Bible with this general sense, for example, in Acts 19 when the people assembled during the riot in Ephesus. Christ used this term in Matthew 16:18 referring to a group of followers who would believe him to be the Son of the living God. Caesarea Philippi—the location where Peter made his confession concerning Christ—has significance because the region was a religious center where people practiced pagan worship. There must have been many ekklesias during that period. Christ highlighted that he would build his own ekklesia. Thus, we know that there is an ekklesia of Christ.

Related to Christ’s use of the word, Paul employs ekklesia to refer to a company of Christians located in different regions (See 1 Corinthians 4:17, Romans 16:1, and Colossians 4:16). This is not to say that Christ has different ekklesias. All those who have believed in Christ and have gone through the conversion experience described in various parts of the Book of Acts have been added to Christ’s ekklesia (e.g., Acts 2:38-47). Paul simply used the term to refer to a congregation or gathering of those believers. Modern English Bible translations use terms such as congregation, assembly, and church, the latter probably being the most common. The church is the body of Christ, and to be saved, you must be in that body because Christ is the Savior of the church:

“And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. ‭1:22-23‬).

“For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body” (Eph. 5:23‬).

Christ is coming for his church, not the Baptist church, the Pentecostal church, the Methodist church, the Catholic church, the Orthodox church, the Episcopalian church, the community church, etc. He is going to save the church that he purchased with his blood, the church that is made up of those who have been called out of darkness into his marvelous light (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 2:9). That ekklesia is the church of Christ—the body of Christ.

[COMMENTARY] Romans 4

This post is part of a series of essays based on my study of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. They are simply drafts and not intended to be well-polished essays. I would appreciate any constructive feedback.


Romans 4

Click here to read the passage.

To further his point that no one is justified by works of the law, Paul goes on to use Abraham as an example of someone who was justified by faith. He asks the following question: “what then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh?” In other words, what did Abraham gain from keeping the law? If we have followed Paul’s argumentation, we know that the answer is nothing. If Abraham had truly followed all of God’s law perfectly, he would have something to boast about—he would have earned his righteousness. However, the Scriptures teach that Abraham sinned just like everyone else (See Genesis 12:13,16:1–4), but was justified by his faith in that he obeyed God in sacrificing his son Isaac in spite of God’s promise to make him a father of many nations by way of that very same son (Gen. 15:6; 22:1–18). He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Here we see the biblical definition of justification, that is, to be made righteous on the basis of faith in God apart from works.

Clearly, Abraham was justified by his faith, that is, by his obedience. The question then is does obedience nullify the grace of God. Paul says in verses 4–5 that to him who works, the wages are counted to him as a debt, not as grace (i.e., a gift). However, to him who believes—the one who has obedient faith—his faith is reckoned as righteousness. That is to say, God’s justifying people based on their obedience does not invalidate the free gift of justification. In fact, God requires obedience in order for one to be justified. Paul affirms in verse 6 that God imputes righteousness apart from works. If justification is defined as faith being credited as righteousness apart from works—and faith is obedience—we must conclude that obedience is not a work, and therefore, does not nullify the grace of God.

The word “work” is being used in these verses to mean a deed of the law—in this case, the Mosaic Law. Paul cites David, who said, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven.” A blessed man is one who is forgiven for committing deeds that are not of the law; his transgressions are forgiven. This quote further supports the argument that obedience is not a work and is a requirement for justification.

If the blessedness of justification by faith were only for the circumcised, it would not align with the facts concerning Abraham, which is that his faith was credited to him as righteousness while he was still uncircumcised. Once again: he was justified apart from works of the law. His circumcision was a seal of his justification. Justification before circumcision is important because it makes Abraham the father of all who have faith regardless of their being circumcised or not. Justification is a result of faith, not of circumcision. Although some would use verses 11–12 to refute the essentiality of baptism, Paul’s intention is not to speak against this act of obedience, as the spiritual circumcision is much more significant than the physical circumcision mentioned in this text (See Romans 6 and listen to my episode titled Baptism of No Avail).

Paul says in verse 15 that where there is no law there is no transgression. The inverse is also true: where there is a law, there is transgression. The law brings wrath to those who are under it, because no one can be made righteous through it (Rom. 3:10ff). If God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the heir to many nations were through the Mosaic Law, the only ones who would receive the promise would be the adherents to the Law—the Jews. In that case, faith would be useless and the covenant of promise would be annulled (Gal. 3:15–18). There would be no justification by faith, and all humankind would perish.

Notice that the promise was made to the seed of Abraham, that is, to Christ (Gal. 3:16). In order for the covenant of promise to be ratified, Christ—the testator—had to come and die (Heb. 9:16–17). During the time between the promise and the death of Christ, the law was put in place as a tutor to expose sin and to bring sinners to faith in order to be justified (Gal. 3:24). The covenant of promise ensures that all are justified if they have faith like Abraham’s, not if they adhere to the Law. For this reason, Abraham is the father of us all who believe (Rom. 4:16–18).

The reason why Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness was because he was not weak in faith. Abraham’s loins were dead, and his wife Sarah was barren. These conditions made it impossible for any couple to have a child. Yet God promised him that he would make him the heir of the world. Genesis 17 and 18 records Abraham’s reaction when he conversed with God concerning this promise.

We should not think that Abraham was not apprehensive of God’s plan. Genesis 17:17 says that Abraham fell on his face and laughed when God told him that he would have a son. He said in his heart, “Shall a child be born to a man that is one hundred years old?” And shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Gen. 17:17) Even Sarah laughed when she heard the promise (Gen. 18:13). However, observe Paul’s statement in Romans 4:20. He says, “He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.” The Young’s Literal Translation renders these verses as follows: “and at the promise of God [Abraham] did not stagger in unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, having given glory to God, and having been fully persuaded that what He hath promised He is able also to do.” Abraham did not allow his unbelief—his doubting—to take him away from doing the will of God. After his conversation with the Lord, and despite his apprehension, he took Ishmael and all the other males in his house and circumcised them according to what the Lord had commanded him. He gave glory to God in his obedience, and he was fully convinced that God was able to perform what he had promised. As a result, he was strengthened in his faith, so much so, that he was willing to sacrifice his son of the promise—Isaac—because he knew that God would be able to raise him from the dead (Heb. 11:17–19).

We see here that faith is a process in which there is growth as a result of following God’s word; hence, faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17). His word provides the evidence that fully convinces us that he is able to perform what he has promised both in salvation and after it. Just as Abraham was justified by faith, we also have the opportunity to be justified when we have faith in God, who raised Jesus Christ from the dead.

[COMMENTARY] Romans 3:19–31

This post is part of a series of essays based on my study of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. They are simply drafts and not intended to be well-polished essays. I would appreciate any constructive feedback.


 

Romans 3:19–31

Click here to read the passage.

Paul establishes in verses 1–18 that both Jews and Gentiles are guilty of sin and, despite their excuses, will not escape the judgment. Starting in verse 19, he argues that anyone who seeks to be righteous according to the deeds of the law will not be justified (Gal. 2:16), because the law brings about the knowledge of sin. The law speaks to those who are subject to it, and since all have sinned, those who are subject to the law are guilty before God.

The righteousness of God through faith in Christ has been made known apart from the law. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ (Acts 15:11; Eph. 2:8–10), not by the Mosaic Law. However, the Mosaic Law and the Prophets bear witness to salvation through faith in Christ. When Jesus spoke to the Jews concerning his authority as the Son of God, he told them that Moses had written about him (John 5:46). Moses had told the children of Israel that God would raise up from among them a prophet like him. He had instructed them to do as the prophet said because God would put his word in the prophet’s mouth, and he would speak to them all that he commanded him (Deut. 18:15). Moses was referring to Christ (Acts 3:20–23).

God does not save individuals based on any other distinguishing factor but obedient faith in Christ. We cannot be righteous on our own because we all have sinned, and we fall short of the glory of God (Gal. 3:22). Christ redeemed us by paying a price for us so that we would be justified freely by the grace of God (Rom. 8:1; 12:5; 2 Cor. 5:12). God made Christ serve as a propitiation for our sins (1 John. 2:2; Matt. 20:28; 26:28; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; 1 Tim. 2:5–6). His blood was shed as an atonement to satisfy God’s wrath. The free gift of salvation demonstrates the righteousness of God, because he has forgiven even the sins of the faithful ones spoken about in the Old Testament. Forbearance refers to God’s passing over the sins that were previously committed until the death of Christ took place. His death would cover sins retroactively and prospectively. Therefore, God is just and is the justifier of those who have faith in Christ.

The Jews had no room to boast because justification was by faith, not by the law. God is not God of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles, and has justified the former by faith and the latter through faith. God does not have a special relationship with one race or nation above others since he saves all people who have faith in Jesus. The law, however, was not made void by this fact, but rather was established, because it served its purpose in showing the need for justification by faith. That is, it exposed that all were under sin and needed to trust God to save them—not their works of righteousness.

[PODCAST] You’re Just Not Good Enough

The topic of this episode is based on Romans 3:9–18. I discuss the doctrine of total depravity and the idea of being “good.” I use Cornelius as an example of someone who was good, but not good enough for salvation. You can find a commentary and an essay that I wrote based on Romans 3 here and here.

The episode can be found at the following links:

Anchor
Apple Podcasts
Google Play

I hope you enjoy!.

Let God Be True

As we study the epistle written by Paul to the Romans, we learn that, although the Jews were God’s special people, God always intended to grant salvation to the Gentiles also (Read Isaiah 56). Jesus’ death put an end to the separation between Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:11–16). Several of Paul’s writings focus on the reconciliation of these two groups into one body (See Colossians and Galatians). Jewish Christians had to get used to God’s acceptance of their Gentile counterparts as his people without the requirements of the Mosaic Law. They became children of God through faith in Christ (John 1:12; Rom. 3:21–26; Gal. 3:26). In his Roman letter, Paul anticipates four objections that the Jews could have in response to his teaching (Rom. 3:1–7). The focus of this discussion is the answer Paul gives to the second objection (vv. 3–4):

For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? 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.”

The Jews overlooked that they also were justified by faith, and not by works of the law (Rom. 3:30). Although God gave them a written law, they were not able to live by it perfectly; therefore, they needed to put their faith in the Lord in order to be saved. Anyone who thought they could achieve righteousness strictly based on their adherence to God’s ordinances, and not because of their faith in Christ, would be condemned (Gal. 5:4, John 3:18). The Jews’ objection to this principle, however, would be that God is unfaithful in not saving them if some did not believe. They probably thought their unfaithfulness could nullify the faithfulness of God. Paul’s answer to this false conclusion is, “Certainly not!” Man is a liar, but God is always true. No one will ever be able to find fault in him. He will accomplish anything he wills to do, because he is faithful to his promises. As Christians, we can always count on the faithfulness of God. We read in his word that he is not like man that he should lie or go back on his word (Num. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Mal. 3:6). He will always fulfill his promises.

Several examples of God’s faithfulness and commitment to his word are evident in the Scriptures. In Numbers 11, God fulfilled his word to give the Israelites enough meat to be able to eat for a whole month. Although Moses could not believe it, God told him, “Has the Lord’s arm been shortened? Now you shall see whether what I say will happen to you or not” (v. 23). In Numbers 14, when the Israelites refused to enter Canaan because of fear, he promised that no one in that generation—except for Joshua and Caleb—would possess the land. When the people tried to enter despite God’s decree, they were defeated by the Amalekites and the Canaanites (vv. 39–45). In Numbers 22­–24, when Balak, the king of Moab, asked Balaam to curse the Israelites, Balaam was able to utter only blessings upon them. He said, “Behold, I have received a command to bless; he has blessed, and I cannot reverse it.” The most significant promise God made was to Abraham (Genesis 12, 17, & 22). He promised that all nations would be blessed through Abraham. God fulfilled this promise by sending Christ to die on the cross, thus granting the opportunity of salvation to those who have faith in Christ (Gal. 3:29).

Because of God’s track record, we know that we can always trust him. When we sin, John says that if we confess those sins, God is faithful and just to cleans us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). James writes that, if we ask God for wisdom as we endure trials, he will give it to us liberally and without reproach (Jas. 1:5). He also writes that we will receive the crown of life the Lord has promised when we have successfully endured trials and temptations (v. 13).

The Jews were indeed unfaithful. Some disobeyed God and did not walk holy and blameless before him. They refused to believe that God would give them power to overtake their enemies and possess the land that was promised to them. However, their disbelief did not nullify the faithfulness of God. The Hebrew writer confirms this in verses 2–3 and 6–8 of chapter 4,

For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said:

“So I swore in My wrath,
‘They shall not enter My rest,’”

although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.

Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, again He designates a certain day, saying in David, “Today,” after such a long time, as it has been said:

“Today, if you will hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts.”

For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

Clearly, in these verses, the author shows that the promise God made in former times concerning Canaan was not reversed because the Israelites refused to enter. Since God made the promise, some must enter. Who will possess the land—that is heaven—will be those who have heard, believed, and obeyed the word of God.

Paul writes in Romans 11:29 that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” Here he refers to Israel’s salvation if they put their faith in Christ. However, we can apply these words to our lives by understanding that whatever God decrees, he will carry out. Whatever he promises, he will fulfill it. God is not slack concerning his promises (2 Peter 3:9). For this reason, we know that whatever we deal with in life, we can continue to have hope, because God is faithful. As long as we strive to live righteously, according to what he commands, he will make a way for us.

Let every man be a liar, but let God be true!

[COMMENTARY] Romans 3:1–18

This post is part of a series of essays based on my study of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. They are simply drafts and not intended to be well-polished essays. I would appreciate any constructive feedback.


Romans 3:1–18

 

Click here to read the passage.

In the first two chapters of Romans, Paul condemns both Jews and Gentiles for their sinful practices. Although they knew that how they lived was wrong, the Gentiles suppressed the truth (Rom. 1:18). The Jews—who were once God’s special people—were hypocrites because they passed judgment on those who practiced sin, but yet they also broke God’s law. They believed that simply having knowledge of the law was sufficient; however, God requires that people carry out his law (Rom. 2:13; Jas. 1:22,25), not just know it. The Jews thought they were justified on the basis of circumcision; however, their sin brought them under the judgment of God, thus making circumcision null and avoid. Considering Paul’s stance, they could raise some objections (Rom. 3:1–7): 1) what advantage does a Jew have, or what is the value of circumcision?, 2) if some did not believe, does their unbelief nullify the faithfulness of God?, 3) if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, is God unjust for inflicting wrath?, and 4) if the truth of God has increased through our lie for God’s glory, why are we still judged as sinners?

The Jews did indeed have an advantage in that they were God’s people and had received his law (Deut. 4:5–8). They were the seed of Abraham to whom the promise was made that all nations would be blessed (Gen. 21:16–18). However, because God would punish part of the seed for not believing, they thought that God would be proved to be unfaithful to his promise—they were mistaken. Paul writes, “Let God be true but every man a liar.” That is, God is always faithful, and it is man who breaks his promise. The Jews did not keep the covenant, and therefore, they would suffer the consequences because the promise had conditions. Israel also believed that—because God was shown to be still righteous through their unrighteousness, and his truth increased through their lie—God would be unjust in judging them as sinners and punishing them. Paul explains that God is fair in his judgment because they were the ones who sinned. Their status did not allow them special treatment in spite of their sins, even though God was able to show his glory through their trespasses. Doing evil for the sake of good is not acceptable to God.

The conclusion of the matter, therefore, is that Jews were no better than the Gentiles. They were all under sin. Paul cites passages from the Scriptures to support this charge: 1) no one is righteous and without sin (Psa. 14:1–3,53:1–3; Eccl. 7:20); 2) all men are deceitful—they have nothing good to say (Psa. 5:9,140:3; Psa. 10:7); 3) men run to evil and make their path crooked (Prov. 1:16; Isa. 59:7–8); and 4) there is no fear of God (Psa. 36:1). Although several theologians use these verses to propagate the doctrine of total depravity, this passage does not support such teaching.

Paul says in verse 9, “we have previously charged both Jews and Greeks that they are all under sin.” Leading up to this statement, he showed that no one was righteous according to the law. He accused the Gentiles for breaking the law that was written on their hearts, and the Jews, for breaking the written code received from God. Paul makes his statement in verse 9 because they all transgressed the law; that is, they practiced sin (1 John 3:4). He then expounds on his statement in the following verses by using Scriptures. He does not make the claim that man is totally corrupt or incapable of doing good from birth, but rather, that he is guilty of transgressing the law. Mankind has become corrupt by continually practicing sin. Notice that the characteristics presented in verses 10–18 are those of people who are of an age of accountability. Infants and children are not born with a mouth full of deceit and cursing, nor are they born with their path crooked. The Scriptures say that men make their path crooked (Isa. 59:7–8); that is, there is a process in which they stray away, not that they are born already astray.

[PODCAST] Baptism of No Avail

In this episode, which is based on Romans 2:25–29, I discuss the meaning of being circumcised in the heart. This topic is a continuation of my commentary on Romans 2:17–29 and the essay titled “Dishonoring God’s Name.” I talk about Christian conduct and baptism, which I then connect to the spiritual circumcision received when a person is in Christ.

The episode is available at the following links:

Anchor – Baptism of No Avail
Google Play – Baptism of No Avail
Apple Podcasts – Baptism of No Avail

Please feel free to leave comments, feedback, and suggestions for future episodes.

I hope you enjoy!

Dishonoring God’s Name

God has always made his will known to the world through a special group of people. During the Mosaic dispensation, this group was the Israelites, but now that we live in the age of Christianity, the knowledge of God’s will comes through Christians. We have the duty of spreading God’s word so that the world may learn how to receive justification through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:17; 10:17). This great responsibility, however, has to be carried out with care. Christians must have the proper disposition as they seek the lost and show them the path to salvation. If not, we run the risk of doing more harm than good. If our conduct does not align with what we teach, we could be charged with being hypocrites and with causing the lost to move farther away from God.

In Romans 2, Paul touches on this topic as he exposes the sinfulness of both Jews and Gentiles. He points out the Jews in particular for being hypocrites because, historically as God’s special people, they had knowledge of his law but did not live according to it (Rom. 2:17–20). He writes the following in verses 21–22:

21 You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say, “Do not commit adultery,” do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?

The Jews had a problem with hypocrisy, which Jesus pointed out during his ministry. He told the people to observe the things that the leaders taught but not to do as they did (Matt. 23:3). The scribes and Pharisees desired to have the appearance of piety; however, their hearts were not right. They used the law to oppress and take advantage of people, not to build them up with justice, mercy, and faith (Matt. 23:14; 23–28). They sought to elevate themselves, teaching the people to keep the law while they were breaking it.

We as Christians must be careful not to fall into this pattern, because the consequence will be condemnation for us and for those we try to convert. Notice that Paul says in verse 24, “For the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” The people of God had a serious problem with apostasy and hypocrisy, which throughout history has caused the nations around them to stumble (Mal. 2:8). We read about this in the Old Testament. The Israelites were so sinful that even the Gentiles were ashamed of their acts (Ezekiel 16:27:30):

27 “Behold, therefore, I stretched out My hand against you, diminished your allotment, and gave you up to the will of those who hate you, the daughters of the Philistines, who were ashamed of your lewd behavior. 28 You also played the harlot with the Assyrians, because you were insatiable; indeed you played the harlot with them and still were not satisfied. 29 Moreover you multiplied your acts of harlotry as far as the land of the trader, Chaldea; and even then you were not satisfied. 30 “How degenerate is your heart!” says the Lord God, “seeing you do all these things, the deeds of a brazen harlot.

They brought shame to the name of the Lord (Isa. 52:5; Ezek. 36:22):

Now therefore, what have I here,” says the Lord, “That My people are taken away for nothing? Those who rule over them make them wail,” says the Lord, “And My name is blasphemed continually every day.

22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “I do not do this for your sake, O house of Israel, but for My holy name’s sake, which you have profaned among the nations wherever you went.

Jesus accused the religious leaders of converting people and making them even worse than them because of their behavior (Matt. 23:15):

15 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.

These passages clearly show us the influence our behavior can have on the lost. We cannot expect to bring anyone to Christ if we do not hold to the things we preach. Surely, we make mistakes, but our general disposition should be that of godly people in order to be pleasing to God and to not cause others to stumble. Our conduct as a royal priesthood and holy nation must be honorable, so that when people look at us, they will glorify God because of our good works (1 Pet. 2:9–12).

[COMMENTARY] Romans 2:17–29

This post is part of a series of essays based on my study of Paul’s epistle to the Romans. They are simply drafts and not intended to be well-polished essays. I would appreciate any constructive feedback.


Romans 2:17–29

 

Click here to read the passage.

Paul outlines in verses 17–20 the will of God for the Jews. They were God’s special people, who relied on his law. They had knowledge of God’s will and were taught all of his statues and righteous judgments (Deut. 4:8). Their purpose was to instruct the lost according to God’s law (vv. 19–20). That is, salvation for the rest of the world would come through them, since God chose them as a priestly nation (Exod. 19:6). However, the Jews dishonored God by breaking the same law they were supposed to teach, causing God’s name to be blasphemed among the Gentiles (Ezek. 36:22). They were stealing, committing adultery, and worshiping idols. They believed they could sin without consequences because they were God’s people (Mic. 3:11).

The Jews, who were physically circumcised, broke the law; therefore, their circumcision became as if they weren’t circumcised. Here we see that we can be God’s people, but if we break his law and do not repent, we will become his enemy. The Gentiles, who were not circumcised, were considered as if they were circumcised if they kept the requirements of the law. By keeping the law, they condemned the Jews—who had the law and were circumcised—because they broke the law. According to God, a Jew was not a Jew just because of his physical circumcision; they also had to be circumcised in the heart by the Spirit because God looks on the heart (Deut. 10:16, 30:6; Phil 3:3).

People use verses 25–29 to refute the necessity of baptism. They argue that one can please God and be justified without baptism in the same way Gentiles were justified without being circumcised. This argument, however, is incorrect. First, Paul does not teach in this passage that Gentiles were justified without circumcision. According to Genesis 17 and Exodus 12:43–49, all males living among God’s people—both natives and foreigners—had to be circumcised in order to enjoy the benefits of the covenant. Circumcision was never excluded from the law. It was an essential component that initiated the covenant relationship with God (Gen. 17:11). Paul is simply making the point that circumcision is not profitable if you break the rest of the law. That is, just because the Jews were God’s people, it did not mean that they could escape the wrath of God if they sinned, as that would be a breach of the covenant. A Gentile—being physically uncircumcised but yet keeping some requirements of the law—showed how sinful the Jews truly were.

Second, Paul says that a Jew is one who is circumcised inwardly, that is, of the heart and in the Spirit, not of the law. Here he makes reference to a spiritual circumcision that occurs in faithful obedience to God. Before the death of Christ, people were justified according to their faith (See Romans 4). The same is still true after Christ’s death. Jesus Christ was the one who commanded faith and baptism in order to be saved (Mark 16:16). According to Colossians 2:11–12, baptism is the spiritual circumcision in which we put off the body of the sins of the flesh, being buried with Christ and then raised with him through faith in the working of God.

Christians are considered spiritual Jews, forming part of the spiritual Israel that God has established in his new covenant with both Jews and Gentiles united in one body through baptism (Eph. 2:11–22). Therefore, Paul does not exclude baptism in verses 25–29, but rather, upholds it as being essential to salvation. However, even with baptism, Christians cannot go on deliberately practicing sin after becoming part of the body of Christ. Paul discusses this idea more in chapter 6.