BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVES/The difference between inward and outward righteousness
Wednesday, November 21, 2012 12:00 PM
In Romans 2 Paul aims to deal with those who are hypocrites, those who are outwardly devoted to God, and yet who have no real expression and experience of love to God from the heart.
Paul is speaking throughout this passage to what we might call gospel hypocrites: those who have a profession of belief in God, but those who have no reality of saving faith and experience of grace. And Paul is working very hard throughout the second chapter of Romans to bring arguments against unbelief.
Paul is attacking every false place or location of assurance that he can find, as he rounds out his argument in Rom. 2:25-29 and presses the claims of Christ upon us all.
I. Covenant signs avail for nothing apart from covenant realities (vv. 25-27)
Hypocrites have said to Paul, "We don't need your gospel. We've got circumcision. We're the inheritors of the covenants of promise given to Abraham, sealed in circumcision." Paul responds arguing that covenant signs mean nothing apart from the covenant realities: a heart converted with true love for and consecration to God.
Paul is here continuing to diagnose a spiritual problem amongst this religious people: they are spiritually deluded. These are unbelievers who have assurance. Unbelievers who have assurance are hard nuts to crack. So the apostle is throwing out every argument that can come to mind to undercut their false assurance, not because he hates the Jewish people, but precisely because he loves them. He does not want them to be spiritually deluded, secure when they ought not to be. And so he cuts down every place that they are running to find assurance other than Jesus Christ: the law, election, and circumcision will all condemn apart from Christ.
Paul wants them to see themselves as they are in order that they will accept the gospel. They have denied their need for the gospel. They have defended themselves by their appeals to the possession of Moses' law and of national election and divine calling and the covenant.
Paul wants to show them that all the things to which they look for security are only going to condemn them unless they believe on Jesus Christ offered in the gospel.
This is not just a New Covenant principle; consider Deuteronomy 10:12-17 (which reminds us of words that Micah will echo centuries later), which teaches the recipients of God's grace and goodness that they are to circumcise their hearts, to love God, and to walk in his ways. Otherwise, they have simply rejected God's benefits.
The Apostle Paul is kicking out from under them every prop on which they base their security because he longs for them to embrace the one thing that can give them the security that they need.
Paul is not just speaking to those Jews in first century Palestine; he's speaking to us. How often have you talked to a person who has no sign of real interest in or love to, or obedience of God? And you talk to him about spiritual things, and what do you hear? "Well, I walked the aisle. I've signed a card. I made a decision."
The important thing is not whether you once upon a time trusted in Christ, but are you now trusting in Christ? And if so, how is that showing in your life? The Apostle Paul here is uncovering gospel hypocrites.
We also learn in this passage that Paul is laying the groundwork for how the Jew and the Gentile will relate in the kingdom of God. They will be made into one household so that those who are uncircumcised, it will be as if they were circumcised. And those believing Jews who have trusted in the Messiah as their God and Savior, they too will be united in the one house, no longer separated by the ceremonial law: Jew and Gentile together.
II. The righteousness of the new covenant is inward and moral (vv.28-29)
Paul asserts a very different definition of what it meant to be a Jew than his opponents accepted. And he teaches us here that the righteousness of the New Covenant is inward and moral, rather than being merely external and ceremonial and ritual and symbolic.
Paul gives four contrasts to help you know the difference between true righteousness and false righteousness: Outward, inward; flesh, heart; letter, spirit; men, God.
First, Paul contrasts apparent and perceived righteousness with real righteousness. He's not a Jew merely outwardly, but he's one who is inwardly.
Secondly, he contrasts a person who has been circumcised by flesh - ritual righteousness - with circumcision of the heart, real righteousness.
Thirdly, a contrast between mere compliance with the ceremonial law and spiritual adherence to the moral law.
Fourthly, he contrasts the truly righteous person and the one who is only apparently so. The truly righteous person longs to be righteous in the eyes of God, but the only apparently righteous person longs for the praise of men.
We ask ourselves as we look at our lives, and we see a profession of faith. Along with that profession of faith do we see true love and esteem for Jesus Christ? Do we hold Him in high esteem? Do we love His word? Do we acknowledge the authority of the Holy Scriptures and long to have our lives guided by it? Have we grown in love to God and love to neighbor, love to man? Have we seen the Spirit working in us those fruits which wage war against the flesh and its lust and cause our hearts to be more and more conformed to the desires of God? Have we been captured by a spirit of truth, or are we bound to the spirit of this age? If you're really trusting in Him, God is at work in you to do that which is well pleasing in His sight. Don't trust on that which cannot give you assurance. Trust on the only one who can assure you forever: Jesus Christ as He's offered in the gospel.
The Rev. Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III is senior minister of The First Presbyterian Church of Jackson. He can be reached at 601-353-8316 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.