For 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 in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God. (Romans 2:28-29)
Paul has been discussing the righteous judgment of God, warning those who “rest in the Law” that knowing and even prizing the law does not exempt one from judgment according to truth. This could apply as well to those raised in the christian milieu.
Neither baptism, nor circumcision can save us from the wrath of God, in fact they are meaningless unless the spiritual reality they point to is evident in the lives of those who claim it.
Behold, thou art called a Jew, and restest in the law, and makest thy boast of God,And knowest his will, and approvest the things that are more excellent, being instructed out of the law; And art confident that thou thyself art a guide of the blind, a light of them which are in darkness,An instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, which hast the form of knowledge and of the truth in the law.(Romans 2:17-20)
Paul examines the psychology of self-delusion by which the religionist imagines he will escape the judgment of God.
* “You rest in the Law”- means that just by virtue of the fact that being a Jew (or a ‘christian’) gives one a higher moral sense than the rest of the world, they ‘rest’, concerning judgment.
* “You make your boast of God”- is akin to Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the publican,
9And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.(Luke 18:9-14)
Note the contrast between the boastful Pharisee, bearing the very false confidence Paul is warning about here, and the sinful publican smiting his breast(The heart is the very seat of sin) out of a bitter sense of distance from God.
*”You know His will”- The Law is a Revelation of God, it does teach the will of God. But rather than a source of self-confidence, the law should engender utter humility,and the fear of God. The Law should turn men to God,to seek cleansing and redemption.
*”You are confident that you are a guide…a light…an instructor…”- Those who have been given the Word of God should be teachers and guides, but not in false confidence and pride. The complacency he is warning the religious of, is utterly damning.
Who is it that really “gets ” the message of the Law of God? Knowledge of the Law and stewardship of it is an incredible privilege and enriching to any people. No wonder the psalmist burst out into exultation,“O how I Love thy Law, it is my meditation day and night!” (Psalm 119)
But the responsibility that comes with such privilege is sobering. Man will not be judged by what he doesn’t know, only by what he does know. To whom much is given much is required. Those who have been blessed by the Word of God, and access to it, have a heavy accounting coming.
For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law;(Romans 2:12)
Paul is in continuity ,not only with Jesus but with the warnings of all of the prophets of God to the people of the Word. Isaiah prophesied the true response to the knowledge of the Word of God, as opposed to the busy, empty, self-confident religiousity of the Israel of His day. Note his description of true Piety,
Thus saith the LORD, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me?… For all those things hath mine hand-made, and all those things have been, saith the LORD: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man; he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog’s neck; he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine’s blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.I also will choose their delusions, and will bring their fears upon them; because when I called, none did answer; when I spake, they did not hear: but they did evil before mine eyes, and chose that in which I delighted not.(Isaiah 66:1-4)
The real understanding of the Law, brings brokenness, self-doubt, utter filial fear of God, willingness to be humble, contrition( sorrow for sin), total love and devotion for forgiveness and redemption. This is saving Faith, approved of the Holy Spirit!
Busy, presumptuous religion, going about “building a house for God”(Look at what we are doing for God!), offering sacrifices as ritual, but with no real response to God, no listening and seeking to please God…”When I called no one answered”, this is religion which is rejected and disapproved.