But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth—you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
The Apostle Paul had just finished a diatribe against the unrighteous, both those who know God, but yet choose to serve the creature instead of the Creator (1:25), as well as those who claim to be followers of God, but yet judge others for the same sins that they themselves lovingly partake in (2:1). All of these types of people, regardless of race, gender, or socioeconomic status will be judged by God. Now, Paul turns his attention to God’s covenant people: the Jews.
The Jews were, and still are, a people set apart. In a world of polytheism and idolatry, the Hebrew people were to be known for their faith in and worship of the One true invisible God. God had made a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 12:3) that He would bless his offspring. God continued to renew this covenant throughout the Hebrew generations. Therefore, the Jews perceived themselves as blessed because of their heritage. They believed that they were a superior race of people. The irony is that less than two-thousand years after the writing of Paul’s epistle to the Romans, the view of the Jewish people was basically reversed.
Paul, in his usual rhetoric, questions his readers concerning their hypocrisy (17-24). Their hypocrisy is so apparent that they have blasphemed the Name of the very God that they claim to worship by their behaviors and attitudes. They were guilty of the very sins that they were accusing the Gentiles of committing. Why would the Gentiles want to conform to a hypocritical faith? The Pharisaical abuse of the law was shameful, not only in God’s eyes, but in the eyes of the unbelieving Gentiles as well. The Law had become a blasphemy to the Gentiles because of the Jews. The same is true today. Why would unbelievers want to worship a God whose people partake of the very same sins that He forbids?
The Jews had missed the whole point of circumcision (25-29). Circumcision had little to do with outward appearances and everything to do with inward appearances. It showed that the Jew had made an inward covenant of the heart (Genesis 17:11). The circumcision of the unbelieving Jew was of no value. A disobedient circumcised Jew was no more blessed than an uncircumcised Gentile. As a matter of fact, God blesses the uncircumcised believing Gentile in the same manner as the circumcised believing Jew. Paul’s point is that it is not circumcision and ethnicity that makes one a child of God. A true child of God is one who has a circumcision of the heart (29), one who has cut away the outer person, revealing that new inner person (Galatians 6:15). Salvation comes from an internal working of the heart, not externally conforming to the law.
These truths should cause us to examine our own hearts. Even though we are not bound by the law, we are still under the new covenant of Christ. We need to make sure that we are not adding to the gospel by mandating observance of certain rules and regulations that even we ourselves cannot keep. Legalism is a problem that has plagued the church for centuries. As believers, we need to keep in mind that salvation comes through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone.