"Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things." (v.1)
This verse is for everyone, and the word therefore refers to what was previously said. Here it refers to the natural man who was discussed at the end of chapter 1. His mind does not have the ability to make a true judgment because it is filled with lies and deception. He can only judge from his own experience and understanding. He cannot know what is going on inside the other person. Humanity proved its inability to judge correctly by condemning God's Son to death. In Christ, God proved man's judgment of God to be wrong!
God's judgment is on the ungodliness and unrighteousness of natural man. Instead of receiving that judgment, he blames others. In so doing, he passes the judgment intended for him, to the other person. In passing judgment, he judges others and tries to leave himself without blame.
Only God can judge correctly! It is an impossibility for the natural man to judge correctly because the natural mind cannot receive spiritual realities. Without hearing the voice of God, no one can make a true judgment. Therefore true judgment can only come from the spiritual man who has heard from God. By speaking what he has heard from God, he lets this judgment be known.
If we judge others, it proves that we are knowledgeable of the standard by which we are judging. So when we judge others by our standards, yet do the same things, we are condemning ourselves. The tragic picture in chapter 1 applies to everyone. We are all born with the same human nature. We may have a hard time identifying with all the promiscuity, homosexuality, malice, murder, etc., because we have not actively participated in these things. However, we need to realize that it is all resident in the old nature.
Pointing a finger at someone else is so much easier than recognizing our own failings! But the Lord is saying, "Now that means you; you are without excuse, because you who judge practice the same things." Whenever we tell someone that he should not judge, we are judging him. We are doing the same thing we are telling him not to do. Have you ever noticed that when you criticized your spouse or someone else, that you were guilty of the same offense? You criticize someone for his impatience, and it shows up your own impatience. You criticized someone for his lack of love, and it showed up your lack of love. We have all been born with the same nature. Even psychologists agree that the things we criticize in other people are the very things that are wrong with us.
The Holy Spirit has perfect insight into humanity. He knows there is nothing good in the natural man, and "that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things." The Greek word for rightly, literally means according to truth. The judgment of God is accurate, for it is according to truth! God's computer does not break down, and the information He feeds into it is accurate. His judgment is always complete, without error, and based on very good evidence.
The standard by which God judges is truth. Truth judges the counterfeit. Everything that is not truth is a lie. That does not leave room for mistakes. How different are the judgments of men!
"But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?" (v.3) The point here is that nobody escapes! We can't sidetrack God by pointing the finger at others. Children try the pointing-finger trick all the time - so do grownups. "He made me do it...if he had not done that, I wouldn't have done it...Look at what he is doing." Why do we point the finger? Because God is pointing His finger at us, and we are trying to get His attention off of us. "Lord look over there." This attitude does not help us escape the judgment of God.
"Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" (v.4) The legal definition of forbearance or tolerance, is the act of refraining, by the creditor, to enforce the repayment of a debt that is due. We show forbearance when we don't collect on the due date, even though we have the right to collect.
This is how the Lord treats us! He has a right to collect, but He doesn't. A lot of credit that belongs to God, we've taken for ourselves. We've squandered a lot of money that belongs to God, but the Lord has forbearance, and keeps on forgiving us. His kindness is continually at work, and it leads us to repentance.
Truth judges us continually. The Holy Spirit presents truth to us. If we do not accept it in its entirety, it judges us. Consequently we receive more error. When we receive truth, we will be rewarded with more truth. So judgment is constantly taking place!
Judgment is not synonymous with punishment. To judge means to make a decision about something. When judgment rests upon truth, it has a true foundation! In court, judgment is based upon the evidence. Judgment may be in favor of the accused, or against him. If it is against him, the judge will state what the punishment is. If it is in his favor, he is released from all censure and punishment, and he is allowed to go free. So we have to keep in mind that judgment and punishment are two different things.
Paul tells us that the kindness of God leads people to repentance. This brings about a love relationship. Fear of punishment may produce obedience, but not a love relationship. What would happen if a young man would try to win a lady's love by threatening her with terrible punishment if she didn't accept him? She might marry him out of fear, but she would not love him. God has shown us His love in Christ, and His lovingkindness leads us to repentance and brings us into a love relationship with Him!
In 1 Cor. 13:4-6 we have a description of love. Since God is love, it is also a description of who our God is! So instead of thinking of ourselves as we read these verses, let's get a picture of who our God is. "Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth." This describes the essence of God! Everything He does is in keeping with who He is!
We see these same attributes in Jesus Christ. He demonstrated His love and kindness in ever so many ways. He suffered many wrongs but did not retaliate. He did not seek His own advantage, patiently endured His sufferings, and did not even take into account all the wrongs He suffered! Therefore we can trust Him to deal righteously with us!
Isn't it amazing how God's love, kindness, forbearance and patience are emphasized in the midst of this discussion of judgment?! Even though the judgment is due, God holds back the judgment and gives people an opportunity to repent. Rom. 9:22 also cites God's patience, for He patiently endures even "vessels of wrath, which are fitted for (prepared for) destruction." Examples of this are abundant in the Old Testament. Pharaoh was a vessel of wrath prepared for destruction, yet God patiently endured him because He used that evil for good! Even today we marvel at God's patience! It is a mystery to us how God can use evil to serve His purpose!
In Col. 1:11 it says that we are to be "strengthened with all power" so that we show the same qualities of steadfastness and patience God has. God's power in us enables us to be patient instead of frustrated; patient with the one who owes us money and cannot repay on time; patient when everything seems to be going wrong. The Lord is working this into us - and He uses evil for this purpose.
It is interesting to note that the Greek word CHRESTOS, is translated kindness, and in Matt. 11:30 the same word is translated easy. "My yoke is easy." In other words, His yoke is kindness. To be yoked with Jesus we must walk with Him; it means that He carries the burden with us, and this makes our burden light. So if we are heavy-burdened, we are carrying the burden by ourselves.
In Romans we see the correlation between Paul's teaching and Christ's teaching. Luke 6:35 says the same thing Paul is saying in Rom. 2:4. Jesus said, "But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men." Rom. 2:4 also emphasizes God's kindness. He is not ruled by evil people; He is always the same!
In our discussion of evil and judgment we recognize that God is not like men. He operates out of a different mind than natural man. Natural man operates out of a depraved and deceived mind. He has no forbearance nor kindness, and is full of judgment for others and excuses for himself. Self is his god. The love of the Lord has no place in him.
Our natural mind and feelings make it difficult for us to understand God's way of judging and the process He uses. We tend to avoid God because we are afraid of what He might do to us. We are afraid that once He has enticed us with His grace, He will whack us over the head with His judgment. This creates a bit of uneasiness in us.
Therefore we have to examine the judgment of God, and clearly see what the Lord intends for us to see. The glad news of salvation is at the same time a message of judgment of all unrighteousness! This truth is a prerequisite to understanding the gospel. We need to know the difference between the natural man and the spiritual man. We also have to understand that the judgment of God is on the natural man - not on the spiritual man!
"But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." (v.5) This stubborn refusal to repent becomes very obvious in the face of God's kindness! Because of God's patience, people are not immediately experiencing God's wrath on unrighteousness, but it will be revealed at some future time.
People don't understand this, so they confront God by saying, "If there is a God, let Him strike me dead in 30 seconds." When God doesn't do it, they say there is no God. But this only proves God's kindness in not bringing His judgment on them at that time. He is revealing His kindness, His forbearance, His patience and His love. The revelation of truth brings judgment on unrighteousness. If we do not accept that judgment, we will receive more error.
Verses 6-10 describe the righteous judgment of God on the ungodly and the godly according to their deeds. "Who will render to each person according to His deeds." To render means to give an answer to a claim or expectation. The Lord has a righteous answer for whatever claim or expectation we have. According to his deeds sounds as though we can get eternal life by our deeds. But in Matt. 7:21-23, Jesus makes it very clear that these deeds must be the will of the Father. The Father inspires the deeds, and brings them into being; they come out of our relationship with Him! Since the natural man cannot hear the Spirit, he cannot do the will of the Father.
"To those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life." Seeking for the glory that is in eternal life, is not a selfish seeking of glory and honor. Immortality has no depravity, corruption and impurity in it. Corruption is only in temporal, mortal things. Only the good that comes from God meets God's standard. It is our desire and goal to live in that realm where all our thoughts and deeds are pure and good, even as God is good! Paul expands on this subject in v.10. "But glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." This glory and honor and peace does not come from man, but from God!
"But to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. (v.9) Wrath and indignation belong to those who obey unrighteousness. Obeying unrighteousness means we are committing evil deeds. Wrath and indignation are then our just reward. We reap what we sow; we get what we deserve.
There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek." (vv.8-9) The Greek word here for evil doesn't mean a chance falling into sin; it indicates a completed act - one that has been thought out and worked out until it is completed. This tribulation does not refer to a future age; it is for the present, and it is both spiritual and physical. God's standard of judgment is truth, and it constantly judges us. Only those who live in the kingdom of God at this present time can enjoy true peace. There is no peace for the selfishly ambitious - only tribulation and distress.
Let's look at a few scriptures confirming that the Lord judges in this way. There are present and future judgments. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad...For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and will then repay every man according to his deeds...And lovingkindness is Yours, O Lord, for You recompense a man according to his work...Knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality ...Not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free. And masters, do the same things to them, and give up threatening, knowing that both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him...Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done." (2 Cor.5:10; Matt. 16:27; Psalms 62:12; Col.3:24-25; Eph.6:6-9; Rev.22:12)
Notice the similarities in these verses. The same message in many scripture passages emphasizes that there is judgment for everyone according to what he has done. This judgment is to encourage us in our stand against the lies of the enemy, and to alert us to the reward we have in Christ. It also shows us the consequences of following our own deceptive ways. Everything that is not rooted in truth will pass away! The truth is always His standard of judgment.
Verses 11-15 basically emphasize that "there is no partiality with God." Partiality means respect of persons. The judgment of God does not show partiality to anyone - whether Jew or Greek. God does not judge according to external appearances. He is impartial in looking at each man's heart.
"For all who have sinned without the Law will also perish without the Law, and all who have sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law." (v.12) The bottom line is that all who have sinned will perish. The Greek word APOLLUMI is translated as perish and destroy. W. E. Vine states that "it signifies to destroy utterly. The idea is not extinction but ruin and loss of well-being. It is not loss of being." This idea is illustrated in many of the parables. So those who have sinned will not be annihilated, but they lose their well-being. This applies to everyone - to those who are under the law and to those who are not. There is no partiality with God!
"For it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified." (v.13) The only way anyone can be justified by the law, is by keeping the whole law. That means 100%. Hearing and knowing the law does not insure obedience to the law; nor does it indicate acceptance by God.
The Jews were very proud of their law, and they thought this gave them a higher rating with God. They were God's chosen people! They read the law, memorized it and understood it. This did not set God's seal of approval on them, because they were not keeping it - nor can we keep it 100%!
God judges according to each man's heart. For example, outwardly Saul was a very impressive king. He looked like a king, for he was head and shoulders above every man in Israel. But he was a rotten king, full of pride and disobedience. So God told Samuel to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as king. As Eliab, the first of Jesse's sons to come before Samuel, Samuel thought that surely he would be the Lord's anointed. "But the Lord said to Samuel, `Do not look at his appearance, or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.'" (1 Sam. 16:7) This is a constant with God!
In verses 14-15 Paul continues his explanation. "For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them."
This sounds as though some Gentiles actually have a nature that enables them to keep the law. Are some people born with the law written on their hearts? In chapter 1, Paul emphatically declared that everyone has a corrupt nature - a nature that doesn't seek after God. So no one is born with the law written on his heart! To understand this we need to see what the Greek actually says.
"For when Gentiles who do not... " (v.14) The Greek word HOTAN can be translated WHEN or WHENEVER. The last part of the word is a Greek particle, and it always indicates vagueness, uncertainty, or a supposition. Furthermore, the verb do is in the subjunctive mood, and assumes unreality - not reality. It indicates a potential situation, not a real situation. So we realize that Paul is not speaking about a real situation, but a hypothetical case to illustrate his point.
Let's look at what he is supposing. Suppose a Gentile existed who had never heard of the law. Let's suppose that he had a nature which caused him to live righteously. It would then be clear that the law of God had somehow been written in his heart, etched into the center of his personality. This man would then be accepted by the Lord.
Paul is making the point that God does not make a distinction between Jew or Gentile; He does not look at the outward appearance, but at the heart. He is trying to break people's dependence on the law for righteousness. God is not partial to the Jews. Just because He gave them the law does not make Him partial to them. No one can live a righteous life unless God has done a work in his heart! This can only become reality under the new covenant, the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In Hebrews we learn about the new covenant. "...I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." (Heb. 8:10) This covenant is not like the old one - its laws were written in stone. The new covenant has them written on our hearts.
Rom. 2:16. "On the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus." It sounds rather presumptuous of Paul to speak about his gospel, doesn't it? In his various letters he makes it clear that this is the gospel that he received by revelation. "According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted." (1 Tim. 1:11)
God will judge the secrets of men through Jesus Christ. Our inmost thoughts are our secrets. Do we really trust God for our righteousness, or do we secretly rely on our own works? Do we have the righteousness of Christ or the righteousness of the Law? To determine this, the witness of the conscience is called upon. "...their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them." (v.15) Our thoughts are our attorneys - the prosecuting attorney and the defending attorney. They either accuse us or defend us.
From where do accusations come? They come from the law, don't they? Jesus said that it is Moses who accuses you. There is no condemnation in Christ! If we are receiving accusations, we are under the old covenant - under the Law, and it requires a 100% fulfillment for righteousness. If we fail in one point we are guilty of all!
God's judgment is not according to the Law, but according to Christ. The Greek word for according is KATA, which means along, as along the road. It is along the road of the gospel - the gospel being the guideline for judgment. Since the old covenant is obsolete, God is not going to reinstate it. This does away with our fear that God is enticing us with the gospel, but will later judge us according to the law. The new covenant is everlasting and the guideline for all judgment. "This is the judgment that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil." (Jn.3:19)
What a wonderful salvation we have in Christ! He is now our righteousness, and He fulfilled the Law completely! In Christ our past is taken away and therefore there are no sins for God to remember! Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life." (Jn. 5:24) God's life is pure so there is no judgment for those who are in life!
Jesus Christ is the truth. Truth reveals all lies and deception. Since this judgment takes place through Jesus Christ, it will be true judgment. Christ is illustrating the point that this judgment is based upon our knowledge and acceptance of truth. If we obey the truth that we have, we will receive more truth. If we suppress it, we will receive more error! We may be good pretenders, but we cannot fool God!
Christ Jesus is the One who carries out this judgment, and He remains the same, yesterday, today, and forever! Jesus said, "For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him...If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world. He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day." (John 5:22-23; John 12:47-48) All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus, and His word is the judge. Since His word is truth, truth is the judge!
"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad." (2 Cor. 5:10) When we appear before the judgment seat of Christ, we meet the same Jesus we know now. His life, death and resurrection proved His worthiness. There is no vindictiveness in Him, for He is love. He is completely reliable because He is the truth. Truth reveals the lies and deception resident in the carnal mind - the lies that posed as truth and we had accepted as truth. All lies and deceptions have to be judged as being lies.
Recognizing that judgment is not synonymous with punishment opens up a new horizon for us. God's judgment is a statement of truth, and it rests upon the essence of who He is. He does not judge us according to the Law, for that would be doing damage to Christ's work on the cross.
The natural mind cannot receive the things of the Spirit. It wants to put them into little cubby holes, and the gospel doesn't fit into them. God's words have to be discerned spiritually, and the natural mind does not have that capability. The teaching of the Spirit has to be received in our spiritual mind - the mind of Christ. Although we have His mind, we often function in the natural mind. Our minds need to be renewed. This can only take place as we receive truth. Loving truth is of prime importance!
"But if you bear the name `Jew' and rely upon the Law and boast in God, and know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?" (vv.17-21)
Here God's impartial judgment is directed at the Jews. But it is not just for Jews; it is for everyone who finds himself in a similar situation and with similar attitudes. Physical birth and circumcision are irrelevant to God's approval or disapproval of man; the attitude of the heart is the important part! In those days this was revolutionary thinking - and for the Jews it still is.
The Jews provide a type for us. Through them God provides photographs of human nature to us. They are a type of the many wrong attitudes resident in human nature.
Man-made religions have certain similarities. All of them proudly rely upon their name and their adherence to certain laws. The Jews were no exception! Their confidence and pride in their name were very evident. However, this name did not come from the Lord, but out of tradition. Although the name "Jew" first referred to the tribe of Judah, it later represented all of Israel. This was because the majority of the Israelites that returned after the Babylonian captivity were from the tribe of Judah.
To them, the name Jew meant that they had a special in with the Lord. They firmly believed that they had a higher standing with the Lord than the Gentiles had. It meant they had been chosen by God, and therefore had greater privileges. Though we may see this folly in the Jews, we fail to see that this attitude is also prevalent in the Christian church. For example, some of the Corinthian Christians prided themselves in being of Peter, some of Apollos, some of Paul, and some even of Christ. Paul chided them for using a name to create special groups, and then to use that name over and against other special groups.
Church history reveals that this attitude has continued, and we also see it in our society. People pride themselves in being members of a certain denomination - Lutheran, Catholic, Baptist, Mennonite, Charismatic, etc. Those who have come out of a denomination may remember the confidence it used to give them. This attitude has to be blasted out of us, for our confidence must be in the Lord! The important part is that we receive true spiritual teaching from the Holy Spirit! Wrong teaching will keep us in ignorance and deception.
Since the Jews had received revelation from God, they might have had greater reason to be proud of their name than do present-day denominations. Yet here the Holy Spirit is even putting that aside!
It is interesting that Paul differentiates between Judaism and Christianity. "For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions." (Gal. 1:13-14) Paul was identifying Judaism with his ancestral traditions - not with something from God. You see, Judaism was a man-made religion relying upon traditions!
Furthermore, Paul instructed Titus not to pay attention to "Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth." (Titus 1:14) This religion was based on the commandments of men. Putting confidence in being a Jew really meant they were putting confidence in traditions.
Like all man-made religions, they relied upon the law. The Jews relied or rested upon the law of Moses, their own additions to it, and their own interpretation of it! The scribes and Pharisees were the watchdogs, caretakers and enforcers of Judaism. So what did Jesus say to them? "The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses." (Matt. 23:2) The law had become their resting place. They seated themselves in that place - God had not given it them. They considered themselves the defenders of God's righteousness, and the interpreters of the scriptures. Even their name indicated that. The word Pharisee means the separate ones, or those who are separated. They considered themselves loyal to God, loved of God, defenders of the faith, and examples of how to live.
This position had not come from God. There was no provision in the law for this type of authority. It originated after the Babylonian captivity. The leaders recognized that their captivity was the result of their idolatry. Therefore it was important for Israel to obey the law of Moses. That is when the synagogue developed and became the center of religious teaching. The scribes became the interpreters of the law, and the Pharisees saw to it that it was put into practice. They were very evangelistic and enthusiastic about their job. Thus they seated themselves in Moses' seat of authority!
It is significant that this grew out of a spiritually dead period. During the 400-year period between the Old and the New Testament, the Jews did not receive messages from God through prophets. This provided fertile ground for man's ideas to take root. The concept of Judaism really found its roots in those silent years. The Scribes and Pharisees took this opportunity to place themselves in a religious seat of honor and power.
During the exile the Lord showed Ezekiel the glory of the Lord. Then he saw it depart from the temple, and stand over the cherubim. (Eze. 10:18) The glory of the Lord had departed, and in that spiritual vacuum a new religion developed.
Judaism was not the old covenant. It came with its own code of ethics and its own rules; these were then added to the Law. The book that contained this collection of rabbinical laws, decisions and comments on the laws of Moses, was called the Talmud - meaning to learn, study and disciple. But instead of adding light to the law, it obscured it. Yet it became part of their traditional way of doing things.
Judaism was based on external appearance - an outward form of truth. It was very deceptive because it came in the letter of God's law. Judaism took the letter of the law, but it denied the spirit of it. Jesus told the Pharisees that if they really believed the scriptures, they would believe Him. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Abraham said, "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them...If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead." (Lu.16:29,31) Their new religion was not based on the scriptures - on the Law and the Prophets - even though they said it was.
Being confident in men's traditions and standard of ethics brings a heavy bondage! This is what Jesus referred to in Matt. 23:4 where Jesus said, "They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger." Their misrepresentation and misuse of the law of God to their own advantage and control of people, obliterated the true teaching of the Law!
This attitude is as prevalent today as it was then. It is evidenced in religious leaders who make legalistic demands on their followers in order to get approval and money. And the more they put the word God in it, the more of a bondage it becomes. Jesus saw through that, and said, "They themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger." They themselves were not carrying any burdens; they refused to carry the same burdens they put on people. They hid behind their routines. Inwardly they were full of lawlessness. Jesus said, "So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." (Matt. 23:28)
True boasting in God is good. But their so-called boasting in God always reflected their own glory - they thought they were worthy of being approved by God. They were not glorifying God nor were they pointing to His greatness. The Pharisee's prayer to himself in Luke 18:11ff gives evidence of this. He said, "God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get." This was based on the false assumption that God had accepted him because he kept the law. What a trap to fall into! Yet how often we think that our acceptance by God depends upon our behavior!
It is much easier to discern legalism and traditions when it comes in the form of paganism, than when it is mixed with truth. The Jews had received the law from God, but the scribes and Pharisees were teaching the commandments of men as God's commandments. That is why it was such a deceptive trap! Their belief was in Judaism, not in the law of God. They were calling commandments of men commandments of God.
This is typical of man's religions. They boast that they alone have the truth and only they are God's chosen people. Those who want to be approved by God must meet their standards. Each group has its own set of rules and standards, and they are used to exclude others. The scribes and Pharisees came up with a set of standards that they themselves could seemingly meet outwardly, yet use it to control, disapprove, and exclude others. It was a watered-down and distorted replica of God's law.
Usually men's legalism is mixed with God's law. This makes it appear as truth, and thus makes it easier to deceive people. That is why Jesus said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others." (Matt. 23:23)
Notice that the law is justice, mercy and faithfulness! Judaism had completely obliterated that by its ritualistic bondage. It turned people away from the true meaning of the law. If they had heard the teaching of the law, they would have recognized their hopelessness and helplessness before God - like the publican who prayed, "Lord have mercy on me for I am a sinner."
Actually the law cannot extend mercy unless provision for mercy is in the law itself. Its mercy would then depend upon man doing what the law requires him to do in order to avail himself of that mercy. We all need mercy, and the Jews are no exception. They had received the law, torn it to shreds, rejected it and rebelled against it. Without the Christ in us, we cannot fulfill the law, because we don't have the love that is required for loving others as we love ourselves. "Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (Rom. 13:10) The law did not provide love for them, so it did not give them any help to live lawfully.
By obliterating the teaching of the law, a false religion named Judaism, was created. Traditions replaced truth, and false assumptions determined righteousness. The result? They were sure they knew the will of God, but they didn't. (Rom. 2:18-22) They thought they approved the things that are essential, but their actions proved that they either did not have discernment or that they did not practice what they preached. Lack of discernment means that the foundation is wrong - truth is lacking. The light that was in them was darkness. There is no life in Judaism. It is an artificial, external show that is not based on truth.
Their instruction in the law resulted in confidence in self, instead of in repentance. They put themselves into a place of authority. A literal translation from the Greek says, "you have persuaded yourselves to be a guide to the blind." Anything that is not from God is man-made! Paul lists the various things they had persuaded themselves to be.
Jesus exposed the teaching of the Pharisees in Matt. 15, saying, "But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men...Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if a blind man guides a blind man, both will fall into a pit." (vv.9,14) Jesus showed mercy and compassion to the blind, but to the blind guides He said, "Woe unto you." He was warning them because they were sure they had truth, yet their truth was deception. They taught their deception as truth, and made sure others were following it! An unteachable spirit is the strongest deception.
In Matt. 23 Jesus pronounced a woe upon the scribes and Pharisees 8 times. Jesus told them that they were blind men 5 times. "Woe to you, blind guides...You fools and blind men...You blind men...You blind guides...You blind Pharisee." (vv.16,17,19,24,26) Their teachings proved their blindness. Judaism, their man-made religion, did not find favor with God! This harsh confrontation was to make them realize their need for repentance, but their stubborn, self-righteous attitude refused to receive correction. Christ's words to people who knew they were sinners were completely different!
Some of the Pharisees did respond - and Paul was one of them. But the Lord had to blind him physically before he could see that he was blind spiritually. After Ananias came and prayed for him, he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Then something like scales fell from his eyes and he received his sight.
The Judaizers were in tremendous darkness. "If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Matt. 6:23) Satan is darkness, but he disguises himself as an angel of light, and his servants disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. (2 Cor. 11:14-15) Disguising the deception makes it more difficult to recognize.
The Judaizers considered themselves to be the correctors of the foolish! This became very apparent after Jesus healed the man who was born blind. (John 9) The religious leaders did not want to admit that this miracle had occurred, and tried hard to find some loophole that would obliterate it. They wanted to establish that Jesus was a sinner because He had healed this man on the Sabbath. But the healed man said, "`If this man were not born from God, He could do nothing.' They answered him, `You were born entirely in sins, and are you teaching us?'" (vv.33-34) Can you see that unteachable heart and spirit in these people? They considered those immature who were not of their order. They were so wise in their own eyes!
Unteachableness and unsubmissiveness to God are sure signs of being in deception. Those who won't listen to the Holy Spirit, and try to jam their own idea of truth down people's throats, are unteachable. A teacher always has to remain a student of the Holy Spirit. Unteachableness is one of the signs of man-made religion, and the fruit of it is darkness.
The law has a form or embodiment of knowledge and truth. (v.20) The word form comes from the Greek morphosis - a form or outline, an image or impress, an outward semblance. The outside looks good, but there is no life inside.
Notice how the Spirit deals with those who are in this doctrinal bind. He doesn't try to correct their doctrine and their misconceptions of the law. He just talks about their personal life. "You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?" The Lord confronts us with reality - with truth. He doesn't try to change our minds by an intellectual argument; He gets at the real problem!
He does not ask how popular your teaching is, or how many followers you have, but what has it done for you - has it changed you? The Lord wants our attention. He is more concerned about us than He is about our ministry. He wants us to see the truth and expound it correctly. We are not to live in carnality. We need to hear the Holy Spirit and learn from Him! If we are being changed into the image of Christ, we know the Holy Spirit is working in us. Paul calls doctrinal disputes vain and foolish speculations; they do not minister life, but end up in strife.
"You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?" Jesus said, "But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt. 5:28) Not only is it the actual deed; it's what is in the heart!
Judaism had completely ripped out the heart of the law, and left a legalistic bondage and false teaching. Because they were continually breaking the law, "the name of the Lord was being blasphemed among the Gentiles." (Rom. 2:24)
Paul then addresses the subject of circumcision. Physical circumcision is the cutting off of the flesh, and it only has symbolic value. The circumcision of the heart is the cutting off of fleshly, carnal ideas, thoughts and actions! Deut. 26:16-19 summarizes the life of a circumcised person. God wants His people to live a godly life. Paul was not saying something new. Had the Jews really known the law, they would have agreed that God wanted their hearts to be circumcised. "Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezekiel 36:26)
Back to Romans 2. "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God." (vv.28-29) This is God's definition of a Jew!
Physical circumcision gave the Jews confidence that they had a special in with God. This idea grew out of tradition. It was a misuse, misconception and denial of God's commands. God never taught men to put confidence in outward things!
Being a real Jew has nothing to do with physical descendancy nor physical circumcision. This is a devastating concept for Pharisees and legalists, and for all who are wrapped up in Judaism. They do not want to hear this.
The spiritual meaning of circumcision should free us from our natural view of spiritual realities. Everything is in Christ! "And in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ." (Col. 2:11) This is the circumcision made without hands. That body of flesh was removed from us in Christ Jesus! Amen.