Romans 3:1-2 Do Jews (or Religious People) Have an Edge?


Paul senses questions being raised as he comes to the end of Romans 2 and begins chapter 3.Questions like; if God treats Jews and Gentiles alike, not showing favoritism, and if the only thing that makes one truly Jewish is an inward transformation by the Holy Spirit, then what advantage is there in being a Jew? Or to put it in other terms, what is the Old Testament all about? And why did God institute circumcision? If Paul is right, these things are pointless. Or since we know that what God does is not pointless and must have a proper purpose to it, isn’t it the case that Paul must be wrong in his conclusions – whether or not we can detect the weak point of his arguments?

This is a very important matter – for the Jews as well as for non-Jews. We have been talking about Jewish people’s spiritual advantages or lack of them. But, although the Jew’s apparent advantages are different from the Gentile’s, his situation and the Gentile’s are parallel. For we who call ourselves Christians must ask, “What advantage, then, is there is being a godly churchgoing person? What value is there in baptism, church membership, communion, or any other religious exercise if we are all under condemnation anyway?” “Do any religious people have an edge?” If we don’t, then why should we bother with religion at all? Let’s enjoy ourselves and sin right along with the heathen. If we do have an edge, then isn’t it the case that it is possible to please God by our religious practices and be saved by them after all?

Paul’s answer is that circumcision and being Jewish are true advantages, although they are not the kind of advantages we are thinking of if we wrongly suppose that one can be saved by them. Paul is answering the specific question “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew?” in Romans 3, it is not the whole list (which is found in Romans 9) but rather the matter of possessing the very words of God alone that he stresses. In fact, although he has also asked, “What value is there in circumcision?” he does not speak of the sacraments or any other external sign as an advantage in this context. Just Scripture! That is the chief item and in Romans 3, the only one. This is of immense importance to us, because it is the only blessing in this long list of Jewish advantages in which Gentiles share. We can say, “Ours are the Scriptures” – if we have been fortunate enough, as virtually all of us have been, to have been given the very words of God in our language.

Paul is answering an argument about the thoroughly religious person of his day, the Jew. However we need to apply it to the thoroughly religious person of our time also. The issue the apostle is dealing with here is of vital importance to everyone. No one is saved by such things as baptism, sacraments, or church attendance. No one is even saved by such an important thing as having – and yes, even studying – the Bible. But that does not mean that religious practices are of no use to us or that one is acting wisely if he or she abuses, neglects, or disregards them.

So…what advantage then, is there in being a godly, churchgoing “Christian” person? Let’s review three advantages: (1) Even if God never saves you by drawing you from the darkness of your sin to saving faith in Jesus Christ, you will at least sin less because of these advantages and therefore be punished less severely. We must understand that on the one hand there are genuine spiritual advantages (for those who will have them) and, on the other hand, that these in themselves do not save anyone. We must remember that our situation is desperate. We can do nothing for ourselves. Even knowing the truth does not save us, because in our unregenerate state we are unresponsive and even hostile to it. No one can be saved who is not born again, and the work of spiritual regeneration is God’s doing.

(2) Going to church and listening to the preaching of the Word of God, if you are in a good, Bible-believing church, will at least cause you to know the way of salvation even if you do not respond to it. A person might argue that knowing how to be saved and yet not responding to that revelation, in fact rejecting it, is not an advantage but a disadvantage in that it undoubtedly increases one’s guilt. This is true, of course. Moreover, it is compounded if together with your knowledge you also acquire the habit of thinking of yourself as a rather fine Christian specimen. You are worse off if you think that God must somehow think better of you just because you know much. But it does not need to work that way. In fact, it is meant to work quite the other way. Instead of becoming proud because of your knowledge, you should be humbled by it. Who can read the first three chapters of Romans intelligently and remain proud?

(3) The third great advantage of regular church attendance and, above all, faithful adherence to the preaching and study of the Word of God is that, although you cannot claim this as a right from God, it is through the reading and preaching of the Bible that God is most likely to save you. How is one born again, after all? Peter writes that we are “born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God (1 Pet. 1:23). To hear the Word of God is the most assured path to salvation. In the same way James wrote, “He [God] chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created” (James 1:18).

If you are reading these words but are not born again, your condition is not good. You are lost and under God’s wrath. You are blind to God’s truth. You are spiritually bankrupt. But there is one thing; although you cannot save yourself, as long as you can hear this or any other gospel message, you are at least where Jesus is likely to go. He loves to bless the preaching and teaching of His Word. Therefore, though your condition may be desperate, it is no worse than any other lost sinner before he or she was saved. The mere hearing the Word is your advantage. Do not despise it and don’t say, “So, then, what advantage is there in religion?” There is a great advantage in it. “Much in every way!” (Rom. 3:2). Cling to it. Wring every possible “edge” from it. Who knows but that God will use the very Word you hear to save your soul?

Romans 3:1-2 Reflection Questions:

How often do you hear or read and study God’s Word?

Why is going to church important to you?

What does “being born again” mean to you? How do you know if you are or not, born again?

Are you proud or humbled by your knowledge of God’s Word?

Romans 2:25-29 Circumcision


1 Samuel 16:7 says: “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” This is what Paul is getting at in these last verses of Romans 2, as he deals for the final time with the objections of those who consider themselves to be so thoroughly religious that they do not need the gospel. The issue is the Jewish sacrament of circumcision and the accompanying claim that all who have been circumcised will be saved.

The Jew, who was the chief example in Paul’s day of the thoroughly religious person, had begun his defense against Paul’s gospel by the argument that he (or she) possessed the law. As we have seen in the previous study, Paul argued that possession of the law, although undoubtedly a great privilege is of no value if the one possessing the commands of God fails to keep them. The Jew, along with everybody else, had broken those laws. So it was not sufficient to say, “I have the law, and therefore I do not need the gospel.” On the contrary, the law is given to reveal our need of God’s grace.

Still, the Jew had one last card to play, one final argument. He had been circumcised, and circumcision had brought him into visible outward fellowship with that body of covenant people to whom God had made salvation promises. It was like saying that circumcision (our counterpart is baptism) had made him a member of that body, and because of that membership his salvation was certain. The Jew really did believe this – just as many people today believe they are saved merely by being members of a church!

Most of us are not personally affected by contemporary debate over the definition of a true Jew (vv. 28-29). But the matter of godly conduct accomplished in us by the work of the Holy Spirit (v. 29) is our concern. And, as far as the sacraments go (our sacraments are baptism and the Lord’s Supper, rather than circumcision); the issue is whether these reflect the necessary inward change and reality.

So what is a sacrament? A sacrament is a “sign” of a spiritual reality rather than the reality itself. There are four elements of a sacrament from the Christian point of view: (1) A sacrament is a divine ordinance instituted by Christ Himself. (2) A sacrament uses material elements as visible signs of God’s blessing. In baptism the sign is water. In the Lord’s Supper the signs are bread, which signifies the Lord’s body, and wine (or grape juice) signifies His shed blood, The Old Testament sign was a cutting away of the flesh. (3) A sacrament is a means of grace: Baptism is a means of grace and conveys blessing, because it is the certificate to us of God’s grace and in the acceptance of that certification we rely upon God’s faithfulness, bear witness to His grace, and thereby strengthen faith. In the Lord’s Supper that significance is increased and cultivated, namely, communion with Christ and participation of the virtue accruing from His body and blood. We thus see that the accent falls on the faithfulness of God, and the efficacy resides in the response we yield to that faithfulness. (4) A sacrament is a seal, certification, or confirmation of the grace it signifies. Theologians refer to sacraments as “signs and seals”; signs because they point to the sacrament, seals because they authenticate the person submitting to the sacrament.

We have come to the end of Romans 2; let’s summarize Paul’s teaching in that chapter. The apostle has been dealing with persons who would agree with his condemnation of the heathen (as expressed in chapter 1), but who would excuse themselves on the grounds either (1) of being very moral, that is, people who know higher standards of conduct than those proposed by the heathen; or (2) of being thoroughly religious and therefore of being saved by the possession of the revealed law of God and by participation in the sacraments. Do you know of any people like that today? Of course, you do. You may even be one of them. Here is what the apostle Paul says to such people: (1) Knowledge alone, even knowledge of the highest spiritual and moral principles does not win God’s approval. On the contrary, superior knowledge actually leads to even greater condemnation – if it is not accomplished by adherence to the higher standard. (2) Membership in a religious society, whether the covenant nation of Israel or the visible church of Christendom, does not guarantee that we have obtained God’s favor. Salvation is not won by any external associations if (as we have seen) God looks not on outward appearances but on the heart. (3) The sacraments, either of the Old Testament or the New Testament periods, save no one. They point to what saves, but they are not the reality themselves. (4) God judges according to truth and performance, and by that standard every human being is condemned. (5) If we are to be saved, it must be by the labor of Jesus Christ applied to us by the Father through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Romans 2:25-29 Reflection Questions:

Do you see now how important it is to build a personal relationship with Jesus Christ? (“there is no one who does good, not even one.” Romans 3:12)

What are you doing daily to build on that relationship with Jesus?

Romans 2:17-24 The Second Excuse: Religion


It should be evident from our study of the earlier portions of Romans that everything that has been said thus far applies to all men and women. That is, it applies to ourselves – apart from the supernatural work of God in us through the Holy Spirit. Regardless of our achievements, our vaunted moral standards or our outward position in life, we are all in exactly the same situation as the hedonistic pagan described in Romans 1. We have suppressed the knowledge of God disclosed to us in nature and have therefore launched ourselves along the path of moral and spiritual decline that the chapter describes. The propensity to condemn others for what we ourselves do which is unfolded in Romans 2, also describes us. We are great at making distinctions, particularly when these are to our advantage, and it is to another of these self-serving “excuses” that we come now. The new distinction here is made by individuals who consider themselves to be religious.

In Paul’s day such a person was a Jew, which is how Paul begins the section: “Now you, if you call yourself a Jew…” Today the person who fits this category could be an ardent Fundamentalist, any churchgoing Protestant (regardless of denomination), a devout Catholic, or some other variety of “religious” individual. The religious person night be thinking: “I am a very religious person, and my religious commitments exempt me from your blanket condemnations. I have been a churchgoing person all my life. I have been baptized and confirmed. I go to communion. I give to the church’s support.” Paul replies that these are genuinely good things and not to be ignored. “But you still need the gospel,” he says.” Why?” “Because God is not interested in outward things alone – things like church membership, the sacraments, stewardship – but rather in what is within.” God says, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7b).

The Eighth Commandment: So we see the knowledge of God and of the way of this true God was not enough. This is because, as we have already seen, God judges according to truth and not according to appearances, according to what men and women actually do and not according to their mere professions. At this point Paul brings forth three examples of that “superior” way of the Jew, which came as a result of his possessing the revealed law of God: the eighth Commandment, the seventh Commandment, and a statement embracing the first two Commandments.

As stated earlier, that these verses speak to all kinds of “religious” people. So let me ask, “We who preach against stealing, do we steal?” The idea of stealing is a generally accepted standard of human behavior, but it’s just as generally broken. We steal from God when we fail to worship Him as we ought or when we set our own concerns ahead of His. We steal from an employer when we don’t give the best work of which we are capable or when we overextend our coffee breaks or leave work early. We steal if we waste company products or use company time for personal matters. We steal if we sell something for more than it’s worth. We steal from our employees if the work environment for which we are responsible harms their health, or if we don’t pay them enough to guarantee a healthy, adequate standard of living. We steal when we borrow something and do not return it. We steal from ourselves when we waste our talents, time, and money.

The seventh Commandment: After citing the eighth Commandment, Paul moves backward to the seventh and asks: “You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?” What are we to answer to this question, particularly if we live in the United States where adultery, fornication, and a variety of forms of sexual experimentation are not only excused, but even encouraged and applauded? What are we to answer in view of the revelation of sexual sins in the lives of prominent national figures, both secular and religious? What are we to say in view of Jesus’ teaching that the seventh Commandment has to do with thoughts of our minds and the intents of our hearts and not only with external actions? According to Jesus’ teaching, lust is the equivalent of adultery, just as hate is the equivalent of murder (Matt. 5: 27-28, vv. 21-22). The biblical standard is purity before marriage and fidelity afterward. At one time people would defend high sexual standards, even though they often did something quite different on the side. But today we do not even hold to the morality. “If it feels good, do it!” That’s the cry of our age and the practice of the great majority.

The First and Second Commandments: The third of Paul’s examples of preaching one thing but doing another is a reference to the first and second Commandments: “You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?” It’s not as easy to understand this question as it is to understand the first two. Regardless of the particular way the ancient Jew may have broken the first and second of the Ten Commandments (which we may or may not understand), we certainly understand how we have broken them – even the most religious among us. The first Commandment is a demand for our exclusive and zealous worship of the true God. To worship any god but the biblical God is to break this Commandment. But we need not worship a clearly defined “god” to break this Commandment – Zeus, Minerva, Buddha, Allah, or one of the countless modern idols. We break it whenever we give some person or some object or some worldly aspiration the first place in our lives, a place that belongs to God alone. Often today the substitute god is ourselves or our image of ourselves. It can be such things as success, fame, material affluence, or power over others. To keep this Commandment we need to see all things from God’s point of view and do nothing without reference to Him; to make His will our guide and His glory our goal; to put Him first in thought, word and deed; in business and leisure; in friendships and career; in the use of our money, time and talents; at work and at home.

If the first Commandment deals with the object of our worship, forbidding the worship of any false God, the second Commandment deals with the manner of our worship, forbidding us to worship even the true God unworthily. This means that we should take the utmost care to discover what God is truly like and thus increasingly worship Him as the only great, transcendent, spiritual, and inscrutable God He is. But we don’t do this. Instead, as Paul argued at the beginning of his discussion, we suppress the knowledge of God and find that our foolish hearts are darkened (Rom. 1:18, 21).

When Paul comes to the end of this paragraph, which describes the true state of the orthodox, or “religious,” person, he quotes the Old Testament to show that “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (v. 24; cf. Isa. 5:25; Ezek. 36:22). This is always the case when ostensibly devout persons violate the very standards they proclaim. If you have been trusting in anything other than Jesus Christ and His death upon the cross in your place, throw whatever it is completely out of your mind. Abandon it. Stamp upon it. Grind it down. Dust off the place where it lay. Then turn to Jesus Christ alone, and trust Him only!

Romans 2:17-24 Reflection Questions:

Why is it important to be into God’s Word on a daily basis?

How are you doing with the eighth commandment?

How are you doing with the seventh Commandment?

How are you doing with the first and second Commandments?

Romans 2:12-16 The Perfection of God’s Judgment: Faultless Discrimination


Lastly in verses 12-16 we see the perfection of God’s judgment because He judges everyone with faultless discrimination. Again our text stresses that whether a person has access to God’s Word or not, he will be judged by his deeds, and when he falls short he will indeed be lost (vv. 12-13). Paul anticipates that some may think this is unfair because the Jews have had the advantage of God’s written Word. So he explains how perfectly discriminating God is in applying His judgment (vv. 14-15). Paul says that while the Gentiles do not have the Law written in their hearts, not even the Ten Commandments, nevertheless “the work of the law is written on their hearts.” That is, they know the moral standard of God.

With incredible discrimination God judges those lacking His Word by how well they live according to the sense of right and wrong in their hearts. God’s judgment is so perfect that He takes into account one’s moral perception in rendering judgment. To be sure, no one escapes condemnation. All fall short. None measure up to their own moral perceptions of right or wrong, let alone God’s Law. No one will ever be able to rise before God and declare that He has been unfair. His judgment is so precise that He takes into account the delicate moral perceptions of each person.

So what does all this teaching regarding the perfection of the judgment of God mean to those who believe and to those who do not believe? To Christians it means that God knows everything and that one day we will stand before Him to give account of our lives. He knows what has gone on in our hearts, this includes envy, sensuality, pride, malice and judgmentalism and many others that goes to church. God knows it all!

We should pursue a profound honesty before God, for He knows everything. We need to admit our inner spiritual sins (even the “really bad” sins) and ask for His help. We must reject worldly rationalizing and moralizing, for in these ways the sickness and importance of the Church is perpetuated. Furthermore, we need to pray specifically and honestly for deliverance and for grace. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matt. 5:6).

Those who are not believers must realize that if they do not have the righteousness of Christ through faith, their sins are yet upon them, and God will judge them with perfect judgment. Handy moralizations – “Everybody’s doing it,” “To err is human, to forgive is divine,” “Nobody’s perfect” – will not suffice. In verse 16 Paul refers to “that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” The Day of Judgment is coming, and men and women need to “settle out of court” while they can. Jesus said, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). However, the Scriptures also tell us, “But to all who receive Him, who believed His name, He gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). Peter wrote: He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed (1Pet. 2:24).

What a challenge the perfection of the judgment of God brings to all of us! Believers should strive for a profound inward righteousness. Non believers should seek the righteousness that comes from God by faith.

Romans 2:12-16 Reflection Questions:

In what ways do you strive for a profound inward righteousness?

Are you praying specifically and honestly for deliverance and for grace regularly?

Are you praying for those in the Church that have heart issues (this includes envy, sensuality, pride, malice, judgmentalism and many others)?