We have seen that God’s righteousness is revealed through His retribution for the unrighteous deeds of men. Both those who reject the knowledge of God as well as those who judge others for their sins and yet practice the same things cannot escape God’s judgment. The present passage continues to explain why simply having and knowing God’s law is unprofitable. Possessing the law without obedience to the law only brings condemnation, for God looks at the inward heart rather than the outward flesh.
Did You Know...?
- “Secrets” in 2:16 and “inwardly” in 2:29 are different English translations of the same Greek word, which means “something hidden.”
- Circumcision (2:25) is the sign of the covenant between the LORD and Abraham which the LORD commanded Abraham and all his descendants to keep. Every male child must be circumcised when he is eight days old (see Gen 17:9-14).
- “Written code” in 2:27 and “letter” in 2:29 are different English translations of the same Greek word.
- The Law and God’s Judgment (2:12-16)
- The Law and the Hypocritical Jew (2:17-24)
- The Law and the True Jew (2:25-29)
A new term, not found in previous passages, is introduced in this passage. It is central to the theme of this passage. What is it?Hide Answer
Identify the verses in this passage that contrast knowing the law and doing the law.Hide Answer
13, 14, 17-23, 27
What other pairs of contrast do you see?Hide Answer
“sinned without law” vs. “sinned in the law” (12); “keep the law” vs. “breaker of the law” (25); circumcision vs. uncircumcision (25, 26); “fulfills the law” vs. “transgressor of the law” (27); outwardly vs. inwardly (28); “flesh” vs. heart (28, 29); Spirit vs. letter (29); men vs. God (29).
What does this passage teach about what is inward?Hide Answer
1. The Gentiles who by nature do the things in the law show the work of the law written in their hearts (14).
2. God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ (16).
3. He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is the circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter (29)
In short, God values obedience that comes from within the heart more than an outward status as recipients of His law.
What is common between those who are without law and those who are in the law?Hide Answer
Whether a person has the law or not, he is condemned if he sins.
What is Paul’s point in bringing in the Gentiles who do not have the law but do the things in the law?Hide Answer
Paul uses the Gentiles to show that doing what the law requires is much more important than merely having the law. In the sight of God, even the Gentiles who do not have the law but do the things in the law are superior to those who have the law but sin in the law.
What does this say about the nature of the law?Hide Answer
The law justifies a person only if the person obeys what it requires.
According to this segment, how are the Gentiles who do the things in the law a law to themselves?Hide Answer
They show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them (15). This means that by their good deeds, these Gentiles demonstrate that the effect of God’s law is within them. Their conscience testifies on their behalf and their thoughts are able to discern between right and wrong.
What is conscience, and what is its function? (see also Acts 23:1; 24:16; Rom 9:1; 2 Cor 1:12; 2 Tim 1:3; Heb 10:22; 1 Pet 2:19)Hide Answer
The conscience is man’s innate consciousness of the requirements of God’s law. It holds each person accountable before God, bearing witness within whether he has conformed to what is good and right in God’s eyes.
Share an experience where you felt the inner voice of your conscience.
What does the fact that God will judge the secrets of men remind us about how we ought to lead our daily lives?Hide Answer
We ought to live an upright life not only outwardly before men but also inwardly before God by being pure in our thoughts and intentions.
In your own words, characterize the person Paul is addressing in verses 17-20.
What is the problem with the addressee, according to verses 21-24?Hide Answer
The interlocutor whom Paul addresses (i.e., the imaginary Jew) upholds and even teaches the law but breaks the very law that he demands of others. His adheres to the law only superficially and in words. But he does not truly believe in nor practice the law.
Name some ways in which this problem is also seen today, even in our own lives.
What can we learn here about the meaning of dishonoring God?Hide Answer
If we claim to be worshippers of God but live in a manner contrary to God’s word, unbelievers would tend to mock and despise the name of God as well as our faith because of our hypocrisy.
Why does Paul bring in the subject of circumcision? What does circumcision stand for?Hide Answer
Circumcision is a sign in the flesh of the covenantal relationship that Abraham and his descendants have with the LORD (Gen 17:13). As a physical symbol of Jewish identity, it distinguishes outwardly the people of God from all other peoples. Thus, the Israelites had come to label the Gentiles as “the uncircumcised” (cf. Jdg 14:3; 15:18; 1 Sam 14:6; 17:26, 36; 31:4; 2 Sam 1:20; 1 Chron 10:4; Ezek 28:10; 44:7; Acts 11:3).
What is the circumcision of the heart? See also Lev 26:41; Deut 10:16; 30:6; Jer 4:4; 9:25-26; Acts 7:51.Hide Answer
The Bible associates uncircumcision with impurity (Josh 5:8-9; Isa 52:1; Ezek 44:7). By extension, an uncircumcised heart represents man’s inward impurity, resulting in his stubborn refusal to obey the voice of God and his evil conduct (Lev 26:41; Deut 10:16; Jer 4:4; Acts 7:51). To circumcise our hearts, therefore, means to remove the filth from within and readily obey God’s commands out of complete love for Him (Deut 30:6; 1 Cor 7:19; Gal 6:15).
Explain the contrast between “in the Spirit” and “in the letter” (29).Hide Answer
“Letter” in this context alludes to the writing through which the law was preserved (cf. v. 27; 2 Cor 3:7). It represents adherence merely to the outward and superficial aspects of the law, such as merely having the mark of circumcision in the flesh. Such mentality of keeping God’s word leads to hypocrisy and pretense (cf. Mt 6:1-8; 23:23-28). Being a Jew in the Spirit, however, involves serving God with a very different attitude. It means having the law of God engraved in our hearts, obeying God in all sincerity and willingness (2 Cor 3:3; Heb 8:8-12).
In practical terms, what is the difference between seeking praise from men and seeking praise from God?
Why does Paul discuss the topic of the true Jew here?Hide Answer
By establishing what a true Jew means, Paul dispels the false notion that a person may take confidence in simply having the outward signs of being God’s people. This kind of false confidence, which is prevalent both in those days and our days, blinds a person from seeing how much he has fallen short of God’s requirements. Only by recognizing that God’s law is to be performed and not just to be heard or had would we humbly acknowledge that we are in fact sinners before God.