In our passage today, we mainly see two extremely convicting ideas: (1) Not living a duplicitous, hypocritical lifestyle, and (2) focusing on the heart and not behavior. Many of us can speak of different examples where our actions have not mirrored the message we believe and herald, and we all also have examples where our hearts have not desired the things of God. Here, Paul is accusing the Jews in Rome of these things, but they could also be said of us.
In verses 17-24, Paul is challenging the Jews about how their lives measure up to what they teach. The Jews had confidence in the law when they taught the law, but Paul is persuading them that knowing the law and teaching the law doesn’t equal doing the law. Even though the Jews might know the law really well, there is a disconnect between their knowledge and their actions; that disconnect is in their heart! Their heart is not focused on loving God and doesn’t desire to keep the law out of love for God.
In verses 25-29, he applies this similar principle to their hearts using circumcision. To Jews, circumcision is the way towards righteousness, and while this is certainly a sign of the covenant (see Genesis 17) and something that God required, they still miss the heart behind the command. But what the Jews missed is that circumcision should not just be physical but of the heart a well. Paul didn’t pull this idea out of thin air (see Deuteronomy 10:16), but it’s something that the Jews struggled to understand.
The main problem with the Jews that Paul is getting at is a problem of the heart. In a way, they loved the law and the outward attractiveness of keeping the law more than they loved God. They held to legalistic interpretations of the law that focused more on their ability to perform and keep it, than on God who mercifully and lovingly gave it to them in the first place.
Maybe you’re reading this today feeling burdened by your sin or lack of performance living your Christian life. It could be as simple as not reading your Bible or praying or sharing your faith like you know you should. If you’re not careful, these good, Biblical things can begin to be what you worship, instead of letting these things flow out of your worship to God. If you want to see growth in these areas, begin today by simply focusing and worshipping and loving God, and allowing them to naturally flow from that worship.
By: Graham Withers — Pastoral Ministry Apprentice