“No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God” (Romans 2:29).
Continued from My Roman Holiday: Romans 1.
“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4). Romans 2 picks up with the apostle Paul pivoting from “They” to “You”, as he addresses issues of classism, passing judgment, and legalism, among believers, all of which are issues that emerge throughout his ministry, and persist all the way into the present day. As with wrath and grace, the Holy Spirit has instructed me on the difference between a loving rebuke and passing judgement; those who live by the Spirit are called to the former, while the latter belongs to God. Let us take a closer look.
The Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary defines rebuke as “to criticize sharply, reprimand; to turn back or keep down, check or expressing strong disapproval.” Unlike with passing judgment, this process recognizes error and is intended as a mechanism of change. As Paul counseled Timothy, “Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:25-26), or as the apostle counseled the Galatians, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1), the objective was restoration. Passing judgment, on the other hand, whether the verdict is positive or negative, is risky business, and as a result, invites consequences upon the one passing judgement, including exposing hypocrisy. “You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things” (Romans 2:1). The question Paul poses in verse 4 exposes their motivation, and as the letter unfolds, this conflict, between the Jewish and Gentile believers, becomes clear. “Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?” (Romans 2:25-26). We are not called to crush a brother or sister with excessive sorrow, nor does God approve exulting some believers over others. God calls His children to be instruments of His grace; instruments of repentance and restoration.
Judgement belongs to God, and verse 4 reveals God’s righteous judgement. As I prayed about this post, the Spirit led me to the Parable of the Weeds. “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn’” (Matthew 13:29-30). Why did the farmer order this delay until the harvest? In nature, the roots of the grain and weeds are so intertwined that it is virtually impossible to pull up one without also uprooting the other. The Lord goes on to explain that the good seeds represent the sons of the kingdom of God sowed by Him; whereas, the weeds are the children of darkness sowed by Satan, and the field is the world. Although the situation may seem perilous, at first, brothers and sisters, we who have put our faith in Jesus Christ have every reason to rejoice! “Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness’” (2 Timothy 2:19). Therefore, God will award eternal life to the children of light; their lives will bear witness to their conversion: “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life” (Romans 2:7). In contrast, God will condemn the children of darkness; their lives will bear witness to their rejection: “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger” (Romans 2:8). Again, the judgment of God is not without grace, as evidenced by His kindness, forbearance, and longsuffering. Fittingly, Paul concludes the chapter: “No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God” (Romans 2:29).
Romans 2 is full of any number of other revelations and wonderful truths worth exploring, but I have written what I believe the Holy Spirit has guided me to write.
Romans 2 speaks into our lives today; believers, too often, get caught up in the very same snares, as the believers in Paul’s day. Salvation is by faith in Christ, alone, and not by law-keeping, and obedience comes from faith. As I embark on my Roman holiday, I look forward to the journey ahead. I found brokenness, among those called to be God’s holy people, in Romans 2, but I also found kindness, forbearance, and patience, and God’s desire for repentance and restoration. Until next time, and Romans 3!
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