God's Mercy and the Religious Person.

Paul continues his argument about the depravity of mankind. This section deals with the Jews or, by extension, anyone who relies on a religious system to make them right with God. Despite any religious affiliation, sin still makes everyone liable to God's judgment. This truth is actually liberating when considering our eternal destiny: it's not up to us.

We have seen that Jews are judged by the Law and Gentiles by their conscience. Either way, they stand guilty before God. Jews took pride in their special book of revelation and certain marks that separated them as God's people. Any religious system built on good works has similar elements that elevate the status of an adherent above non-practicers.

We have nothing to contribute to our eternal salvation. Thinking we could do so has serious negative consequences.

Religious systems can only excite the blasphemy of God (Romans 2:17-24).

The rules and regulations of the Law exacerbate the difference between claim and conduct. They clearly reveal hypocrisy, and as a result, the incongruity causes others to mock God. Religious systems can do some good; they can create a sense of corporate identity and interdependence, build confidence, uphold standards, and clarify some moral truth. But no religious system can transform a person's character, control appetites, or make worship habits authentic. They cannot deal with the root of the human problem, which is sin.

We are incapable of perfection. Religious systems expose our depravity. There is no way we can measure up even to human standards.

Religious badges are equally deceptive and destructive (Romans 2:25-28).

Religious systems have badges that mark their adherents as special and separate from others. As with all external signs, it is not the badge that is valuable but what it points to. Our human tendency is to value the badge for its own sake, yet it is meaningless apart from its intended reality.

The badge of Judaism was circumcision. This pointed to God's choice of the nation of Israel through which He would bring the Messiah of all people. Circumcision is an object lesson in both Old and New Testaments. Jeremiah 4:3-4 uses it as a metaphor for repentance. We must stop relying on ourselves, but allow God's Word to cut our conscience like a sword (Hebrews 4:12).

Religious badges are inconsequential at least and detrimental at worst. They can give people false assurance of their relationship with God, making them more entrenched in their sin (Matthew 23:15). Salvation is always a function of inward reality.

God requires spiritual reality (Romans 2:29).

What are the requirements to be a real Jew, i.e., someone who has a right relationship with God? There must be an inward conviction that changes our identity. We must transfer authority from ourselves and instead believe what God says about who we are. Paul lists the requirements: a heart circumcised by the Spirit of God. This is the person who will receive God's approval.

Application Points

  • We must be careful not to create religious badges out of external disciplines of our Christian life. These are means of obedience and assurance, but they have no value if not matched to the reality of a heart submitted to Christ. The value of external behavior for the true believer is to point to Christ.
  • A right relationship with God is not found through any religious system but only through God's transforming your heart. It doesn't matter how good you think you are; God is in charge of Heaven, and what He thinks is what counts. Does God know you? Have you been changed by Him through simple faith in Jesus Christ?

Tools for Further Study

Cross References to Explore
  • John 3:3-7 – Using a metaphor of birth for spiritual life.
A Hymn to Encourage: "Nothing But the Blood of Jesus"

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Oh! precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

For my pardon, this I see,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
For my cleansing this my plea,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

Nothing can for sin atone,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
Naught of good that I have done,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.

This is all my hope and peace,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
This is all my righteousness,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.