Romans 3:1-4 NLTse Then what’s the advantage of being a Jew? Is there any value in the ceremony of circumcision? (2) Yes, there are great benefits! First of all, the Jews were entrusted with the whole revelation of God. (3) True, some of them were unfaithful; but just because they were unfaithful, does that mean God will be unfaithful? (4) Of course not! Even if everyone else is a liar, God is true. As the Scriptures say about him, “You will be proved right in what you say, and you will win your case in court.”
Of course it would do us no good to look at Romans chapter 3 without a review of Romans chapter 2. One of the best reviews is to look at how Paul closed the previous chapter. “No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.” (Romans 2:29 NLTse).
Let me show you a little study habit you will want to use whenever you see a verse or story someone explained to you, that just doesn’t seem to fit in with your view when reading a chapter or two. Look at the introduction and summation of the chapter. In this case, we will go back and look at the end of Romans chapter 2 before moving onto chapter 3.
You may think you can condemn such people, but you are just as bad, and you have no excuse! When you say they are wicked and should be punished, you are condemning yourself, for you who judge others do these very same things. (Romans 2:1 NLTse).
Some people may ask, what does the judgment and condemnation at the beginning of chapter 2 have to do with circumcision at the end of the chapter? Everything. You have to realize, Paul wrote one long letter, not the short list of do’s and don’t’s we are normally spoon fed by theologians. I have no idea where or how they learned their study habits, but cutting the Bible apart to make a point is not found in scripture. Putting verses, letters, books, and stories together is part of Bible Study. Here we are putting Paul’s letter together the way it was written.
Paul wrote about the wrongful practice of condemning people. Paul was focusing on the Jews and their attitude. Paul told them to look at themselves before condemning the world around them. Chapter 2 simply pointed out the fact, circumcision, an outward show, does not make them a real Jew. In the eyes of a Jew, God only recognized one race, one group of people Paul was trying to break that tradition. Paul had to show two sides to the story, the negative and the positive. Jews were fed the legalistic view of the scriptures, which placed the spotlight on themselves, and a rather dim view of God, and shut the lights off on the plan of salvation. To get to the Good News, Paul had to add a positive look at what the Jews had and build off of that. In this case, a positive relationship with God was the key. God was not the exacting, demanding, legalistic god the Jewish culture made Him out to be. They learned that from surrounding Pagan religions. Bits and pieces of Pagan gods fell into practice every time the temple switched sides between God, and all those Pagan religions some of the kings introduced. All of those stores were included in the Bible, and in fact, repeated for a reason. So we could see how the enemy introduces one small change at a time. One king brought a Pagan god and religion into the temple. A generation or two later, another king cleaned out the temple. To the untrained eye, all seemed to be set right with God. But when we look at the details, kings would only go so far with their reforms. Only a portion of God’s original system was brought back into the temple, and dozens of Pagan articles and ideas remained. It all became a mixture. The devil didn’t have to completely eliminate God, all he had to do was draw people far enough away to make worship a thing that could be compromised, altered, changed, and directed by men. That’s all it took, the introduction of man over God in the worship service. That’s what Paul was trying to tell the Jews. They worshiped themselves more than God. The Jews thought their form of worship was better than what God was asking for. They lost the roots of worship, which was to prepare this world for the one sacrifice that would redeem, or buy back this world from the master of sin.
We can’t really understand the end of chapter 2 without turning the page to chapter 3. Paul told the Jews to stop judging people, because they had the wrong view on the scriptures and the true worship of God. Much of the law, and the entire sacrificial system looked forward to Jesus and His sacrifice. The sacrificial system and some of the laws were symbols. There were also hundreds of prophecies the Jews misinterpreted. The problem was, the Jews cut apart the scriptures. They divided the laws from the prophecies, then used personal views on the world they lived in to interpret all the prophecies. That’s one of the major problems we see today. If the Jews would have combined the sacrificial system and sections of the law with the prophecies, they would have received a different, more accurate view of the Messiah.
Most of the prophecies about Jesus were reveled by real life experiences some of the Jews witnessed. The priests and experts on religious law followed Jesus closer than anyone, observing His every move. But they couldn’t put what they saw together with the prophecies, even though Jesus sent them back to dozens of prophecies He fulfilled, or was about to fulfill. Jesus showed those Jews one of the ways the Spirit communicates with us. But something blinded them. They didn’t have the Spirit to guide them. The Spirit was alive and active. Jesus talked with the Spirit everyday. The same Spirit was available to the Jews, but they rejected the offer. They decided to stick with their old ways. The Jews were enslaved by tradition.
When Jesus sent the priests back to scripture, He was showing how the Spirit communicated with them, through scripture, and real life events. The combination of the two should have been enough to jump start the Spirit inside the priests, but they didn’t want to put the two together, any more than they wanted to restudy the prophecies, the sacrificial system, and the law together. To the Jews, they needed to be separate, and that was their final decision.
I see people making the same mistake today. People get stuck on a single subject. They cut through the scripture concentrating on that single subject. Like the Jews, they isolate that one subject from the rest of scripture, By doing so, they cut the Holy Spirit from their study, They not only miss out on the Spirit, but all the little treasures He was about to show them.
Although Paul was trained in that prison of tradition for most of his life, he was shown the way out. There was nothing wrong with the laws or sacrificial system, except for how they were viewed and practiced. It proved difficult to convince some of the Jews, the sacrificial system was gone. The only way to do that was to show what those symbols pointed to. There were advantages to being a Jew, and Paul had a real life experience to show them one piece of living evidence, there had to be major changes in the Jewish culture and religion.
The Jews knew the sacrificial system. Not the same system God introduced to Moses, but an altered system changed over generations designed to control the population. Sacrifices were added from time to time. David sacrificed thousands of animals to transport the Ark. Solomon created his own sacrificial system to dedicate his temple. Seeming small changes took the eyes of the Jews off the symbolism of the sacrificial system and set their views upon an exacting and demanding God. If a few sacrifices are required, more is better. They turned God into one of those Pagan gods who always demanded more. There became no rhyme or reasoning behind the death of those animals except for, God said so. Or to be more accurate, God may have left out a few sacrifices. The Jews looked on the sacrificial system as a set of suggestions open to human refinement. By tinkering with the original sacrificial system, the original view and lesson was lost.
The Jews should have seen the connection between the sacrificial lamb and Christ. But they missed it. They should have understood other symbols in the Tabernacle like the bread, table, the alter of incense, those angels embroidered on the curtains, the wash basin, and others. The problem was, all those items were left at the Tabernacle and forgotten. Each item was replaced by a larger, grander substitute that blurred the meaning of each of those symbols.
When the Jews placed the sacrificial system in one group to study, the laws in another group, and prophecies in a third group, they placed their own name made curtain over the everything. No one could understand the prophecies that pointed to the Messiah without putting all three together. But the Jews insisted, if you chose to study the laws, stick to the laws. If you excelled in sacrifices, keep your nose in the sacrifices. And if you excelled in prophecies, you joined a group specializing in prophecies. Experts in the law did not question views on the sacrificial system, and those concentrating on the sacrificial system didn’t question interpretations of prophecies. That mind set spread into the general public, and misled the entire nation.
The Jews should have seen that circumcision alone wouldn’t do them any good. If they went back to the original story, they would have seen that Abraham and Ishmael were circumcised on the same day. God promised to make Ishmael the father of many nations. Those nations became a thorn in Israel’s side, and continued to be among their greatest threat. Circumcision didn’t change Ishmael. That was one of the lessons they were supposed to learn, as well as see in themselves.
To follow up on his explanation, Paul did what he did best. He quoted scripture. As the Scriptures say about him, “You will be proved right in what you say, and you will win your case in court.” This time Paul made it plain to see he was quoting scripture. He didn’t want anyone to miss this one. But the way Paul quoted it, the actual scripture may be a little difficult for people to find.
Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight; That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me. Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. (Psalms 51:1-14 NKJV).
We have to keep in mind, Paul was referring to God’s judgment, and courtroom in Heaven. That was where Paul was trying to direct the Jews. Since Paul created the scene, we should take a look at it. Who doesn’t want to be cleansed and purged of sin before entering God’s court to face judgment? Isn’t that the ultimate goal when people accept Jesus for the first time? The entire Christian faith is based on Jesus’ ability to forgive sins, cleanse us, and make us clean on judgment day. But is that what Christians teach? Paul made it rather clear, or shall I say, Paul sent us back to David, who made it rather clear, we have to rely on God’s ability to cleanse us from our sins. Which is of course the plan of salvation. When we realize there is a cleansing process, we are supposed to go out and teach other people, so they are prepared for judgment.
I feel many churches like to take the edge off the judgment process and soften it up. Who talks about judgment day anyway? Churches feel it is much kinder to say, “Jesus died for your sins.” Then they leave the rest up to the people to figure out. Well why did Jesus have to die? To forgive our sins, is about the only answer you’ll likely to find in the fluffy world of Christianity. They are not going to teach you much about the judgment process. Everyone will stand in front of God’s throne to be judged. At least in the spiritual sense, your name will be called, and no one really knows exactly how the judgment process will proceed. Is your life reviewed in Heaven? Do they go by a set of notes in your book of life? Does Jesus say He died for this person, and that person, and it is a quick trial? The Bible doesn’t seem to cover those details. And no one seems to want to talk about them. David did to one extent. David had to admit he was a sinner. From that point, there was a process to cleanse that sin, throw it away, do away with it, to make sure none of that sin was around when that moment of judgment came around. Paul wanted the Jews to remember that moment. Would it be a fearful time, or can you really claim Christ as a your Savior?
We have to consider what Paul was going through. In his time, the idea of a man dying for the sins of the world was rather new. Up to that time, the Jews believed an animal had to die to cleanse people from their sins. Now Paul was introducing the concept of God’s Son coming to this world to teach and heal parts of this world. Then God’s Son was killed by, of all people, the religious leaders who were supposed to ensure every animal sacrifice was conducted in the proper manner, so people were actually forgiven for their sins, and didn’t have a thing to worry about if they happened to suddenly die. They would be sinless, and able to stand before God. That was the basic process the Jews believed in. To change that would have been a monumental task for anyone. Much less a Pharisee who decided to change sides. In a sense, that would have been a mark against Paul when he talked to any dedicated Jew.
How difficult would it be to change any religious belief that has been around for generations? Take a look at the world today. Many beliefs and customs have been around for 1-2 generations. For the most part, people have their heels dug into the ground and will defend their traditions to thier last dying breath. Paul was facing traditions that went back to Abraham, although many of them did not begin until Moses introduced them. That didn’t matter, the fact is, they were very old traditions, and no matter what the sacrificial system was in Paul’s day, people insisted it began with either Moses, or Abraham.
When we look at what Paul had to face, on one hand we see a religion steeped in traditions. On the other hand, we see Paul reaching out to groups with little to no knowledge about God, and less about Jesus. What do you think Pagans heard about God? Look at the legalistic view of God the Jews placed within their own religion. Now look at how some churches blow details about other churches out of proportion. Can you imagine the rumors flying around about God in Paul’s time? Talk about fighting a battle on two fronts, and needing a double edged sword.