28 A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 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 2:28, 29
Paul exposes an attitude which is prevalent in first-century Judaism. It is an attitude of brittle pride; a judgmentalism which looks down on and condemns all non-Jews. Great knowledge of God should have produced humility and repentance.
It is not immorality but “your stubbornness and unrepentant heart” which shows the Jewish people have responded no differently to God than have the Gentiles. God will judge all men, not by what they know, but by what they do.
3 So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 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?
5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.
Man’s Moral Nature
God made human beings moral “by nature.” This does not mean all know the specific moral standards revealed in Scripture. But it does mean that every society recognizes the same general “moral issues” and sets moral standards.
Paul’s point is that no human being lives up even to his own standards, much less God’s. Every individual’s conscience testifies that he has fallen short, for his thoughts make excuse for his behavior or try to avoid responsibility by blaming others.
14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15 They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them.)
The Jew and the Law
To have the law of God does mean having a superior standard of morality. But moral superiority cannot come “because you are instructed by the law,” or even because you approve of it. The Jews have the law but have not kept it.
21 you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself ? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Paul then mentions circumcision. This important OT rite was given by God as the symbol of descent from Abraham and thus of membership in God’s Covenant people. Many Jews counted on this physical relationship as a basis for relationship with God.
Paul argues that circumcision guarantees nothing. Those who are circumcised and fail to keep the law stand condemned by the law. It is not a physical and outward sign of relationship God seeks, but a heart that is responsive to his Spirit.
28 A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 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.