Religion that God Loves
For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God. (Romans 2:25-29)
What good are religious practices if they are not backed up by a life lived for God? What value is there in observing rites, rituals, and traditions if there is no real change in one’s life? Even the greatest ceremonies, such as when a Jew submits to circumcision, are invalidated when there is no obedience or evidence of genuine faith.
From God’s point of view, if the nonreligious person does what God asks him to do, he is closer to God than the person skilled in religion. Not only is he closer to God, he is a judge of the religious hypocrite.
The true Jew, God says, is the one who is a Jew in heart and in Spirit. He is the same person who receives praise from God Himself. 1
These statements were incredibly controversial in Paul’s day; no doubt the very kind of statements that put him in constant trouble in synagogues and with Jewish communities. (No religious person likes to be called a hypocrite, whether they are Jew or Gentile.)
If we allow the Lord to search us and make our hearts clean … if our religion moves from the inside (the heart) to the outside (our words and deeds) … our religion will be acceptable to Him.
1 In Romans 2:29, Paul is using a play on words. The Greek word translated “Jew” is from the Hebrew “Judah.” Judah was the name of one of the 12 sons of Jacob, and his name means praise. Therefore, what Paul is saying is that the true Jew’s Jewishness doesn’t come from his ancestry, or from his dutiful religious observances, but from Judah, or from the praise he receives from God through His grace, apart from religious works.
For Further Review
1. What rites, rituals, or traditions do you practice? In what ways does your life reflect the meaning of these things?
2. Answer honestly: are your religious practices your response to God’s grace to you, or rather your effort to look good in either your own eyes or the eyes of others?
3. Take some time right now to confess any hypocrisy that may be in your life, and ask God to cleanse you and renew you in heart and actions.
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