25 Circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law; but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 So, if those who are uncircumcised keep the requirements of the law, will not their uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then those who are physically uncircumcised but keep the law will condemn you that have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is true circumcision something external and physical. 29 Rather, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and real circumcision is a matter of the heart—it is spiritual and not literal. Such a person receives praise not from others but from God. (Rom2:25-29NRSV)
Earlier in the chapter Paul had declared that not the hearers but the doers of the law will be justified (v13). Many struggle with that verse and (Reformed) commentators try to explain it away by intimating Paul was speaking hypothetically – i.e. if anyone COULD keep the law (apart from Christ and pre-Fall Adam), they would be justified by it. The passage above proves their analysis is wrong for he now writes that those who are not physically circumcised but obey the law will condemn the Jew who does not. How then could any such Jew be condemned if no one did keep the law? – his point would be meaningless.
The explanation has already been provided in the previous post and is reaffirmed by the Apostle here. It pertains to the fact that God’s Law (which indeed cannot perfectly be fulfilled in letter by anyone) can and is fulfilled in spirit by those who, for example demonstrate the same concern for others as they do themselves. However imperfect their actions, in their hearts they desire to do good. When a person in need is succored then Christ Himself has been succored, and rewards follow (Mt25:38-40). Jesus and Paul teach precisely the same principles, for as apostle will later affirm: “The ENTIRE LAW is fulfilled in keeping this ONE COMMAND ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Gal5:14). And now he is making clear that such law is to be obeyed in spirit not letter – not as some Bible versions portray it “by the Spirit” (e.g. NASB) referring to the work of the Holy Spirit. The Gentiles he was referring to in vv14-15 did not possess the Spirit but they were well capable of obeying BY NATURE aspects of God’s law and in so doing evinced a form of faith in the sense of a positive response to what has been revealed to them of God’s law in their soul via the conscience.
As will continue to be demonstrated, none of this detracts from the essentiality of the Gospel – so that those chosen for Christ (Jn6:44) can be delivered from the guilt and power of sin. Only then can their “consciences be cleansed from dead works* in order to serve the living God” (Heb9:14). As the Royal Priesthood of God on Earth they become a kind of first fruit of God’s new creation (cf. Jam1:18).
Predestination is an inescapable reality but it in no way undermines God’s equitable justice once God’s broader Plan of Loving Goodness has been perceived. The Creator has been fair to all – for those of God’s children He has given to His Son (Jn17:6) are required to deny themselves and their personal ambitions and submit to the yoke of Christ. If faithful to the end they shall have the unimaginably glorious prospect of becoming the corporate Spouse of Jesus Christ through eternity. Such privileges cannot be attained via natural precepts but require the witness and application of the Holy Spirit, the water and the blood (1Jn5:8) and that is communicated through the Gospel.
* “Dead works” are sinful activities that result in Pauline “death” as defined in an earlier post.
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