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Nov 10, 2019

Misplaced Confidences

Passage: Romans 2:17-29

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Romans

Keywords: sin, bible, salvation, word of god, disobedience, religion, confidence, circumcision, the law, rituals


Where we put our trust and what we build our confidence on in life can be very rewarding or dangerously misplaced. This message looks at a couple of the issues religious people in general and Bible-believing people in particular need to guard against when it comes to where our confidence spiritually needs to lie.


Misplaced Confidences

Romans 2:17-29

November 10, 2019 

            Ever felt like you put your confidence in someone or something you shouldn’t have…including yourself? 

Story:  Cross-country skiing in Yosemite with my sister one March during spring break.  We had skied to the south rim past Badger Pass on a beautiful sunny early spring day.  When we got to the rim, we stopped, took off our skis and sat down to enjoy the view.  I wanted to get a little closer to the edge so I moseyed across the snow to a vantage point where I could look down on the valley.  It was impressive…and stupid.  When I came back at a different angle, I looked back and realized that I had been standing on a section of snow that formed a bridge between a couple of crevices of rock           side-by-side.  It all of a sudden dawned on me that it was a good thing I hadn’t had that extra pancake that morning!  J

            But before we get to talking further about misplaced confidence, let’s do a quick review of where we left off last week in Romans 2.

REVIEW:  If you were with us last week, you’ll hopefully remember that we saw from the first half of Romans 2 that we all have a terrible tendency to be judgmental of virtually everyone around us.  While exercising good and discerning judgment is a healthy thing to do, our fallen human nature usually takes that much farther and plays favorites with and passes judgment on just about everyone we know in life…pretty much all day long.  That’s one reason we are unfit to be judges of other people. 

            But we all saw last week how wonderful it is that the God who made us is not like us in this manner.  Instead, He is amazingly rich in kindness, forbearance and patience in the hopes that every one of us will be lead to repentance of our sins and worship of the one true God through Jesus Christ and faith in Him.              We also saw last week that every human being will be judged by Jesus Christ at the final judgment at the end of time… everyone!  Those who have put their faith in God through Jesus Christ will be judged at what we call “The Judgment Seat of Christ.” How we spend our lives “in Christ” matters. This judgment isn’t to determine whether or not they will be in heaven.  That was settled by Jesus on the cross and embraced by true Christians through faith in God.

            Those who have not trusted Christ and His work for them will also be judged by Christ based on their works as well.  Those works won’t determine whether they go to hell or not.  Their choices to reject God and fail to live up to the law of conscience God put in their hearts means they will have rejected God’s call on their lives and chosen hell apart from God forever.  But hell will not be the same for everyone there just as heaven will not be the same for everyone there by faith in God’s grace to them.   

            But in the last half of Romans 2 where we are today, Paul seems to take direct aim yet again at this difference between Jews and Gentiles when it comes to recognizing sin and running to God for forgiveness and salvation.  He points to several things his fellow Jews were relying on to gain God’s approval and insure escape from God’s judgment.  He’s going to show that even those who seem to be the most religious in any culture are just as much in need of God’s kindnesses and saving work as those who never practice the outward forms of religion.

            This last half of Romans 2 breaks nicely into 2 parts.  So let’s read the first part and figure out how to apply it and then tackle the second.  Beginning in vs. 17--

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” 

            Most of us are sitting here thinking, “But I don’t ‘call myself a Jew.’  I’m a Gentile.  So what on earth does this passage have to do with me?” 

            Allow me to take a little liberty with the text for just a moment to show you how Paul’s words might have felt if he were writing to us today—church people who have been Christians for as long as we can remember.  If Paul were writing to us today, this is how the intent of what he was trying to make Jews feel might impact us.   

            “But if you call yourself a [Christian] and rely on the [Bible, the word of God] and [like to talk about your knowledge of God you’ve developed through your years of study]….if you [claim to] know God’s will [for people’s lives] and you [talk a lot about God’s plan for people] because you [have been] instructed from [God’s word] itself…

…If you are sure that you [actually see spiritual reality well enough to help guide people out of their spiritual blindness

…if you think that you can actually be a light to the dark culture you are living in….

…if you think the pagan culture you live in is clueless, doing really stupid things and acting like fools and that you, therefore, are equipped to straighten them out by teaching them what God says about what they are doing and advocating…

…if you really believe you have the absolute truth of God in the Scriptures and you want to teach that truth to your children and grandchildren…

(vs. 21)  You who talk about knowing right from wrong, why don’t you LIVE right from wrong?  Why don’t you put as much effort into figuring out how to do right and avoid wrong in your own life as you do into telling others when they are right and wrong?  Let’s get specific.

When you talk about how wrong it is for people to steal from you what is “yours,” do you actually engage in taking from others what is rightfully theirs?

When you talk against sexual immorality in the culture, do you fail to live in sexual purity in your heart and mind? 

When you claim to hate all the false gods of your culture (whether power or popularity, entertainment or leisure and a hundred other false gods), do you not skim off from those same pursuits just what the world is after? Do you not take from God what is rightly His and spend it on yourselves just like everyone around you does? 

You who claim to know God’s word so well, do you actually live by God’s word that well? 

God’s word applies to you too when it said that ‘God himself is made fun of among your secular culture because of you who claim to be spiritual but don’t live it out.” 

            Now I’ve certainly taken a bit of literary license with the text here.  But I did that, not because I don’t value or respect what Paul wrote.  I did so because. if all this passage is talking about is some ancient sin a bunch of Jewish people were doing, then we’ve missed the impact and power God wanted this argument to have on our lives.  Paul is proving again that every one of us tends to trust in the wrong things.  Every one of us likes to lean on our own achievements—what we know, what we can do, what others can see on the outside—rather than on what God is doing on the inside of us to really make us like Jesus from the inside out.    

            Paul’s argument here is to the Jews, people who were, at least externally, known for being the most religious, moral folks in a pretty crazy pagan world, had the Word of God…but it didn’t have them.  He’s essentially saying that having and knowing God’s word, while a great thing, is also a troubling thing. It’s great in that it has the potential of blessing us greatly when we put it into practice.  But it also has the potential of judging us openly when we don’t. And there is the danger that we will confuse possession with practice.

ILL:  It’s like the pastor who had been preaching on the importance of daily Bible reading. He and his wife were invited for a meal at a parishioner’s home. While there, the pastor’s wife saw a note that the hostess had written on her kitchen calendar: “Pastor/Mrs. for dinner—dust all Bibles” (from Reader’s Digest [March, 1990], p. 129).

            While the English adage that says, “Possession is nine-tenths of the law” may work in proving ownership in our legal system, it doesn’t work when trying to prove genuineness of relationship with God or faith.  Real faith doesn’t just have God’s word; it does God’s word. 

            As James told us in James 1:22, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.”  That is essentially what Paul is saying in Romans 2: “Do not be content to merely have a copy of the Bible by your nightstand…or read it even daily in your devotions… or hear it in a sermon once a week or on the radio while you’re driving.  Be intent on experiencing it through obedience and personal connection with God it can bring.” 

            When it comes to having God’s “law”/word, there are 2 things it should always DO:

1.)  Having the Word of God should have a humbling effect on us as we are constantly reminded about how short we fall to its high call.  It should be leading us to perpetual repentance.

The wrong response to seeing its high call and realizing I’m still a LONG way from the perfect nature of God it is calling me into is to be discouraged or give up.  (This takes the form of shaming in families and our own souls.) That’s how the enemy of our souls wants us to respond—with shame, discouragement or giving up.  God wants us to run harder after Him every time we are made aware of how grand He and His law is and how really small and weak we are and our humanity. 

2.)  The second effect having the Word in our possession should have on us is to stimulate us to walk more in obedience to its call.  To obey is simply to press more into Christ, become more like him in everything from thought to action, word to wish. Seeing what God lays out in His word should give us more desire to see that worked out in our daily lives.   

The wrong response to hearing God’s word call us to walk more in obedience is the danger of legalism—looking to law-keeping to make you more like Christ.  Only the Holy Spirit can make us more like Jesus.  (Evidenced in perfectionism that is hyper critical of others and of oneself.)

So with both those dangers and both those blessings clearly before us, let’s dive just a little deeper into what this paragraph is calling us to.  Look at just 2 verses:

21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 

1.)  Vs. 21a—Are we as careful to instruct ourselves as much as we (want to) instruct others?  Where do most of us “instruct” others in the daily flow of life?

·         Parents > > children.  ILL:  Sandy playing with one of the grandchildren recently.  Were pretending to drive.  Sandy was in the passenger seat asking some question when said grandchild turned to her and said (hand raised in objection), “Please, I’m trying to focus here.”  J  Oh that we would demand of ourselves the same increasing maturity, good attitudes, patience, etc. that we so quickly desire in children.

·         Marriages

·         Friendships

·         Church relationships

Virtually any relationships that really matter and has longevity. 

2.)  Vs. 21b—“While you preach against stealing, do you steal?”  Well, since he’s just talking about preachers here, we can obviously move on.  J 

Just what is “stealing”?  (Taking without permission something that does not belong to us.) 

How, actually, do we steal things that don’t belong to us in life?

·         From God?  (Giving, praise, thanksgiving, glory, honor,

·         From people’s personhood?  (Gossip, criticism, bad reports, defrauding relationships,

·         From our employers?  (Time, supplies, effort, loyalty, etc.)

·         Family/family of God?  (love, care, safety, security, vows, engagement, time and attention, affection, respect, submission, etc.)

3.)  22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? 

·         Spiritually, how do we “commit adultery”?

·         Either mentally/emotionally?  (porn, movies, books)

·         Physically?  (job as mistress; any form of sex outside marriage bond of 1 man and 1 woman).

4.)  You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? What are the “idols” of our age that we might be looking to benefit from just as our non-Christian neighbors are?  What are the things they look to rather than God?

·         Entertainment?

·         Government benefits?

·         Cheap goods…at the expense of slave labor?

·         Debt and what it can buy?

·         Solitude.  Peace & quiet? 

·         Comfort, ease, self-pampering

·         Addictions? (Food, drink, drugs, electronics)

·         ???

So what should this little journey of looking at just a handful of the specifics of sin found in God’s word/law do to us?

·         Humble us with accurate assessment of where we are/aren’t but without discouraging us.

·         Encouraging us to press into obedience to Christ but without legalism.

So the 1st major danger of misplaced confidence can be our confidence that we know God’s Word.  I think this is a particular danger for Bible-believing, Bible-reading evangelical Christians.  We tend to pride ourselves on studying and knowing God’s word more than other branches of the Christian church.  That’s a danger.

So now we come to the 2nd major danger of misplaced confidence:  spiritual/religious rituals and routines.  Paul is going to address a religious rite that was THE defining physical mark on a Jewish man’s body of his allegiance to Yahweh, namely CIRCUMCISION.  It was instituted as part of the Abrahamic Covenant in Gen. 17 (vss. 9-11). 

Paul is going to argue that it was not that physical rite performed on the 8th day after the birth (Lev. 12;2,3) of a Jewish boy that was the defining mark of your Jewishness.  He will argue that a “circumcision of the heart” (vs. 29) is what made someone of Jewish or Gentile descent a real Jew “inwardly.” 

            Since any discussion of circumcision in American church culture leaves most of us kind of wondering, “Why do we have to talk about the male genitalia on Sunday morning?” allow me to shift the conversation to the significance of circumcision rather than the act of circumcision. 

The word “circumcise” literally means “to cut around.” Why might God have chosen this particular part of the male anatomy?  One commentator suggest that since the male foreskin is part of male anatomy that sends out the seed of life, this part of the male anatomy, like no other part of the body, represents the depths of human sin since it perpetuates fallen humanity.

Circumcision was used symbolically to illustrate man’s desperate need for a cleansed heart before God.  Moses told all Israel, male and female, young and old, in Deut. 10:16, “Circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer” Later in Deut. 30:6  Moses speaks to Israel of the circumcision that God will perform on believing Israelites: “Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live” .

Paul picks this symbolism up in the N.T. when he writes to the Colossians, telling them that those who are in Christ—both male and female believers—“were also circumcised…” (2:11). Clearly, he is not speaking literally but with the metaphor of having sin cut away, which the rite of circumcision illustrated. All Christians, both male and female, have been spiritually circumcised in the “removal” of their sinful nature by being born again through faith in Christ. 

While Christians don’t look to the cutting off of some part of their body as the sign of God’s claim on us as His people, what sorts of things do we tend to look to as an external expression or evidence that someone might be a Christian? 

·         Baptism? 

·         Church attendance? 

·         Taking Communion?

·         Wearing of a cross?

·         Bible verse/cross/tattooed on your body?    

We’ll look more at this in a moment.  For now, let’s read the passage: (vss. 25-29)

25 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26 So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27 The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.

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.

            So circumcision was meant to be an outward sign of an inward relationship with God. Paul argues that when there is no correspondence inwardly, in the heart, of the symbolic action or ritual done externally, then circumcision has lost its meaning. 

            Vs. 29 informs us that what really made a God-recognized Jew was not the outward surgery of male circumcision but the inward, soul-surgery that the Spirit of God alone can do, that brought with it praise from God.   

ILL:  Sometimes “religious,” church-going people are the most difficult to reach with the Gospel.  They rely on their religious routine/ritual/traditions to be their salvation.  Such was the case with my family—raised in a denominational church, attending church every Sunday (a social thing), but didn’t know Christ personally until my parents were in their mid 40s and 50s. 

            So let’s come back to the question of ritual because circumcision had become just that for the Jewish nation—ritual.

Open Questions: 

1.)  What have been some of the more meaningful religious/church traditions in your experience that represent or facilitate for you genuine devotion to God?  Why? 

2.)  What spiritual rituals/practices do you feel have been or may be in danger of becoming empty rituals in your life or the life of Mosaic?   

·         Baptism

·         Taking Communion

·         Coming to church

·         Giving money to missions/church/ministries

·         Volunteering my time

·         Listening to the preacher

·         Being in a small group

·         Playing/singing worship music

·         drinking coffee J

·         ???

It is possible to do all those good things, those religious practices, and never have the Spirit of God mess with my heart, cut away any “spiritual fat/impurity” from my soul or fleshly tendencies from my character.  

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.

Notice the connection between experiencing heart-circumcision and experiencing God’s commendation.  External rituals may earn us the praise of other people.  But even in those good and godly rituals in which we engage, it’s always to be about what is happening in our hearts by the scalpel of the Holy Spirit, working to mark us eternally by the cutting away of those things that put distance between us and God. 

So let’s conclude by letting God talk with us about the “fleshly” parts of our lives and character that He may want to cut away from us.  What might be the routines, the regular practices and sin habits of our lives that we need the Holy Spirit to cut away from us? 

            Allow me to read how one pastor put together the almost 125 different sins mentioned in the Bible.  He did so under the basic categories of sin found in the 10 Commandments.  Let’s open our hearts and listen for the Holy Spirit’s whisper inviting us to cut away these sins through repentance as I read this.

The Ten Commandments and Associated Sins (Ex 20:3-17)

The 1st Commandment:  You shall have no other gods before me.

·         Idolatry, greed, covetousness, love of money, gluttony, complaining, not loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, tempting God, high-mindedness, disobedience, witchcraft, lover of self; putting family, friends, job, or anything else above God including food, money, sports, entertainment, TV, internet pornography, movies, cars, attachment to riches or material goods and much more.

The 2nd Commandment: You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God…. 

·         Love of money, greed, disobedience, covetousness, love of money, lover of self, putting family, friends, job, or anything else above God, irreverent use of God’s Word, attachment to riches or material goods.

The Third Commandment:  You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain….

·         Cursing, swearing, blaspheming, breaking oaths taken in God’s name, irreverent use of God’s name in humor, speaking evil of the church (Christ’s body), taking communion or the Lord’s Supper in an unworthily, anger at God, careless use of God’s name.

The Fourth Commandment: Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.  Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God.

·         Sloth, laziness, failure to work, seek employment or volunteer your time & energy, neglecting to assemble with the saints often, constantly working, failure to rest, fighting or speaking evil of Christian brothers or sisters.

The Fifth Commandment: Honor your father and your mother.

·         Cursing father or mother, dishonoring parents, striking or fighting with parents, disobeying parents, making fun of parents, filthy talk, speaking evil or badly of parents, and grandparents included in the aforementioned things, breaking civil laws when taught by parents to do obey the laws, failing to take care of aged parents, failing to take care of sick parents, fighting with and/or speaking evil about your siblings.

The Sixth Commandment: You shall not murder.

·         Engaging in murder, anger, hate, enmity, rage, brawling,  

rioting, racism, striking others physically, having an unforgiving heart, driven by wrath, being unmerciful, stirring up dissensions, being contentions, spitefulness, arguing, fighting, spreading division, strife and rivalries;  participating in or encouraging abortion, euthanasia, infanticide, genocide. 

The Seventh Commandment: You shall not commit adultery. 

·         Adultery, fornication, sexual immorality, filthy talk, crude joking, prostitution, defiling your body, homosexuality, sensuality, impurity, enticing others sexually, inordinate sexual passion, crude or filthy language, assuming opposite-sex characteristics, pornography, vulgar or crude jokes.

The Eighth Commandment:  You shall not steal.

·         Taking what is not yours, bribery, extortion, sloth or laziness at work, defrauding, dishonesty, cheating, gambling

The Ninth Commandment: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

·         Lying, gossiping, slandering, backbiting, spreading rumors, deceiving, extortion, verbal tirades, slander, defrauding or cheating, breaking promises to someone, hypocrisy towards others, dishonesty, whisperers, idle words, withholding the whole truth, being two-faced, bragging, boasting, using flattery to get what you want, exaggerating the truth, whining, speaking evil of others.

The Tenth Commandment:  You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

·         Coveting what others have, being envious of their accomplishments, lusting, being jealous, drunkenness to deaden your reality, practicing sorcery (in Greek means drug abuse), living for material things, self-indulging, living in sensuality, succumbing to get-rich quick schemes, finding your identity in riches or material goods, lawsuits against Christians, winning at any price, extortion, desire for money, desire for power, desire for sex outside of marriage, anger at other’s good fortunes, desiring things of others, being discontent in life because of what you don’t have, flirting or playing with temptation.

[Found at https://www.patheos.com/blogs/christiancrier/2014/09/08/a-list-of-sins-from-the-bible/ on 11.9.19.]

Remember what having the Word of God and the spiritual ritual of confession should do to us?  (Humility and sp. passion to pursue Christ more.)

“No one can ever out-sin the work of Christ on the cross.”


Our patient, generous and loving Heavenly Father, please forgive us of all these sins our hearts pursue.  We confess that we too frequently give these sins room in our souls.  By the power and work of your Holy Spirit, please circumcise our hearts.  Cut away those desire of the flesh that entrap us, enslave us, sap our spiritual fervor and deaden our devotion to You. 

We long to live lives free of these sins so we may be fully devoted to our life in Jesus Christ.  We long to be such a covenant people belonging to you that the world may look at us and see Jesus.  We invite you to continue to cut away all evil from our souls.  We are powerless to do this by our own will and cannot do this apart from Your work in us through the Holy Spirit.

Please fill us this moment and this day with the renewing life of the Holy Spirit so that we might experience the full measure of the life of Jesus Christ in our day. 

We humbly ask this of you in the name of your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.