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 the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.”
(Romans 2:29, NLT)
Friend to Friend
What kind of gear, gadgets, or stuff do you tend to gather? Is it sports equipment, clothing, or home decor? Clutter is my enemy, and I like to keep things pretty simple. Someone recently described my decorating style as “sparse.” I’m not sure if that was a compliment, but I’ll own it. I mean, I love a delivery box at my door like the next girl, but mine are usually filled with household items or commentaries.
Where am I going with all this talk about stuff? The Apostle Paul’s teaching in Romans 2:17-29 and 3:1-8 helps us see that we can over-focus on the stuff of our spirituality to the point that we miss the heart of it. It would be like a runner who got so excited about his or her specialized watch, shoes, or fanny pack that the actual running became ancillary to the gear. This can happen to the best of us. It certainly happened to some of the Jews who got caught up in the laws and rituals and lost sight of the God behind it all.
There are three key statements of focus within these passages from Romans:
Take a Look
In Romans 2:17-24, Paul seems to be saying, “Take a look in the mirror of God’s law and see yourselves. You are boasting, but you’ve failed to see your own sins because of your pride and condemnation of others.” Here Paul hits right at the heart of the disconnection between what we teach and how we live. God’s Word is a mirror. We need to regularly “take a look” so we can see clearly where we need to realign with God’s heart and mission. We would never want those around us to be turned off to our God because of our lack of self-awareness. God has called us to be a light to those around us just as He entrusted the Jews with His message.
My tendency, after I have taken a look and seen the incongruity in my prayer life, the way I treat my family, or my attitude toward poverty, is to start working a plan to fix it. (Anybody with me?) But Romans 2:25-29 reminds us that rather than trying to work this out in our own strength, God calls us to give up. Yep, you read that right.
Paul didn’t launch into a diatribe style in this passage, talking about working harder at serving God with more determination or vigor. Instead he tells them that the only way to God is a change of heart that is produced by the Spirit. This is why, after taking a look, we need to give up. We give up on our efforts to be righteous apart from faith. We give up trusting in the sacraments, practices, people, buildings, or ministries that surround our faith, putting our trust in Christ alone.
By using God’s law as a mirror to take a look it also reminds us that we can’t fulfill its requirements by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and trying harder. We have to get real. In Romans 3:1-8 Paul is showing us that God remains faithful even when humans are not. God is faithful and true. His law was never intended to save but to reveal our inability to fulfill it. When we discover the futility of our attempts at obedience to the law, it brings us to God, aware of our need to believe Him by faith.
God loves us, and He has connected faith and faithfulness. The order is crucial though. Rather than focus on trying to be faithful and do all the right things, we instead can set our hearts on taking a look at our hearts, giving up on our own efforts, and getting real enough to take God at His Word and believe Him by faith alone. When people believe God from a place of authenticity, positive changes happen that lead to life. The outcomes happen when we put our intention toward faith rather than productivity. Out of a transformed heart comes a transformed life. God used the law to help His people get real about their lives. He wants us to get real about ours too.
Dear Lord, help me to focus on You more than outcomes. I know that I can’t change myself. I’m asking You to change me. Make me more like You each day. When I look at my own failure to change, I can easily get discouraged. Instead help me to lean into You and allow You to transform me by Your Holy Spirit. Help me to take a look, give up on my own efforts, and then see real changes happen in my life that can only by attributed to You.
In Jesus Name,
Now It’s Your Turn
As you think about your own spiritual life right now, where do you need to give up striving and turn toward God? Where can you focus more on drawing closer to God than outcomes – at home, work, church, relationships, health concerns, etc.?
More from the Girlfriends
Melissa Spoelstra is an author and speaker who is first and foremost a Christ-follower who is madly in love with Jesus and addicted to the study of His Word. She shares more about the Good News that Changes Everything in her new Bible study on Romans, https://amzn.to/2wChCZr