John Stott served as a pastor of All Soul's Church in
London, England, for more than 50 years. He knew a thing or two about preaching. When
he set about the task of writing a book on preaching, he entitled the book, "Between
Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today." He saw the main challenge of the
preacher to be to bridge the gap between the ancient world and our world by taking the
ancient text and bringing it into relevance today. He said, "It is across this broad
and deep divide of two thousand years of changing culture (more still the case of the
Old Testament) that Christian communicators have to throw bridges.
Our task is to enable God's revealed truth to flow out of the Scriptures into the lives of the men and women of today." 
It only takes a few moments thinking about the difference between our world and the Biblical world to realize that the bridge is long in building. If you think about it, we live in an entirely different world than those in Bible times. They traveled across land with horses and chariots. We travel across the world in cars and jets. They explored new worlds with ships ships at sea. We explore new planets with ships in space. They communicated by mail that took months to arrive. We communicate by the internet, measuring delivery time in milliseconds. Their libraries consisted of scrolls, written by hand. The internet is our library.
Yet, as big as the gap is to bridge, the Bible is amazingly relevant. For, it often speaks to the heart, and the heart of man hasn't changed. We are just as wicked today as they were in Biblical times. And we need a Savior just as much today as they did in Jesus' day.
But there are times when the cultural differences between our world and the world of the Bible must be bridged in order to bring the Bible into application to us today. For instance, how long since any of you went to the temple to pray? When was the last time you fasted for Yom Kippur? How many Jewish people do you know who are seeking to keep the law? When was the last time you spoke with a Jewish priest? These sorts of things were common occurrences for many in the days of Jesus.
Here's the question for today: when was the last time that you thought about circumcision. The Jews of Bible days thought about it often. This is illustrated in our text this morning. I'm talking here about Romans, chapter 2, verses 25-29. Though our text today only consists of five verses, Paul brings up circumcision some 10 times in these five verses. As I read, listen for the the word, "Circumcision" or "uncircumcision."
For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
So, the question is this: why did Paul bring up circumcision so much in these verses? The answer really goes back to verse 17. That's when Paul turned in his argument toward the Jews. In chapter 1, Paul addressed the sin of the Gentiles who had no law and no sense of morality. Yet, because they knew God through creation, and still rejected him, these Gentiles were still under the condemnation of sin. In chapter 2 (and verse 1), Paul addressed the sin of the moral person, who knew enough of God's righteous requirement to judge others who weren't living up to their standards.
But in chapter 2 and verse 17, he addresses the Jew, specifically.
"If you call yourself a Jew and rely upon the law and boast in God."
This verse speaks of the mindset of the Jew! The Jews took pride in their heritage. "I'm a Jew" they would say. They were the descendants of Abraham, the one that God chose to bless. Thus, they were the chosen people.
And it's not without Biblical warrant that they would think this way! Deuteronomy 7:6 says of the Jews, "You are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasures possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth."
The Jews were the one people, of all nations on the earth, that God chose to love and cherish and guard and protect. Consider well the opening verses of Isaiah 43.
But now the Lord Who made you, O Jacob,
and He Who made you, O Israel, says,
"Do not be afraid. For I have bought you and made you free.
I have called you by name. You are Mine!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you.
When you pass through the rivers, they will not flow over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned.
The fire will not destroy you.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
Who saves you. I have given Egypt as pay for your life,
and have traded Cush and Seba for you.
You are of great worth in My eyes.
You are honored and I love you.
I will give other men in your place.
I will trade other people for your life.
Do not fear, for I am with you.
I will bring your children from the east,
and I will gather you from the west.
I will say to the north, 'Give them up!'
and to the south, 'Do not hold them back.'
Bring My sons from far away,
and My daughters from the ends of the earth.
Bring every one who is called by My name,
for I have made him for My honor, yes, I made him."
So, the Jews boasted in their heritage. And they also boasted in the law. "I have the law!" they say. That's what verses 17-24 are talking about. Let's just begin in verse 17, ...
But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law;
There are many times that we view the law with contempt. But the law was a good thing that God gave to Israel a law. It made them wise. It brought God near to them.
The LORD was pleased, for his righteousness' sake,
To magnify his law and make it glorious.
Here's how it worked with the other nations, ...
See, I have taught you Laws just as the Lord my God told me. So you are to live by them in the land you are going to have for your own. Keep them and do them. For this will show how wise and understanding you are. The people who will hear all these Laws will say, 'For sure this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there that has a god so near as the Lord our God is to us every time we call to Him? What great nation is there that has laws as right as this whole Law which I am giving you today?
And so the Jews often boasted in God, saying, "I am a Jew!" "I rely on the law!" (Verse 17).
Last week, we addressed both of these assertions. My message last week was entitled, "Religious Trappings" My first point was this: Don't Trust in Your Heritage (verses 17-18). Don't trust in the fact that you are a Jew, is what Paul was saying.
In seeking to bridge the gap last week between us and Jews, my exhortation was along the same lines. Don't trust in your religious upbringing. Don't trust in the faith of your parents. Don't trust in the name "Christian." Your religious heritage, though a blessing, will get you nowhere with God.
My second point was this: Don't Trust in Your Learning (verses 19-24). The Jews boasted in the law. They boasted in their knowledge of the law. They boasted in how they had a corner on the truth. But the Jews were hypocrites, denying the very thing that they taught.
My exhortation to you last week was the same. Don't trust in your knowledge of the Bible. Don't trust in how you know right from wrong. Don't trust in how you can spot error a mile away. Your religious knowledge, though a blessing, will get you nowhere with God.
My third point (that I didn't get to last Sunday) was this: Don't Trust in Your Religion (verses 25-29). It's really the next step in Paul's argument. The Jews boasted in God, saying, "I am a Jew!" "I rely on the law!" (Verse 17). And, in verses, 25-29, "I am circumcised!" In other words, they were trusting in their religion.
So, I'm taking the third point of my message last week, and making it the title of my message this week. The title of my message this morning is this: Don't Trust in Your Religion.
Fundamentally, this is what the Jews were doing with their circumcision. Circumcision was a sign of their religion. It was a sign that they were a part of the covenant community of God, and they were trusting in it. It was as if their religious efforts were sufficient to bring them to God. And the application comes to us in this way: Don't trust in your religion.
Now, I want to come right up front with my application this morning. In bridging the cultural gap between the Jews of Paul's day and us, it looks like this for us today: Don't trust in your baptism. Don't trust in your baby dedication. Don't trust in the prayer that you prayed. Don't trust in your confirmation. Don't trust in the hand that you raised, or in the isle that you walked, or in the card that you signed. Don't trust in your church attendance. Don't trust in your participation in the Lord's Supper. Don't trust in your religious achievements. Don't trust in your commitment to religious programs, like AWANA or Bible Study Fellowship or Small Groups or Youth Groups. Don't trust in your involvement in social programs like the Pregnancy Care Center or the Rockford Rescue Mission.
These sorts of things are often good and well intended, but they do carry with it some trappings. You can easily come to trust in the stuff that you are doing, or the stuff that you did, in your standing before God. If there is any warning from our text this morning it is this: "Don't Trust in your Religion."
Let's pick apart the text. First point.
This is exactly what verse 25 says, ...
For circumcision indeed is of value, ...
After all, God gave the sign of circumcision to the Jews. Back in Genesis 17, when Abraham was 99 years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, ...
... "As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant."
And thereby, circumcision became the sign of the covenant between Israel and God. They have taken seriously the words that this is "an everlasting covenant." It didn't stop with Abraham or with Isaac or with Jacob or with Moses or David or any of the prophets. The Jews kept this sign. And still today, there are many Jews who keep this sign. Their baby boys aren't circumcised right after they are born in the hospital. They wait eight days. And they have a little ceremony where the poor guy gets his pencil sharpened.
The Jews have taken seriously the words that the "male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant" (Genesis 17:14). For the Jews, circumcision is a sort of "membership sign." If you didn't have this sign, you were despised in their sight.
Do you remember the day when David was in the Valley of Elah hearing about this giant Philistine warrior, named Goliath? Goliath was defying Israel and challenging anyone to come and and fight him like a man. And David, despising him with all of his heart, said that he would strike down the "uncircumcised Philistine [who] taunts the armies of the living God" (1 Samuel 17:36).
Such was the distain that the Jews had for those who were uncircumcised. Indeed, Circumcision may be of value (verse 25a). But note, I said, "It may be of value." That's the point of the "if" in verse 25.
For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, ...
In other words, the value of circumcision came with obedience to the covenant. If you obeyed the law, then circumcision was of value. If you disobeyed the law, then circumcision was of no value. In fact, this is my second point, ...
Look at the second half of verse 25, ...
... if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.
What a shocking statement! Circumcision becoming uncircumcision! David becoming Goliath! A covenant member becoming an uncircumcised Philistine!
Now, obviously, this can't happen in the flesh. It's not like flesh begins to grow back upon a male organ if he disobeyed. It's not like Pinocchio. You remember Pinocchio, right? He was the wooden puppet who became a real boy. But, when he lied, his nose would grow. When he sinned, it would physically affect the length of his nose. When he sinned, his body would change.
This is the imagery that Paul gives here with circumcision. Paul gives the image of sinning changing your body. If you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. Now, of course, this is only an image. But, a powerful one, nonetheless.
The Jew, thinking that he has a ticket to God's favor, actually is standing there with empty hands. That's why Circumcision may be of no value (verse 25b). And the application is on the lower shelf. Simply replace "Circumcision" with "Religion" and you have the point.
Your baptism may be of value. Your baptism may be of no value. Your confirmation may be of value. Your confirmation may be of no value. Your walking the isle may be of value. Your walking the isle may be of no value.
The same is true of church attendance or religious achievement or commitment to your religious programs and Bible studies or social programs. They may be of value. They may be of no value. Much depends upon your faithfulness to the Lord.
There is value in baptism. There is value in standing before the world, and giving testimony to your changed life in Christ. There is value in participating in the picture of a cleansed life, buried with him in baptism and raised from the dead to walk in newness of life. This is exactly what Paul says in Romans 6.
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
The picture is there for all to see. The ritual is established for you to experience. But all is for naught if you fail to walk in newness of life. The very reality to which the sign points! And that's where Paul goes in verse 26. Circumcision may be of value (verse 25a). Circumcision may be of no value (verse 25b). Because ...
Look at verse 26, ...
So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
If verse 25 was shocking, this even more. Circumcision was evident to all. You either were circumcised or you weren't circumcised. You anyone could check. You simply needed to drop your drawers and be inspected.
But, Paul is talking in verse 26 of the divine evaluation. When God looks upon the circumcised or uncircumcised, he doesn't look to the foreskin. He looks to the life.
A few years ago, a viral YouTube video came out entitled, "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus." It was a video of Jeff Bethke reciting his poem about how many are focused on their religion, but not on Jesus. Here are a few highlights.
If religion is so great, why has it started so many wars?
Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor?
Because the problem with religion is that it never gets to the core,
It's just behavior modification, like a long list of chores.
Let's dress up the outside, make things look nice and neat,
Its funny that's what they do to mummies, while the corpse rots underneath,
... one thing I think is vital to mention,
How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrums,
One is the work of God one is a man made invention,
One is the cure and one is the infection.
Because Religion says do, Jesus says done.
Religion says slave, Jesus says son,
Religion puts you in shackles but Jesus sets you free.
Religion makes you blind, but Jesus lets you see. 
That simply gives you a flavor the video. You can watch it on YouTube. It's really very powerful. And it brings out this point very strongly: Circumcision isn't physical (verse 26). Or, you might say it this way, ...
In other words, it's not the rituals that God looks at. He's not looking to see if you have built a big church building. He's not looking to see if you have built some big church program. He's not looking to see the isle you walked or the prayer you prayed. He's not looking to see your baptism. He's not looking to see your participation in the Lord's Supper. He's not looking to see if you have a confirmation certificate. He's not looking to see what sort of attendance record you have maintained at church.
He's looking for something else. He's looking for obedience. He's looking for obedience to the ways of God.
So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
And when you walk in obedience to the things of God, the religious things are of no value to God. Now, that's not to ditch religion. You may hear the title of my message this morning and think, "Well, if I'm not supposed to trust in my religion, then what am I doing coming to church? What am I doing going to my program on Wednesday night? What am I doing volunteering my time with the missions agency?
That's exactly what the Jews would think when Paul brought up these things. But Paul affirmed the benefits of religion.
Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.
Paul's message isn't to deny the benefits of religion. It's simply that you shouldn't come to trust them. Which, by the way, is where Jeff Bethke's poem goes a bit too far. He's throwing out the baby with the bathwater, saying that religion is all bad. It's not all bad. It's simply a bad place to trust. Like a plant looks really nice. But, it's a bad place to trust if you want to sit on it. It's going to knock over and make a mess.
Moving on to my fourth point, ...
This comes from verse 27.
Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.
This verse gets at the heart of the overall passage: to convict of sin! "Jews! You think that you have favor before God because of your circumcision? But, it hasn't made much of an effect in your life. In fact, there are Gentiles who keep the law better than you do. You are a sinner. You need a savior!"
Sure, the Gentiles are bad (chapter 1). But, there can be some really nice Gentiles who actually behave better than the Jews! Now, how this judgment actually works out is a bit of a mystery. It may be that the Lord will bring Gentiles into the judgment room as witnesses when Jews are being tried, that they might be a witness against them. It may be that God will bring up the example of the Jews. "Consider those people, without gospel Look at how they lived. You ought to have done the same."
Your condemnation is just. Like with Jonah, ...
The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here."
For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
This is not Paul's concept. It was a concept in the law. We read of this law in Deuteronomy, ...
"And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
And we read further about the concept of circumcision, but circumcision of the heart, ...
And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
This sermon was delivered to Rock Valley Bible Church on
December 4, 2016 by Steve Brandon.
For more information see www.rvbc.cc.