Thursday, September 6, 2012

Day 4: No Cultural Christians

Romans 2:17-29

What might make you uncomfortable:

Paul rebukes readers for their cultural religion and reminds them that religious routine does nothing to purify the heart.

Today's Devotional:

To understand today's devotional, readers need to know some Old Testament background. In the Old Testament, the Jews were God's chosen people. God set aside the people of Israel (Genesis 35:10), gave them land (Deuteronomy 1:8), and gave them laws to follow Him (Leviticus 26:46). God rescued Israel out of Egypt (Exodus) and sent them prophets, priests, and kings to continue to establish His covenant with them. Part of the sign of a Jew's covenant with God and obedience to God's law was male circumcision (Genesis 17).

Theologians speculate as to why God chose this specific sign of circumcision to demonstrate his covenant, but one thing the Bible demonstrates is the importance of spilling of blood in accordance with this sign. Because we know that the Old Testament often serves as a type and shadow that prophetically points readers towards Christ, as the blood of circumcision created a covenant with the Jew, the blood of Jesus creates a covenant with us today - bringing us into the authority of God and cleansing our sin.

In first century Judaism, there were some interesting thoughts about the afterlife. Most Jews believed that if one was circumcised he or she would not descend into the Jewish version of Hell (commonly referred to as Gehenna in the first century). The Jews believed that as long as they were circumcised and didn't sin "very much" that God would accept them into heaven upon death (Author's Note: Dr. Thomas Constable in his Notes on Romans provides a detailed description of these beliefs along with rabbinical quotations).

It is in this context that Paul addresses the Jewish believers in Rome throughout Romans 2.

Paul writes to the Jewish Christians in Rome, saying "God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you" (2:24). Paul declares to the Jews that "circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code" (2:29).

Paul demonstrates the Jewish need for a Savior and their lack of purity before God by citing specific sins such as pride (2:17), idolatry, and theft (2:22). Cultural religion wasn't enough to purify their hearts. This should remind leaders of today's cultural Christianity, in which some become comfortable with "acceptable" sins while avoiding those that create more of a cultural taboo.

Jesus is not after the outward appearance of religious veneer but the purity of the heart. Paul rebukes the Jewish Christians and tells them that their outward circumcision means nothing in light of their sin. It is more important for one to have a purified heart than simply enjoying a cultural religious routine.

It doesn't matter if one is raised in a religious family and learns how to avoid doing the really "bad sins" throughout life. Cultural Christianity didn't save someone in the first century and neither does it today. Romans 2 demonstrates the need for all people to come into relationship with Jesus Christ, regardless of their appearance or background.

What is the "circumcision" of today? Perhaps it's baptism, giving money to the poor, attending church on Christmas and Easter, or avoiding taboo sexual sin?

Whatever litmus test we think we can use to determine our holiness, one thing is true: no one is holy enough to stand before the judgment seat of Christ without the cleansing of the blood of Jesus.

The good news of Jesus is not for a select few people. Truly, Jesus came to show His love to all peoples.


In what ways have you bought into the lie that cultural religion will make you a better person? Jesus, and Jesus alone, is our life source, our transforming power, and our escape from judgment. Of course the church is the body of Christ and Jesus will often use it to demonstrate His love, but our faith must be in Him alone for salvation.

Spend some time today to repent of any culturally acceptable sins that you've grown accustomed to. In this way, God will circumcise your heart.

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