The Expository Files


What Is The Issue Between A Man And God

Romans 2:17-29

17Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, 18and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, 19and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. 21You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? 22You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? 24For "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you," as it is written.

25For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? 27And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? 28For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.

In this early part of the letter to Rome, the apostle is establishing what the problem is in the human race. That is essentially important, in both Bible study and in making good personal decisions about God. We simply must have a good view of what the problem is, in the human race.

The truth is: Sin is the problem in the human race. And Paul wanted to be very clear that not just the Gentiles, but likewise the Jews were guilty of sin. Sin is a universal problem, crossing all lines of blood, genetics and race.

Now the destination of this argument is: Everybody needs the gospel of Christ, because everybody is suffering with the same problem. The conclusion is stated well in Rom. 3:23, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Part of this is the above paragraph, Rom. 2:17-29.

Here's what I want to address based on this passage What is the issue between a man and God? By "man" I mean, person, human being. We want to get to exactly what the matter is between a person and God. The problem called "sin" needs good clarity and we should steer a course away from distractions or irrelevant matters.

It is our purpose to rule out certain things that may obstruct good perspective. We are eager to know what the issue is, what it is all about, between a person and God.

The Main Issue Is Not . . .

1. What We Call Ourselves. There were Jews in Paul's time who were not willing to consider themselves as guilty sinners in need of the gospel. They took comfort in what they called themselves. You see that in verse 17, where Paul said: "Indeed, you are called a Jew."

Labels are often inadequate, particularly in religion. Labels do not prove standing with God. We cannot assume, if people wear a certain label, that label is informative or proof of anything. And when we call ourselves "Christians," we cannot be satisfied that we have met or completed some obligation. Understand, it is all right to call yourself a Christian. But there is much more to be done, on a level way beyond nomenclature. What we call ourselves may fall short of what we are. The issue between a man and God runs far beyond the use of a name or label.

2. The issue is not - What We Claim. Again, there were Jews in Paul's time not willing to consider themselves in need of the gospel and typically, they would claim to "rest on the law," and they would make their "boast in God." We are talking, here, about matters of profession, not practice: claiming, boasting and pride - not heart and life. Even when a legitimate name or label is used, verbal profession may be far removed from practice, or character.

3. The issue is not - What We Approve. There were those who remained loyal to Judaism in Paul's time and they would say they approved "of the things that are excellent." We may agree to things that are right; we may approve of things that, in reality, are excellent. But such agreement or approval may not reflect heart and life. One can name and claim and agree and approve - yet still be an alien sinner, or an apostate. The issue is not what we call ourselves or what we claim or approve.

4. The matter is not about - What We Learn. Learning is not always reflected in living! Learning is essential, but not an end in itself. Learning only for academic knowledge is of no spiritual value. Paul, in this passage, describes people who said they were instructed out of the law. This would be like someone today saying - I've read the Bible. I'm a Bible student! I know what the Bible says!! An immature, sectarian spirit might say - I know more than you know; I know better than you. Paul said, "Knowledge puffs up." To be a learner is not necessarily, to be a genuine disciple in your life. The learning of genuine discipleship is learning that is lived, not just claimed.

5. The issue is not - What We Teach. Those Paul refers to thought them-selves to be "instructors of the foolish." They were proud of the fact - they were "teachers of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law." This reads almost like a resume; here's what I've done; here's my record, my experience. Look at me. But that's not the heart of the matter, when it comes to a person and God!

When we use the Bible to understand the fundamental issue between a man and God - that is, between humanity and deity - let's not get caught up in things that miss the point! I may call myself a Christian. I may brag about or claim all kinds of things. I may be proud of what I approve, what I've learned and what I teach.

These matters, however, do not constitute the main issue between us and God. And I say to you - there are people who've been baptized; people who are anxious to claim membership in the church of Christ; people who are confident in their knowledge, their ability and their experience . . . Yet, they are not what they ought be in their lives!!

Melvin Wheatley said this, that is relevant to our study:

"We are split spiritual personalities.
We swear allegiance to one set of principles
and live by another.
We extol self-control, and practice self-indulgence.
We proclaim brotherhood and harbor prejudice.
We laud character but strive to climb to the top
at any cost.
We erect houses of worship, but our shrines are our
places of business and recreation.
We are suffering from a distressing cleavage
between the truths we affirm and the values
we live by.
Our souls are the battlegrounds for civil wars, but
we are trying to live serene lives in houses
divided against themselves."

What is the issue between a person and His God.

The Issue Is, How We Live!

Listen to this in our text:

21You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? 22You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? 24For "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you," as it is written.

The apostle takes up this matter of being a teacher and making that prominent in your "resume;" being proud of your work, as an "instructor of the foolish." He says this: "You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?" Teachers of truth are not exempt from the truth they teach!

In fact - if you know the truth, and you can teach the truth, the greater part of your teaching influences lies in your practice of what you teach!! When teachers do not model the instruction they give us, we tend to not take it seriously; it becomes an impairment to the process.

The issue between a person and God is not the ability to teach others, but rather - the wisdom of living the truth you teach!

Paul is saying to some of the leaders of Judaism: "You come to the Gentile, and propose yourself as a guide for his blindness, but you are walking in darkness." "You come to the Gentile, as though he were dumb and you take delight in being his instructor . . . but you failed to instruct yourself!!"

Paul is exposing pride, boasting, inconsistency and utterly ridiculous religious profession.

And The Issue Is, Content Of Heart

Rom. 2:29a - "but he is a Jew who is one inwardly..."

I may call myself a Christian; build up an impressive resume; become a teacher of good things and enjoy the applause of men - but the issue is, what is the content of my heart before God! We tend to place so much emphasis and confidential in external ritual, we get lost and stay lost. We attempt to handle our relationship with God through motions and appearances. But the heart is the heart of the matter.

If God is not in your heart, He cannot be in your life, and if He is not in your life, you live and die without Him! Do you recall reading this statement in 1 Sam. 16:7?

"...The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

Psalms 51:10 shows what our prayer should be: Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

We often sing the song that poses the question: Is Thy Heart Right With God? That's the issue between a man and God. And ...

The Issue Is God's Approval!

I may approve of myself; you may approve of me, and I may approve of you {the old "mutual admiration society."} What matters ultimately is: Do We Have God's Approval!

Notice the last phrase in verse 29: "whose praise is not from men but from God." This has such direct force against the whole behavior of hypocrisy. What I should seek is God's approval.

Now it is at this point that I need to say: Because of Jesus Christ, you can have God's approval. Left to your own power to reform and live right - God's approval would escape your grasp. But the good news is, because Jesus lived, died and was raised from the dead . . . By the activity of faith in Him, we can be brought out of sin, into righteousness - - - and to an ultimate place, where we enjoy God's approval. That's what matters. That's what it's all about.


Paul writes to us so clearly in this passage, regarding fruitless, boastful, hypocritical religious practice, where man is honored rather than God; where there is obvious inconsistency between claim and conduct and where there is shameful disparity between what one teaches and how one lives. Let's learn to get ourselves properly directed, in heart and conduct. The real issue between a man and his God is not name, claim, boasting, teaching. No - it is life and heart, seeking God's approval. That's possible, because of the sacrifice of Christ.

A young preacher was excited about his first sermon. He had been off to college, and thought he was adequately prepared. He walked boldly up to the pulpit, with his head high, just radiating self-confidence. But right away - in his first words, he stumbled over the reading of the Scriptures. Then he lost his train of thought; his notes were not adequate; he really became rattled. He quickly ended the message, and walked out of the pulpit dejected.

Later, one of the elders whispered to the embarrassed young preacher: "If you had gone up to the pulpit the way you came down, you might have come down the way you went up!" The elder was right.

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Is there something you need to do about all of this?


By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 13.12; December 2006