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It’s a Matter of the Heart (Romans 2:17-29)

First Baptist Church https://fbcbartow.org

“It’s a Matter of the Heart”

(Romans 2:17-29)

Series: Romans – United in the Gospel[on screen]

Rev. Matthew C. McCraw, EdD

First Baptist Church, Bartow, Florida

January 30, 2022

Introductory Comments:

When I was a teenager, one of my favorite bands was DC Talk. One of my favorite DC Talk songs was a song called, “What if I Stumble?” At the opening of that song are powerful lyrics, which are actually a quote from author Brennan Manning. The song says, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world, simply finds unbelievable.”

That quote stuck with me all these years later. Those words are impactful and should stir the Christian’s emotions to consider how his or her lifestyle has an impact on the spread of the Gospel around the world.  

In our study of Romans, the apostle Paul has been on a journey talking about the wrath of God shown in the world, to the wrath of God shown towards religious people who are merely religious, to today’s topic of talking about what really matters is what God is doing in our hearts. God wants real change in us because we are Christians, not just a claim by us that we are Christians. This real change starts in the heart. 

Today’s sermon is entitled, “It’s a Matter of the Heart”[on screen]

Before we go any further, let’s go to God in prayer and ask Him to speak to us through His Word.


Some may think that Paul’s being kind of tough in these opening chapters. I agree, he is. However, remember it is only in understanding the bad news of our sin that we are able to understand the good news of the Gospel. 

Remember when John the Baptizer was preaching in the wilderness. He was laying it on the people. 

John called his listeners children of snakes. He said that they were about to be cut down and thrown into the fire. 

However, look at what Luke says about John the Baptizer in Luke 3:18. He says, “Then, along with many other exhortations, he proclaimed good news to the people.” [on screen] After John had shared all the bad stuff; after he had shared all about the judgment of God towards sin, then John shared the good news of the coming of Jesus. 

So, Paul is continuing to share the seriousness of sin and now he is focusing on those who consider themselves as God’s exclusive chosen people, the Jewish people. After Paul shares all about the seriousness of sin, he will shift to the salvation offered in Jesus.

As Paul speaks to the Jewish people in Rome, he’s going to center on three major issues. 

The first issue is this: 

I. Misusing the law (17-23) [on screen]

In order to understand this misuse of the law, let’s back up just a bit. 

Remember, God decided to choose a people as His own special people, so He chose a man out of the land of Ur, named Abram. Through Abram (who would become Abraham), God would bring a promised son, named Isaac, and he would have a promised son, named Jacob. Jacob would have his name changed to Israel and Israel would have many sons from whom the twelve tribes of Israel came. The people of Israel would go through all kinds of hills and valleys, but since they were God’s chosen people, God continued to bless them. One of the ways that God blessed them was to deliver them from captivity in Egypt and lead them into a land He promised to them, called “The Promised Land.” As the people settled in the Promised Land, God blessed them again by providing something they needed to know God, to know God’s ways, and to know themselves: they needed the law and God gave it to them through a man named Moses. 

So, God has chosen His people and given them His law. They are indeed a special people because they have been chosen by God. However, some of them started to think of themselves as being special a little too much. That is what Paul is addressing today as we continue our discussion on the wrath of God shown towards sin.

So, let’s pick it up in verse 17 and we’ll read to verse 23. 

17 Now if you call yourself a Jew, and rely on the law, and boast in God, 18 and know his will, and approve the things that are superior, being instructed from the law, 19 and if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light to those in darkness, 20 an instructor of the ignorant, a teacher of the immature, having the embodiment of knowledge and truth in the law— 21 you then, who teach another, don’t you teach yourself? You who preach, “You must not steal”—do you steal? 22 You who say, “You must not commit adultery”—do you commit adultery? You who detest idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?

In verses 17, 18, and 19, Paul is setting up the Jews in the church of Rome to help them see if they are really being faithful. 

Paul is pointing out that they think that they have something special in the law of God, and indeed they do. 

Paul says that they know the will of God, and approve superior things, and they are instructed in the law, and they are guides for the blind, and they are light in the darkness, and they instruct the ignorant, and they can teach the immature, and they have the embodiment of knowledge, and they have truth in the law. They have all of these blessings at their finger trips and all these things are so because God blessed the people with these gifts.

However, Paul is pointing out that some of these people started getting a little too big for their britches, as country folks say. 

You see, because they were special and because they had a special gift in the law of God, these particular Jews to whom Paul was writing started to feel that they could do whatever they wanted. They told others not to steal, but they stole. They told others not to commit adultery, but they committed adultery. They told others to stay away from idols, but they stole idols from temples. They boast in the law, but they break the law themselves. 

You see these people had started to feel so good about themselves that they forgot what it was like to follow the only One who is truly good. They felt so special because they received the law of God that they forgot that the law they received was a gift from the one who is truly special. They boasted in their special status as law receivers that they forgot that the only one in whom they should boast is the law giver

How many of us are like that sometimes? How many of us start to look at ourselves and think how great we are because we are the ones who are truly blessed by God?

We have twelve different Bibles at home even though we never really open them to fall in love with the one who gave us the miracle of the Bible. 

We have huge church facilities but the activities that take place in them are often more centered on us rather than on God and those He wants us to reach. 

We pride ourselves in a particular type of music rather than trying to get our hearts right to worship the one who has given us all types of music to be sung for His praise and glory!

We boast or brag about our buildings, our budgets, our Bible knowledge, and the number of backsides we can put in the seats rather than boasting in the one who took us from blindness to sight, from darkness to light, and from death to life!

Paul said elsewhere, in Galatians 6:14, “But as for me, I will never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The world has been crucified to me through the cross, and I to the world.” [on screen]

You see, church: when the people of God take for granted the blessings of God and forsake the mission of God they will soon forget the ways of God and will eventually lose the favor of God. 

Paul said to these high and mighty Jewish Christians that they were misusing the law of God. God didn’t give them His law so that they could think they were better than everyone else; He gave them His law so that they could discover for themselves and help everyone else discover a better way of life, a life lived chasing after the ways of God!

Paul’s point here is not that the law IS NOT beneficial. His point is that the law IS beneficial but the people Paul was speaking to were abusing the privilege of having the law. 

The first issue is that these people were missing the law of God. 

Second, they were . . . 

II. Misrepresenting God (24) [on screen]

Just to be clear, the people of God should represent God and we should represent Him well. 

Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:20, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us. We plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God.’” [on screen]

So, as representatives, or ambassadors, for God, we should represent Him well and others should be drawn to Him by our lives. 

However, listen to what Paul says was happening with the Jewish people. Look at verse 24:

24 For, as it is written: The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.

What a tragedy this is, church! The world should be drawn to God by observing the lives of followers of God. However, through these particular people, and through some who claim to follow God today, certain people are actually pushed away from God, turn their back on the ways of God, and actually blaspheme (or speak badly about) God. 

This is what the quote I read earlier was talking about. 

“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world, simply finds unbelievable.”

When the people of God don’t live like the people of God it can lead those who are far from God further way away from God. 

So, let us be sure that we are not living a life of hypocrisy. That is, let us not claim to be those who follow God when in reality we are not following the ways of God. Let us not live in such a way that we give a bad name to God and drive others away from God and His ways. 

The second issue with these hypocritical Jewish people in Rome was that they misrepresented God. 

Finally, they were . . .

III. Misunderstanding Faithfulness (25-29) [on screen]

Now, Paul is going to spend time discussing circumcision. Remember, circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant with His people. It was an actual physical sign that each Jewish male had. So, they knew about it! However, they began to take that sign for granted and misunderstand what it meant to be faithful to God. 

Take a look at verses 25-29:

25 Circumcision benefits you if you observe the law, but if you are a lawbreaker, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 So if an uncircumcised man keeps the law’s requirements, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? 27 A man who is physically uncircumcised, but who keeps the law, will judge you who are a lawbreaker in spite of having the letter of the law and circumcision. 28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. 29 On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter. That person’s praise is not from people but from God.

This whole idea that Paul shared with these Jewish people in Rome would have caused some head spinning on the necks of the average Jewish religious expert of Paul’s day. 

Some Jewish experts of Paul’s day even thought that circumcision was an automatic entrance into God’s kingdom.

Yet, Paul says that circumcision is by no means automatic. In fact, Paul essentially says that some people who are uncircumcised are closer to God than those Jews who are circumcised. I can imagine them thinking, “Are you kidding me, Paul? Are you telling me that an uncircumcised godless Gentile is closer to God than me, a Jew, a member of God’s chosen people?”

Paul says it’s not what’s on the outside that matters. He says in verse 29, “ . . . a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart.” It’s inside that matters. You see, circumcision was a symbol or a seal of someone’s commitment to the Lord, sort of like a wedding ring is a sign that we are married or as baptism is a sign that we have been saved by the work of Jesus. Obviously, you can wear a wedding ring and not be married. You can get dunked in a baptistery and not be a person who has truly been forgiven by Jesus. It’s what’s inside that matters. It’s the change in your life that matters. It’s a matter of the heart!

For the Jew, faithfulness doesn’t mean that someone is circumcised. For a follower of God, true faithfulness is not merely an outside sign. Faithfulness means that the affections of your heart are devoted to the Lord. You treasure, desire, and obey the ways of God. You desire more of God and less of sin. 

So also, for the Christian today, God doesn’t want us just to complete some physical act or take on some physical sign. He doesn’t merely want us to attend church, walk down an aisle, get baptized, be confirmed, become a member of a church, or read our Bible. God wants our heart, our faithfulness, and our devotion. 

Church, don’t make the mistake of the Jews of Paul’s day. Don’t misunderstand faithfulness. As God said in Hosea 6:6, “I desire faithful love and not sacrifice,
the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”
[on screen]

Let us be truly changed and truly faithful to God and His ways because we’ve been truly changed by the faithful love of Jesus. 

Concluding Thoughts:

Let this bottom line summarize what God is saying to us through the words of Paul to the church in Rome:

Bottom Line: True faithfulness is inward faithfulness. [on screen]


Being a God-follower is not an outward matter, it is an inward matter. 

However, watch this: inward faithfulness will lead to outward faithfulness! Outward change may not lead to inward change, but inward change will definitely lead to outward change. You can take that truth to the bank!

So, don’t misuse the law of God, don’t misrepresent God, and don’t misunderstand faithfulness. 

Let God change you from the inside and then live faithfully, from the inside-out. 

Challenge yourself this week in the following ways:

Weekly Challenge: [on screen]

1. Identify what makes you one of God’s people. [on screen]

The Jewish people of Paul’s day considered themselves God’s true people. Well, perhaps some of them were.

Do you consider yourself one of God’s people? What factor determines whether or not you belong to God? Is it because you’re a member of this church? Is it because you read your Bible every day? Or, is it something else?

Take some time this week and think about that question. 

2. Identify marks of faithfulness in your life. [on screen]

Those who Paul was talking about claimed to be faithful, but Paul said they lacked the evidence to back it up. 

Have you been changed inwardly? If so, how is it showing outwardly?

Inward faithfulness will lead to outward faithfulness. 


If you’ve not been changed on the inside, there’s only one who can do it. God can absolutely change you, from the inside-out. 

So, do you need to be changed by the power of God? If so, come to Him today. 

(Gospel presentation)

(closing prayer)

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