We learned from Romans 1 that the Gentiles were without excuse. In Romans 2:1-16, we learned that Paul was building upon these concepts and making a transition by saying, "Therefore you. . ." with the Jews being the "you" (Romans 2:17). Just as the Gentiles are without excuse and will not escape judgment, neither will the Jews. The whole section from Romans 1:18-3:20 is there to prove that we are ALL sinners (Romans 3:9), heathen Gentiles and self-righteous Jews.
How easy to convince a Jew that the Gentiles were unrighteous because they sinned openly, but the Jews thought they were a shoe-in for heaven because they were the chosen people, knew the Law, and had been circumcised. Paul shot holes in everything they believed and summed up his argument by telling them what it really means to be a Jew:
But 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. (Romans 2:29)
Some of the hardest people in the world to share the gospel with are those who are deeply religious, those who have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof, those who try to establish their own righteousness!~ Kay Arthur, Romans Precept Upon Precept Study, p 47
I know a young woman who only knows about a very ritualistic way of seeking God. She gave up the ritual in high school because she knew her heart was not really in it. Over the last six months, she has been seeking to know God by looking at His Word. Last Saturday, after reading Matthew 3:1-3 about John the Baptist's call to repentance because of the kingdom being at hand, she lit up and said,
"It's all about Jesus, isn't it? Everything points to Him. Adam sinned, so we all sinned, but Jesus lived sinlessly, and it is all through Him isn't it? It is not about ritual! It is all so simple! You should tell more people about this!" (SMILE)
Paul (and John in the study in Matthew with this young woman) was calling people away from an insincere lifestyle that focused on the outward appearances and ignored the true issue of the heart. The Jews were going through the motions and not truly seeking God. They would be judged just like the Gentiles. They needed to "repent for the kingdom of heaven (was) at hand" (Matthew 3:2).
The only thing that will save both Jews and Gentiles will be elaborated on in Romans 3. Stay tuned. This is getting good!
Pray for someone you know who does not know salvation through Jesus and is trying to earn it through good works or religious practices.
It is all about the heart, but a changed heart also reveals changed actions. Salvation leads to righteous behavior. So, here are some cross-references that will help you understand the dynamic of faith and works. Cross-references are very important for interpreting Scripture because "truth is a bird with two wings" (A.W. Tozer):
Note: "practice" is from a Greek word that implies "continuous action."
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
1 John 3:1-12
Lord, I pray for this young lady, that she would fully know saving grace through Jesus Christ. We are all guilty, but the blood of Christ cleanses us from all unrighteousness. We cannot do it on our own merits and religious practices. It is all because of the merits of Jesus Christ. I pray for my other friend who does all the right things according to her religion but does not seek You with a circumcised heart. May Your kindness lead her to repentance and please give her a heart that wants to know You, Lord. I ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.