In my last post we started to see that legalism is really a form of hypocrisy. We’ll never be able to follow a set of rules, even if we’re the ones who came up with them.
Now Paul continues by talking about those who follow God without even knowing the rules.
Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker.
Paul uses circumcision as a picture of following a law. That’s because it was the outward sign of the covenant for the Jews. No God-fearing Jew would ever let their infant go without being circumcised.
The problem is that you can have the sign of the covenant without obeying the terms of the covenant.
A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.
It’s not enough to only deal with the outward. Our outside will never permanently change unless we have a change of heart. The problem is that our heart itself is very deceptive. We can’t always trust what we’re feeling.
That’s why true change can never be imposed upon us from the outside, by the written code. It must come from the inside, by the power of the spirit. Isn’t it great to know that your spirit can change your heart?
It’s important to know that, right from the start, Paul explains that change is by the Spirit and not by following rules. Even something like circumcision, which was a part of God’s law to the Jews, has no power to bring about change.
In this letter to the Romans, Paul is bringing us to the realization that we can only serve God acceptably through the spirit. It’s something that’s consistent through all his writings.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Understanding the power of prayer in the spirit should give us insight into what this verse is actually saying. Many times, when people quote this verse, they’re using it as a weapon.
I’ve heard people say things like, “Look at how that person lives, and they call themselves a Christian. They’re walking in their flesh so they must not have the Holy Spirit in them. They can’t really be saved.”
This isn’t a verse that Paul gave us to test whether a person is saved or not. This is a passage of Scripture to tell us how to receive the power we need to walk in victory over the flesh. The only way you’ll have the power you need to not gratify the flesh, is to live your life in the spirit.
You cannot do it by exercising the will power of your soul, or even disciplining your body. This means that you spend time praying in the spirit, communing with God in the realm of the spirit. That’s where we access the power to overcome the desires of the flesh.
It’s never about following rules. It’s always about submitting to the Holy Spirit.
Question: Why is it impossible for us to simply follow a set of rules?
© 2020 Nick Zaccardi