Exposition of Romans 2:24-25, Some people want a magic bullet

“Hey, I was baptized as a baby! Surely, that’s good enough.”

“I go the church most of the time, and I figure God knows that.”

“My mother was a real Christian, and she never worried about me going to heaven; so, I’m doing fine!”

Many formerly relied on being born in America, but that does not seem to be as widely claimed in recent years. Do gold stars from Sunday School count?

(ESV) Romans 2:24-25

For, as it is written, The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.

In his ongoing argument against Jewish superiority, Paul pulls out a powerful weapon by quoting the Old Testament (Isa. 52:5) in support of his point. It is important to realize that the Word of God has always been considered authoritative by the people of God. Neither ancient Jewish posturing nor contemporary opinions can stand if they conflict with what God has revealed to his people in the Bible. “As it is written . . .” (2:24) settles issues among the faithful.

Paul is being ironic by saying that the very people whose conduct should have caused God to be praised became the cause for God to be blasphemed among the Gentiles (2:24). How did this come about? Isaiah spoke for God against the idolatry that led to the Jews being taken away into Gentile captivity. The northern kingdom of Israel was deported by the Assyrians in 722 B.C., and the southern kingdom of Judah was removed by Babylon in 586 B.C., when Jerusalem fell.

In the thinking of the ancient world, a deity who could not protect his own people was no deity at all! Because God allowed his people to experience judgment due to their idolatry, the name of God was scorned by the powerful nations who took the Jews into slavery. Peter similarly warns Christians not to dishonor God by their conduct (2 Pet. 2:2).

Of course, the prevalence of idolatry in Israel and Judah is direct proof that the people were not keeping the Law of Moses; they ignored the very first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Exodus 20:4-6 commanded that no images be made in all Israel. No Jew could deny the historic failure of his people to keep these commands.

Paul applies this truth to the Jews who hear his arguments. Circumcision, an essential sign of the covenant people, was required of all Jewish males (Gen. 17:10-14). James Dunn says, “The irreducibly fundamental importance of circumcision for the Jew of Paul’s time can be easily documented.”[1] When Paul says circumcision is indeed of value (2:25a), all right-thinking Jews would be nodding yes; but his argument tightens when he adds “if you practice the law” (2:25b, NET).

Douglas Moo points out the necessity of deciding what is meant by the phrase “if you practice the law” in 2:25 by saying: “Two interpretations fit the context: (1) a heartfelt, faith-filled obedience to the stipulations of the covenant, (2) a perfect conformity to the letter of the law. If the former is adopted, then Paul would presumably regard this kind of doing the law as possible.”[2] After noting that the decision is difficult, Moo prefers the second; I prefer the first. Great scholars fall on both sides.

Through over-emphasis on circumcision, many Jews did little more. Paul says they are no better than the uncircumcised Gentiles. That view again places Jew and Gentile on the same footing in relation to God’s judgment.

Short cuts not wanted!

Christians must beware of making the same mistake the Jews made! Grant Osborne tells how: “Those who think they are going to heaven because of being baptized but who are not committed to Christ face the same tragic consequence — they too are under God’s wrath.”[3]

1. Read Matthew 28:19-20. When Jesus speaks of all I have commanded you, what do you think he expects of those who become his disciples?

2. Baptism for Christians is similar in significance to circumcision for Jews. If you have not been baptized at an age when you fully understood its spiritual significance, what would it take for you to arrange for water baptism through your church? Baptism is not the end of Christian responsibility, but it is very important.

Gaming the system with God has been popular throughout the ages. The only problem is that God is not playing games! The good news is that we have plenty of notice about this issue, so pleasing our Lord can become our main concern.

Copyright 2012 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.


[1] James D.G. Dunn, Romans 1-8, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word Books, 1988) 119.

[2] Douglas Moo, The Epistle to the Romans, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1996) 168.

[3] Grant R. Osborne, Romans, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004) 77.