Summary: This sermon shows that no-one is saved by the sacraments.
Several times a year I receive a phone call from a person in our community with no connection to our church who asks the following question: “Pastor, will you baptize my baby?”
I briefly explain to the person what baptism is, and that it is a sacrament for church members and their children.
After the conversation is over I often wonder why the person wanted his or her baby baptized. Do you know why a person wants his or her baby baptized? Why would you baptize your child?
The number one reason, it seems to me, why people from the community want their children baptized is because they believe that somehow baptism will save their children. There is a widespread belief that baptism is necessary for salvation.
Baptism, of course, is the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament sacrament of circumcision. The Jews of Paul’s day believed that if they were circumcised, they would automatically be in a right relationship with God. Paul challenges this thinking in our text for today. Pay close attention is I read this text that at times sounds like a tongue-twister! Let me read Romans 2:25-29:
25 Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised. 26 If those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised? 27 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.
28 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 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. (Romans 2:25-29)
To John Barrier, it wasn’t the 60 cents. It was the principle.
During a lunch break Barrier walked into his bank to cash a $100 check and then asked the receptionist to validate his parking ticket. The receptionist refused to do so. Even after mentioning that he was a “substantial depositor,” Barrier’s request was refused. The receptionist explained that validation was only given for transactions involving a deposit.
Barrier felt his appearance—dirty construction clothes—was the reason for his treatment. He thought the Bank Manager looked at him like he’d “crawled out from under a rock.” Barrier contacted bank headquarters with his complaint. When no one returned his call, he started emptying his account—$1 million at a time!
According to Barrier, “If you have $100 in a bank or $1 million, I think they owe you the courtesy of stamping your parking ticket.”
Here is a good example of how easy it is to judge people by their appearance—and be wrong. And while we are so prone to make improper judgments based on appearance, God never makes such a mistake, for as 1 Samuel 16:7b says, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
This is what the Apostle Paul is getting at in this last paragraph of Romans 2, as he deals for the final time with the objections of those who consider themselves to be so thoroughly religious that they do not need the gospel. The issue is the Jewish sacrament of circumcision and the accompanying claim made by the Jews that all who have been circumcised will be saved.
The point of today’s sermon is that no-one is saved by the sacraments. I am indebted to Dr. James Montgomery Boice, author and one-time pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, from whose commentary much of today’s material is drawn.
I. Last Retreat of the Orthodox
Commentator Robert Haldane writes that “Paul here pursues the Jew into his last retreat.” The Jew, who was the chief example in Paul’s day of the thoroughly religious person, had begun his defense against Paul’s gospel by the argument that he (or she) possessed the law.
Paul argued in Romans 2:17-24 that possession of the law of God, although undoubtedly a great privilege, is of no value if the one possessing the commands of God fails to keep them. The Jew, along with everybody else, had broken those laws. So it was not sufficient to say, “I have the law, and therefore I do not need the gospel.” On the contrary, the law was given to reveal the Jew’s—and our—need of God’s grace.
Still, the Jew had one last card to play, one final argument—and that was circumcision. (Our New Testament counterpart is baptism). He had been circumcised, and circumcision had brought him into visible, outward fellowship with that community of covenant people to whom God had made salvation promises. It was like saying that circumcision had made him a member of that community, and because of that membership his salvation was certain.