Sermons

Summary: Ritual that rejects relationship is pointless; Ritual that reflects relationship is priceless

The wedding ring that I’m wearing this morning is not the same one that Mary placed on my finger on our wedding day. Fairly early in our marriage we went to San Diego on our vacation and I managed to lose my wedding ring while swimming in the ocean. That ring was an important symbol of the relationship that I have with my wife, but during the time that I wasn’t wearing that lost ring, it certainly didn’t mean that we were no longer married nor did it change the essence of our marriage relationship in any way.

Conversely, while the replacement ring I wear this morning is an important symbol of our marriage relationship, that external symbol in and of itself does automatically convey the reality of our relationship. It is, as we often see in our culture today, possible for a man or a woman to wear a wedding ring while violating one’s wedding vows by engaging in some thoughts or actions which damage or destroy the marriage relationship. So we see that while symbols do have value, the mere ritual of displaying those symbols is not nearly important as the reality of the underlying relationship they represent. So I think it would be fair to say that:

Ritual that rejects relationship is pointless

Ritual that reflects relationship is priceless

Although, because it is made of gold, my wedding ring does have some intrinsic value, what makes it priceless to me is that it reflects the reality of the relationship I have with Mary.

As we’re going to find this morning, this principle is also true when it comes to my relationship with God. As we wrap up our study of Romans chapter 2, we’re going to see that Paul continues to address his fellow Jews and show them why they need the gospel just as much as the pagan Gentiles. In that chapter Paul has been pointing out the hypocrisy of the Jews who claimed to know God and His Word, but who failed to live according to the light they had been given. He is going to conclude this chapter by addressing one more area in which their hypocrisy was evident – a particular religious ritual that had lost its meaning because they had abandoned the relationship that gave meaning to the ritual.

So turn with me to Romans 2 and follow along as I begin reading in verse 25:

For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

(Romans 2:25-29 ESV)

Paul’s message to his fellow Jews in this passage is exactly the same principle that we applied to my wedding ring:

Ritual that rejects relationship is pointless

Ritual that reflects relationship is priceless

For many of us, the word “ritual” probably has a negative connotation. But not all religious rituals are bad or harmful. In fact, as we’ll see this morning, God had expressly given us some rituals that He wants us to engage in. The real issue, as we’ll see this morning, is our motivation for participating in them.

Paul has already addressed several things that the Jews thought provided them with special privilege that meant they didn’t need the gospel of Jesus. And one by one, Paul had rejected those ideas:

• The Jews could not depend on their heritage to excuse them from their need for the gospel. Just because they were born as a descendent of Abraham didn’t exempt them from God’s judgment.

• They couldn’t depend on their knowledge to excuse them from their need for the gospel. Just because they had the Scriptures and they listened to them and had them taught to them on a consistent basis didn’t excuse the fact that their actions weren’t consistent with what they knew.

• They couldn’t depend on their words to excuse them from their need for the gospel. Just because they were able to teach others what they knew intellectually didn’t excuse their behavior which didn’t line up with what they were teaching.

But these Jews thought they had one final “ace in the hole” – their circumcision. They had been consistently taught by their religious leaders that the physical act of circumcision was their ticket to heaven. Later Jewish writings reflect the teaching that would have been typical in the synagogues of Paul’s day and in those writings we find these teachings related to circumcision:

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