2015 09 20 Romans 2:28-29 Lord’s Day 25 Where Does Faith Come From?

If I was baptized, am I a Christian? If not, is baptism all that important?

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
I once asked someone if they were a Christian and they answered Yes, because my parents had me baptized when I was young. In their mind, because they were baptized in a Christian church, they were a Christian.
And from time to time you hear a statistic saying that x% of this or that country’s population are Christians. In the last census of NZ, for example, 1.9 million people or 49% of the population identified themselves as Christian. And I dare say that some of those who identified themselves as Christians did so for similar reasons – they were baptized once or they have been to church.
But are those the things that make someone a Christian? Does a person just need to hear a sermon or get baptized or partake of the Lord’s Supper to automatically receive faith or have his faith strengthened? Is there some ‘magic’ in these things such that of you just come into contact with them, you are in?

Well, to answer that question we turn our attention to this passage in Romans 2. And what we shall see in these verses is that THE ESSENCE OF BEING A CHILD OF GOD IS INWARD AND SPIRITUAL. An external or outward connection with preaching and the sacraments is not enough; true faith requires something internal and spiritual in connection with preaching and the sacraments.
And our approach will be to see that this is so, firstly, IN RELATION TO THE JEWS OF THE OT AGE. For then we will be ready to apply those same principles and see that THIS IS ALSO TRUE FOR THE CHRISTIANITY OF THE NT AGE.

So firstly then, in relation to the Jews of the OT age, we see that the Essence of being a child of God is inward and spiritual.

1. CONTEXT – The Book of Romans is about the GOSPEL OR THE GOOD NEWS OF SALVATION IN JESUS CHRIST. And with the second half of ch. 1, Paul begins to explain why it is that every single human being, be they Gentile or Jew, needs salvation; it is because he or she is an unrighteous sinner who deserves the wrath of God.
A. And you can just hear the Jews raising their angry voices, immediately, “Objection! Hold on a minute, Paul. Back the truck up! What you are saying might be true of the Gentiles, but surely not of us Jews – God’s chosen people? Surely not!?” In fact, as you can see from 2:17, the Jews BOASTED or bragged about being God’s special people.
i. And it is not difficult to understand why the Jews would say this:
a. After all, God had promised to live with Abraham and his descendants in a special relationship; He said, “I will be your God and you will be my people.”
b. And He had given them circumcision as a sign of that relationship. So if you were circumcised you were a part of God’s special family.
c. And God also gave His law to the Jewish people; no other nation had that law.
d. And only the Jews knew about the sacrifices that God required.
e. And only the Jews had the tabernacle and the temple; the place where God came down to dwell among His people.
f. So listen to these words from Deuteronomy 32:9-10, “For the LORD’s portion is his people … In a desert land he found him … He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye.”
1) And boys and girls, to speak about someone as the apple of your eye is to describe them as someone who is very precious and special to you. Husbands and wives might use this phrase in relation to each other in a wedding anniversary card, for example: Darling, you are the apple of my eye.
2) Well, there on the pages of Deuteronomy, in black and white, were the words of God in relation to the Jews: “He guarded him as the apple of his eye.”
ii. So basically, the Jews had the idea that because they had the law and because they were circumcised, they were God’s special people, fullstop.
iii. To borrow an image from daily life that we are probably all familiar with, if a Jew were to turn up at heaven’s gate and find some sort of cosmic security terminal, they would just swipe the access card with the circumcision chip in it across the terminal and the light would go green and in they would go. Circumcised – Jew – Access – Simple!

2. Well, Paul has bad news for the Jews in vv25-29.
A. In vv25-27 PAUL CONNECTS CIRCUMCISION WITH KEEPING THE LAW. Way back in Genesis 17, when God gave Abraham the sign of circumcision, He said, “Be blameless.” But far from being blameless, Israel had engaged in constant idolatry and willful immorality to the point that God had to send them into exile. And so, their ongoing and constant and willful rebellion made the ‘swipe card’ of circumcision invalid.
i. Let me illustration it like this: If you were a MEMBER OF A SOCCER CLUB, you might get a swipe card that lets you into the clubrooms at any time. You arrive, swipe the card, the light goes green, and in you go. Now, when you play soccer, if you commit a foul on the field, you might be penalized. If you commit a serious foul, you might get a yellow card. If you commit another serious foul or a horrendous foul, you might even get a red card and be sent off, even. But you are still a member of the club; the card still allows you access. However, if you don’t turn up to practices and games when you promised that you would and when you do come you constantly handle the ball and kick other players and punch the ref and throw soccer balls through the clubroom windows, well, you will be told to leave the club and not to come back and your swipe card will be deactivated. So now, you can pull out the card and stare at it and tell people that you belong to that club but turn up and try and get in and you will just get the red light – unhhh. Access denied; door stays shut. Membership brings obligations. And you have ignored those obligations so often and so badly that your membership is now invalid.
ii. And likewise, Israel’s constant rebellion had made the ‘swipe card’ of circumcision invalid.

B. So look at vv28-29 (and it will probably help us here if we insert the word ‘TRUE’ before both uses of the word Jew in these two verses), “For no one is a (true) Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.” In other words, just being physically circumcised is not enough. What is needed then to be a true Jew? v29 continues, “But a (true) 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.”
i. The law required 8 day old Jewish boys to be circumcised. They were. And the people applauded this and thought it was marvelous. Salvation and belonging were signed, sealed and delivered. Full-stop, game-over, job done – pop the champagne cork and let’s celebrate.
ii. But if that is where it stopped, according to these verses, this person was a false Jew. And in Paul’s time, this was the category into which most of the Jews fell. Their circumcision was just physical and external.
iii. The true Jew, on the other hand, was he or she who had a circumcised heart, by the Spirit. For he or she was one who was praised by God.

C. So we need to make sure now that we understand WHAT IT MEANS TO HAVE A CIRCUMCISED HEART.
i. And remembering back to our earlier Jeremiah reading, note that Paul is not inventing some new, previously unheard of idea here. There God rebuked Israel and instructed them to remove their idols. He said, “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.”
ii. Way back in Deuteronomy 30:6 we read, “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”
iii. Can you see what the Lord is saying to His people with this idea of circumcision of the heart? An external ceremony is meaningful only if the heart is involved.
iv. ISAIAH 29 illustrates the problem well. The Lord says of Israel, “This people draw near with their mouth and honour me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.”
a. The people of Israel attended temple service, they offered the sacrifices, they sang the songs, they ate the Passover meal, they gave the Amen when the priests had read the law, but then they went home and worshipped the Baals and Asherahs and Molechs, etc. They visited temple prostitutes. They withheld justice from the poor and needy because of their greed. They committed adultery. Divorce was easy and casual. They did not teach their children the things of God, etc.
b. God and worship were, to them, external and cultural; you used His name and you attended worship services and you were physically circumcised, but that’s where it stopped; none of it penetrated into the heart. “This people draw near with their mouth and honour me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me.”
v. But to truly understand what it means to have a circumcised heart we have to go one step back from all of this. For thus far it sounds like having a circumcised heart is all about obedience to the law. But consider this: Most of you will know what circumcision is? The removal of an 8 day old baby boy’s foreskin.
a. Well, the physical location of circumcision pointed the True Jew to the son of Abraham who would bless the nations – the Lord Jesus Christ.
b. The blood of circumcision pointed the true Jew to the blood that needed to be shed to wash away his guilt – the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
c. And the removed foreskin pointed the true Jew to the removal of his sin and guilt by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
d. God had made salvation promises. He gave circumcision as a physical symbol of those promises so that what had been heard could also be felt.
e. So the true Jew recognized that he was a guilty sinner and he in God as the God of his salvation. And these truths motivated him to obey the law out of love and thankfulness. That’s what it meant to have a circumcised heart.

So THE ESSENCE OF BEING A CHILD OF GOD THEN WAS INWARD AND SPIRITUAL. IN RELATION TO THE JEWS OF THE OT AGE, however, it had become a matter of externals – you just needed to say the right things and attend the services and go through the ceremonies.
So with the illustration of the Jews in view, let’s apply these same principles to ourselves and see that the emphasis on the inward and spiritual IS ALSO TRUE FOR THE CHRISTIANITY OF THE NT AGE.

1. The Bible is plain that in and of ourselves we are unrighteous; we are guilty law-breakers. And because of this we are separated from God. One false motive or one wrong act is all it takes. So one way of thinking about salvation is to be right with God. And the good news of the gospel is that WE CAN BE RIGHT WITH GOD BY BELIEVING IN JESUS. When the Philippian jailer of Acts 16 said to Paul, “What must I do to be saved,” Paul replied? “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you shall be saved.” So Q/A 60 states: “How are you right with God?” And the answer? “Only by true faith in Christ.” Salvation comes by faith alone. And while we read about another way to describe salvation in Q65, which is to “share in Christ and all His blessings,” we see again that they way we receive the gift of salvation is by faith alone. To have faith is to believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins.

2. So the next and most natural question is: “WHERE DOES THAT FAITH COME FROM?” Well, humanity has come up with all sorts of ideas to answer this question. But we ignore those today and go straight to the truth. Underneath A65, you will see the Bible verses that were used to come up with this summary of how the Bible answers that question. And by all means do look them up sometime during the week as a devotional exercise. You will see that they are very plain on this matter.
A. The ordinary way by which God produces faith in Christ is through the preaching of the gospel. The Apostles were sent out to preach. Paul said to Timothy, “Preach the Word.”
i. Faith in Christ comes by the preaching of the gospel of Christ.
B. And the ordinary way by which God strengthens the faith of His people is the sacraments – baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Jesus commanded all those who believe in Him to be baptized and to partake of the Lord’s Supper in remembrance of Him.
i. Faith in Christ is strengthened as we see, taste, and touch the gospel of Christ.

3. So, IS IT ENOUGH THEN that we just hear preaching? Is there some innate power in the water of baptism or the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper that means so long as you get the water or eat and drink those elements, your faith tank is automatically topped up?
A. Well, as we have just seen in relation to the Jews, this is not the case. So if we put v28 into our NT context: For no one is a true Christian who is one outwardly, nor is baptism outward and physical. But a true Christian is one inwardly, and baptism is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit.
i. So you may have been baptized as a baby or as an adult. And you may have attended church every Sunday since, twice. And you may have partaken of the Lord’s Supper many times. Does that mean you are a Christian? No.
ii. Let’s put it in very plain language: Being baptized does not make you a Christian any more than being thrown into the sea makes you a fish.
iii. It is possible to have been baptized and to attend church regularly and to be one of those who draws near with your mouth and honours God with your lips, while your heart is far from God. It is possible to just be an outward Christian or a false Christian.

4. The Essence of being a child of God is inward and spiritual. Listen to our NT age version of v29 again: “A [true] Christian is one inwardly, and baptism is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit.” WHAT WE NEED IS A HEART BAPTIZED BY THE SPIRIT.
A. Our prophet, Jeremiah, a few chapters on from where we read earlier, in ch. 31, spoke to Israel about the coming time of the NEW COVENANT. And Ezekiel spoke of that time also. He said in 37:27, “I will put my Spirit within you … and you shall be my people and I will be your God.” And that time came with the birth and death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. It is the age of the gospel.
B. “The letter,” spoken of in v29, is the law. And the Law can reveal sin but it cannot save! So there were shadowy things like circumcision and Passover and sacrifices and feasts that pointed forward to some sort of salvation to come. But we have Jesus! Crucified and risen and ascended! We live in the age of the gospel. And as Paul says in Romans 1:16, “The gospel is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes”!
C. So by this gospel the Holy Spirit causes us to see Jesus Christ as our Saviour. He makes us understand our dreadful condition; our utter sinfulness. He convinces us that Jesus is the Son of God. He leads us to believe that Jesus did die on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins and that by His death we have life. The Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts. And so, Jesus becomes altogether lovely to us. Our heart wants to know Him more and more. And we become certain that we belong to Jesus and that He belongs to us. This is what it means to be baptized by the Spirit; this is what it means to have faith in Christ.

5. So here is how the Holy Spirit produces faith through the PREACHING OF THE HOLY GOSPEL: You boys and girls will remember the PARABLE OF THE SOWER. The Lord Jesus spoke about a farmer scattering seed. Some of it fell on the path, some of it on bad soil, and some on good soil. And that parable was a picture of preaching. And so, the Holy Spirit causes a sermon to speak of Christ crucified. And the Holy Spirit prepares the soil of a person’s heart so it is ready for the seed of the gospel. And then the Holy Spirit takes the spoken word and accompanies it right down into the soil of the heart where it takes root and sends up the shoot of faith. That is how the Holy Spirit produces faith in our hearts by the preaching of the holy gospel.
A. So I trust you can see then that if you want to come to faith in Christ, you need to do two things, one of which you are doing already, which is to listen to the preaching of the gospel. But you must also pray that the Spirit of God would help you understand and believe in the Christ of the gospel. And there is no complex formula that you have to use; just ask Him with simple words like that – Spirit of God, please help me to know Jesus.
B. And if you want your friend or your child or your neighbour or your classmate or your work colleague to come to faith in Christ, pray that the Spirit of God might cause them to understand and believe and then share the gospel with them or invite them to church where they can hear the gospel preached.
C. And of course, it is not enough just to come to faith in Christ; we need to live each day in Christ and to MATURE IN CHRIST; we need to grow in knowledge and understanding and wisdom and love. And so, we have to have Christ set before us again and again and again and again. So writing to Timothy who was a minister of the gospel about his chief task, the Holy Spirit through Paul said, “Preach the word. Be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” And he said this to Timothy having just said, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
D. Preaching points us back, again and again, to the Lord Jesus Christ so that we rest in Him and we trust in Him and we grow to be more like Him.
E. The Holy Spirit produces faith in our hearts and He matures that faith by the preaching of the holy gospel. This is why the essence of being a child of God is inward and spiritual.

6. But just as God gave the Jews the symbols of circumcision and Passover as PHYSICAL SYMBOLS of His spoken promise, so God gives us baptism and the Lord’s Supper as physical symbols of the gospel that is preached. With our ears we hear about Christ crucified and with our eyes and hands and tongues we see and touch and taste the gospel.
A. Let’s see this in relation to baptism:
i. The fact that you need to be baptized reveals that you are stained with the dirt of sin.
ii. And just as you do not baptize yourself but receive the water of baptism from the hand of the minister, so you do not earn Gods grace but receive it as we look to Christ by faith.
iii. And just as water washes dirt from the body, so the blood of Christ has washed away all the stains and wrinkles of your sin.
iv. And because you are baptized into the name of God F So H Sp, you have been adopted into His family.
B. And let’s see this in relation to the Lord’s Supper:
i. When you are at the Lord’s table, watching what the minister does outwardly, in breaking and distributing the bread, in pouring out and distributing the wine, think of this, Christ is busy doing all these things spiritually to my soul. He is busy giving to you His own body, with His own hand; He is busy giving to you His own blood, with its power. He is pointing you to His once and for all, perfect sacrifice on the cross where He said, “It is finished.” He is assuring you that He has given you His life-giving Spirit. And by the Spirit He is making you share in Him and all His blessings. And by this Spirit He is uniting you with Himself and with all believers in brotherly love.
ii. And what are you doing? As you take the bread and drink the wine, by faith, you are taking hold of Christ and all His blessings.

C. And when you go away from here to the ordinary events of everyday life:
i. When you are young and life is in turmoil, remember the water of baptism and the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper and know that Christ is yours and you are His.
ii. When you struggle with sin and can’t uproot it from your heart – remember the signs and know that Christ is yours and you are His.
iii. When despair threatens to overwhelm you because you have committed the same sin over and over again remember the signs and know that Jesus said, “It is finished.”
iv. When you think that there is forgiveness for everyone but you, remember the signs and know that Christ says my blood has washed you clean!
v. When your faith is attacked by a hostile world that lives and swears only by what can be seen or proven, remember and believe that body of Christ was broken and His blood was poured out for the complete forgiveness of all your sins.
vi. When you are afraid or you stand beside a wall of sorrow, sickness or death, or when your life is turned inside out, remember that the Lord Jesus promised to return to earth to take His people home to be with Himself.
D. Just being baptized does not make anyone a Christian. But looking through your baptism and the Lord’s Supper to the Christ who is preached is how your faith in Him is strengthened. So again we see that the essence of being a child of God is inward and spiritual as we make use of preaching and the sacraments.

The Apostle’s hope with these verses was that the Jews would come to see their folly in resting in the outward and external ceremonies of the OT. And as we conclude, we should do the same in relation to the ceremonies of the NT. In 2 Corinthians 13:5, the Apostle is speaking to those in the church at Corinth – men and women who had heard sermons, had been baptized, and had partaken of the Lord’s Supper. He says, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?–unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” Is your hope and confidence in externals like baptism? Or do you look through your baptism to the blood of the Lord Jesus that has washed away all your sins? And how can you tell if you are sincere in this? Well, we spoke earlier of the root of faith. But the Bible speaks often also about the fruit of faith, which is obedience. We had the cadets and Gems sitting up front here this morning. And the cadet verses is? John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Do you keep the commandments of Christ? Are you eager to do that which is good and right? And when you sin, are you troubled in your soul such that you come to Him in confession and repentance? And are you convinced that He is faithful and just to forgive and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness?

If so, then praise God for the gift of faith that He has worked in you by His Spirit through preaching and the sacraments. And be one who uses preaching and the sacraments well! Amen.