Religious Trap #5 – Outward not Inward

Romans 2:25-29 – 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.

Admittedly, all the talk about circumcision in the New Testament seems a bit odd to us Gentile believers. Since many of the books in the New Testament written to churches talk about this act, it was apparently a big debate and point of division between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Having spent half of my life as a Senior Pastor, I can honestly say that I have seen lots of church fights over a lengthy list of issues – but have yet to see this issue be the hot topic of conversation and conflict.

The issue under the issue is outward symbols of our faith versus the inward Spirit who gives us faith. The Bible says that man looks at the outward, but that God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Religion gets overly concerned with the outward – circumcision, baptism, speaking in tongues, taking communion, carrying the “right” Bible translation, educating your kids the “right” way, going to the “right” church, and worshipping God at church in the “right” way – with the “right” way always being the way we do it of course. The result of a religious environment (e.g. at home or church) is that we are seeking the praise of others and not God. We want people to like us, be impressed by us, and speak well of us. In the end, Paul says we are really just worshipping ourselves when we focus on the outward and ignore the inward.

God cares about the outward as much as the inward. But He also knows that the inward parts of us need to change before there can be any real goodness to our outward life. When Jesus said that a good tree bears good fruit, He was saying the same thing as Paul. God works in us, which changes the life that comes out of us. Religion is far more concerned with what we do than who we are.

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit does deep work in us at the level of the heart. A Christian is given a new heart, new nature, new desires, and new power in the Spirit. These deep inward changes cause changes outward as God’s order is not that what we do outward changes who we are inward, but instead who we are inward changes what we do outward.

Do you tend to give more attention to the outward or inward of yourself and other people?  

To find the free Romans study guide for individuals and small groups, hear Pastor Mark’s entire sermon series on Romans, or find a free mountain of Bible teaching visit or download the realfaith app.

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