As we read this section we may be inclined to believe that the apostle Paul was an unloving, unkind, cruel, and insensitive preacher of God’s Word by giving such a negative characterization of people who thought that they were pleasing to God. We may ponder why the apostle Paul would dare tell people who were sure that they were pleasing to God and boasting in their relationship to Him that their assurance was false and eternally destructive. So we have to ask as we look into this section of Scripture, “Was Paul unloving and robbing people of assurance or was he loving and destroying people’s false assurance?”
Many a preacher has been accused of being unloving and unkind for destroying the false assurance of men. These preachers are perceived as destroyers of men’s faith. However, if a man has a type of faith that cannot and does not save, the most loving thing that another person could do is destroy that false faith by showing the futility of it. It is actually through showing the futility of a false faith and destroying false assurance that the glory and blessed assurance of true faith is established. Convincing a man who thinks he is saved but who is actually lost that he is not saved is far more loving than to allow him to go on in his deception to eternal destruction.
As we read and study our Bibles we see that all through it warnings are given to people who think that they are saved but are actually lost. We also see that the prophets, apostles, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself all stripped men of their false assurance. To the religious leaders of his day, John the Baptist removed their false assurance (Matthew 3:7-10). The Lord Jesus Christ did the same thing to the religious leaders of His day (Matthew 23). The apostle Paul also removed the false assurance of the people of his day (Romans 2:17-29).
So let’s look at the inaccurate and unreliable indicators that give false assurance (Romans 2:17-24).
The first unreliable indicator that gives false assurance is heritage (2:17a) – “But if you bear the name Jew….”
Many of the Jews wrongly assumed that because they were Jews that they were automatically right with God. After all they were physical descendants of a man who was right with God – Abraham. What many of the Jews didn’t realize is that in order to be justified like Abraham they had to have faith like Abraham. The Lord Jesus told the Jews of His day, “If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham. But as it is, you are seeking to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. You are doing the deeds of your father” (John 8:39-41). The Lord went on to say concerning Abraham’s faith, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
Paul knew what it was like to have false assurance by relying upon his heritage. “Circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” (Philippians 3:5-6). However Paul discovered that all the things he was trusting in only gave him false assurance because he was the chief of sinners headed for hell – even with his immaculate heritage.
Many today bear the name Christian and are trusting in their heritage and external religious practices but are not trusting in Christ. When confronted with the truth of their lostness they will speak of their long time participation in the church, their baptism, their knowledge of God’s Word, and so forth but they do not speak of their saving relationship with Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
The second unreliable indicator that give false assurance is possession of God's Word (2:17b) – “And rely upon the Law….”
The Jews were relying upon or resting in the Law. Because they had God’s Word and knew God’s Word they were falsely assured that they were right with God. God’s Law has never been given as a means of making men right with God but for showing that men are not right with God. The very thing that should have caused the Jews to be weary and heavy laden leading them to rely upon and rest in Christ was the very thing that they were relying upon and resting in. The Law was given to weary us and wear us out so that we would see our need for Christ. The Lord said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
However, many of the Jews were relying upon and resting in the Law. The Law demands perfect and continuous obedience if one is going to be right with God through the Law and any point of disobedience means death and destruction from God. The Law itself says, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the Law to perform them” (Deuteronomy 27:26). The Law should have led the Jews to Christ but instead they trusted in the Law. Jesus said to the Jews, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me” (John 5:39).
Many today in the Christian church are relying upon and resting in their possession of God’s Word rather than in Christ.
The third unreliable indicator that gives false assurance is profession of a right relationship with God (2:17c) – “And boast in God.”
The Jews boasted in their supposed relationship to God. Because they had a Jewish heritage and possessed the Law of God they supposed they were rightly related to God and that everyone else wasn’t. Many of the Jews were loud in their profession of knowing God. Some of them told the Lord Jesus, “We were not born of fornication; we have one Father: God.” Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God, for I have not even come of My own initiative, but He sent Me…. He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God’” (John 8:41-42, 47).
The same was true throughout Israel’s history – many claimed to know God and boast in God when in reality they did not. Through Hosea the prophet we read of apostate Israel’s profession and boast of knowing God, “They cry out to Me, ‘My God, we of Israel know You'” (Hosea 8:2)!
Many today boast that they know God and others don’t. However, because one boasts in knowing God doesn’t mean that he actually does. Knowing God rightly means that we know Jesus Christ rightly and therefore we know ourselves rightly – we are sinners who cannot be made right with God except through faith in Jesus Christ and His work on our behalf.
The fourth unreliable indicator that gives false assurance is knowledge of right and wrong (2:18) – “And know His will and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law.”
Knowing the difference between right and wrong because you have been instructed out of God’s Law and approving the rightness of God’s Law doesn’t make you a doer of God’s Law. Many Jews had false assurance of acceptance with God because they knew and approved of God’s Law.
Approving God’s Law isn’t the same as applying God’s Law. Hearing God’s Law isn’t the same as heeding God’s Law. Many today have a false assurance of salvation because they “know” God’s Word. Many know the will of God but don’t live up to His will and think that just because they know it they have done it – not true!
The fifth unreliable indicator that gives false assurance is being teachers of right and wrong (2:19-20)
The Jews were confident that they could see and that others were blind and saw themselves as guides to the blind. Because they taught God’s Law to others they thought it was proof of their right relationship to God. They thought for sure that God would be proud of them for instructing and correcting others. However, teaching, instructing, and correcting without applying those very teachings, instructions, and corrections to oneself is hypocrisy and self-deception. That is why we read, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).
Many today are confident that they can see and that others can’t. Because they preach sermons, teach Sunday-School classes, or instruct others they believe that they are saved – even while they don’t practice what they preach and teach.
The sixth unreliable indicator that gives false assurance is seeing oneself as exempt from the Law (2:21-24)
Most of the Jews thought that because they knew the Law and taught the Law that they were doing the Law. However, they were not practicing what they were preaching and that should have caused them to realize that they were law-breakers and not law-keepers and therefore they needed a Savior.
The problem with knowing the Law and teaching the Law without doing the Law is that one exempts himself from the Law by applying the Law to everyone but himself. When this happens the life of the person teaching the Law is no different than the lives of the people to whom he is preaching. People see the hypocrisy of this and then the name of God is blasphemed because of those claiming to know Him and to represent Him.
When we believe that God’s Word is for those people out there and apply it to them without applying it to ourselves we are self-deluded fools. We are to practice what we preach so that we don’t deceive ourselves and so that God’s name is not blasphemed.
Many of the Gentiles who had dealings with the Jews knew that their preaching and teaching of the Law was hypocrisy. The Jews would lie, cheat, steal, rob, and commit adultery just like the Gentiles would. In their supposed keeping of the Law they would break the Law – dishonest business practices were legalized as God’s will for them to succeed; adultery was legalized by divorce; robbing temples was legalized under the pretense of abhorring idols. Isn’t it interesting that when there was a riot in Ephesus because of Paul’s preaching and people turning away from idolatry that the town clerk who quieted down the crowd said, “For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of our goddess” (Acts 19:37)?
Many today who claim to be preachers and teachers of God’s Word exempt themselves from God’s Word by applying it to everyone else but themselves. The very sins they preach against they practice and God is dishonored and His name is blasphemed among unbelievers.
Naming the name Christian; possessing the Word of God; professing to know God; knowing the difference between right and wrong; preaching and teaching the difference between right and wrong; and applying the Law to everyone else while exempting oneself from the Law by legalizing disobedience only gives a false assurance of salvation.
Is there any difference between your lifestyle and that of the lost other than a hypocritical and judgmental attitude? Let’s not be fooled! “The firm foundation of God stands, having this seal, ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘Everyone who names the name of the Lord is to abstain from wickedness’” (2 Timothy 2:19). We may fool ourselves and most everyone else – but we will not and cannot fool God!