The True Jew:
Not In Name Only

In a Brief  Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 12c of 83

28 For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 29 But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Romans 2:28-29).

[We have been considering, in this 12th tranche of studies, the apostle Paul’s characterisation of a true Jew as he chides his kinsmen in the flesh for their hypocrisy and false confidence. We considered in the first article how Paul chided them for having a form of knowledge, but walking contrary to it. We saw in the second article, how the Jews mistakenly placed their confidence in their circumcision. But now in this final instalment, we must consider how Paul condemns the nominal Jew]

3. Nominalism

This point is similar to what we have just spoken about in the previous article. In verse 25-27, Paul condemns the Jews who boasted of their circumcision, but lived like Gentiles. Here, in verse 28-29 he brings in a theological principle. There is such a thing as a true Jew and a Jew only in name. The apostle Paul was not condemning the true Jew. He was condemning nominal Jews.

The Jew who is a Jew only in name is circumcised in the flesh, but not in the heart. He keeps the law to the letter in order that men will praise him. His worship is mouth-worship. His heart is far from God. His circumcision is only external. It does not touch his soul. He does not have a real relationship with God. His Jewishness is only skin-deep.

The true Jew on the other may or may not be circumcised in the flesh, but he is circumcised in the heart. He keeps the law in the spirit,—not for the praises of men, but for the praises of God. His circumcision touches his inner man. He has a real and living relationship with God. He is a true Jew deep in his heart.

A true Jew who lived in the Old Testament is no different from a true Christian. Amongst the true Jews are the heroes of faith listed in Hebrews 11—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, Rahab, Samson, Samuel, David, and the prophets.

Today, a born-again Christian is a true Jew. The church of Christ is the Israel of God. The true Jew is a true Christian. The religious people in Palestine today are not true Jews. They may be Jews in the definition of unbelieving men, but not in the definition of God and the Scriptures.

Paul is implying that nominal Jews are guilty and condemned before God. He is not saying that a true Jew is not guilty by nature. Nor, is he saying that there are no true Jews. He is saying that the large majority of so-called Jews during his days, were Jews only in name. These were trusting in their circumcision and their knowledge of the Law. But their boasting is empty. They are guilty before God in the final analysis.

What about true Jews? True Jews are those who have learned to look away from themselves to look at the Messiah to come. The true Jew knows that his knowledge cannot save him. He knows that he falls short of the glory of God. He know that he has to depend on the propitiatory sacrifice of the Messiah. His heart has been changed by the Spirit of God. He lives out of gratitude and love, unto the praise of God. He knows that he does not belong to himself, but to God. So he lives for God with a sincere heart.

The question we must ask is: Am I a true Jew or merely a nominal Jew? If you read Romans 2:28-29 without asking this question, you have misread the Word of God.


The message of Paul is clear. Whether Jews or Gentiles, we are by nature guilty before God. We cannot save ourselves. Our religion cannot save us. Our knowledge cannot save us. Our keeping of the law cannot save us.

But that does not mean that it is not important to keep God’s laws.

Since a true Jew today is a true Christian, we must realise that there is also such a thing as a nominal Christian. There is such a thing as person who is baptised outwardly only. There is such a thing as a Christian hypocrite. Now, we may infer from what the apostle has written that there are two kinds of Christian hypocrites.

The first kind comprises sincere professing believers who think they are Christian but are not keen to engage their mind on anything theuy consider to be too deep for them. They think theology is for theologians and the law of God is only for the Jews or for fanatics. We are under grace, not law, they say. They believe they will get to heaven because they have once prayed to receive Christ and have been baptised. They attend church regularly so long as nothing else crops up. But otherwise, they walk no differently from how they did before their supposed conversion.  They prove themselves to be hypocrites.

The second kind, on the other hand, comprises those who trust and boast in their knowledge of God’s Word. They profess the Reformed Faith and know how to criticise others for their lack of knowledge, or for their being unreformed. But their lives demonstrate their hypocrisy. They are obedient only as far as it does not go against their pride and excuses. They would vigorously justify their disobedience in other areas. They figure that so long as they can justify themselves to man, and appear to be obedient enough to man it is sufficient. So, like children, they are selectively obedient. Their praise is not of God but of man.

Am I describing you? I must ask myself the same question because I know I have a remnant of corruption that makes me prone to hypocrisy. I would urge you to ask yourself the same: “Am I blissfully ignorant? Am I selectively obedient.” If you are, you must repent lest you be duped by the deceitfulness of sin, and be found a reprobate at the last day.

As there were circumcised Jews who would face the wrath of God, let us remember that unless we are truly converted and live by faith for God, we will face His wrath. Let us therefore pray for one another and pray for our children that we may all be genuinely converted, genuinely believe in the Lord, and genuinely walking by His grace. Amen.

JJ Lim