Romans 2:17-29 We Will Never Succeed In Saving Ourselves

17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonour God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 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.

We Will Never Succeed in Saving Ourselves

Jewish people in Paul’s time saw themselves as law-abiding citizens.  Not just abiding by Roman law, but possessing and being obedient to God’s law.  They saw themselves as held to a higher standard and successfully living by a higher standard.  Because God had chosen them, he gave them the law.  They showed they were chosen by observance of the law.  Some would even go so far as to serve the law to prove they were chosen.

However, Paul shows that God is not fully honoured by their obedience.  Their obedience falls short of the perfect standard of holiness that would mean they were set apart for God by their own efforts.  A person needs to stop relying on law-keeping as a means of being right with God.  A person needs a transformed heart.  This is not primarily transformed feelings, but it is a transformed orientation.  One needs to be focused on God and set apart by God.

Jewish people still need to hear this gospel.  A life of rules sucks the joy from living.  God is providing something higher.  However, many ‘Christians’ need to know this, too.  A life of rules and churches that police each other can be very damaging too.  To level the playing field, Paul points out that all people are under condemnation to begin with.  By the end of chapter three, the question will be, “Can anyone be saved from the just punishment of God, since everyone disobeys?”


You are holy and we are dust – disobedient dust at that.  Help us to lose ourselves in you.  Take away the fear of ‘getting it right’.  Help us to be comfortable with being less than perfect and then work out your perfection in us.


  1. To whom is Paul writing in this section?
  2. What point is he trying to make?
  3. Can this passage be applied to anyone other than Jewish people?
  4. Who do you know who is Jewish?
  5. How do Jewish people today seek to be right with God?

About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Romans 2:17-29 We Will Never Succeed In Saving Ourselves

  1. Jung Kim says:

    I love the prayer that you prayed where “Help us to be comfortable with being less than perfect and then work out your perfection in us.” This past Wednesday, I shared a prayer request with my early praying morning group: “I want to pray more naturally just like I once did in my freshman year.” Through my pastor’s sermon, I realized that God does not care about the style of our prayers. Instead, God cares about the placement of our hearts. Just like God gives us new mercies every day, He also gives us new lesson each day. 🙂 Thank you, God!

  2. Michael McCardle says:

    Teach me to accept my imperfections and flaws. May I live in your grace and wait upon your Spirit to shape me and perfect me.

  3. Maelynn says:

    4. I have a Jewish friend here on campus. This person is a Messianic Jew.
    5. Today, Jewish people need to seek to be right with God just as everyone else does. Just because a person is a Jew does not mean that they believe that Jesus is the true Son of God who sacrificed His own life for those who would believe in Him.

  4. Kimberly W. says:

    God, it’s so easy for me to succumb to the temptation of legalism. I don’t think I am sinful enough to deserve hell, and I think I have done enough good to earn Heaven. I know that’s not true, but I live that way at times. Forgive me, Lord. I cannot save myself. I must trust wholly in You.

  5. Maria T. says:

    I boast about my obedience to what I consider to be the most important of God’s laws. And I am but disobedient dust. That phrase in the prayer really struck me. God, would you forgive me for thinking that the letter of the law is what saves, rather than the Spirit of the law which produces life and love. Thank you for your forgiveness and may I only boast in Christ.

  6. Christina W. says:

    “A person needs to stop relying on law-keeping as a means of being right with God. A person needs a transformed heart.” This is so important to remember. All people are condemned and fall short of God’s glory. Law-keeping will not make us right with God. It is not enough. We must be transformed and reconciled to God.

  7. Andrew Moore says:

    I don’t know anyone personally who is Jewish, but one of my closest childhood friends is very sincere in his obedience to Torah. He has a Kosher diet and follows all of the Levitical laws, minus the sacrifices. He is also a Christian, so it is interesting to talk with him about his motivations for following the Torah, even if I don’t agree with him.

  8. Megumi says:

    1. Jewish people
    2. The law doesn’t automatically save anyone
    3. Yes
    4. My best friend in elementary school was half-Jewish.
    5. Maintaining traditions

  9. Emmy R says:

    In a weird way, I find this truth encouraging. Yes, we are deprived and cannot achieve the law that has been put before us, but I know the rest of the story. I know that we have a Savior who broke the realistic thought and saved us anyways. And for that, I find this encouraging.

  10. Christa says:

    1. To whom is Paul writing in this section? Jewish believers
    2. What point is he trying to make? That their obedience to the law will not save them
    3. Can this passage be applied to anyone other than Jewish people? I think that this passage can also be applied to people who are trying to save themselves through their works
    4. Who do you know who is Jewish? Dr. Rydelnik, Crystal on my floor, my step-grandfather
    5. How do Jewish people today seek to be right with God? Those who are Christians see their identity in Christ and salvation in Him alone, those who are not Christian still seek to please God by their obedience to the law

  11. 1. Jewish believers
    2. Obeying the law does not lead to salvation
    3. This can be applied to anyone who struggles with legalism and works based salvation
    4. I only know Jewish people who attend moody (professors and a few friends)
    5. Jewish people try to keep traditions and follow laws to get right with God

  12. 1. He was writing to the Jews.
    2. The law does not save.
    3. Yes, it absolutely can.
    4. I have some friends on campus who are Jewish.
    5. They cling to traditions.

  13. Nate Silvieus says:

    The law does not save us. If we believe so then we still stand condemned, for obedience to the law is meaningless if we ever just break one law, which we all have, and therefore we stand condemned by the law.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s