Let’s take another look at the tail end of Romans chapter 2.
For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. Romans 2:25-29
Circumcision: the Jew. Uncircumcision: the Gentile … or everybody else. And yes, it’s a very male-centric perspective, but you can fill in the blanks. I know we ended up last week’s audio on this passage, but I want to make sure you catch the relation to obedience. The circumcised man stood upon his credentials, and yet he did not keep the Law as he claimed. The uncircumcised man was ruled out by the circumcised man … but what would it mean for the circumcised man if the uncircumcised were to keep the requirements of the Law he wasn’t given? Paul concluded that it was a matter of the heart.
Anyhow, before I get any further into that passage, I’d like to highlight the same basic reality as found in the story Jesus told of the judgment of the Sheep and the Goats Matthew 25:31-46
The Sheep will be taken off guard by the assessment: When did we do these things for you?
The Goats will be offended by it: When did we NOT do these things for you?
How were the goats judged by the sheep? Not by an active judgment on their part but by the reality that they unknowingly did the deeds that the goats did not do.
There are two diametrically opposed perceptions or mentalities described here:
Those who examine themselves for obedience and assume that they have done what God requires of them.
Those who don’t examine themselves but simply live according to that which is within them.
Adam, what do you think might happen if the sheep were to be taught by the goats on how to be obedient?
My friends, my fellow sheep … regarding obedience, we need to realize that even though the word on the page may be the same, there is a fundamental reason why the goat cannot understand it according to truth. The mind of the goat is in slavery to its own perceptions. Those of that mind might learn all there is to know on any given subject, and yet with all that wisdom they cannot move beyond the limits of their natural-minded prison.
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:12-16
The one and only reason we understand the things of God is that we have been given the mind of Christ. Now, if the natural mind does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, how can it understand obedience? And yet we will place ourselves in willing submission to the wisdom of the natural mind because of … what? I don’t care how qualified someone appears, they cannot teach you the things of God. Period. Now, you may learn in the midst of this natural-minded teaching … but it will come in the form of contrast, which means that someone is teaching you from within.
If you’ll recall what I said about the word that’s been translated as obedience, here’s where you can get a good sense of the Greek hupakouo — to hear under, to hear by, to hear of — and to realize why it captures the essence of our life in Christ. Keep in mind how we understand the things of God because we have been given the mind of Christ. We are taught by the Spirit of God. We speak in words taught not of human wisdom, but of God. Listen to what John had to say about it:
You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. 1 John 4:4-6
It’s all in the hearing. Why do some hear God and others cannot? The world hears the wisdom that comes from the world; we who are from God hear the wisdom of God. We hear of the Spirit, we hear by the Spirit, we hear as under the Spirit. This is obedience. The world hears of the world, by the world, as under the world … this is the obedience of the world.
And this is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. Let me tell you something: If you’re using some kind of a list in order to determine who is of God and who is of the world, you need to throw it away. If you are trying to assess people according to what fundamental doctrines they seem to believe or not believe, you are playing by the wisdom of this world. Oh yeah, I’ve been there too many times not to recognize when I’m being examined and assessed according to somebody’s standards. You know what? We need to throw away our microscopes and simply listen with the ears of the Spirit. And no, this is no magical way to get everybody figured out … but I can tell you that it will cause you to question many, if not most, of your assumptions.