Who are examples of true spiritual Jews (Rom. 2:28-29)? Many physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in OT times, such as David, the man after God’s own heart; godly Hannah; faithful Jeremiah and those in the great role call of faith in Hebrews 11. Also Gentile converts in OT days: Rahab of Jericho, Ruth the Moabitess, Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, etc. Also believers before Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, before Israel became a nation, before anyone spoke of “Jews:” Abel, Noah, Shem, for example. Jewish Christians are also true spiritual Jews. One thinks of the 12 disciples (except Judas), Barnabas, Paul, etc., in the first century AD. In fact, there has always been a believing Jewish remnant throughout the NT age, including, for example, Alfred Edersheim. Gentile Christians are also Jews inwardly. The Christian church—that is, elect believers, the church invisible—is now, and has always consisted of, spiritual Jews (whether ethnically Jew or Gentile). A true Christian church is a congregation of Jews, spiritual Jews, consisting of all those redeemed and called of whatever age or nationality. “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly ... But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly ... whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28-29).
Romans 2:28-29 is not unique in giving NT believers (whether Jews or Gentiles) names of the OT people of God. The Bible not only “spiritualizes” Jews; it also “spiritualizes” Israel. Listen to Asaph in Psalm 73:1: “Truly God is good to Israel, even to such as are of a clean heart,” with the second clause defining the true Israel. Christ speaks similarly to Nathanael: “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” (John 1:47). Paul declares in Roman 9:6, “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” All believers are called “the Israel of God” in Galatians 6:16.
The OT people of God are not only called Jews (after Judah) and Israel (after Judah’s father); they are also called the children of Abraham (after Israel’s grandfather). Like the name Jew or Israel, the name children of Abraham is “spiritualized” in Scripture and applied to all believers, whether Jew or Gentile, who are given the faith of Abraham. John the Baptist proclaimed to the unbelieving Pharisees and Sadducees, “And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham” (Matt. 3:9). Jehovah later did this (in effect) in saving the Gentiles. Think of Christ’s words in John 8. The unbelieving Jews claimed to be Abraham’s children (33). Jesus told them that Abraham’s children do the works of Abraham (39), and denounced them as being not the children of Abraham but the children of the devil (44). As Paul put it in Romans 9:7, “Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children.” Galatians 3:29 states, “And if ye [Jew or Gentile] be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
So all saints of whatever nationality who trust in Jesus Christ crucified and risen are called Jews, Israel and the children of Abraham in the Word of God. We are also called the “circumcision,” that is, the true spiritual circumcision: “neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh ... circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28-29). “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3). In Colossians 2:11, Paul explains that in Christ we “are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands.”
So all believers—you, too, child of God—are Jews, Israel, children of Abraham and circumcised—spiritually. We could also show from other texts that the elect NT church is the people of God, His covenant people, the diaspora (dispersed or scattered ones), etc.
The first important application of the truth regarding spiritual Jews is that which comes from the context in Romans concerning justification. Ethnic Jews are lost and must be saved. Nothing that they are or do can deliver them: not circumcision, not law-keeping, not religious rites. “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh” (Rom. 2:28). Physical Jews must be justified by faith alone in Christ alone if they are to be saved, “for ... both Jews and Gentiles ... are all under sin” (3:9). There is no special route to heaven for ethnic Jews; they too, like Gentiles, must go to the true and living God through Christ alone.
Similarly, the religiosity of professing Christians is of no avail. Our works, baptism, piety, etc., do not justify us. Only the cross of Christ! Only His spotless life is perfectly righteous and it must be received by faith alone. “In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified, and shall glory”—ethnic Jews and ethnic Gentiles (Isa. 45:25).
A second important application concerns ecclesiology, the doctrine of the church. The OT and the NT do not speak of two radically different people with different eternal destinies. There is one people of God and one church in all ages and in all lands. They are the spiritual people of God—inwardly, in the heart and in the spirit (Rom. 2:29). All believers, whether ethnic Jews or Gentiles, are spiritual Jews, Israel, children of Abraham and circumcision.
This gives us spiritual kinship with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and believing OT Israel. It is not a matter of wearing a skull cap or of seeking salvation by keeping OT law. It is looking for all your righteousness and salvation in the cross of the Lord Jesus alone. There is no need nor calling to Judaize, that is, to adopt Jewish customs (e.g., a prayer shawl) or affect to be Jewish.
Believer, the OT is your book; read it, believe it, love it! You worship Jehovah. You are beloved by God. Yours are the promises of the OT and the NT. Yours is the inheritance of the new heavens and the new earth. For, “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” (29).
- Volume: 11
- Issue: 21
Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)
Ordained - 2001
Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001Website: www.cprf.co.uk/
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