For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 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.
(Romans 2:25-29 ESV)
Paul has bad news for most in the Evangelical community, for he has written here the proposal that some who are not card-carrying Evangelicals may be with us in heaven.
Now, hold the tar and feathers, and look at the logical argument he is making. There is an outward sign that God commanded for every Jewish male, beginning with Abraham (read Genesis 17:1-27 for this).
What Paul is saying is that the real outward sign of the covenant with God is that you then go on to obey the Law. The ability to stand before God with rectitude really has nothing to do with that initial identification of circumcision. Paul argues that if we are going to use the Law as a standard of righteousness, then we have to go way beyond obedience to a single command. The comparison between circumcision in Israel and baptism in the Christian Era must not be lost here. How many “Christians” have been baptized and then failed to do anything else? At the other end of the spectrum, how many in the Christian Age have spent years trying to make sure every member of their church could cross every T and dot every I theologically before they were sure they had got them saved.
So let’s ask the obvious (and often asked) question: Is it possible for a person grew up as a complete heathen in some unreached aboriginal people group to live their entire life trusting inwardly for salvation through some unknown agent from an unknown fate that no one ever defined for them, to die and find themselves in glory in the eternal presence of God? If you place an infinite number of monkeys before an infinite number of typewriters, eventually, through sheer coincidence, one of them will write a Shakespeare sonnet. Sure. It is possible. But look at the extreme example you have to give to make it possible!
As it turns out, there is a great deal of danger in reading a single paragraph from a letter and not reading the rest. The danger is that you can easily misunderstand the intent of the writer. Paul isn’t trying to set up the imponderable question of whether somewhere out there there’s a Moslem or a Hindu or a Buddhist or a no-faith-at-all who is actually walking around saved. Two paragraphs further on you discover he isn’t looking to include everyone else, he’s trying to exclude the claim on the part of people born under the Law that they are innately in a better position with God because they went under the knife. Quite the opposite: the minute you start to hold up a standard of righteous behavior, with yourself as the example, you begin to broadcast to the world that not only are they not saved; someone is a liar and it is either you or God.
But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
(Romans 2:17-24 ESV)
The whole legal “Jesus came to save you from the charges against you” argument; the classic way Reformation Christians have verbalized the gospel, goes out the window, because the point he is making excludes LAW as the basis for salvation.
Now we’re able to approach Paul’s punch-line trademark verse and read it for the full salvation it really is offering us. Romans 3:21-26 isn’t about how you and I have to receive Christ to be saved (though that is true). But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
(Romans 3:21-26 ESV).
The message of the Gospel isn’t about splitting hairs over who can be saved and who can’t be saved from a righteous judge. The message is that God is righteous AND it is his joyful gift to offer salvation to anyone who has faith in Jesus, even those who haven’t a clue as to which laws apply and which don’t, even those who can’t verbalize anything more than that they love Jesus.