“For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law? For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 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 2:25-29
“For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision” (Romans 2:25). The Law of Moses is not a smorgasbord of righteous acts and deeds that allows men to walk around the tables of stone and pick and choose those points in the law that appeal to them. This is clear as there is more than one New Testament witness to this truth:
For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. —Galatians 5:3
For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. —James 2:10
When we think about all three of these verses of scripture in context with what has been brought forth already in this letter to the Roman Christians, in this statement, Paul says that, apart from the grace of God in Christ Jesus, God’s condemning judgment upon the Jew is justified, even if he failed to keep one particular of the law; moreover, the propensity in fallen man towards works justification moves a man to focus on keep one point to justify all his failures. Such was the case with the Jew and circumcision. This point is more fully developed in Romans 7, after the apostle logically lays out the groundwork for justification.
There was a tendency in the Jew to latch upon this one point of the law, as if circumcision covered over a multitude of his other sins. Even we, as born-again Christians, have this same tendency toward works, placing an extreme emphasis upon one point of the scriptures, either abstaining from something, or else fulfilling another. We do this, for the most part unintentionally because of the corruptions that still remain. This is done in order to mask the fact that in our very best efforts, even by God’s grace in the power of the Holy Spirit, we fall short of God’s glory. Remember, we are not yet glorified until Christ comes (1 John 3:1).
“Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?” (Romans 2:26-27). Here the apostle speaks hypothetically, because if the Jew, who has the law can’t keep the entire law, then the non-Jew without the law is certainly going to be an offender of it in some point of God’s holy commands: even if only unwittingly.
Paul uses exceptionally sound logic here, and it may be understood in this way: if the non-Jew DOESN’T murder, steal, lie, commit adultery, &etc, but the circumcised Jew DOES murder, steal, lie, fornicate, covet, &etc, the non-Jew acts more like a circumcised descendent of Abraham than the does the Jew. What the Holy Spirit presents here is the essence of the Law of Moses as being the holy standard by which all men must be measured in order to approach the presence of a holy God. The first commandment written on tables of stone with the finger of God says, “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3), and is expounded upon in Deuteronomy 6:5, “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” Apart from Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of the living God, is there any man, woman or child since and including Adam that has ever done this every day for their entire life? If this is the standard in the Law, is mankind utterly doomed? Not quite. The apostle Paul presents us with the hope found from a glimpse into the regenerating and resurrecting work of the Holy Spirit:
“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: 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). Although there is not a play on words here, there is a “play on thoughts.” Paul tells us that the Abrahamic covenant of circumcision is not an external work that changes the inside of a man; it is an internal change made by the Spirit of God; and though it does say outright that this inward change produces an outward effect, i.e., behavior that is in accordance with keeping the law, the thought is implied because the one who is changed receives praise from God (Romans 2:29).
But I had pity for Mine holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the heathen, whither they went. Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for Mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went. And I will sanctify My great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the LORD, saith the Lord GOD, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them. —Ezekiel 36:21-27
The order of this circumcision, as it relates to justifying faith, is covered later on in this epistle (Romans 4); and it is entirely consistent with types and shadows of its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.
Read the previous article in this series, “Lessons in True Grace” (Romans 2:17-24).