Romans 2:25-29. 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.
For Jews, anyone who was not circumcised was a godless pagan. And that means we can sit around and judge them, harshly. But Paul is trying to show these same Jews that circumcision is actually meaningless if you are not also righteous.
For the Jewish Christians their identity was still found in their Jewishness. Their circumcision. Their heritage. Their race. Their background. Their religion.
But none of these things matter in the eyes of God. What matters is our righteousness. And two things are very clear so far: 1) you have to obey the law to be righteous, and therefore 2) just being a Jew by birth and circumcision is quite meaningless.
How then are we righteous? The gospel. Stay with me…
Look at verse 29. Paul radically re-defines what it means to be a Jew. He’s challenging their very identity. He does this by using Old Covenant language and New Covenant truth.
Deuteronomy 10:16. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.
Deuteronomy 30:6. And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.
The Old Covenant called the Jews to a circumcised heart. But only the New Covenant can actually accomplish this. It is by the Spirit, not the letter. Gospel not law. Grace not works.
The law required circumcision. Why? Because it symbolically showed what happens when a Jew would break the Old Covenant. They would be cut off from the nation, from God.
But now all that are in Christ are circumcised. We are the spiritual Jews. This identity is imputed to those that have received the circumcision of Christ’s very life. He suffered the curse of the law. He was cut off from the nation, from humanity, from God. Union with Christ accomplishes the circumcision of the sinful heart. It is cut off and removed.
Warning: a bit dark and gory.
Like actual circumcision on an infant, the circumcision of the heart is done TO us by God; not BY us through our obedience to the law or our conscience.
Paul says that if your heart has not been circumcised, you’re not spiritually Jewish. And if it has happened to you, even if you’re a Gentile, you ARE spiritually Jewish. We who are spiritually circumcised are the ones who receive the praise of God, not the praise of man that comes by law keeping.
Listen, your heritage, and ethnicity, and background, and family are all good things. And Paul will uphold the blessing of being Jewish in the next section. But when we make these things our source of self-righteousness, our core identity, we are no different from the pagan idol worshippers of chapter 1.
“To live is Christ” is a whole new identity. It is Christ’s own identity. One that overrules for all time any former identity you might be trying to hold on to. Especially one that even hints at being your source of righteousness.
Is there an identity that you are holding on to that seeks to take the place of Christ’s righteousness in your heart? How does your union with Christ allow you to claim the identity of God’s “chosen people?” How does the gospel of grace overrule our works of righteousness? Why is this good news?