Shattering False Security of Salvation Part 2 – Romans 2:25-29
Pastor Mark Hardy February 5, 2012
A Presbyterian and a Baptist minister were discussing baptism. After a beautiful dissertation on the subject by the Baptist minister, the Presbyterian minister asked if the Baptist considered a person baptized if he were immersed in water up to his chin. “No,” said the Baptist.
“Is he considered baptized if he is immersed up to his nose?” asked the Presbyterian. Again the Baptist’s answer was “No.”
“Well, if you immerse him up to his eyebrows do you consider him baptized?” queried the Presbyterian. “You don’t seem to understand,” said the Baptist. “He must be immersed completely in water—until his head is covered.”
“That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you all along,” said the Presbyterian, “it’s only a little water on the top of the head that counts.”
Now whether you believe in total immersion like the Baptist, which we hold to here at FBC, or in sprinkling like the Presbyterians, the central issue in water baptism is that it is merely an outward declaration that symbolizes a person’s inward reality of true saving faith in Jesus Christ. In itself it has no special power to save anyone from their sins. In this respect baptism is the same as circumcision was to the Jews, which is what we will be looking at this morning. Turn with me in your Bibles to Romans 2.
As we continue on in our study of Romans 2:17-3:8, we are looking at four wrong assumptions of the Jews that gave them a false sense of security about their salvation and exemption from God’s judgment. Thus far we have seen the first two wrong assumptions:
1) Their heritage can save them (v. 17a)
2) Their law can save them (vv. 17b-24)
This morning we will see the third wrong assumption in 2:25-29.
The third wrong assumption of the Jews is this:
I. Their Circumcision can Save them
A. In this passage Paul reveals five truths about circumcision that are intended to shatter their false sense of security. The first truth is this: The Value of circumcision is Obedience. Look at the first part of v. 25: For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law… (Stop there)
1. The word “For” (gar) here connects vv. 25-29 with vv. 17-24 whereby Paul shows that he is continuing his argument with the imaginary Jewish representative, as seen in the words “you” and “your” who is now wrongly clinging to his circumcision as the basis of his salvation and exemption from God’s judgment.
2. The word “circumcision” (peritome) literally means, “a cutting around,” and refers to the cutting off of the foreskin of a male’s sex organ. Circumcision is the sign of God’s special covenant with Abraham and all of his male descendants.
3. God said to Abraham in Genesis 17:9-14, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you; every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be the sign of the covenant between Me and you. And every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought with money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. A servant who is born in your house or who is bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.”
4. Now although circumcision came before the Mosaic Law, it was perpetuated under Mosaic stipulation and submitting to this rite was required for all Jewish males (Ex. 12:43-48; Lev. 12:3; Acts 7:8).
5. Now notice that Paul affirms that circumcision is of “value” (ophelei) advantage or profit but only he says, “…if you practice the Law.” The word “practice” (prasses—present tense) refers to continued obedience to God’s Law as a habitual lifestyle.
6. As we have seen before, Paul is not talking about salvation by works, but is showing that obedience is the evidence that true salvation has already taken place. Therefore, physical circumcision was merely the outward sign to demonstrate the reality of one’s faith commitment to God in response to His covenant, which was manifested in his habitual obedience to Him.
7. Remember that Abraham was declared righteous by faith before he was circumcised. Paul will say this again in Romans 4:11, “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them.”
8. Therefore, one’s inner faith or “circumcision of heart” is the reality behind his “circumcision of flesh.” This wasn’t anything new.
9. In the Old Testament Moses said to the children of Israel in Deuteronomy 10:16, “So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer.” And again he said in 30:6, “Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.”
10. And God through His prophet Jeremiah declared in Jeremiah 4:4, “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD and remove the foreskins of your heart, men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or else My wrath will go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.” (Lev. 26:41; Jer. 9:25-26; Ez. 44:9)
11. The heart circumcision of faith was always to be the internal reality that physical circumcision symbolized. I think Thomas Schreiner best captures the meaning of this verse, “I am not claiming that OT saints had to keep the law perfectly to be saved. Paul demands perfect obedience from those who desire to live under the old covenant now that the new covenant has arrived. The only way for sins to be forgiven, now that Christ has come, is through the death of Christ. Thus those who now adhere to the Mosaic covenant have no means to obtain forgiveness of sins, for the OT sacrifices are now passé. The only means of atonement is the cross of Christ. Old Testament believers, however, were saved in the same way as NT believers, in the sense that they exercised the obedience that comes from faith. Salvation has always been by faith, but now the fulfillment has come of what the OT promised.” (pg. 138)
B. This brings us to the second truth about circumcision, which is this: Jewish Disobedience will render circumcision Worthless. Look at the end of v. 25, “…but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.”
1. Since physical circumcision was merely the symbol of heart circumcision, which was evidenced by one’s habitual obedience to God, then for a Jew to be a “transgressor of the Law” exposed the true condition of his heart.
2. The word “transgressor” (parabates), which is the same term used in v. 23 for “breaking the Law,” means that the Jew is continually sinning as a pattern of life. He has crossed over the line and violated God’s Law.
3. Therefore, regardless of the fact that the Jew is physically circumcised, Paul says to him that due to his constant lifestyle of sinful disobedience “…your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” This would be heard by a Jew as devastating and shattering, for one of the greatest insults in Judaism was to call a Jew “an uncircumcised one.”
4. The word “uncircumcision” (akrobustia) was used of the Gentiles because they were outside the covenant of God. Paul said to the Ephesian believers in Ephesians 2:11-12: Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.
5. Therefore, for the disobedient Jew to “become uncircumcision” meant that his heart relationship with God that his physical circumcision was supposed to symbolize is non-existent and worthless. His habitual sinful lifestyle proved that he had no more saving relationship to God than an unbelieving Gentile.
6. And yet, without the reality behind the ritual the Jews continued to believe that their security of salvation and exemption from God’s judgment was based on their circumcision.
7. In his book on Romans, Theologian Charles Hodge quotes several Jewish Rabbis who say this very thing. They said such comments as: “…no circumcised man will see hell.” “Circumcision saves from hell.” “God swore to Abraham, that no one who was circumcised should be sent to hell.” And “Abraham sits before the gate of hell, and does not allow that any circumcised Israelite should enter there.” (pg. 63)
8. He went on to rightly say, “Whenever true religion declines, the disposition to lay undo stress on external rites is stressed. The Jews when they lost their spirituality supposed that circumcision had the power to save them.” (pg. )
9. Circumcision in itself has no special power to save the Jew or pardon him from divine judgment for his sins. It is no substitute for obedience that flows from a circumcised heart.
C. The third truth about circumcision is this: Gentile Obedience will render uncircumcision Valuable. Look at v. 26: So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
1. Here Paul shows that the complete opposite is also true. When the “uncircumcised man” or the Gentile “keeps the requirements of the Law,” or is habitually obedient to what God commands, his obedience is valuable in that it reveals a circumcised heart.
2. Paul is referring here to Gentile Christians. They are able to continually “keep” (phulasse—present tense) or obey “the requirements of the Law” because, though physically uncircumcised, they have experienced the Spirit’s work of saving faith and have a circumcised heart.
3. Therefore the uncircumcised Gentile who gives his heart to God and is thus enabled to live in obedience to the Law is more pleasing to God than the circumcised Jew who does not. The believing Gentile’s physical “uncircumcision” is reckoned by God as if it was true heart “circumcision” and he is a member of the people of God.
4. Paul is simply reinforcing what he has just said in v. 25 that physical circumcision in itself is nothing. Just as its possession cannot save the Jew, its absence cannot condemn the Gentile; the key is faith-filled obedience.
D. The fourth truth about circumcision is this: Obedient Gentiles will judge disobedient Jews. Look at v. 27: 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?
1. This is another devastating and shattering thought to the Jew who considered himself far superior to the Gentile. Here Paul says that the obedient Gentile who is not circumcised would not only be more acceptable to God, but also will “judge” the disobedient Jew who had both “the letter of the Law and circumcision.”
2. The Jew’s heritage, Law, and circumcision do him absolutely no good whatsoever if he’s trusting in those things to protect him from God’s judgment for his sin. Now the judgment of the Jews by the Gentiles here should not be understood literally.
3. C. E. B. Cranfield accurately states, “The meaning is not that the Gentile will assume the role of judge, but rather that he will be a witness for the prosecution in the sense that his obedience will be evidence of what the Jew ought to have been and could have been.” (pg. 174)
4. Remember that God is the righteous Judge (v. 5), but the Gentiles obedience to the Law will stand as accusatory evidence against the disobedience of the Jews. Theirs is a judgment by comparison and contrast.
5. Jesus said a similar thing to Israel’s religious leaders in Matthew 12:41-42, “The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. The Queen of the South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here.” (Lk. 11:31-32)
E. The fifth truth about circumcision is this: True Jewishness isn’t external but Internal. Paul first states what a true Jew is not in v. 28: For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.
1. In vv. 28-29 Paul is driving home the point that not all who are called Jews are truly Jewish. When he says, “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh” he reiterates that Jewish heritage, biological descent from Abraham, possession of the Law, and even physical circumcision, wonderful as those privileges were, had absolutely no spiritual benefit if they stand alone.
2. God disregards mere externalism. As 1 Samuel 16:7 declares, “…for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
3. Therefore, physical circumcision which is merely outward has no spiritual significance in itself, except as a sign and symbol of the internal reality that it represents. Therefore, those who only have the symbol but lack the substance are not true Jews.
4. Jesus said in John 8 that if the Jewish leaders had truly been spiritual heirs of Abraham and true children of God, they would have joyously received Him in faith as their Messiah and King. But instead, they sought to kill Him and reflected the murderous character of Satan, who was their spiritual father and lord (vv. 40-42, 44, 56; Matt. 3:9).
5. Even the example of Paul’s prior life before he became a Christian proves his point. It takes one to know one.
6. He declared in Philippians 3:3-9: Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.
7. Paul had reached the highest pinnacle of what the Jews considered to be the utmost standard of righteousness, but he counts all of his outward achievements as nothing but rubbish in themselves from God’s point of view.
F. Paul then says what a true Jew is in v. 29: 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.
1. Notice the contrasts that Paul gives in these two verses: outwardly vs. inwardly, circumcision in the flesh vs. circumcision of the heart, by the letter vs. by the Spirit, praise from men vs. praise from God.
2. This verse is the climax of Paul’s argument! However, remember that the context of chapter 2 is focusing specifically on the Jews and their special privileges as God’s chosen people, which they are wrongly trusting in for salvation and exemption from God’s judgment.
3. Now although Paul illustrated the uncircumcised but obedient Gentiles as though they were circumcised, he does not go so far as to call them true Jews. Contrary to what many Christians believe, the church is not the “new Israel,” for God is not through with the nation of Israel, as we will discuss later on in Romans.
4. It is important to understand that there are two things that are necessary for one to be a true Jew. As Paul is using the word “Jew” in this context, no one can claim to be Jewish who is not first born of Abraham through his son Isaac and physically circumcised in obedience to the Law, as we already saw in v. 28.
5. And second, Paul adds to the requirement of outward circumcision the circumcision of the heart. Paul says that he must be one “inwardly,” referring to an internal saving relationship with Abraham’s God through faith.
6. Once again this is nothing new. Jews who are born after the seed of Abraham through Isaac but do not have hearts circumcised in the way that Abraham did (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 4:4), are not truly Jews.
7. They are Jews outwardly but not inwardly. Notice that Paul then explains what this means by saying, “…and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.”
8. As we saw, “circumcision…of the heart,” the mission-control center of one’s life, is what the sign of physical circumcision was to represent in the Old Testament. And this inward transformation takes place “by the Spirit.”
9. The true Jew is born of Abraham and is also born again by the Spirit of God. Woodrow Kroll said it well, “The only true Jew is one who is a Jew by race and a believer by God’s grace.” (pg. 36)
10. This is because only the inward spiritual work of the Holy Spirit can circumcise the hearts of His people and enable them to live obediently to the Law (Rom. 7:6; 2 Cor. 3:6, 18). This was promised to the Jews in the Old Testament (Jer. 31:31-34; Ex. 11:19-20; 36:26-27) and is already beginning to be fulfilled in the church age.
11. This is a spiritual work in people’s lives, it is “not by the letter,” which refers to the Law and the commandments contained in it. Although the Law of God is glorious, it does not provide any ability whatsoever to obey it.
12. Therefore, Paul’s contrast here between the “letter” (grammati) and the “Spirit” (pneumati) sums up for him the difference between the old covenant (an external law) and the new covenant (the gift of the Spirit).
13. Paul then says about the true Jew, “…and his praise is not from men, but from God.” This is probably a play on words, since the Jew was named after his ancestor Judah, whose name means “to be praised” (Gen. 29:35; 49:8), which we saw in v. 17.
14. So Paul began with praise in v. 17 with the name Jew, and now ends with praise as the true Jew lives up to his name. Notice that his “praise” (epainos) “is not from men” (Matt. 6:1-8, 16-18; 23:5-12; Jn. 5:44) who are more inclined to ridicule God’s people than to praise them.
15. Instead, his praise, which is probably a reference to eternal life, comes directly “from God,” his heavenly Father.
16. So in this passage Paul shatters the Jews false security that their mere physical circumcision can save them. Instead, circumcision is to be merely the sign or symbol of the reality of a circumcised heart within.
In closing, just as submitting to circumcision was not enough to secure salvation for the Jews, being baptized is not enough to secure salvation for anyone. Baptism is only a beautiful outward declaration that symbolizes a person’s inward reality of true saving faith in Jesus Christ. But if the symbol lacks that reality behind it what value is the symbol? There is none!
Therefore, like circumcision, baptism in itself cannot save anyone. Without the inward reality that it represents, being immersed under water will do nothing for you but make you wet. That’s all!
True salvation is always a matter of faith in Jesus Christ from the heart. For Romans 10:9-10 says, “…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” Do you have a personal heart relationship with Jesus Christ?