Circumcision under the New Covenant
Turning to this last passage of chapter two, Paul addresses what was a terrible misconception in much of Judaism of his day, and that misconception concerned circumcision. Circumcision separated the Jew from the Gentile. It was an indelible mark in the flesh and the sign of the covenant. Every Jewish male was circumcised on the eighth day according to the Law of Moses, including our Lord (Luke 2:21). It was truly an important matter. However, as is often the case with even the most important of ordinances which our Lord commands, there comes a trust in the ordinance itself rather than in the Lord of the ordinance. And this is what happened with some Jews of Paul’s day: they looked to circumcision to save them; after all, it was the sign of the covenant. As we said the other day, they had the “A Ticket.”
But even their own prophets had warned them against such presumptuous and sinful thinking. Both Jeremiah and Moses had told the people to circumcise the foreskins of their hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4). God had invested circumcision with great meaning, as we already said, an indelible sign in the flesh of God’s gracious covenant. But the people had cheapened it and emptied it of meaning. And how had they done this? By not circumcising their hearts which the outward circumcision in the flesh was to symbolize; that is, they did not keep the law. As a result, Paul writes that their circumcision became uncircumcision.
Paul then takes up once again those Gentiles who “keep the law,” not suggesting that any Gentile has ever done so meriting salvation before God, but only showing that when Gentiles behave better then Jews, keeping the law when Jews do not, then they become the circumcised and the Jews the uncircumcised. Understand that such a statement as this would sound radical in the ears of a Jew of that day. But it is only Paul’s way of saying again that it is not hearing the word but doing the word that matters (James 1:22), and thereby showing that the heart is circumcised before God.
But Paul gives us a glimpse just before the end of the chapter where he is going: “But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.” By bringing in the Holy Spirit and his regenerating work upon the believer, Paul foreshadows that his argument will lead to the truth that there is none righteous and that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ for both Jew and Gentile. He is the Holy Spirit who only can circumcise the heart—oh, and of girls, too.