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.Romans 2:29(NASB)
Israel were called by God to be His witnesses to a lost world, but instead of being a light to the gentile they sinned against the Lord. Together with the rest of humanity, Israel were guilty of sin and man's wickedness multiplied on the earth giving witness that fallen humanity stands condemned before a holy God. Although 'love' is an essential quality of God, He is also a God of justice, Who must punish all who fall short of His own perfect standard of righteousness.
It is not simply the 'wicked' that are guilty of sin. All members of the human race are sinners. All have been imputed with a sin nature - even philanthropists who do good deeds or are applauded by their fellow-man. All fall short of God's glory and Christ's perfection. All stand guilty before a holy God - Jew and Gentile alike.
Paul spent considerable time presenting a structured argument against any person, group or sovereign state, who considered they were exempt from God's righteous judgment. And much to Israel's chagrin, 'the circumcised', were specifically identified by Paul as sinners in need of salvation.
For centuries, Israel had considered herself superior to all other nations because they were adopted by God. To them alone was given the glory, the covenants, the Mosaic law, the temple service, and the promises. They boasted about the distinctive sign of circumcision... given to Abraham as a sign of the covenant promise God made with their great patriarch and his seed... to all generations.
Circumcision was given to remind Israel they were God's chosen people. The cutting away of flesh in circumcision was a daily reminder that sin was to be cut out of their life. But instead of honouring the Lord with their righteous living and godly obedience, they proudly flaunted their chosen position before other nations. They became dull of hearing the word of the Lord and unrighteous in their behaviour, until its spiritual meaning degraded into hypocrisy.
Moses had to call the nation to account in Deuteronomy when he commanded them to "circumcise therefore the foreskin of your HEART, and be no more stiffnecked!" Jeremiah also challenged Judah to undergo a circumcision of the heart.. warning that the wrath of God would come like a 'burning flame' if they did not turn from their evil ways.
These men of Judah had become proud in their heart and regarded themselves as superior to other human beings. They considered their fleshly circumcision made them righteous and exempted them God's judgement. They failed to heed many prophetic warnings, challenging them to rend their hearts, repent of their ways and return to the Lord their God.
Before his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul also boasted about his Jewish ancestry. He had been circumcised on the 8th day... a Hebrew of the Hebrews. He lived a 'perfect life' - according to the Law!! However, he came to an understanding that the Law may be perfect, but it cannot justify a man. The Law exposes a man's sin but cannot forgive it, and Paul realised that he would not have known he was a sinner, apart from the Law.
This proud Pharisee had to revise his thinking when he realised that the Law was a schoolmaster to teach us about Christ. He came to understand that both circumcision and uncircumcision means nothing... what matters is a new creation in Christ. He realised that true circumcision was the circumcision made without hands - "the circumcision of the heart - The putting off the body of the fleshly sins, through the circumcision of Christ".
Circumcision may have been highly regarded by Jews in Old Testament times, but by elevating this physical sign above loving obedience to the Lord and by regarding it as the means to their salvation, it became no more than a mindless ritual. Paul made it clear that a true Jew is the one who is inwardly circumcised - the one who trusts God's Word, keeps His commandments and honours His name -"the circumcision of the heart... a cutting away of evil in a man's heart, that is performed by the Spirit in the inner man. A circumcision based on the inner working of the Spirit and not the letter of the Law.
Israel considered that circumcision guaranteed their salvation, and believed a lack of circumcision condemned the uncircumcised. By basing their salvation on this physical act, they missed the important spiritual lessons it was designed to teach. Paul made it clear that a true Jew had a circumcised heart, which has nothing to do with nationality, physical birth or the ritual cutting of the male foreskin, but faith in God's word.
Circumcision is an outward sign of a regenerate Jew. It is a beautiful picture of imputed righteousness. It is an outward symbol of an inner change of heart - a seal of God's approval, through faith. Just as water baptism is an outward demonstration of the born-again believer, during this Church Age, circumcision was given as a teaching tool - a visual aid - an explanatory picture of the regeneration that takes place by faith.
May we worship the Lord in the spirit of holiness and glory in the saving work of Christ Jesus, our Lord. And may we put no confidence in the flesh. May we remember that true circumcision is a broken and contrite heart before our heavenly Father - and glorify in the One who has declared us righteous in God's sight - by faith in Christ.
Heavenly Father, thank You for the way You have illustrated the true meaning of spiritual circumcision and the baptism of the Holy Spirit in Your word. Thank You that my salvation is not displayed by any outward behaviour but through the inner circumcision of my heart, when I trusted Christ for salvation and was made spiritually alive in Him. Give me wisdom and discernment as I read Your word, and keep me from basing my scriptural understanding on man's false perception, rather than the truth of God's word. Open the eyes of men and women, Jew and Gentile alike, to the truth of the glorious gospel of Christ so that hearts may be truly circumcised before You - for Your greater praise and glory, AMEN.