His Circumcision Cannot Make Him Righteous (Series: Lessons on Romans)
by John Lowe
(9) His Circumcision Cannot Make Him Righteous
25 For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.
In addition to the law, the Jew prided himself on the rite of circumcision. This is a minor surgical operation performed on the foreskin of the Jewish male. It was instituted by God as a sign of His covenant with Abraham--"God also said to Abraham, “You and your descendants in generations to come are to be faithful to my promise. This is how you are to be faithful to my promise: Every male among you is to be circumcised. All of you must be circumcised. That will be the sign of the promise from me to you. For generations to come, every male child who is eight days old must be circumcised, whether he is born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner who's not related to you. Every male born in your household or bought with your money is to be circumcised without exception. So my promise will be a sign on your flesh, an everlasting promise. Any uncircumcised male must be excluded from his people because he has rejected my promise.” Gen 17:9-14 (GW) It expressed the separation of a people to God from the world. After a while, the Jews so prided themselves on having had the operation that they disdainfully called the Gentiles “the uncircumcision.” Many Jews in Paul’s time believed the physical circumcision of the body insured membership in God’s family (see Acts 15:1–29).
For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law. Notice that the apostle did not say “Circumcision definitely justifies a person.” That has never been true. But circumcision is not a meaningless rite if it aids in keeping the law. However, when the Jew does not keep the law, their circumcision has become uncircumcision. If the Jew trusts in his circumcision for salvation, and does not keep the law, his circumcision is made void. Circumcision was only valid as a sign when it was combined with a life of obedience. God is not a mere ritualist; He is not satisfied with external ceremonies unless they are accompanied by inward holiness. So a circumcised Jew who violates the law might just as well be uncircumcised.
26 Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?
If an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law. Now the tables are turned completely. If an uncircumcised Gentile gives his heart to God, and lives in a righteous relationship to the law, he is more pleasing to God than the circumcised Jew who does not. In such a case the Gentile’s heart is circumcised, and that is what counts. There is another way to think about this; if my wife loses her wedding ring, that does not mean she becomes unmarried. Marriage is more than a wedding ring, although the ring may be a symbol of it. And being a Christian is more than baptism, church membership, living a good life, and partaking of communion; although these are all signs of a committed Christian. The point here is that circumcision should stand for something.
27 And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law?
And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you …? The sin of the circumcised but unworthy Jew will be graphically demonstrated by the example of the Gentile who, though uncircumcised, nevertheless pleases God. Lack of circumcision would not condemn a Gentile, just as the possession of circumcision would not save the Jew. The key is the law. If the law was broken then the Jew became as helpless as the Gentile. Therefore, the circumcised Jew is in the same pitiful state as the uncircumcised heathen if the Jew has broken the law. Since all the Jews have, Paul’s conclusion is that his circumcision cannot save the Jew, for he has broken the law.