Romans 2:25-29 is still part of the Scriptures dealing with the charge that the Jews are under sin and in need of a Savior even with all their religious rites and ceremonies. In Romans 2:1-5 we have seen that the Jews were guilty of hypocrisy with their self-righteous judgmental attitude towards the Gentiles (2:1-3), being able to see the sins of the Gentiles and able to pronounce judgment on them but being unwilling to see their own sins and pronounce judgment on themselves. We also saw that the Jews were guilty of presumption (2:4), presuming upon God’s kindness, tolerance, and patience as evidence of their supposed privileged standing with God and that He would excuse their sins because they were Jews. And we saw that the Jews were guilty of being unrepentant (2:5) and hard-hearted believing that they were pleasing to God in their flesh and were not in need of a Savior.
In Romans 2:6-10 we have seen the truth that God is going to render a righteous judgment to every man based on his or her deeds. The Jews were further indicted as sinners in this section by believing that God was going to show them partiality while overlooking their selfishly ambitious and disobedient lifestyles. What a tragedy that men can believe that they can seek for glory and honor from men for themselves and believe that God is going to show them some sort of partiality because of their supposed relationship to Him.
Then in Romans 2:11-16 we saw the truth of the impartial judgment of God for everyman – the heathen who have sinned without the law will perish without the law and the Hebrew who has sinned under the Law will be judged by the Law. The Jews were hearers of the Law and not doers of the Law and this should have been enough to convict them of their sin and lead them to Christ – however they thought that because they had the Law and heard the Law that God would show them partiality. Wrong!
And finally in Romans 2:17-24 we saw that the Jews had a false assurance of salvation based on some very unreliable indicators: (1) they trusted their heritage – that they were Jews and the covenant people of God (2:17a), (2) they trusted their possession – that they had God’s Law (2:17b), (3) they trusted their profession – that they knew God and boasted in knowing God (2:17c), (4) they trusted in their ability to know the difference between right and wrong based on God’s Law (2:18), (5) they trusted that because they were teachers of right and wrong to the Gentiles that they were right with God (2:19-20), and (6) they trusted that they were exempt from the Law because they knew and taught the Law (2:21-24). The Jews equated all these things as fulfilling the Law when in reality they were law-breakers.
Now we come to Romans 2:25-29 and here we will see one more unreliable indicator that only gives a false assurance of salvation – the sign of circumcision. As we look at this section of Scripture and to guard against anyone having a false assurance of salvation, I want us to look at the heart of the problem which is the problem of the heart and see what is needed: a circumcised heart.
Before we delve into our text we need to ask and answer a couple of questions so that we can properly expose the meaning of it: (1) what is a circumcised heart, and (2) what was the purpose of physical circumcision?
One, what is a circumcised heart? Our text says, “Circumcision is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter…” (2:29). Immediately we see that circumcision of the heart is a spiritual operation performed by the Holy Spirit and cannot be accomplished by the letter of the Law. But what is this spiritual operation that is performed by the Holy Spirit?
First, a circumcised heart is a Lord loving heart because the Lord hating flesh has been removed. “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” (Deuteronomy 30:6). Anyone who doesn’t have a circumcised heart and doesn’t love the Lord because of His love for him as seen in the Gospel will perish. “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (1 Corinthians 16:22).
Second, a circumcised heart is a Lord obeying heart because the Lord disobeying flesh has been removed. “Circumcision [physical] is nothing, and uncircumcision [physical] is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God” (1 Corinthians 7:19). The flesh cannot and will not obey God – “Because the mind set on flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God” (Romans 8:7-8).
Loving God and obeying God go hand in hand. The Lord Jesus Christ said, “If you love Me you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). And in regard to the circumcised heart we read, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). Isn’t this the same thing that the apostle Paul said was the result of the Gospel even in the Gentiles who believe – “To bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for His name’s sake” (Romans 1:5)? Since it is true that the flesh does not subject itself to the law of God and that it is not even able to do so, then when a person is circumcised of heart so that he will both love and obey, then he is a brand new person – a new creature. “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Galatians 6:15).
Third, a circumcised heart is a Lord glorying heart because the self-glorying flesh has been removed. “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard to you. Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:1-3). Why is it that we put no confidence in the flesh? Because we have seen its sinfulness, ugliness, and ungodliness and we now know that no good thing dwells in our flesh.
People who see and understand this are more than glad to have their hearts circumcised and their flesh removed. But how is it that the Holy Spirit removes our sinful flesh and causes us to become new creations? “In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross” (Colossians 2:11-14).
Two, what was the purpose of physical circumcision? Physical circumcision was to repudiate the flesh by picturing its removal and not its renovation. The flesh cannot be renovated so it must be removed and God does this through putting our flesh to death in Jesus Christ. If we have responded correctly to the true Gospel then our flesh is put to death in Christ, buried with Christ, and then as brand new creatures we are raised to walk in newness of life loving and obeying the Lord (see Romans 6:1-14). So just as physical circumcision for the Jews was to picture the death of the flesh then baptism today is to picture the death and burial of the flesh and the resurrection of a brand new creature.
Now what does all this have to do with our text? Everything!
First, circumcision without obedience was useless (2:25). This amounts to ritual without reality. This is having a form of godliness but denying its power. There is grave danger in having confidence in one’s outward form of religion because confidence in form leads to confidence in the flesh.
Second, obedience without circumcision was useful (2:26). The obedient but uncircumcised Gentile proved by his deeds that he was saved by God’s grace and obeying from a heart of love which fulfills the spirit of the Law and not just the letter.
Third, those who have repented and received a circumcised heart although physically uncircumcised will stand up as witnesses at the judgment against those who were physically circumcised but uncircumcised in heart (2:27)
Fourth, it is not the ritual which counts but the reality (2:28-29).
So in making application today baptism is a repudiation of the flesh by picturing its removal by death and burial so that we can love and serve God in the Spirit rather than in the flesh by being raised to walk in newness of life with Jesus as our Lord. Many have been baptized without the knowledge of the wickedness of their flesh and are confident that they are saved even though their flesh remains uncrucified and their hearts uncircumcised.
Needed: A circumcised heart! Do you have one?