The True Jew:
Not In Rites & Rituals
In a Brief  Survey of the Epistle of Paul to the Romans
Based on sermons preached in PCC Worship Services, July 2003 to Sep 2005
Part 12b of 83


“… 25 For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. 26 Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? 27 And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?…” (Romans 2:17-29).

[We have been considering, in this 12th tranche of studies, the apostle Paul’s characterisation of a true Jew as he chides his kinsmen in the flesh for their hypocrisy and false confidence . We saw in the previous article how he exposed their hypocrisy accentuated by knowledge. They had a form of knowledge, but they walked not according to their knowledge. We must beware lest we fall into the same sin. But now in this second instalment, we must consider how the Jews placed their confidence in their circumcision. A true Jew is not merely one who is outwardly circumcised.]

2. Confidence in Rites
 and  Rituals

Paul puts it this way:

“For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision” (Rom 2:25).

Circumcision is good (v. 25a). It does profit. In the first place, it was ordained by God for His people. If God so ordained it, it must be good. In the second place, it is a sign and seal of the Covenant of Grace. It marks a man as belonging to God. And it reminded Jews of their covenant obligations.

Paul is not saying that circumcision was not important, just as he would not say that baptism is not important. The Jews knew that circumcision was important. Those who were not circumcised were not regarded as Jews and would not dare to regard themselves as Jews. In the early church, baptism was similarly regarded. Those who were not baptised were not regarded as Christians. Christians must be baptised and members of the church. All Christians, even nominal Christians would seek baptism!

Paul is not saying that rites in the church such as baptism and circumcision are not important.

But circumcision has a spiritual meaning. The circumcision of the flesh points to circumcision of the heart (Dt 10:16; Jer 4:4). Which is more important? Is it heart-circumcision or fleshly-circumcision? To ask this question is like asking a child, “Which is better: a picture of an ice-cream or the ice-cream itself?”

In the balance, circumcision of the flesh only profits a man if he keeps the Law. The Law is the word of the covenant. If he breaks the Law, then his circumcision is meaningless. It is “made uncircumcision” (v. 25). He is discovered to be a hypocrite. He has circumcision of the flesh, but not circumcision of the heart,— which is, more important!

On the other hand, here is a man who is not circumcised, obedient to God’s Law in the way that a circumcised man should be. Would not this uncircumcised man be counted for circumcision more than the disobedient circumcised man?

Here is an uncircumcised Gentile, but He is morally upright. He does not lie or steal at least not wilfully. He is faithful to his wife. He does not shout murderously at his children, and he keeps the Sabbath out of love for God. On the other hand, here’s one who is circumcised on the eighth day, of the tribe of Judah and catechised in all the Law from childhood. But this man thinks that it is alright to lie so long as no one finds out. And he withholds his taxes. He cheats on his wife with his eyes. He abuses his children verbally and physically. And he keeps the Sabbath for show only. Who is a better Jew? Who should be counted for the circumcision more?

Let me give you an illustration to drive home the point. Suppose there are two men living in Singapore. The first man is a Singaporean. He boasts that he is a Singaporean because he holds a pink identity card. But this man not only refuses to do national service, but is a law-breaker who brings shame to the country. On the other hand, the second man is not a Singaporean. He does not have a pink identity card. But he says: “I loves Singapore, I want to live here, if they allow me to do national service I will gladly do it.” Which of these two men is more Singaporean? The answer is obvious isn’t it?

A Jew in the flesh is circumcised. A Gentile is not circumcised. When a Jew behaves like Gentile, while the Gentile behaves like a Jew, then great shame is upon the Jew. The Gentile would arise and condemn the Jew — who not only has the written law, but also fleshly circumcision (v. 27)! The Jew who claims to be Jew because he is circumcised, but does not do what the Law require is bringing shame to God.

A man who relies on external rites and symbols without regards to their spiritual meaning brings shame to the name of God.

And so too a Christian who is baptised but does not live according to the Law and Gospel of Christ. There are many outwardly moral people in this world. Whenever we find one who is more moral and more helpful than us, we bring shame to the name of Christ.

Oh, let us not excuse ourselves by saying: “These people do what they do because they think that they can go to heaven by good works, or because they want to win the praises of man.” “Faith, if it hath not works, is dead” says James (Jas 2:17). “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven,” says our Lord (Mt 5:20).

Do you know an unbeliever who appears to be more upright than you? Like the queen of the south, this man will arise in the judgement, and will point his accusing finger at you and condemn you. Oh may the Lord spare us this great shame by giving us genuine repentance and faith in Christ!

…to be Continued

JJ Lim