Rom 2:28-29 “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
Men often put a great deal of emphasis on the outward appearance. We wish to appear intelligent and well-informed. We want to appear as being kind and concerned about our fellow man. We want our actions to make us well thought of in our community.
All these things are worthy goals in life. The scripture tells us that a good name is preferable to great riches (Proverbs 22:1). However, if our good name is only a matter of outward appearance then it is not truly ours to claim. A cloak of self-righteousness does not identify who we really are.
Paul’s admonition to his fellow Jews by lineage clearly makes this point. Bearing the physical token of the law (circumcision) does not make anyone a true Jew. Going to the synagogue every Sabbath day does not make anyone a true Jew. Walking and living in God’s covenant is what makes that mark.
Let me be clear here: I am not anti-Semitic. This was not Paul’s intention nor is it mine. The nation of Israel (the Jews) in the Old Testament was the people of God’s covenant. With the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the partition was destroyed between Jew and Gentile (Ephesians 2:14). God’s covenant (New Testament) embraces people from all walks of life in every nation, according to His purpose in grace.
It is this covenant that Paul is holding up to the saints at Rome. The covenant service of God is not in the outward appearance. It is interesting to note that the word translated as not in these passages is the Greek word that is referred to as “the absolutely negative adverb.” There is no getting around the fact that being involved in God’s covenant is no longer about the circumcision of the flesh.
Being a Jew (ever since Christ’s resurrection) is about an inward change. This change is wrought by God through the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives. It is not the flesh, but the heart, that is circumcised. Our service is not in the outward appearance but rather a matter of what is driving our outward appearance.
The scripture calls clear attention to the difference between keeping the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Jesus pointed out that the law said not to commit adultery. Before his audience became to smug and self-righteous, He told them that if they had lusted after a woman in their heart, they had committed adultery already in his heart (Matthew 5:27-28). He clearly strips away any claim that might be made from the outward appearance.
What does this mean to us today? Being baptized and going to church every Sunday is not what makes us a Christian. That distinction comes from living a life that is guided by the mind of Christ. It is the inward working of God and not the outward appearance of man that brings us into His covenant.
It is important to do the right things for the right reasons. If we make an outward display of faith and trust in God, but our hearts are far from Him, then we are not living in His covenant of grace. When our goal is to have the praise of men, then our so-called faith is only a meaningless show. On the other hand, when our desire is focused solely on pleasing God, then we are truly faithful.
As we study God’s word and seek to walk according to His will, may we remember that it is not our nationality that makes us the people of God but a circumcised heart!