Romans 2:25 – 29 — “For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? 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? 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.”
When a man marries, he makes a covenant with his wife, and the sign, or the seal of the covenant is a ring on the third finger of his left hand. The ring is not the covenant, it is the sign of the covenant.
Now, if the man is faithful to that covenant, the ring is a pleasant showing to himself, his wife, and all others around him of the covenant to which he and his wife are committed. If, however, he is not faithful, wearing the ring does not change anything. It is only a sign of the covenant that he has entered into, and has violated. The ring shows his unfaithfulness. It would be better if he never married, than that he married and was unfaithful.
In Romans 2:25 – 29, the Apostle Paul addresses this situation among God’s covenant people, Israel. The privilege that the children of Israel had with the Lord was a very special relationship, that no other nation has ever experienced. But, just as with the marriage illustrated, with great privilege comes great responsibility.
Genesis 17:1 – 8 — “And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will make my covenant between Me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face: and God talked with him, saying, As for Me, behold, My covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will make thee exceeding fruitful, and I will make nations of thee, and kings shall come out of thee. And I will establish My covenant between Me and thee and thy seed after thee in their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”
To be sure, the Lord did not give the children of Israel the option to enter into that covenant, the Lord made that covenant with Abraham. They were to be made partakers of that covenant by birth, and every male child among them was to wear the seal of that covenant before he had any ability to accept or reject that covenant.
Genesis 17:9 – 14 — “And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep My covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is My covenant, which ye shall keep, between Me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt Me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations, he that is born in the house, or bought with money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed. He that is born in thy house, and he that is bought with thy money, must needs be circumcised: and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken My covenant.”
Circumcision, to the children of Abraham, was not optional. It was mandatory, and to be in uncircumcision was to be cut off from the covenant relationship. Moses was in that covenant relationship with the Lord, and he had not circumcised his son. Before Moses would even be allowed to address Pharaoh, the Lord showed him the importance of the sign of that covenant. Keeping his son in uncircumcision would have meant Moses’ death (Exodus 4:22 – 25).
When the children of Israel were redeemed, they were led in the wilderness to Sinai, where they were given the law of God by Moses. They were to walk in this law as the redeemed people of God. The holy God would and did require that His holy people would walk as such. The law was added, because of transgressions (Galatians 3:19; Romans 5:20). The holy God would not be represented to the world by an unholy nation. Therefore, the law:
Exodus 19:3 – 6 — “And Moses went up unto God, and the LORD called unto him out of the mountain, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel; Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto Myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people: for all the earth is Mine: And ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.”
In the same way as in our above marriage situation, the covenant people were to walk in God’s law to truly be that peculiar treasure unto Him. The entire history in the Hebrew scriptures shows that they did not. They were constantly and consistently told and admonished to be in actuality what they were by covenant.
Deuteronomy 10:16 — “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.”
There also was definite consequence to not walking in the law of God righteously as the prophets continually told the Israelites:
Jeremiah 4:4 — “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.”
Stephen, when addressing the synagogue of the Libertines, took them on an overview of their history of unfaithfulness to the covenant, and of always rejecting the one called of God, ultimately showing thei unbelief and unfaithfulness by murdering the Son of God:
Acts 7:51 – 53 — “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.”
The point of the entire passage of Romans that we are studying is to illustrate this point. The one who called himself a Jew (Romans 2:17), had a relationship with God like no other. But the greatness of that relationship only made the breaking of the covenant that much worse. One that was uncircumcised that kept God’s law (if there ever was such a one) was in a much better place of blessing than one who was born into that covenant and did not. Even more, the hypothetical heathen who kept the law would point out to the circumcised Jew, just by his keeping of the law, how greatly he has fallen from his place of blessing by not walking in the covenant. That is the intent of verse 27, where the apostle states that the uncircumcision that fulfills the law will judge the Jew that does not.
The true Jew, would be one that is truly circumcised in heart, and walked according to the law. Remembering the character of the first two and a half chapters of Romans, this is not letting anyone know that they are doing pretty well if they continue in what they are doing, but an indictment that they are not.
Romans 3:9 — “… for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin …”
The Bible speaks often of the sins of the covenant people, because with their great privilege came the great responsibility to live up to that privilege. Their history showed that they did not, but this also does not diminish the guilt of any one of us, nor of any other people group in the world. Romans 3:23 states that ALL have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Israel was God’s control group to show how even in great privilege, man is a sinner. The sons of Abraham were still the sons of Adam, and as such, we all need God’s great Savior.
Being concluded under sin does not sound gracious, but it was most gracious of God to do so. By concluding all the world under sin, we became subject only to His grace, and we are justified by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Romans 3:24). We may only enter in to that grace by faith (Romans 5:2), taking God at His word, in and about our Lord Jesus Christ, Who died for our sins and rose again (1 Corinthians 15:3 – 4).
Will you take God at His word about you today and freely receive by faith His most gracious offer of salvation?
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