A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man's praise is not from men, but from God.
God has always had a special relationship with his people. In the Old Testament when He gave Israel his commands for how they should live, He audibly spoke to them from atop a mountain ablaze with His glory and then He gave them stone tablets into which He had carved those commands with His very own finger. He even gave them a special mark that symbolized that they were his people, circumcision. Getting circumcised was a commitment to obey his commands. But by the time Paul writes his letter to the Romans, it is clear that the Jews have confused the significance of circumcision. They got so comfortable thinking of it as the distinguishing mark of God's chosen people that they began to think that circumcision had the power to make them God's people. They forgot that it merely symbolized what God had done for them.
In this passage Paul is reminding them and us that being a child of God isn't about what happens on the outside. It has always been about about what God does for us on the inside. That is what Paul means by “circumcision of the heart.” If a man is circumcised but lives in rebellion against God is he right before the Lord? If a man is uncircumcised and yet keeps God's law does he incur God's wrath?
Paul is redefining the people of God from those who are born ethnically Jewish to those who have been circumcised not in the flesh but in the Spirit (i.e. circumcision of the heart). He is saying that if you want to be a member of the true people of God it takes more than the right knowledge and the right parents, it takes more than acting, looking, or sounding a certain way. It takes a change deep down inside of you. It means that God has changed your heart. A circumcised heart is one that has had the filthiness of sin cut away from it and has committed to obey God. That's what matters.
What we have to remember is that we are sinful deep down in our bones and that our sin separates us from God. We can't change our sinfulness on our own. But just like the Jews we often get mixed up about this. We think that being a Christian is about something we do or don't do. We think that being a Christian is about acting a certain way or talking a certain way. We even think that we can change ourselves and make ourselves Christians. When we do this I like to think that we are like a man dressed in a duck costume quacking and splashing around in water desperately trying to convince everyone that he is a duck. His humanity is deep down inside of him in his DNA and in his genetics. He can’t change that by putting on a costume and acting like a duck, but that doesn't stop him.
In the same way, we put on our Christian costume and try to convince everyone that we are Christians. We know how to look like Christians and talk like Christians and act like Christians. But we can’t change what we are deep down inside. Inside that Christian costume we're still just as lost as we can be. We are sinful deep down inside, and we can't change that, only God can. So if you are tired of pretending, stop! Becoming a Christian isn't about doing it's about believing. Confess Jesus as Lord and believe that God raised him from the dead (Romans 10:9), and He will give you a new heart. He will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh that you may obey him (Ezekiel 36:26-28).
And for those of us who are Christians, rejoice in that you are truly a changed person. You are no longer sinful deep down. You no longer have to carry the weight of your past sin, the shame and the guilt. You have been changed. What is more, you no longer have to be enslaved to sin. Sin no longer controls you and rules over you in the way that it once did. You are a child of God. Now, in a way, sinning is like dressing up in a costume and playing pretend for you. The old has gone the new has come (II Corinthians 5:17). Now that you have tasted of the Lord and have seen that He is good and that you have been set free from sin, I implore you do not turn back to your sin again. Trust in the Lord’s renewing power to change you forever and to set you free from the power that sin had over you.
For further reading this week…
- Colossians 2:11-3:11 The circumcision of Christ.
- Philippians 3:1-11 Mutilator's of the flesh.
- Ephesians 2 No longer strangers and aliens.
- Ezekiel 36:24-28 From a heart of stone to a heart of flesh!