). Paul’s comments so far would be agreeable to a person who advocated that both physical and spiritual circumcision were necessary. But Paul’s next comment would be too sweeping: A man is one of God’s people if he is inwardly circumcised, since the real circumcision is a spiritual matter, of the heart, not by the written code” (verse 29). What value is there in being circumcised? Or, in synonymous terms, what advantage is there in being a Jew? Much, replies Paul (Romans 3:1-2).
He does not extol any health benefits, but he mentions that circumcised people have in their community the words of God (verse 3). That is a great value, but it is all for naught if they do not obey — and that brings Paul to the crux of the problem. There is none righteous, no not one. No one keeps the law perfectly; we all fall short. How then can we be saved? By faith.
There is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith” (verse 30). Justification by faith is the central reason that the physical rite of circumcision is no longer necessary but is not discouraged. Paul examines the example of Abraham again, and notes that Abraham was accounted righteous even while he was uncircumcised (Romans 4:9-10). Even though he later received a physical sign or seal of his righteousness, his righteous status before God did not depend on circumcision, but the circumcision did represent a covenant between God and Abraham and was necessary (verse 11). He is the father of all who faithfully live as he did before he was circumcised (verse 12) — and that was an exemplary faith, since Abraham packed up and moved without knowing where he was going.
To the Corinthians, Paul made it clear that if a person was called while uncircumcised, he should not attempt to change his anatomy (1 Corinthians 7:18). And his reason is surprising: Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts” (verse 19). The surprise is that circumcision had been one of God’s commands, and yet it doesn’t count. The law of circumcision was a religious rite that had nothing to do with our moral responsibilities to our neighbors.
Paul explained circumcision in greatest detail in his letter to the Galatians. They were being misled by other Jews that demanded that Gentile believers follow up their faith with physical compliance with old covenant commands. But Paul explained that it is wrong to view physical circumcision as necessary because that would imply that faith in Christ was not enough. If you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all” (Galatians 5:2).
Paul himself did not forbid circumcision; he circumcised Timothy because he was Jewish, and whose mother was Jewish. But he explains that Titus, a Gentile, was not circumcised (Galatians 2:3). It was not a requirement for salvation, nor a requirement for leadership within the Church. Circumcision is permissible as a voluntary practice, but it should not be taught as a requirement.
It does not enhance anyone’s standing before God. It should not be done as a commitment to old covenant laws, which was the issue in Acts 15 and Galatians 5:2-3. Paul had to state that he was not preaching circumcision (verse 11). Why was this necessary? Probably because some people were making the claim that Paul was actually in favor of circumcision. Like other Jewish preachers seeking proselytes, Paul taught morals and virtues. Once people had accepted the morals, some claimed, Paul would add circumcision as the capstone requirement.
Not so, said Paul. He was not going to add requirements to what he had already taught the Galatian believers. He was so vehement about the Judaistic agitators that he exclaimed, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” (verse 12). Moreover, if the Galatians submitted to this work of the law, as if it were required, they could not be saved (verse 2)! Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation” (verse 15). If we are born anew in Christ, if we have faith that works itself out in love, then we are acceptable to God.
We do not have to observe this ancient rite in order to be saved. Because the Gentiles were uncircumcised, they were once considered excluded from the covenants of promise and cut off from God. But now, through the blood of Christ, they have been brought near to God (Ephesians 2:11-13). In Jesus’ own flesh, by his own obedience to old covenant rules, he has abolished the commandments and regulations that had separated Jews from Gentiles (verse 14-15). He gave all ethnic groups access to God and made them fellow citizens with each other; it is in Christ that we are being built together as a spiritual temple for God (verse 19-22).
Paul also warned the Philippians about the circumcision advocates. Watch out for those dogs,” he said, using Jewish slang for gentiles in reference to the Judaizers (Philippians 3:2). They are evil men, mutilators of the flesh” — a Greek view of the rite of circumcision. But the Spirit wars against the flesh; Paul emphasizes that the physical rite, at least to the Greek mind, takes away from its spiritual meaning.
It is believers who are the true circumcision — all who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh” (verse 3). Paul himself was circumcised (verse 5), but he counted it as loss for the sake of Christ (verse 7-8). His righteousness did not come from the law, but from faith in Christ (verse 9). Justification by faith has rendered the rite of circumcision obsolete.
The principle of salvation by faith, which Abraham received before his circumcision, gave Paul the logical foundation for saying that obedience to a clear command of Scripture was not necessary for salvation. A physical requirement cannot supersede a promise of God given though faith. Paul told his Gentile converts in Colosse that they were circumcised in Christ (Colossians 2:11). Since he is our righteousness, and we are in him, we have been given fullness in him (verse 10). We can be accounted righteous because he himself is righteous.
Therefore we are as good as circumcised if we are putting off our sinful nature — if we have repented and have begun to live holy lives. Our circumcision is therefore not done by humans, but by Christ himself. How so? Through His saving us, when Christ comes into our heart and is seated on the throne He cuts away the sin. Baptism a kind of symbolic circumcision: it is how we express publicly that we have faith in Jesus as our Savior, that our old life is ended, that we — now circumcised in the heart — intend to live from then on in his service and that we have faith that we will live again with him.
When we were separated from God in our sinful nature, we were spiritually uncircumcised. But God has now made us alive again with Christ (verse 13). He forgave our sins, canceling our spiritual debts (incurred through transgressing the written code that was against us), including the regulations that concerned the symbolic forgiveness of sins (verse 14). He likewise canceled the regulation of circumcision, which symbolized repentance and sanctification.
Since the fullness of those regulations has come, the symbol is no longer required. Christ has given us the fulfillment. Through His circumcision of the heart. Religion.