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Romans 2:25-3:6 by Robert Dean
Series:Romans (2010)
Duration:1 hr 3 mins 46 secs

Circumcision – Part 2
Romans 2:25–3:6
Romans Lesson #028
August 4, 2011

We have been on the doctrine of circumcision—understanding the spiritual significance of circumcision. The ultimate issue here if we want to subsume this into a broader category, the broader category is understanding the difference between grace and works, understanding the difference between a God-performed and supplied and freely-given salvation and a salvation that is merited or earned by the individual. Circumcision itself became the focal point of the battle that occurred between the Jews who accepted Jesus as messiah and those who didn’t. Paul never says circumcision is wrong; there is nothing inherently wrong with it. He says, Romans 2:25 NASB “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the

Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” The focal point here is on the issue of keeping the Law or breaking the Law. That is what makes the difference: it wasn’t circumcision; it was orientation to the Law. If a person could keep the Law one hundred per cent then that was the issue. If he broke the Law it didn’t matter if they were circumcised or not because the issue was their relationship to the Law which was the basis for the exhibition of righteousness. So Paul says circumcision is profitable if you are completely keeping the Law. It doesn’t mean you get saved, it just means that it has spiritual profit, spiritual benefit as a Jew. But if you are a breaker of the Law it doesn’t matter what ritual you do you are still a law-breaker and under condemnation.

The point we need to be clear on is that the Old Testament makes it very clear that it is not overt physical circumcision; that was just a symbolic act to help understand an abstract doctrine such as the circumcision of the heart. What Paul says in Romans 2:12 down through the first part of chapter three isn’t different from the Old Testament. He goes to the Old Testament to show that the Hebrew Scriptures emphasize an uncircumcised heart; it is not the physical ritual, it is a spiritual reality that matters. And this is a result of understanding the righteousness of God, which is the theme of Romans.

Acts chapter seven is the longest sermon recorded in the book of Acts, and that tells us something because obviously God the Holy Spirit wanted all of this material recorded and that it was not just a summary or an abridged version. We have to understand it to understand the significance of circumcision within the context of Stephen’s message. The context is that Stephen is accused of blasphemy, of being an enemy of the Law, in the last part of chapter six. We are told in 6:8 that he is full of faith and power, he is spiritually mature, and he was one of those who were designated as apostolic assistance in the first part of the chapter. He performed miracles as credentials of the message and yet he had opposition. Acts 6:10 NASB “But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.” So no matter how clearly we present the gospel, if people are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness they are going to hate you. They are going to react to it, they will misrepresent you, they will ridicule you, they will revile you; they will not accept what you say. It is not because you haven’t presented a good argument, the better your argument the more they might despise you. The bottom line is volition; they don’t want to believe the truth. The more you convince them that the truth is rational and correct the more their conscience will be pricked and the more they will hate you for exposing the fact that they are suppressing the truth in unrighteousness. Stephen becomes a victim of this misrepresentation and in order to gain their way what they do is induce certain men to perjury, which is in violation of the tenth commandment! Acts 6:11 NASB “Then they secretly induced men to say, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and {against} God.”

Acts 7:1 NASB “The high priest said, ‘Are these things so?’” Does Stephen answer the question? No. Don’t always answer a question. Politicians don’t answer question, they have their agenda and they get their message out! Our message is the gospel. Stephen has his message and he is not going to answer the question because the issue isn’t whether or not he has said this. What he is going to do is go with the Bible, and he is going to demonstrate biblically a pattern. And he doesn’t start from Genesis chapter one. We see later on that when Paul confronts unbelievers, and they are Gentiles, he goes to Genesis chapter one because first they have to understand the creator God. But that is not a problem with the Sanhedrin and with the Jews who already have an understanding of Genesis 1–11—at least at that point. Stephen starts with Abraham and he moves forward from him. And the first thing he points out is that the foundation for everything in the Hebrews Scriptures is God’s call of Abraham. Then he goes through the descendants, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Jacob’s twelve sons.

Now we get the reaction. Eleven of the sons just couldn’t care less about God or spiritual things and are as pagan as the Canaanites, and then there is Joseph, the chosen one. He is not the eldest but he is the one God has chosen, so they hate him, they are jealous of him, they despise and reject him. It is the first example of where God’s chosen person is rejected by his brethren who oppose him.

Then he goes to the second example, which is Moses. Moses is God’s chosen leader but the Jewish people also rejected him. When Moses was up on Mount Sinai the people became bored and turned to idolatry. In this Stephen mentions the temple of Moloch. Acts 7:43 NASB “YOU ALSO TOOK ALONG THE TABERNACLE OF MOLOCH AND THE STAR OF THE GOD ROMPHA, THE IMAGES WHICH YOU MADE TO WORSHIP. I ALSO WILL REMOVE YOU BEYOND BABYLON.” This set up a pattern that was played out through the rest of the Hebrew Scriptures up to the destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah, and again and again when God sent a prophet they killed him. And his point as he is talking to the Sanhedrin is that they have a pattern of always rejecting God’s messenger. When God has a message related to grace, you kill the messenger, you despise the messenger, you reject the messenger. He is pointing out that they always reject God’s grace. As a result of that God brings judgment. Acts 7:42 NASB “But God turned away and delivered them up…” That is the same concept that we have in Romans chapter one. “… to serve the host of heaven…” This is a reference to the fact that these gods and goddesses that they worshipped in the pantheon of the Canaanites were associated with the stars and with nature. Paganism always worships the creation, always worships nature. The modern form is environmentalism, a manifestation of the same nature worship that has been a problem down through the centuries ever since the family got off the boat with Noah. “… as it is written in the book of the prophets, ‘IT WAS NOT TO ME THAT YOU OFFERED VICTIMS AND SACRIFICES FORTY YEARS IN THE WILDERNESS, WAS IT, O HOUSE OF ISRAEL?’”

Then he drives the point home. Acts 7:51 NASB “You men who are stiff-necked [arrogant] and uncircumcised in heart…” He is applying what Moses said in Deuteronomy and nailing them with it, indicting them with it, right there. Stephen knew Deuteronomy. “… and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did.” He added something: you covered up your ears; you don’t want to know the truth. What Stephen is doing here is what Peter said to do in 1 Peter 3:15. He is giving them a defense, and answer for the hope that is in them. He is just giving classical biblical apologetics. He gives them a rational argument, but notice he doesn’t answer their question. He just skewers them with the pattern that goes down through history. He doesn’t yield to their assumptions as he is presenting the truth. Acts 7:52 “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One [the suffering servant of Isaiah; they killed Isaiah], whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; [53] you who received the law as ordained by angels, and {yet} did not keep it.” They think that they have been keeping the Law, and what Stephen and Paul say is no, you are not; and you know that. They don’t want to be told that they are not keeping the Law, because if they are not keeping the Law then they know they can’t ever please God.

This becomes a problem later on in the early church. It is a problem in the first place that Paul went on his first missionary journey, Galatia. The Galatians who were originally saved because they understood the gospel and understood grace, fall away from their understanding of grace and get sucked into a false gospel. This is why Paul is so harsh with them at the beginning of the epistle. Galatians 1:8 NASB “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” Why? Because if you don’t believe the right gospel you don’t get saved. Then he goes on to talk about his own experience and his call to becoming an apostle, that previously he had conducted himself well in Judaism. [13] “For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; [14] and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.” That zeal became hyper-zeal and he did everything he could to destroy every person who was a Christian.

Then he went to Jerusalem. Galatians 2:3 NASB “But not even Titus, who was with me, though he was a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.” The apostles understood that circumcision wasn’t necessary for salvation. So chapters one and two of Galatians deal with the question: Is there any ritual that has to be performed to gain merit with God? Paul’s conclusion is none whatsoever, and he clinches this with his great statement in 2:16 NASB “nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.”

Then there was another problem. Not only were they confused about getting saved or justified by circumcision but now they were going to say they may not get justified by circumcision but they were going to be sanctified by circumcision, the world of the Law. So in Galatians 3:2, 3 NASB “This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” You can’t start on one basis and shift mid-stream to another basis; it doesn’t work. It begins by the Spirit and continues by the Spirit or you don’t have biblical Christianity.

Galatians 3:13 NASB “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”— What Paul has showed is that the Law can’t do it. The Law wasn’t given to show people how to be saved; the Law was given to show people that they can’t do enough to be saved, and that is a curse.

Galatians 5:5 NASB “For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.” Hope is an expectation of a future reality. It is not a strategy for improving government or society, it is a mental attitude. So it is by faith, not circumcision, that we wait for the hope of righteousness.

Galatians 5:6 NASB “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything [it is not the physical ritual], but faith working through love.” He is not talking about justification here; he is talking about spiritual growth, faith working with love—spiritual growth. It is what is happening on the inside, the circumcision of the heart, not what is happening on the outside.

Then in verse 7 he goes on to talk about the significance of love and that in this section it is love rather than the Law that is the fulfillment of what the Law is really trying to focus on. He references circumcision again, [11] “But I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.” He says when you get circumcised there is no more opposition; the Jewish opposition would evaporate. The offence is the cross, and the reason it is the cross is because at the cross works are dead; human merit ends. We can’t bring anything of value to God.

Colossians 2:11 NASB “and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands…” That connects it back to Deuteronomy 30:6. It has to be a circumcision that is spiritual, not physical. “… in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ…” This is where we see the real spiritual symbolic meaning [sound runs out] …