Pastor’s Class Notes
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Romans 2:25 “For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou
keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of
the law, thy circumcision is made uncircum-
Circumcision, a symbol of God’s covenant with Israel, was a reminder to the Jew of his need to be faithful to God as evidenced through obedience to His law. And the first requirement of keeping the law is faith, for this alone can enable a man to live right.
Circumcision was merely a symbol; faith was the substance. The symbol is profitable only if one has what is symbolized. Circumcision was undoubtedly a symbol, a token, a sign of faith, for Abraham believed before he was circumcised. Abraham “believed in the Lord, and he counted it to him for righteousness” (GN 15:6). Only later did God say, “Ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin, and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you” (GN 17:11).
Circumcision was a sign, a symbol. It was a seal and only a seal, and what good is a seal when it is not attached to whatever it certifies? Circumcision and any other religious form, without faith, are as useless as a brand without a cow, a dollar sign without money, a bottle label without the bottle.
Romans 2:26-27 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 fulfill the law, judge thee,
who by the letter and circumcision dost
transgress the law?”
These verses are difficult to understand, but essentially their meaning is, Godliness without religious ritualism is better than religious ritualism without godliness. Those who refuse the forms but live cleanly are better than those who keep the forms but live sinfully.
The sinful churchman makes a mockery of his profession and will suffer worse judgment for sinning against greater light. Such sin profanes the ordinances and forms of God. Therefore, guilt is compounded.
All outward religious forms and rituals are absolutely useless apart from personal holiness. They are important only to the extent they help us live godlier lives. Forms of religions are a waste unless they produce the fruits of godliness.
Religious rites are like a wedding ring, which serves as an ever-present reminder one belongs to another. It is an incentive to, and symbol of, faithfulness. The ring is honorable only as long as one is faithful to the spouse. Adultery makes a wedding ring useless, an item for the pawn-broker.
Religious rites are intended to promote and picture holy living, the expression of our faithfulness to God. If faithfulness is not a fact in everyday living, then our very religion becomes irreligion and is a liability to our account.
Romans 2:28 “For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly;
neither is that circumcision, which is outward
in the flesh:”
“Jew” in this verse and the next refers to what God ultimately intended the descendants of Abraham to be: born-again believers. Just because one is a Jew physically does not make him a Jew spiritually. No family is good enough to assure all its members of Heaven.
The Jews had decided the symbol, received by all Hebrew males at birth, automatically bestowed what it stood for. The Israelites obviously regarded circumcision as their means of securing salvation.
The rabbis taught, “Abraham sits before the gates of Hell, and does not allow any circumcised Israelite to enter them.” They believed God had sworn to Israel, “No circumcised Jew will see Hell.”
Paul blasted this assumption. He plainly believed that with regard to one’s everlasting destiny, “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing” (GL 6:15). Paul finally won the argument within the church about circumcision, but through the centuries other salvation substitutes have appeared.
Circumcision has been supplanted by baptism, the Lord’s Supper, good works, church membership and other things. There are still people who think they will go to Heaven with only as much religion as a horse can have. They are perfectly contented to have nothing more than “horse-religion.” Let me illustrate and explain this concept.
Richard Knill oversaw seven religious schools for children. He visited each of these schools every day for years with his horse and gig. He made the trip so often that his horse knew exactly where to stop as well as Mr. Knill did. One day a friend asked to borrow the horse and gig to run errands. The man was riding gingerly along when the horse suddenly stopped and nearly threw him out. Each time their travels passed one of the places where the horse was accustomed to stopping, this scene was repeated. When they finally arrived back home, the man told Mr. Knill, “I am glad that I have returned without broken bones, but never will I drive a religious horse again.”
Like this horse, persons who perform outward religious acts without being born again are guilty of acting from mere habit. Such people who repeat rituals without conversion have only as much religion as a horse may have. And a horse’s religion will never save a man:
• Even a horse could be sprinkled at birth.
• Even a horse could undergo confirmation.
• A horse can be taught to keep the Sabbath Day.
• A horse could be taken to church every Sunday.
• We could immerse a horse, make it a church member, and give it the Lord’s supper.
• A horse could be taught to bow its head in prayer and even how to kneel.
• You could teach a horse to dip its nose in holy water. One could even give it last rites.
• Best of all, a horse’s good deeds outnumber its bad deeds.
All these things a horse can do, and all of them are as useless to achieving salvation as circumcision ever was to a Jew. Horse-religion will not do. We need something more. We need God’s religion, as presented in the next verse.
Romans 2:29a “But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly;
and circumcision is that of the heart. . . .”
The key to acceptance before God is to be a Jew inwardly. This means to fulfill God’s expectation of us by being born again through faith. There is the key. “Ye must be born again” (JN 3:7).
This is true religion. God must give life to our dead nature. The Spirit must infuse a man. All our external acts (horse-religion) cannot avail because God looks on the heart.
The only circumcision which avails is that of the heart. God must be allowed to cut away any unclean, impure dross remaining within us. Corruption must be uprooted. Pruning is not enough; surgical circumcision is required.
We do not need cut flesh. We just need to accept the knife which slices evil from our hearts. May we be willing to let it cut deeply into our lives: first for justification, and then repeatedly for sanctification.
We need to be transformed within, for inside is the place of cleansing. Can washing the windows of a house make its inhabitants clean? Does painting a house make the owner prettier? The Bible speaks of demons living in houses clean-swept and garnished (LK 11:25). However beautiful the outside of a cage, the bird on the inside will still be unclean. Sponging down the outside of a washing machine will leave the clothes on the inside as dirty as ever.
No matter how much you decorate the outside, one is lost until he receives a new nature. You may put a hammer in my hand and carpenter clothes on my body, but give me some nails and soon you will say, “This man is no carpenter.” You may put a brush in my hand, and a canvas before me, but give me something to paint and soon you will say, “This man is no artist.” You may be a church member, and know all the rites and ceremonies, but without the new birth, we must say, “This man is no Christian.”