About 1900 years before the birth of Christ, God gave Abraham the covenant of circumcision. But in the years to come, Abraham’s people would lose sight of what that covenant was really about. They saw their circumcision merely as a sign of the Law, not also a sign of the Gospel. This is something we see the Jewish Christians struggling with in our reading from Romans 2 this morning.
Having obeyed the command to be circumcised, they imagined their flesh had been marked by an ancient sign that earned them greater honor and established them as leaders over the gentile converts. They had a special status. They had been given the law, so they deserved to be teachers of the law.
But, as Paul essentially says in our reading for today, “if you want to see circumcision as a sign of your obedience, fine. But then it doesn’t do you any good if you’re not actually obedient. You’re not in a position of superiority if you don’t live a life of superior holiness.” And so, when Paul tells the Jewish Christians in Rome that a true Jew is one who is a Jew inwardly, he’s inviting them to remember what circumcision was really about.
When God instituted the covenant of circumcision, what was He doing? He was marking and cleansing the reproductive flesh of Abraham’s sons to show that the Savior of the world would be a son of Abraham. He was showing that the offspring of Abraham would be the one to cleanse and bless all nations of the world. In other words, when God gave the covenant of circumcision, he instituted it as a promise that salvation would come from the people of Abraham, not as a sign of the superiority of the people of Abraham.
And so the one who is truly circumcised is not the one who bears in his flesh the marks of his obedience to God’s command. It’s not the one who trusts in his own devotion to the law, but the one who trusts in Christ’s devotion to him. The one who is truly a Jew is not the one who trusts in his works, but in the works of Christ, the Jewish savior, the son of Abraham.
So trust in that Son, the one who gave you a circumcised heart. Trust in Christ who cleansed you of your sin and made you an eternal member of His own family through the circumcision made without hands, through the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, through the waters of holy baptism.