I. Paul Defines A True Jew
A. Did the Jews have special privileges others did not have? Do they now? Where does the modern day Christian fall in this scheme?
1. The Jews did have special privileges.
2. God gave his Law to them; he called them as his special people; and some even propose they will once again enjoy a special place in his world plan prior to the end of time.
B. Paul mentions the Jewish practice of circumcision. (v. 25)
1. This part of God’s covenant began with Abraham the Hebrew and his descendants. (Genesis 17:9-14)
2. After initiating the covenant with him, God placed the requirement on him and his descendants that every male must be circumcised on the eighth day after birth.
3. Entering into that practice would prove they accepted the covenant obligations.
4. This law also applied to all servants born into Abraham’s household as well as foreign born servants he purchased.
5. The penalty for refusing the sign involved being cut off from the covenant family.
C. Why Circumcision?
1. Many children are still circumcised today, and we are now aware one advantage involves health issues. Some of the other laws God gave to Moses seem strange to us as well, but when we take into consideration the conditions under which they were given, we come to understand many of them also related to health concerns in a time when sanitation was not equal to modern standards.
2. It was a sign of obedience.
3. It was a sign one belonged to the covenant community.
4. As Paul will deal with, it was a sign of the “cutting off” of the old life; it separated the Jewish people from their pagan neighbors.
D. The term was also used to distinguish those who were followers of the one True God from those who were not; “circumcised” versus “uncircumcised.”
E. Unfortunately, many Jews came to wear this as a badge of honor and pride they felt made them better than the “Gentiles.” Some also believed obeying this practice meant they were accepted by God regardless of what else they did.
1. This matter is one that Paul will now address.
2. In his continuing apology that all are guilty before God regardless of their cultural heritage, he must address this matter so many put great stock in.
3. He will also define the true meaning of the practice. Just as there was the literal practice of circumcision, so there was a deeper spiritual meaning.
4. In fact, he will go so far as to say an uncircumcised Gentile could be a true Jew.
5. We can only imagine the anger this aroused from the pious Judaizer.
F. The cutting away that accompanied the procedure of circumcision actually referred to the cutting away of some things as it related to the spiritual side of a person.
1. The deeper matter under consideration is what a person has to do-or not do, to please God.
2. What does it take to enter God’s family?
3. Paul was addressing people who had a misunderstanding about salvation or who wanted to add to the pure gospel.
G. The practice of circumcision only has value if God’s law is obeyed. (v. 25)
1. The issue in Paul’s day was with those who thought a person had to be circumcised to become a believer.
2. While this is not an issue for people today, there are other things people have and do trust in for acceptance by God, so Paul’s discussion is not in vain or irrelevant.
3. Good deeds, baptism, confirmation as a child, and church membership are common actions people hope will make them right with God.
4. Paul would say the same thing to those who trust in those things at the expense of obedience to God and faith in him-they are of no value.
5. There will always be a need for this message, for it is the human tendency to think we are good enough or have done enough for God to accept us. It fights against our pride to admit we are helpless.
H. Paul’s terminology of being a true Jew versus not is akin to saying being a part of God’s family.
1. One who demonstrates obedience to God’s commands proves they are a true follower regardless of what trophies they may have that would appear to automatically qualify them for inclusion.
2. The Jew who claims circumcision as his badge of honor but who disobeys God is no better than an uncircumcised Gentile.
3. But the uncircumcised Gentile who obeys God’s law is accepted above the circumcised Jew who does not obey God’s law.
4. For the Judaizers, this teaching would have been heresy, but it reemphasizes what Paul is teaching-membership in God’s family has nothing to do with external qualities. It is an internal matter that must be taken care of. God is after inward righteousness not outward conformity.
5. When our heart is right with God, we are real Jews-part of God’s family. (Galatians 3:7).
6. God’s requirement is a heart transplant and devotion to him. The prophet Jeremiah told the people of his day to cleanse their minds and hearts. (Jeremiah 4:4)
I. Paul then gives specifics to conclude his argument. (vv. 28-29)
1. A true Jew was not necessarily one born to Jewish parents who had gone through the ceremony of circumcision.
2. The acid test of whether one was a true Jew had nothing to do with cutting part of the body away but whether a change of heart had been enacted.
3. Those who depend on outward symbols are seeking praise from people and not God.
4. Undergoing circumcision had no more to do with acceptance from God than did simply possessing the Law of Moses.
5. Moses had confronted this same attitude with the disobedient people he led. He told them to circumcise their hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16)
6. Symbols are only significant if they carry a sense of reality. A contract stating you will do some type of work for someone is only good if you actually do the work. It is like writing a check when you know there is no money in the bank.
7. For the Jew, holding onto circumcision while disobeying God violated the entire meaning of the ceremony. We do the same when we hold on to symbols of our faith yet disobey the very things they symbolize. For example, holding up baptism, which symbolizes our walking in newness of life, while at the same time holding on to the same actions and attitudes we had before coming to Christ.
J. How does a true Jew live up to their name? (v. 29)
1. Abraham was a Hebrew, but the name Jew comes from one of their ancestors, Judah (one of the twelve sons of Jacob, later Israel).
2. His name is associated with the verb praise.
3. A Jew, or anyone else, lives up to their name (which means to praise God) by understanding that faith-not outward symbols, makes them acceptable to God.
K. To completely understand these verses, we can substitute the word ritual for the word circumcision. Then we can go farther and substitute the particular ritual for circumcision. Doing this, and reading it that way, will give us a clear meaning of what Paul is talking about. For example, in verse 25, we can make it read; “The ceremony of church membership is worth something only if you obey God’s law.”
II. The Religionist’s Response to Paul’s Conclusions (chapter 3)
A. Paul has established all are guilty before God-Jew and Gentile alike. He now imagines the response those who trusted in God’s law or circumcision would make to his argument.
1. If this is the case, what then was the advantage of being a Jew? (v. 1)
2. The Jews did have some advantages over other people: God gave them his laws, they were the race through whom the Messiah came, and they received benefits by being his covenant people.
3. None of the above-or anything else they might appeal to, automatically made them acceptable to God.
4. If anything, it made them more responsible to God by having more light than the pagan nations.
B. The arguments Paul imagines the Judaizers (and for our part, religionists) will make are threefold: what is the purpose of going through religious motions, does unbelief void God’s promises, and is God just when he takes out his vengeance on unbelievers. Paul realizes the human tendency to rationalize rather than repent.
1. The religious motions are important, in this case possessing the Word of God.
2. Having God’s law had at least a twofold advantage for the Jew: they knew what God expected of them but also saw by observing their daily patterns of living how far they fell short of God’s expectations. (v. 2)
3. It is also a wonderful privilege for a child to be born into a Christian family and into a Christian nation where they are reared to understand they can have a relationship with the living God and hear his requirements.
4. But moving from the privilege to thinking one is privileged is a different scenario altogether and is where the problem lay.
5. The second imagined response deals with unbelief. Does unbelief by some void the promises God made to Abraham? No, it does not. (vv. 3, 4) If God is going to be faithful regardless of whether I am, what is the point of me being faithful is the question under consideration.
6. Does the fact that some will misconstrue, misunderstand or even misapply God’s promises mean his promises are null and void? No, it does not.
7. God will still follow through on his promise to reward faith regardless of the fact some will try and come another way.
C. God is never unfaithful, nor does he ever contradict or break his Word.
1. Those who depend on outward signs but reject the way of faith will be condemned by God. This is not unfair because what God requires is not outward show but inward change. Jesus himself said not all who called him Lord would be accepted into heaven. (Matthew 7:21)
2. The problem arises when we try to come our own way as opposed to the way God says we must come.
D. Is God just when he takes vengeance? (vv. 5-8)
1. Paul next deals with a hypothetical argument that somehow states it is in God’s best interest that we sin.
2. The more we sin-so the argument goes, the more opportunities God is given to demonstrate his grace, so why would he want to punish sinners.
3. While God’s forgiveness does magnify his grace, the above argument is not justification to indulge in sin.
4. Additionally, God is just when he punishes sin. Those who think otherwise have a distorted view of God or sin or perhaps both.
5. God is holy other, and as such, cannot tolerate sin, nor can he have interaction with humans who are given to willful disobedience. It violates his nature.
6. Some have the mistaken notion it is God’s job to forgive, that he is so loving he will not really punish us, that sin is not as bad as God says it is, or that it is our responsibility to stay in touch with our culture. They then proceed to live their lives from that philosophy.
7. God becomes a grandfatherly type who may threaten but will never really carry out his threats.
8. To believe God cannot exercise vengeance on sin because he is love is to misunderstand the Bible’s portrayal of God as well as the concept of “just love.”
9. The cross was the perfect demonstration of God’s justice and love.
10. People will be judged based on their response to that.
A. Other than our faith, there is nothing we can appeal to in an effort to merit God’s favor.
B. God is just in punishing those who refuse his grace.
C. We are responsible to God.