The Value of Circumcision—Romans 2:25

The Value of Circumcision—Romans 2:25

"Circumcision has value if you observe the law, but if you break the law, you have become as though you had not been circumcised" (Romans 2:25).

It’s all or nothing. We either trust in our good works or we trust in Jesus. However, if we trust in ourselves, failing one time ruins everything (James 2:10). This is the point. The Jews were relying on circumcision, a symbol of the righteousness Abraham had obtained by faith (Rom. 4:11), but instead of living by this faith, they were trusting in their ability to keep each commandment. In a disquieting declaration, Paul said, their habitual sin makes it as if they were uncircumcised. 

If no one is justified by following the Law, why did Jesus instruct the man to obey the commandments?

This is quite a statement! What a shock for the Jews who went to great care to follow the letter of Law. They prided themselves in living up its standards. And yet, Paul observes that it is of no value to them because they are unable to live perfectly. In other words, they were trusting in the wrong thing! In fact, one of the main points in Paul’s letters is that no one will be justified by their ability to keep the Law (Rom. 3:20, 10:3-4; 11:6; Gal 2:16, 3:10-11, Eph. 2:8-9, Titus 3:5). 

Jesus himself proved this during His life when He was approached by a rich young ruler (Matt. 19:16-26). The man asks an interesting question, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” In this question, he assumes two things. First, the reward for being good is eternal life and, second, being good is something he is able do. In His reply, Jesus addresses both of these things. “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments” (Matt. 19:17). After asking specifics, the man lists out things he had done since youth. Jesus then instructs him to sell everything, give it to the poor, and follow him. But at this, the man went away in great distress because he was very wealthy. 

If no one is justified by following the Law, why did Jesus instruct the man to obey the commandments? 

Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”

He wanted to reveal to the man the error in his thinking. This young man was under the deception that some good thing would earn him eternal life, but only God is good. The Law was never given as a means of salvation. Rather, its purpose was to show what sin is (Rom. 3:20) and to show how sin has defeated us (Rom. 7:10) so that we would look outside ourselves for salvation (Gal. 3:21-25). When Jesus tells the man to obey the commandments, it was to show him that he has failed and was in need of the only One who was good. He needed a savior. Jesus wanted him to turn from trusting in himself to trusting in mercy of God. Jesus did this by showing God’s perfect standard, which no one can match. The wealthy man’s circumcision has value if he kept the Law, but he was unable to do so, which put him in the same boat as everyone else in need of a savior. 

Many of us are still like this. We are trusting in the good things we do, but that trust will never be enough. At the end of this encounter, the disciples asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:25b-26). The only way to be saved is by trusting in God and trusting in His salvation through Jesus.

Today, if you have never trusted in Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, I pray that you will quit trusting in what you can do for God and start trusting in Jesus alone. Here is the promise: “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Romans 10:9-10). May you find salvation in Jesus!


Previous: Romans 2:17-24  Next: Romans 2:26-27

Original article published June 12, 2009.

Juli Camarin

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