Meditations in Romans : 33 : A Real Jew?
Rom 2:28,29 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God
People sometimes say, “It’s what goes on inside you that matters,” and in this they are right – partly! It is as important as what goes on outwardly, both are important. Our behaviour is important but what drives our behaviour is equally important. Another thing you hear people say is, “Clothes maketh a man.” This is a bit different, but not much. This is suggesting that what you look like is all important. If you dress up and look good, you’ll feel good and be good. A small element of truth there but it can be deceptive. I believe there is no more deception than in public life. Here are great leaders applauded by the media, apparently achieving great things, but then you hear they are on their third marriage and you wonder. What is it about this person that they are unable to hold together a relationship? Or they do great things but you then hear that they children are all over the place because they feel unloved and ignored. No, you can be good on the outside but inside there is much missing!
We saw in the previous meditation Paul comparing Jew and Gentile, pointing out that the Jew may have the Law and circumcision but the Gentile may show they have more of a relationship with God by the way they live, than the Jew does. Paul draws this bit of the argument to a close by questioning what a real Jew is. Is it someone who belongs to the Jewish race, whose origins are in Israel? Is this person a Jew? Most people would say yes, but not Paul. You’re not a Jew because you have the outward marks of circumcision, he says, because that is merely something that has been done to you when you were very young. No, he continues, real circumcision, that marks out a man as a real Jew is that of the heart. When you heart has been cut and given to God that is real circumcision! Anything else is simply an external ritual which can be meaningless.
Moreover, says Paul, it is to be a heart circumcision that is brought about by the Holy Spirit, not something to do with the Law. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts and converts. A real relationship with the Lord comes about by a work of the Holy Spirit, not by a work of man. It is not by human endeavour (trying to keep the Law), but by the Holy Spirit drawing a person, convicting them and then coming in to them. It is all a Spirit thing, not a Law thing. Whereas the Jew so often looked to others for affirmation that he was a Jew, a real Jew, one whose heart has been worked upon by the Holy Spirit, gets his affirmation from God Himself. It is God affirming we are His children, by the work of His Holy Spirit, is all the praise we want, and brings all the confidence we need. We need nothing beyond that.
When we do something outwardly then, yes, people can praise us for our achievement, but when God has done an inner work in us, then we have nothing worthy of praise in us. We simply surrendered to Him and He did the rest. As Paul said to the church at Corinth, “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Cor 1:27-30). Similarly to the church in Ephesus he wrote, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8,9)
That in Romans was Paul to the Jews, but what about us who are Christians? The immediate parallel to the act of circumcision in a baby is probably the unscriptural act of ‘baptizing’ or ‘christening’ babies. If you were christened as a baby that doesn’t make you a Christian today! The two sets of verses we’ve just looked at say it all. We have no room to boast because when we came to Him we were weak. It was only Him putting His Holy Spirit in us that made us what we are today. It wasn’t anything to do with our works or our achievements (or what was done to us when we were a baby), it is all to do with His grace which we simply receive by faith. It’s not what we do on the outside that is the all important thing – though it is important – it is the work that He has brought about in us that is the crucial thing, the thing that makes Christians.
Thus we come to the end of the chapter and it is worth just reminding ourselves where Paul has been going with this. He has been undermining any pride or arrogance or sense of self-ability that the Jews in Rome might have, as he prepares to tell them all about what God has done through Jesus. But he hasn’t finished yet, so we must continue on into the next chapter in our next mediation to see where he next takes this.