The underlying point of this statement centers on Paul’s explanation about true Christianity. Note these opening comments in the Book of Romans: “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead. Through Him we have received grace and apostleship for obedience to the faith among all nations for His name, among whom you also are the called of Jesus Christ; To all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called… saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:1-7).
In this introduction Paul establishes that Jesus Christ was a Jew by birth. This is confirmed in Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 11:1; Micah 5:2; Luke 3:23-38; Hebrews 7:14; and Revelation 5:5. Furthermore, Jesus Himself revealed that “‘salvation is of the Jews’” (John 4:22).
Continuing in the first chapter of Romans, Paul states:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
When it came to the promises of God, the issue of “Jewishness” was a source of great contention in the society of Paul’s day—and in the Church of God.
The most obvious physical identification of male Jews was circumcision. Gentiles did not generally practice circumcision. However, the rite of circumcision in the first century A.D. had become ritualistic for Jews. This physical procedure was viewed as securing their relationship with God—a false confidence and an empty profession of religion.
Circumcision, as Paul explains concerning Abraham, was merely an outward sign:
“And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also,
and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised” (Romans 4:11-12).
The true intention of this “sign of circumcision” was revealed in the Old Testament:
“‘Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer’” (Deuteronomy 10:16; also: Jeremiah 4:4; Deuteronomy 30:6).
Paul carries forward this teaching in Romans 2:28-29:
“For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”
The pride of the religious leaders in Judaism had blinded them. When John the Baptist encountered Pharisees and Sadducees coming to him for baptism, he said:
“‘Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father.” For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones’” (Matthew 3:8-9).
When Jesus taught the Jews who followed Him that they could learn the truth and become free, their response was one of arrogance:
“They answered Him, ‘We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can you say, “You will be made free?”’” (John 8:33).
Jesus responded, “‘If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham’” (John 8:39).
From these two examples we see that being in the physical lineage of righteous Abraham did not fulfill the inward requirements for repentance or for understanding the Truth of God on the part of the Jews. Furthermore, the hope of eternal salvation is not based on physical lineage—note what is promised to those who live “in the Spirit”; that is, who are “inwardly” true Christians:
“For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:26-29).
The New Testament makes reference to circumcision to show that this physical action was no longer necessary (compare Acts 15:1-29), but there was a strong demand by some Jewish Christians to require the Gentile converts to be circumcised. The Book of Galatians addresses this false teaching. While it is not wrong to circumcise new-born babies on the eighth day (understanding however that circumcision is not and never has been a physical health law), it would be wrong to circumcise if it is believed that it is a biblical requirement today, and that one can thereby obtain justification and salvation. Paul made very clear that if we think and act that way, “Christ will profit [us] nothing” (Galatians 5:2) and we “have fallen from grace” (verse 4)—the need for God’s help and forgiveness—while rejecting forgiveness of sin through Christ’s Sacrifice (compare our comments to Galatians 5:2-4 in our free booklet, “Paul’s Letter to the Galatians.” )
Let us note Paul’s conclusion:
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:15-16; compare Romans 9:6).
Of this “Israel of God,” Paul further describes what being a Jew “inwardly” means:
“For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:3).
In conclusion, true Christians are “inward Jews” because they are spiritually circumcised in their hearts, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God.
Lead Writer: Dave Harris