A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.
Romans 2:28-29 (NIV)
Read: Romans 2:17-29
Consider: What makes a person a Christian? Some might think that being born into a Christian country must make you a Christian. To others being brought up in a Christian family must make you a Christian. Perhaps others think that going to church every Sunday must make you a Christian. Maybe its having been baptised as a child that makes a person a Christian.
Look at the verses above from Romans 2 and you will notice that Paul is speaking about Jewishness and what makes a person a Jew. Paul refers to the practice of circumcision and how many relied on that as evidence of their Jewishness. Others relied on keeping the law to again evidence that they were Jews.
Paul differentiates between ‘outward’ and ‘inward’ signs that would indicate that a person is indeed a Jew. Paul’s view must have been viewed as radical by conservative Jews. When Paul talks about ‘circumcision of the heart’ it probably sounded similar to Jesus telling Nicodemus that he must be ‘born again’. Paul’s readers might have reacted in the same way by questioning this idea. How could you possibly circumcise the heart?
It would be easy to dismiss what Paul is saying as only being relevant to his readers in the 1st century Roman church and particularly to his Jewish readers. Was he just refuting the teaching of the ‘circumcisers’ who wanted early Christian converts to abide by all aspects of the law (including circumcision)?
Paul differentiates between outward and inward signs and this can equally apply to us today. Do we rely on outward things – nationality, family background, attendance at church or participation in the sacraments (e.g. infant baptism) as evidence of our faith?
The Message paraphrases Romans 2:28-29 as follows:
‘It’s not the cut of a knife that makes a Jew. You become a Jew by who you are. It’s the mark of God on your heart, not of a knife on your skin, that makes a Jew.’
Thinking about this and applying it to us, could these verses from Romans 2 be paraphrased as:
It is not the act of baptism, or any other sacrament, that makes a Christian. You become a Christian by being the person God wants you to be in Christ. It’s the cleansing action of Christ’s forgiveness on your heart, not of water on your skin, that makes a Christian.
Please forgive my poor paraphrasing. Hopefully you’ll see what I mean. Being a Christian is not about outward conformity to a set of rules. It is about the inward change that takes place when a person commits their life to Christ.
Pray: Father, may we never rely on outward evidence to ‘prove’ that we are yours. Help us to rely only on the saving work of Christ to make the inward change you desire in us. Amen