“For circumcision verily profiteth, if thou keep the law: but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfil the law, judge thee, who by the letter and circumcision dost transgress the law?” (Romans 2:25-27)
From this point to the end of chapter two, the text focuses on two kinds of people: the self-righteous performer of the law and the reverent protector of the law. The verb translated keep in the first part of verse 25, is focusing on performance. It means to do or to perform some act. The self-righteous Pharisee took great pride in his circumcision, believing that it set him apart from the heathen and gave him special graces as a performer of the law. Judaism teaches that righteousness is obtained through keeping the commandments and traditions of men. If it were possible for a man to flawlessly keep God's commandments without violating a single one through action, feeling or motive, the act of circumcision would be spiritually profitable because such a man would be utterly sinless; however, outside of Jesus Christ, no man has obtained such lofty standards. At some point in time, every one has violated God's law either directly or indirectly; thus, the verse continues on and says “... but if thou be a breaker of the law, thy circumcision is made uncircumcision.” The tense of the verb is made is in the perfect which is the strongest tense in biblical Greek. The tense and the context combined give the sense that the action mentioned cannot be reversed through the deeds of the flesh. Once a man has violated God's law, even in the smallest sense, he is forever condemned as a hell-bound sinner apart from God's intervention. The self-righteous performer of the law may continuously boast of his good deeds, but his wicked heart betrays him, and it has left him spiritually “uncircumcised.” These principles hold true for any man seeking to be justified by works. Paul is focusing on the Jew, but the world has always been filled with people who “believe in themselves.”
The text continues on and says, “Therefore if the uncircumcision keep the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?” The verb here which is also translated keep is a different word than the previous verb. This verb means to guard, watch, defend, or keep (in the sense of guarding). The noun form of this verb may be seen in the word phylacteries which is found in Matthew 23:5. A phylactery is a small box which houses portions of Scripture and is worn by devout Jews. The Scripture is “guarded” by this box; thus, the sense of keeping watch over can be seen in the verb form of this word. The word for righteousness is literally righteous deeds or righteous requirements. This individual is vastly different from the self-focused performer. This man sees the beauty and value of God's righteousness in the law. Through genuine conversion of the soul, he reaches out and makes God's law his own through humble submission to God's righteousness. Jesus spoke of such an individual as this when He said “...(these) are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience (Luke 8:15).” This man is not merely a performer; his heart has been spiritually circumcised by faith in Jesus Christ. He sees the value of God's holiness, righteousness, and love in the law; therefore, he humbles himself before God and “guards” the law of God in his heart, not for justification, but out of a heart of true conversion. Such a man fulfills the righteous requirements of the law because God is the one who imparts His righteousness to that man and declares him to be justified. The main difference between the two men is this, the first is attempting to proudly perform the law for salvation and the second is reverently following the law because of salvation.
A truly converted individual brings condemnation to the self-righteous performer, because, through his changed lifestyle, he brings to light the hypocrisy of the religious, but unconverted, man.
“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.”
As is often the case, these verses are emphatic, “Not the one on the outside a Jew is!” With enough effort, anyone may carry out religious ritual. The world is filled with hardworking, moral people whose dedication to religious things leaves many others looking quite feeble; however, their motive is self, not God. A man may be known for good works and outstanding ethics, but why is he thus? Who is he seeking to please? Others may be fooled but God is not. The Bible commands all to be done to God's glory; therefore, religious dedication for selfish reasons does not profit in an eternal sense. The Holy Spirit declares that circumcision ultimately has nothing to do with the flesh but with the heart. Biblically speaking, physical circumcision was intended to be a sign of what should take place in the heart through conversion. In Genesis 15:6, God imputes righteousness to Abraham for his faith. This happened before Abraham was circumcised. Abraham allowed God to circumcise his heart and afterward God gave him the covenant of physical circumcision.
The second part is also emphatic, “But (strong contrast)! The one on the inside a Jew (is)!” In Isaiah 56:3-5, God says, “Neither let the son of the stranger, that hath joined himself to the LORD, speak, saying, The LORD hath utterly separated me from his people: neither let the eunuch say, Behold, I am a dry tree. For thus saith the LORD unto the eunuchs that keep my sabbaths, and choose the things that please me, and take hold of my covenant; Even unto them will I give in mine house and within my walls a place and a name better than of sons and of daughters: I will give them an everlasting name, that shall not be cut off.” God cares about the heart! Who has ever humbled himself before God and thought such an action to be a mistake?!
“...and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” Verses concerning spiritual circumcision are numerous. Deuteronomy 10:16 says, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.” Ezekiel 44:9 declares that no one who is unconverted will taint God's sanctuary in the Millennial Kingdom, “Thus saith the Lord GOD; No stranger, uncircumcised in heart, nor uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter into my sanctuary, of any stranger that is among the children of Israel.” Man loves to avoid the spirit and focus on the appearance, but such are not God's ways. Man's spirit must be converted through faith in Jesus Christ. The letter of the law does not bring life; it brings death. The letter of the law has been fulfilled by none but Jesus Christ. The self-righteous performer may fool many, but he cannot fool God. The reverent protector of the law recognizes his spiritual deficiency and heeds the warnings of the law while fleeing to the righteousness of God through Jesus Christ. Such an individual shall receive praise from the only one who is worthy of being pleased, this is God Almighty.