True and False Circumcision - Romans 2:25-29

I need to begin in a word of prayer. Father, as we begin this morning we are aware of our dependence upon you for everything in our spiritual life. Everything in our physical life. Every aspect of our life. We are totally dependent upon you. And as we come now to this study I ask that by your Holy Spirit you would cause the truth to shine very brightly in this study. Strengthen us, encourage us, sharpen us, in Christ’s name, amen.


We’re in Romans 2. No surprise to any of us. Romans 2. And today, Lord willing, we want to look at verse 25 to 29. Today’s study is going be a little bit different in that we are going to need to lay a foundation for this before this is really going to capture our understanding. We’re going to do a walk through the Bible to get to this because this deals with circumcision. This is not a normal part of our life as gentiles. And in order to understand what Paul is saying here we need to look at some Old Testament verses, which we are going to do.


We’re in the section on condemnation. The need for the gospel. And beginning in verse 17, which we looked at last time, Paul began to address the Jew. Which is very obvious. In verses 17 to 24, which we looked at last time, he said, you who are the Jew who have the law, why do you teach others the law and you don’t keep it yourself? And you don’t follow it yourself?


So now as we come to verse 25, Paul goes for the jugular. I mean he pokes his finger into the temple or into the apple of the eye of the Jew and addresses the one issue out of the law that the Jew took most pride in. And that was circumcision. Beginning in verse 25 Paul will make a distinction between the true and false circumcision. This is a part of our understanding the gospel.


I.               THE CIRCUMCISED


Beginning in verse 25 he says, “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the law. But if you’re a transgressor of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. If the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the law will not the uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the law will he not judge who though having the letter of the law in circumcision are a transgressor of the law?”


Now he gets down to the very heart of the matter here. He says, “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 which is of the heart. By the spirit. Not by the letter. And his praise is not from men but from God.”


So just to begin to unsort what’s going on here, we are going to do a walk through kinda quickly. I want you to go back to Leviticus 12:3. I want you to see that circumcision was a part of the law. It was a part of the Mosaic Law. It was required of every male Jewish boy. That on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin on his male organ was to be circumcised, which meant was to be cut. It was a sign of the Abrahamic covenant.


Leviticus 12:3. “On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.” Now this really began earlier in Genesis with Abraham. But now that the law has come, it’s incorporated in the law. Now it was to be a picture. Just like baptism is a picture, circumcision was a picture of what must happen to your heart. Just as the foreskin was cut with a very sharp knife signifying that this person is being set apart to God not in reality but metaphorically, a picture. This is what must happen to his heart. He must have his heart pierced and cut to the core by the sharp two-edged sword of the word of God and by the spirit of God. The heart must be set apart to God. It is a picture of the new birth. It’s a picture of conversion. That the physical circumcision is a picture of spiritual circumcision that must take place.


Come to the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy 10:16. And Moses now gives the law to a new generation. That is about to enter into the Promised Land. The word Deuteronomy means the second giving of the law or the second law giving. This generation in the wilderness had their body circumcised. They just had not had their heart circumcised. Moses now addresses the new generation. And in verse 16 he says, “So circumcise your heart.” You see that? “And stiffen your neck no longer.” An uncircumcised heart is also pictured as a stiff neck. That picture’s an ox that will not submit to a master. When the master comes with a yoke to put the yoke around the neck, the ox will pull up his shoulders and make his neck stiff so that the yoke won’t fit around the neck. That’s what it means to be stiff-necked. You will not submit to the yoke of your master. You are resistant and you will not humble yourself and you will not submit.


In verse 16 he says, you’re stiff necked. You will not come under the lordship of God. You refuse to submit your life to God. Therefore, circumcise your heart. You need to have your heart pierced and with that piercing comes conviction of sin. With that piercing comes the painful excruciating entrance into the kingdom of God. No one comes giggling through the narrow gate. All who come come mourning over their sin as the painful awareness of one’s sin and then the relief that is found in the grace of God.


Now come to Deuteronomy 30. We’ve got a lot of verses to cover here to get to Romans. In Deuteronomy 30:6, in the book of Deuteronomy is a series of sermons that Moses preached. It’s like a Bible conference. In verse 6 we see really the sovereignty of God in this. This is something that man is responsible for but God must do it. And so in verse 6, “Moreover, the Lord your God will circumcise your heart.” Just draw a circle around the word heart. “And the heart of your descendants.” Referring to your children as they come under the influence of the gospel and the truth. What is the result of having your heart circumcised? He goes on to say in the middle of verse 6, to love the Lord your God with all your what? With all your heart. Three times in this one verse. He says heart. “The Lord will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul so that you may live.” If your heart’s not circumcised you’re spiritually dead. You have no life. You have no spiritual eternal life.


This is the necessity of heart circumcision. Without your heart being circumcised you’re separated from God. And you’re without spiritual life. You’re spiritually dead. And this heart circumcision represents being set apart to God by the Holy Spirit in the new birth and in conversion.


Come to the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah 4:4. We’re just laying the groundwork so that we can really understand what Paul is saying in Romans 2. This is a necessary front porch to get into the house.


In Jeremiah 4:4 the prophet Jeremiah says to the rebellious house of Israel, “Circumcise yourself to the Lord and remove the foreskins of your heart.” Draw a circle around the word heart again. He’s not talking about now as an adult to perform the surgical procedure of physical circumcision. He’s talking about the real circumcision. Now that you’re an adult it’s not enough just that you’ve had circumcision as an infant. That’s not gonna get you anywhere. Certainly not into the kingdom of heaven. Just merely to have that. Now as an adult your heart must be circumcised. When it is, it will cut the foreskin of your heart. You’re just thickheaded. You are stiff-necked. It will remove the foreskin of your heart meaning it will remove your sinful resistance to God. And the authority of God over your life. It will remove unbelief. And you will come to the place whereby faith you believe God and you believe the gospel of God.


Now if you do not have your heart circumcised, notice the second half of verse four. “Or else my wrath will go forth like fire and burn with none to quench it because of the vile of your deeds.” It’s the foreskin of your heart that causing you to live such a sinful, rebellious life. Your heart must be cut. The only instrument that is sharp enough to penetrate that thick rhinoceros hide foreskin of your heart is the word of God which is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword when it comes with the power of the Holy Spirit of God.


While you’re in Deuteronomy, come to Deuteronomy 9 in verse 25. Now in verses 25 and 26 of Jeremiah 9, he’s just told us in verse 24 and – 23 and 24 “that the supreme imperative of knowing God in your heart, you know it says let not a wise man boast of his wisdom. Let not a mighty man boast of his might. Let not a rich man boast of his riches.” Verse 23. “But let him who boast, boast of this. That he understands and knows me.” That’s a matter of the heart, right?


When we come to verse 25 he resumes this discussion on circumcision. He says, “Behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised.” I mean you can’t have it both ways. Well, you can. Those who are physically circumcised but are not spiritually circumcised. Do you catch the drift of what’s going on here? I mean just like today you can be baptized and not be a Christian. You can be circumcised and not be a true believer. Having the physical circumcision, that brings no redemptive reality. Salvific reality to a person’s life. You must have the spiritual circumcision. But days are coming when God will punish those who are circumcised yet uncircumcised.




Now look at the next verse, verse 26. At the end this punishment will come for all the nations are uncircumcised and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart. All the nations are uncircumcised physically and they’re also uncircumcised spiritually. It’s a double uncircumcision. But Israel is circumcised physically but the end of verse 26 says they’re uncircumcised spiritually of heart. What that means is they’re unconverted. What that means is they’re unregenerate. What that means is they are in the commonwealth of Israel but they’re not in the spiritual kingdom of God. It means they go through the ritual, they’ve just never had the reality in their heart.


Come to Ezekiel. Ezekiel 44. And we’re just doing a walk up to Romans 2. In Ezekiel 44 in verse 7 God through the prophet addresses the nation Israel. In verse 6, now verse 7, when you brought in foreigners. That refers to gentiles who are outside of the nation Israel. Uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh. See, he makes this distinction. The gentiles, who are the foreigners, have had neither circumcision. They haven’t been circumcised physically and they haven’t been circumcised spiritually. Then in verse 9 he says, “No foreigner uncircumcised in heart and uncircumcised in flesh shall enter my sanctuary.”


In order to come into the presence of God in the sanctuary and be a true worshiper of God you must have a heart that has been converted. You must have a heart that has been cut and pierced by the word of God. To bring you into submission to the Lord so that you’re no longer stiff-necked of heart.


Let’s come to the New Testament. You with me? Come to the book of Acts. Acts 7. And in Acts 7, Stephen is preaching that incredible sermon before the Sanhedrin which was before the 70 Jewish leaders and the high priests of the nation Israel. And he just gave this walk through the Bible. It’s the most incredible walk through the Bible that we have in Acts 7. He now comes to the summation of this sermon. In Acts 7 and in verse 51 he’s addressing these unbelieving, unconverted, unregenerate leaders of the nation of Israel when Israel is in spiritual apostasy. They’ve just crucified the Messiah.


In verse 51, Stephen addresses them. “You men are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit. You are doing just as your fathers did.” That points back to everything we were just looking at in Jeremiah and in Ezekiel and even back to Deuteronomy. That the nation Israel has a longstanding history of being circumcised yet being uncircumcised. There has always been a remnant within the nation that has been a believing remnant, but the whole has been uncircumcised of heart.


Come to Galatians 6. Galatians 6. We just passed Romans. I want you to know that I know that. In this walk up to Romans 2 we just overran second base. But Galatians 6 and verse 15, it’s a key verse. He says, “For neither is circumcision anything.” Meaning it has no saving value whatsoever. “Nor uncircumcision.” Meaning the gentile. “But a new creation.” The only thing that matters is that you’re born again. The only thing that matters is that you become a new creature in Christ Jesus.


In 2 Corinthians 5:17 talks about this new creation. The old things have passed away. Behold, new things have come. If any many be in Christ he’s a new creation. It’s a metaphorical expression for the new birth. Even still into the New Testament Paul is speaking in these terms of circumcision, uncircumcision. And people, the false teachers had come into the churches in Galatia after Paul left known as the Judaiers and were trying to put the believers back under the Mosaic Law. And they were telling them in order to enter into the kingdom and be saved you’re gonna have to be circumcised. Which is a painful thing for an adult.


First Paul begins this book by saying, you know that’s another gospel. Let them be in Anathema. And now he concludes this by having to say to the believers, forget circumcision. Forget uncircumcision. All that matters is are you a new creature in Christ Jesus? That’s the argument he’s making.


Now come to Ephesians. Ephesians 2:11 and this subject resurfaces again. It’s still a part of New Testament teaching. In Ephesian2 2:11 he says, “Therefore, remember that formerly you the gentiles in the flesh.” In other words, you were born a gentile. “Who are called uncircumcision and the Jews look down their long self-righteous noses at the gentiles and call them uncircumcised, meaning unclean, by the so-called circumcision.


Now there’s circumcised physically. But there’s a note of intentional sarcasm here. You so-called circumcised, because you hadn’t had the real circumcision. You’ve only had the circumcision of your flesh. That doesn’t count for anything. You must have the circumcision of your heart to be in the kingdom of heaven.


He talks about this so-called circumcision at the end of verse 11. Which is performed in the flesh by human hands. That’s not the real circumcision. The real circumcision is not performed in the flesh by human hands. It’s performed in the heart by the spirit of God. If you follow Paul’s thinking and logic here.


Now come to Philippians. We’re in the neighborhood. Come over to Philippians. Walk next door. In Philippians 3 we read again of these Judaizers who come into the church and try to put believers back under the Mosaic Law, as well as even those who are not yet converted in the church. Putting them under the law where they have to work their way into the kingdom. Paul addresses these false teachers who have come into the church in his absence. Remember, Paul’s in prison in Rome as he writes this and so he’s not there on site and he can’t deal with it directly.


In verse 2, “Beware of the dogs.” Now the dogs are the false teachers. And they’re dogs because they’re unclean. And dogs in this day and time roam the streets of Middle Eastern cities going from trashcan to trashcan and they spread disease and filth because all they did was eat the leftover scraps, but they would also visit the dunghill and eat their own vomit, etc, etc. And they would just go from trashcan to trashcan spreading their disease. Paul now calls these false teachers dogs because they are unclean and they’re spreading the false teaching that you have to be circumcised to get into the kingdom and keep the rest of the Mosaic Law that was fulfilled in Christ.


He says, “Beware of the dogs. Beware of the evil workers,” referring to the same group. “Beware of the false circumcision.” He’s referring to the same group. Dogs, evil workers and false circumcision all refer to one in the same group. They are the ones who are spreading this false circumcision.


Now verse 3 Paul makes the distinction between these unbelievers and those who are true believers. How would you describe a true believer? Verse 3, “For we are the true circumcision who worship in the spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” When he says in the flesh there is an intentional allusion to the male organ and the cutting of the flesh and the foreskin. We put no confidence in that kind of stuff.


Now Paul once did. If you look at verse five. There was a time in Paul’s life when he did put confidence in the flesh that his male organ had been cut. In verse five he says, well, in verse four, “I, myself, might have confidence even in the flesh.” If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more – and now he’ll go through a litany verses five and six. What’s number one on the list? In which he would put confidence to give him a right standing before God, what is the number one ace of spades that he would throw down on the table that would trump everything else, that would give him a right relationship with God? It is that he was so properly brought up that even on the eighth day, the right day, he was circumcised in the flesh.


He says in verse 3, he doesn’t put confidence in that anymore. Because that’s nothing. What is reality and what is everything is to have your heart circumcised. And for God to perform spiritual surgery. And for God to cut out your old heart and remove it. And God put in a new heart of flesh, put his spirit within you, and cause you to obey his word.


I’ve got one mores passage to take you to. Colossians. Colossians 2. And in Colossians 2 – I just want you to see how this thread runs through the entire Bible. And in Colossians 2, and this would be so easy for us who are non-Jews to be reading our Bible just to kinda hydroplane over this without really catching the impact of what is being said here. In Colossians 2:11 there was again, even in Colossae what was known as the Colossian heresy. That had a mixture of Old Testament and New Testament teachings and was trying to put the believers back under the law. It was a mixture in verse 8 of humanistic philosophy and it was a mixture in verse 16 of Jewish legalism. Down in verse 21 and verse 18, a setecism. There are like four streams flowing together. Foul, polluted streams that made this river of the Colossian heresy.


Paul is addressing this head on. It’s a confrontation head on. In verse 11 he says, “And in him,” referring to Christ, “ you were also circumcised. With a circumcision made without hands.” I want to tell you, if you’re a genuine believer in Jesus Christ he has circumcised you. He has circumcised your heart. This isn’t just Old Testament teaching here. As you see, this is New Testament teaching that’s still on the books.


“You were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands.” Well, how would it be made without hands? Well, the invisible hand of God by his Holy Spirit would bring the piercing and the cutting to the heart. “In the removal of the body of the flesh.” And flesh here referring not to physical flesh but your old man. Your sinful flesh. “By the circumcision of Christ.” Meaning the circumcision that came from Christ and was performed by Christ.


This also helps us understand like in Acts 2:37 it says, “When they heard this they were pierced to the heart.” It means to take a butcher knife and thrust it into the heart. Anyone anywhere who has ever been saved has had the sharp instrumentality of the word of God fillet them. Cut them to the core of their being. Bring them under conviction of sin. They see their desperate need for the grace of God and the salvation of Jesus Christ. This is all a work of God in the heart.


Now for us who are not Jewish by physical descent, there are plenty of people who trust not in circumcision. But who trust in water baptism, who trust in coming to the Lord’s Table, who trust in other religious activities and rituals that are a part of the New Testament church. The message is the same for us. There is no salvation in water baptism. There is no baptismal regeneration. It’s only a picture of what the spirit must do. Spirit baptism. And even the Lord’s Supper is but a picture of the reality of our drinking the blood and eating the flesh of the Lord Jesus Christ in saving faith.


The point is it’s a matter of the heart. It’s a matter of the heart. Today the emphasis for us to take from this, God’s after your heart. If the heart is right, the life will be right. If the heart is wrong, the life will be wrong. Watch over your heart for from it flows the issues of life. Solomon says. Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and mind and strength.


Today, even throughout the day as you are thinking about your walk with the Lord, just remember it all begins with the heart. Then proceeds to the exterior. The outward sanctions are important. But only if there’s the reality of the heart that’s under it.


Let’s come to Romans 2 now. I’ll just do this rather quickly in Romans 2 so we’ll have time to talk among ourselves. Here’s the simple outline. I’ve got three headings here that’ll just help us survey these verses quickly. In verse 25 is the circumcised. In verses 26 and 27 is the uncircumcised. And in verses 28 and 29 is the true circumcised. It just divides out very easily.


In verse 25 he addresses the Jew who is physically circumcised. He says, “For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the law.” The only way you can practice the law is to have a new heart. And the only way to have a new heart is to be spiritually circumcised. Circumcision is of value if it as a sign or picture points you to the reality and drives you to experience the reality of a heart circumcision. When you have had a heart circumcision, then you will practice the law. You won’t practice it perfectly but you will practice it habitually and continually because you have a new heart.


He goes on to say, “But, if you’re a transgressor of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.” What that means is of no value. I mean if your heart hasn’t been changed and there’s no life change, to be circumcised has no value. It is as though you are uncircumcised. That’s the argument.


Now in verse 26 he speaks of the uncircumcised. That would be gentiles. If the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the law – now the only way for him to keep the requirements of the law is for him to have experienced a spiritual circumcision that has given him a new heart in the new birth. And he will keep the requirements of the law not perfectly but, again, habitually, continually in a new lifestyle.


“So will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision.” And the argument is though he’s never been physically circumcised he knows the reality of what circumcision pictured. And it is as though he is circumcised because the reality is in his life.


Verse 27. “And he who is physically uncircumcised – again, that’s the gentile – if he keeps the law – and the idea of keeps is a present tense verb which the idea is just on an ongoing daily life pattern – will he not judge you who though having the letter of the law and circumcision are a transgressor of the law?” And the answer to that is yes. His very life will judge.


In reality, it’s God who judges. He’s just standing with God and the manner of his circumcised heart and his new life stands as a judgement against those who have a physical circumcision but have never had a spiritual circumcision. That’s what he is saying here.




Now, verse 28 and 29 comes to the point of this. I think it should be clear to us. “For he is not a Jew – and when he says not a Jew he’s referring to a true Jew. A completed Jew. An authentic Jew. “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly.” Meaning he was born a Jew and was circumcised on the eighth day. “Nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.” When he says circumcision here he’s referring to spiritual circumcision. The real deal. The reality.


Verse 29, “But.” Verse 28 had two negatives. This is what it’s not. Now verse 29 is the positive. This is what it is. Paul is such a good teacher. First negative denial, verse 28. Now positive assertion in verse 29. There can be no misunderstanding. Verse 29, “But he is a Jew.” Now, when you’re born physically a Jew you’re a Jew for the rest of your life. I mean there’s nothing that can change that. But when he says here, “But he is a Jew,” He’s talking about a completed Jew. He’s talking about a true Jew. “But he is a Jew who is one inwardly. And circumcision is that which is of the heart.” How is it of the heart? By the spirit. Not by the letter. And the letter here referring to just all the different requirements of the law that you would try to keep externally by your own self will. No, true circumcision must be of the heart not in the flesh. It must be performed by the spirit.


And then he concludes verse 29, “And his praise is not from men.” Why would praise come from men for circumcision? Well, because if you’re a Jew you’re gonna applaud other Jews who have been physically circumcised. Well, that, this kind of praise, the genuine praise is not from men. It’s from God. And there’s kind of a pun going on here because the word Jew – have you ever wondered what does the word Jew mean? It means praise. It comes from the tribe of Judah. It means praise. So true praise can only come from a true Jew. And in reality, where there is true praise from a true Jew it is God who gives praise for that. That’s what verse 29 is saying.


I know that these verses maybe are a little bit complicated to follow. But then again they’re not. Especially as we’ve seen the macro. The larger picture here. Here’s the question on the table. Have you been circumcised? You’ve got to be circumcised. Now I’ve got good news for you. I’m not referring to physical circumcision. I’m referring to spiritual circumcision. This becomes a Biblical metaphor for regeneration and conversion. Which the New Testament, regeneration is God’s part. Conversion is man’s part. And it’s the heads of tails of the same coin. And the rest of the New Testament will give us a distinction in the order of salvation. Here with circumcision it’s just kinda all bunched together.


Miracle of all miracles we have done this in 44 minutes. Now have 16 minutes to discuss your circumcision. And Jonathan, have we got any questions that have come in?


Male:   [Inaudible]


Yeah. Questions from the table first. And maybe it’s like so who in the world is gonna call in on questions on circumcision. But guys, tell me. Is this new? Have you had a handle on this? How does this strike you? What have you learned? What question would you have? This is your time, our time to talk this out.


And if you don’t say something I’m gonna fill up the whole rest of the time like I do every week so.


Audience Member:      I really liked your point on the circumcision is just a really a metaphor for the true heart is the same as the baptism. It’s really – you can do outward signs and dedications of different aspects of it but it’s really only thing that truly matters is the heart and the opening of the heart.


Absolutely. Absolutely.


Audience Member:      I really thought your point on that was right on. 


I mean you can be baptized 20 times and not know the Lord. Hell is full of people that have been baptized. That doesn’t get you anywhere. Water doesn’t wash away sin. Only the blood of Christ washes away sin. The ritual means nothing without the reality. Yeah thanks. Yeah.


Audience Member:      I was just gonna say the illustration of a _____, of an event, it happens and it’s removed. Right. Your whole life is gone. Your new life is moving forward with Christ –




Audience Member:      - an illustration of that.


Yeah. And I love what you just said. Event. I mean this takes place in a point in time. The new birth happens on a day. It happens in a moment. Just like your physical birth happened in a day. You know you pull out your driver’s license. You look at your date of birth. It’s the month and the day. And I can tell you the time I was born. By extension, so it is with this circumcision. It’s an event. Doesn’t take place over three months. It’s an event. Now you may not be able to pinpoint that exact moment. And a lot of people can’t. I understand that. But nevertheless it did happen. In a moment. Yeah. What have you got there, Jonathan?


Audience Member:      We’ve got a question from Jacque in Senegal in Africa. He says, since the Bible clearly presents the spiritual circumcision as the important one, why then do we still see the Christians live and practice circumcision systematically all over the world? He says even here in Africa Christians regard uncircumcised people with suspicion.


Well, they shouldn’t. There are Christians today around the world who still practice circumcision but it has more of a medicinal reason to it. I mean there was a health factor involved. I mean God is so wise that not only did it have a spiritual value in that it pointed to what must happen in the heart, but there was also a health value as well. I have no problem with Christians continuing to do that for health reasons. But for spiritual reasons that’s – that was fulfilled at the cross. That’s not a part of the moral law. That was a part of a ceremonial law. Which has all been fulfilled in Christ. I mean once you begin to go down that path, okay, we’re gonna still practice circumcision, now you’re gonna have to still bring sacrifices to the altar. You’re still going to need a high priest. You’re still going to have to have three annual feasts. You know. There’s no getting off of this road once you put one foot on it if you’re consistent. You just can’t pick and choose which part of the ceremonial law, okay, is gonna carry over and we’ll just disregard at my pleasure the other part. No, it’s an all or nothing thing. I would say there needs to be greater teaching. More specific a precise teaching on this.


Someone else?


Audience Member:      Well, it's all about, when you think about it, the whole problem with Jesus coming was this fight over the law and the heart, right? I mean that was the whole issue with the Pharisees, Sadducees. They were so concerned about what’s he doing with the law that we’ve been keeping? Is he taking it away? What’s going on here? Because they were so tied into the dos and don’ts. I think even as believers we, at least I do, I forget it’s still a matter of the heart. God’s concerned with my heart even as a believer, as I walk and live with him. And not, okay, I made Bible study again this week. Or made church. Or I did this or I taught Sunday school. It is still an issue of the heart even as believers.


Yeah. I mean you can have your body in church but your heart be elsewhere. And that doesn’t work. You’ve gotta have your heart there with the Lord. You’re getting ready to teach this section in the Sermon on the Mount on the law there in Matthew 5:17 through 20. And then starting in verse 21 he says, you have heard that it was said you shall not commit murder, but I say to you if you’re angry with your brother you’ve committed murder. I mean it – Jesus took it back to the heart even with the law. The keeping of the law begins with the heart. Yeah.


Audience Member:      And they couldn’t stand it.


Yeah. Well, it was unmasking their hypocrisy. Because they were – they had a triple major in covering up their heart and just looking so spiritual on the outside. They just knew how to play the role. That’s what the word hypocrite means. It means one who puts on a mask. It’s like a Greek theater, you play a role. You put a mask, go on to the stage, you play a role, you memorize your lines. Then when the play’s over you take your mask off and you go back to being yourself throughout the week. And then Sunday comes, you put the mask, you know it's that whole deal. Jesus was unmasking the hypocrisy of the false external religion of Israel that had never been circumcised in the heart. I mean there were a few. There’s always a remnant. But by and large that’s why Jesus contrasted the broad gate and the narrow gate. And the many are on the broad gate and a few that come through the narrow gate. Yeah.


What else do you got, Jonathan?


Audience Member:      We’ve got one more. From Beatrice Lopez. She says, my sister and my brother-in-law, they believe they’re Christians but they don’t have any fruit and they follow the prosperity gospel. Are they saved?


No fruit, no root. I mean it’s pretty simple. If there’s no genuine fruit, and 1 John outlines the nine evidences of a genuinely regenerated person. If there is no such fruit, and really this fruit is Christ’s likeness. This fruit is the fruit of the spirit. 1 John even puts it through a different paradigm. Then there’s no conversion. Jesus said you’ll know them by they’re fruit. And the property gospel is a false gospel. It’s not a true saving gospel. It’s a physical message, not a spiritual gospel. You almost have to be in America for it to work. It’s just kinda hard to do the prosperity gospel in Russia. You know. It’s just hard to pull that off. It depends what zip code they’re in.


What else? I mean I’ve got more verses. But what else, guys?


Audience Member:      Something I’d say –


Yeah, Will.


Audience Member:      one comment and one question. The comment is just how important it is to study the word holistically. Because you could read through Romans 2 like what you started and without the running start of the importance of circumcision in a Jew’s life. It wouldn’t have the context. I think that was a reminder for me, just the importance of thinking through whenever I read scripture to make sure and take it in the context –


Can I just put a footnote on that and then you keep talking? That’s why in Bible study we use scripture to interpret scripture. And you never interpret the rest of the Bible in light of one verse. You interpret one verse in light of the entire rest of the Bible. You bring the whole rest of the Bible to bear upon one verse. Not the other way around. Or you’ll be like looking through a telescope backwards. And rather than things being large they’ll be small and you’ll have a distorted sense of reality.


I’ll just tell you this. Last night I couldn’t go to sleep. I drank some ice tea late in the afternoon. And I tried to even say my wife poured it and she reminded me this morning I was the one who poured it. I drank this huge thing of iced tea. I couldn’t go to sleep last night. I go back in my study and I had these notes. And I had all these verses. We were gonna look at those last. And it just dawned on me about midnight last night that no, no, no, we have to start with the macro and work our way to the micro on this for this to make sense to us. Go ahead, Will.


Audience Member:      I think even then, you know in Philippians 3 the passage that you read you see it come to a head with like Paul’s independent like as a Pharisee and, you know his confidence in the flesh and then to throw that all out the door for the perspective of knowing Christ Jesus his Lord. But the question that I had was at the start of that passage in verse two when It’s talking about looking out for the dogs and the evil doers and those who mutilate the flesh, I missed – you read through it but there was any point that you were talking about what specifically that was saying?


The mutilation of the flesh?


Audience Member:      Is it about circumcision or –


All you’re doing is just mutilating the flesh. I mean there’s no spiritual value that’s coming to you. Whatsoever. And the reason I didn’t read that it’s a textual issue whether or not that’s in the original manuscript or not. It appears in later versions. But having said that, let’s just say it is a part of the original. All you’re doing is just mutilating their flesh. I mean it’s put in such a derogative, an intentionally derogative way. But that’s a great question. Will, you’re super observant. Thank you.


Audience Member:      Dr. Lawson, do you think decisional regeneration is kind of a subtle nuance to looking at my baptism or my circumcision where, okay, that doesn’t save me but I have decided to follow Jesus. I walk that aisle. I prayed that prayer. You know I made that decision. Is that – is there a subtle nuance there where we can look at –


Yeah. There can be. There can be. And here’s what we really need to see big picture with decisional regeneration. Let me start by saying this. You really did decide to follow Jesus. It’s just that God gave you the faith and gave you the repentance and opened your eyes and opened your ears. God didn’t believe for you. That’s hyper Calvinism. And your parents couldn’t believe for you and your wife couldn’t believe for you. You really did commit your life to Jesus Christ. Let that be clear on the table. It would be hyper Calvinistic. And we’d be dead in the water to say, no, I don’t have to decide to follow Christ. No, you’re gonna end up in hell if you don’t decide to follow Christ.


Having said that, on the other side of the coin, it really depends who the preacher is. And what kind of truth or non-truth you’re sitting under. And if you think that walking forward and parroting a prayer and signing a card and joining a church and being baptized that in and of itself will get you to heaven, the answer is no. that is decisional regeneration. That you are exclusively looking to what you have done physically. Like I got up out of my pew and I walked forward. That’s a part of my conversion. No, it’s not. Or that I repeated a prayer. I’m a sinner. I’m a sinner. Jesus savior. Jesus savior. Whatever, whatever. However, I think that there have been people who have gone – who have walked forward and have been saved. I think there have been people who have repeated a prayer who have been saved. I mean they were genuinely under the conviction of the spirit of God. They just happened to be in a church. That’s what was going on.


We have to make a distinction on decisional regeneration. I hate this decisional regeneration. Having said that, I don’t want to put the whole thing in the same omelet. No, you better decide to follow Jesus. In your heart. You better commit your life to Christ. You can’t sit back passive and going, well, God will believe for me. I mean that was the death blow to gospel preaching in England about three centuries ago. There were some hyper Calvinistic particular Baptists who really emphasized, yeah, no you were justified in eternity past. No, you weren’t. You were chosen in eternity past. But you were under the wrath of God until you believed. And you were justified within time. You weren’t justified in eternity past. No one was justified in eternity past.


You’ve got to make careful distinctions. Thank you for asking that cause that kinda tees me up to be able to give a, I think at times a necessary clarification on that. I mean Jesus really called people to believe in him. You know. We talked about that Sunday. I am the bread of life. If anyone comes to me, he shall not hunger. And if anyone believes in me he will never thirst. I mean that’s something you’re gonna have to do. However, you can’t do it. It’s more inability until the spirit of God quickens you. And spiritually resurrects you to life.


Audience Member:      Why is legalism so attractive and so dangerous for us? Why do we – why are we so drawn to checking a box?


Because legalism lets you reduce your relationship to the Lord to just like checking boxes and like you’re going on a diet. You can kinda keep things simple and at arm’s length. Legalism never deals with the heart. Which is the real you. You can just keep it external and I can keep my Christianity in a little box on Sunday morning. I can do a few things during the week and I’m okay, you’re okay, we’re all okay let’s keep going. Where in reality, genuine heart religion, the closer I draw to the Lord the more I realize how far short I am. The further away you are from the Lord, the better you feel about yourself.


It’s kind of a comfort zone Christianity. Legalism. I think the leaders in churches that are legalistic, that they really have an intimidating control over people. Just like the Pharisees. The reason the Pharisees were upset with Jesus is Jesus was busting up their power game with the people. I mean it’s just like in the reformation. Rome got upset because now we’re not in control anymore. Legalistic leaders can dominate people because you have to live your Christian life through what I’m saying not through what God is saying. And you just keep adding rules. Which is what the Pharisees did. I mean the Bible wasn’t enough for them. They had more rules. And just like people today want to add more rules. And if you’re a good Christian you won’t do this, you won’t do this, you won’t do that and you won’t do that. And you’ll do this, this and this and this. Yet none of that’s in the Bible.


The hard part is, yeah, one more?


Audience Member:      Sorry. Hendriksen says, I heard there was mention that baptism does not wash away sins but only the blood of Christ. I was reading Acts 22:16 and it says, and now what do you intend? Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins calling on the name of the Lord.


Well, grammatically as you look at that, and I don’t have my Greek Bible in front of me so I’ll just have to give a quick answer on that. Grammatically when the main verb and the participle and everything is put in place, it is the believing upon Christ is the main thing. The supporting, subordinate part of that sentence is the being baptized.


The other thing I would say to that is is what we talked about earlier. You can’t take one verse and now interpret the entire rest of the Bible. You’re gonna end up in some really wacky stuff. You might as well be a foot washing church. You might as well require women to wear head coverings. I mean we can just keep going down this list. If you just take one passage and read that into that entire rest of the Bible, you’re reading your Bible backwards. Upside down. In a dark room. With your eyes closed. With blindfolds on. At midnight. You have to take the wheel rest of the Bible to bring to bear upon this one verse. And the entire rest of the Bible could not be any more crystal clear. You ought to be able to be saved in the middle of the desert without any water. You ought to be able to be saved while you’re being crucified upon a cross. You ought to be able to be saved in a barrel. You know. The hull of the Mayflower. I mean, you know wherever you are. Where there’s no water. So that would be my answer to that. Thank you for the question. But that’s a false gospel. Because that’s a false addition to the truth of the gospel. The fact is, believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. There’s not a drop of water in that verse. For by grace you’ve been saved through faith and not of yourselves. It is the gift of God. Not as a result of works lest any man should boast. There’s not a drop of water there. We can come up with a thousand verses here. And then one little verse. But if we grammatically understand what’s the main verb and what’s subordinate it becomes very clear. But thank you for the question.


Audience Member:      And he says thank you for answering.


Wow. Well, thank you. do we know where he’s from?


Audience Member:      He didn’t say.


Okay. Tell him you gotta step out of the darkness and come into the light. We’re not gonna come after ya. Let us know if you’re watching. And it’s encouraging to us. We actually love to see – look at your comments. It especially encourages us to know where you’re watching from. Please let us know that.


Let me close with a word of prayer. Father, thank you for the work of your grace within our heart. That you’ve not just merely massaged the external façade of our life. But that you’ve done a deep work within us and you have cut us down into our heart and you’ve given us a new heart. Thank you for this spiritual circumcision that you have performed. I pray that we would now walk in a manner worthy of our calling. In Christ’s name, Amen.     


Dr. Steven J. Lawson

Dr. Steven J. Lawson is President and founder of OnePassion Ministries, a ministry designed to equip biblical expositors to bring about a new reformation in the church. Dr. Lawson hosts The Institute for Expository Preaching in cities around the world. Dr. Lawson is also a Teaching Fellow for Ligonier Ministries, where he serves on its board. Moreover, he is Professor of Preaching and oversees the Doctor of Ministry program at The Master’s Seminary, where he also serves on its board. Dr. Lawson is also Professor in Residence for Truth Remains, a work designed to promote and proclaim God’s written Word. Further, Dr. Lawson serves as the Executive Editor for Expositor Magazine published by OnePassion Ministries.