Art Toombs Ministries

Online Bible Commentary

Circumcision of the Heart
Romans 2:17 Indeed you are called a Jew, and rest on the law, and make your boast in God, 18 and know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law, 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law. 21 You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say, "Do not commit adultery," do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law? 24 For "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you," as it is written. 25 For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? 27 And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law? 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 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. (NKJV)







The Apostle Paul wrote the letter of Romans to the church in Rome while in Corinth, Greece for three months in A.D. 56-57.  The letter was written to both Jew and Gentile (non-Jew) believers.

In the preceding passages Paul wrote of the judgment of God upon those who practice sin. Paul was referencing non-Christians, not Christians.

Now, in this passage Paul turns his attention from non-Christians to Jewish Christians. He begins by writing “you are called a Jew” he is referring to their heritage, as being from Judah, and not their religion (v. 17a). Jews were brought up to “rest on the law”, to read, hear and obey the Scriptures, what we now call the Old Testament. (v. 17b).

Jews were required to “boast in God, know His will, and approve the things that are excellent, being instructed out of the law” (v. 17c-18), The law was their instruction manual, much like the Bible is the instruction manual for Christians.

Next, Paul contends that these Jews “are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of babes, having the form of knowledge and truth in the law” (vv.19-20). Because they have read and heard the law, they are confident that they can lead and teach others.

Paul then asks the Jews a series of questions about how they live their lives. Do they obey what they teach? He asks “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that a man should not steal, do you steal? You who say, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples” (vv. 21-22)?

Paul knows that men are not able to live a life in obedience to God, in their own strength. The Scriptures were written, not in expectance that men would obey them for a lifetime but, to point out sin. God knew that men would fail and that a Savior, Jesus Christ, would be sent.

Next, Paul calls out these Jews who teach others but do not live up to their own teaching. He writes “You who make your boast in the law, do you dishonor God through breaking the law” (v. 23). Their sin, all sin, dishonors God.

He writes "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you," quoting Old Testament verses (Isaiah 52:5, Ezekiel 36:20.23). The verse in Isaiah refers to how God was dishonored when God’s people were disobedient and had to be taken into captivity by the Assyrians. The verses in Ezekiel refer to how God was dishonored when God’s people were disobedient making it seem that God was not all knowing, all present, and all powerful, which, of course, He is.

When we are disobedient to God, we dishonor God. We are disobedient to God when we sin. This is harmful to our relationship with God and to God’s honor in the eyes of those watching.

Paul then gives an example of disobedience that dishonors God. Circumcision was “indeed profitable”, good, because it was a symbol of obedience to God (v. 25a). However, “if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision” (v. 25b), the circumcision no longer was a symbol of your obedience.

Paul writes “if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision” (v. 26)? This refers to the “uncircumcised”, the Gentiles, and how their obedience will be counted by God as circumcision, of the heart.

Next, Paul writes “And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law (v. 27)? The obedient Gentile Christian is able to judge the disobedient Jewish Christian, even though the Jewish Christian possesses the written law and is circumcised. While we are not to judge others, Christians are allowed to correct, or judge, their fellow Christians who have gone astray.

Paul continues this passage by writing “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh” (v. 28); Physical circumcision does not make this disobedient Jew a part of God’s people.

Paul writes “but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart” (v. 29a). We become a part of God’s people when we have a circumcision of the heart from the Holy Spirit. This happens when we become a Christian.

He writes “In the Spirit, not in the letter” (v. 29b). When we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and become a Christian, we receive a new, circumcised, heart controlled by the Holy Spirit and not controlled by trying to live up to the letter of the law in our own strength. It is this circumcised heart that helps us to be obedient.

Paul concludes by writing “Whose praise is not from men but from God” (v. 29c). Our obedience does not gain salvation but is a result of salvation. While the disobedient may receive the praise of men, the obedient receive the praise of God.