Recently Added
to Exposition of Romans:

3:9–20—Conclusion: OT confirms that humanity is under sin’s power
(January 26th 2019)
Romans 2:27–29—A true Jew is circumcised in the heart by the Spirit.

27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you
who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.
28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly,
nor is circumcision outward and physical.
29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart,
by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

These verses introduce a key theme Paul develops in chapter 9. In 9:6 Paul distinguishes spiritual Israel from ethnic Israel, and he speaks in 9:27 of the remnant of believing Jews residing within the larger population of unfaithful Jews. That theme enters here in verse 28: “no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly.” The true Jew possesses an inward faith (verse 29).

Gentiles condemn Jews
When Jonah preached the word of God at Nineveh that the city had 40 days before calamity, the king decreed that everyone fast, put on sackcloth, and turn from evil. Those Gentiles called out to God, and he spared them from disaster. Jesus said they will stand up at the judgment and condemn the Jews of his day for their callous disregard for “one greater than Jonah,” meaning himself (Luke 11:32).

In verse 27 Paul says the same thing about law-abiding Gentiles condemning law-breaking Jews in his day. Jews’ possession of the written law and their practice of circumcision make their sin all the greater, because they know God’s will but do not do it.

The word condemn may have the meaning of testify or bring condemnatory evidence when God executes his judgment against the Jews. Everett Harrison says this is a specialized use of the word “to indicate the effect created by one who surpasses another despite his inferior status or limited advantage.” As Joseph Fitzmyer expresses Paul’s meaning, “The uncircumcised pagan who follows his conscience and obeys thereby some of the prescriptions of the law will stand in judgment over the circumcised Jew who violates the law.”

A matter of the heart
Paul states in verse 29 that “a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart.” A similar idea is found in Matthew 6:2–6, where the Greek word for “in secret” is the same adjective for “inwardly” here. God sees and rewards the secret intention of a genuine heart. He judges everyone’s secrets (2:16).

Charles Swindoll asks, “Which would you prefer? An unfaithful spouse who proudly wears your wedding band, or a mate who guards your shared intimacy with his or her life but doesn’t wear a ring?” An outward symbol is useless if it does not reflect the wearer’s heart, and in this regard circumcision and a wedding band have a lot in common, Swindoll says.

This principle applies to all believers. Outward practice must align with inward profession. Faith, though inward, does not stay hidden. It’s like the fire under an active volcano. The lava of conduct reveals the hidden fire of faith. Sanctification proceeds from the inside out, from circumcision of the heart wrought by the Spirit to deepening faith and humble submission.

Old Testament background
Circumcision of the heart has plenty of OT support. Moses commanded stiffnecked Israelites to circumcise their hearts (Deuteronomy 10:16). Looking to the future he told them “your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6).

Jeremiah likewise told the people of Judah to circumcise their hearts (Jeremiah 4:4), and he accused them of being uncircumcised in heart (9:26).

For more on the contrast between the letter of the law and the Spirit, the old and the new eras of salvation, see 2 Corinthians 3:6, also Jeremiah 31:33 and Ezekiel 36:27. Fitzmyer says, “The OT idea of circumcision of the heart takes on a new nuance; it is not just a spiritual circumcision of the human heart, but one that springs from the Spirit of Christ himself.”

Robert Utley comments, “The new covenant is a development and fulfillment of the old. The people of God have always been so by faith, not lineage. They are a ‘heart people’ not ritual or racial people. Faith, not the parent, is the key.”

Divine praise
Paul plays on words. Praise is the meaning of Judah from which comes Jew. So “a Jew transformed by the Spirit would really be living up to the name he bears” (Harrison). A Jew who has been circumcised by the Spirit is a Christian. So what Paul says of believing Jews is true of all believers, even if, as Moo says, it is “only an allusion, since Paul is not so much describing a group of people as specifying what it is that qualifies a person to be a ‘true Jew’ and so to be saved.”

We praise God, often and always, for who he is—nothing new about that. But to receive praise from God—truly amazing! I wrote about reciprocal love in chapter 12. Here we have reciprocal praise. For the Father to praise his children means that he is delighting in his own workmanship. We do not circumcise our own hearts, for it requires a work by the Spirit that places us in Christ and him in us.

Jews and Gentiles who believe in God’s Son are united in one body under him as Head. These are the people God praises—every one of us.