In these, the closing verses of our chapter the subject of circumcision is taken up. This was the great stronghold of the Jew. He thought himself quite safe behind this fortress. Did not circumcision originate with Abraham and was it not then before the law and Moses? Was it not given to separate Israel from all other nations, and the seal of the covenant God made with them?
The Jew put circumcision in the place of faith and love and holiness. But there are some today who put baptism and the Lord’s Supper and good works in the place of real conversion to God. Therefore this lesson is an important one for our own day. The Jew is pursued into this hiding place and ferreted out, stripped of the last thread of his self-righteousness.
Four great arguments are advanced.
1. Circumcision Avails Nothing If You Are A Law-Breaker. Vs. 25.
The Jew attached saving value to circumcision. One of their Rabbis said, “Circumcision is equivalent to all the commandments of the law.” Here we learn that circumcision put one under obligation to keep all the commandments of the law. Circumcision was but one link in the chain of ordinances and commandments. If one link is broken the whole chain is useless. One might as well have no chain at all. “Thy circumcision is made uncircumcision” by the transgression of the law.
2. Practical Righteousness Is Far More Important Than Circumcision. Vs. 26.
If an uncircumcised man was able to keep the law and live righteous before God, his uncircumcision would be counted for circumcision. Practical piety means much more than special privilege. The judgment of God is based on His own standard of righteousness. Cornelius was an uncircumcised man. He was not sinless, nor was he saved but we read that “he feared God and worked righteousness” and that was more than the circumcised had. He was saved later by the hearing of faith and not by his works of righteousness but God had respect for his piety, but He had no respect for the high pretensions of those who would have condemned him for his uncircumcision.
3. Greater Privilege Means Increased Responsibility. Vs. 27.
If an uncircumcised Gentile kept the law and walked in practical righteousness he would rightly condemn the Jew who transgressed the law and yet gloried in the fact of his “circumcision” and the “letter” of the law.
The brighter the light we possess, the greater the ruin will be if we walk in darkness. The best, when it is corrupted always becomes the worst. Outward profession means nothing. We must possess. It is not creed we need but Christ, not merely ordinances but another heart, not religious teachings but a new nature, a divine birth.
4. Not The External But The Internal Counts With God. Vs. 28, 29.
Not the external form, but the spiritual reality is what God accepts. Did the Jew think that because he was a member of the chosen race, he was specially entitled to salvation—then he must know that no externalities can make a true Jew. The external seal on his body without an inward change of soul means nothing. True circumcision is that of the heart and the true Jew was the one whose praise (as the word Judah means) was not of man but of God.
We could paraphrase these verses to meet present day conditions in this fashion,—
“He is not a Christian who is one outwardly, in name only, neither is that baptism which is only outward, but he is a Christian who is really converted and has experienced the new birth by vital contact with the loving Saviour.”
Both baptism and the Lord’s supper are important, but neither of them have any saving value and woe to the unconverted sinner who trusts to them for salvation.
1. Find the first reference to circumcision in the Bible.
2. What in the last part of Galatians 6 amounts to much more than circumcision?
3. Write out the words Cornelius heard by which he and all his house were saved.
4. What, before God, counts for much more than outward privilege?
5. What three things are linked with true circumcision in Phil. 3?