“For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.”
Paul takes us back to the second most important image of Jewish identity with God, (the first being the Law) and that is circumcision. It might seem odd to a 21st century Christian to grasp how important this symbol was to the Jewish people. It all began with Abraham as a sign of his covenant with God Gen. 17:1-27. This sign was so important to the Jews that “tradition taught a picture of Abraham sitting at the gate of Gehenna to insure that no circumcised person be allowed to enter perdition (Gen R xlviii).” Everett Harrison Expositor’s
We see a three aspects of how circumcision has played out in the Israel story and into faith in Jesus as Paul is giving push back onto his readers:
1. He accuses his reader of being circumcised but violating his covenant with God by breaking the Law. The sign of circumcision was a Jew’s oath to follow and obey the Law. They have broken the Law thus rendering their circumcision nullified and worthless just as their ancestors broke the Law and were charged by God through the Prophets.
2. God had desired that Israel would not only be physically circumcised but also circumcised in the heart, Deut. 10:16 “Circumcise then your heart, and stiffen your neck no more.” God desired more then just outward obedience but an inward faithfulness that was deep to the heart.
3. And finally, God promised to one day, circumcise His people’s heart. Deut. 20:6 “Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live.” This is all pointing to the day of Pentecost. By the death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, God’s people can finally be circumcised in the heart and love Him in the respect and fashion that He deserves and desires.
Inevitably, Israel violated their covenant with God and made their circumcision uncircumcision. It is by our transgression that we separate ourselves from God, and it is by His work on the cross that enables true heart circumcision for His people.