What happens to a Jew when his heart is circumcised? Does he boast in his Jewish identity after the flesh, or does he boast in Christ?
In Philippians 3, Paul warns his brethren in Christ to beware of those who boast in Jewish identity after the flesh. Paul says, “Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh.” ~ Philippians 3:2
This was Paul’s opinion of the Judaizers, (Jews in the flesh who were persecuting Paul and opposing his ministry to the Gentiles).
Not all Jews were persecuting Paul’s ministry, but those who were zealous for the Jewish religion were. They were evangelizing the Gentiles (Acts 15:1; Galatians 1:7) attempting to convert them to “Jew’s religion” (Galatians 1:13-14), a term employed by Paul in the book of Galatians.
Paul himself had been among their ranks, and Paul knew their motives, and calls them dogs, and contrasts them to the truth that is in Christ, saying, “look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh…”.v 2-3
Paul then lists his credentials as a Jew after the flesh:
- Circumcised on the eighth day,
- Of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin.
- A Hebrew of Hebrews.
- As to the law, a Pharisee.
- As to zeal, a persecutor of the church
- As to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Paul’s qualifications were many. Yet Paul did not consider any of these things of any value before God.
Paul continues, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” v. 7-8
In compassion to his relationship with Jesus, Paul considered his credentials as a Jew in the flesh as a “total loss.”
This is how a “true Jew” esteems faith in Christ.
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. ~ See Philippians 3
Paul did not despise his heritage as a Jew, He often used it to promote the gospel. What Paul rejected was any boasting in his Jewish identity after the flesh.
Though Paul had all the outward qualifications as a Jew, circumcised in the flesh, he did not know God until his heart was circumcised, at which time his understanding of what God values began to change.
God values a circumcised heart, and this has always been true even under the Old Testament.
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds.” ~ Jeremiah 4:4
God’s appeal to the Jewish people through the prophet Jeremiah was “circumcise your hearts.” This message to the ancient Jews is the same message that was preached, by way of the gospel, to the Jews in the New Testament. Consider the words of John the Baptist to the Pharisees and Sadducees who were supposed to be the spiritual leaders in Israel.
You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. ~ Matthew 3:7-10
The message of John the Baptist to the corrupt leaders in Israel was to circumcise their hearts (Bear fruit in keeping with repentance). Their physical ancestry mattered not to God, for God was able to raise up descendants of Abraham from rocks if he so chose to.
Being Jewish in the flesh matters not to God. What matters is the heart. This comes through clearly in Jeremiah 24, where we read of a vision that God gave Jeremiah of two baskets of figs.
After Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon had taken into exile from Jerusalem Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, together with the officials of Judah, the craftsmen, and the metal workers, and had brought them to Babylon, the Lord showed me this vision: behold, two baskets of figs placed before the temple of the Lord. One basket had very good figs, like first-ripe figs, but the other basket had very bad figs, so bad that they could not be eaten. And the Lord said to me, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” I said, “Figs, the good figs very good, and the bad figs very bad, so bad that they cannot be eaten.” Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Like these good figs, so I will regard as good the exiles from Judah, whom I have sent away from this place to the land of the Chaldeans. I will set my eyes on them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not pluck them up. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord, and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart. ~ Jeremiah 24:1-7
Notice that God interprets the “good figs” in Jeremiah’s vision as those among the ancient Jews whom he would give a heart to know him. God says, “they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart.”
Keep in mind this is a reference to some of the Jews, not all. It is a reference to a remnant, who would do more than have an outward Jewish identity. They would have a heart towards loving God, and knowing him. They would have a circumcised heart.
Now notice what God says of the the Jews who would not circumcise their hearts:
But thus says the Lord: Like the bad figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten, so will I treat Zedekiah the king of Judah, his officials, the remnant of Jerusalem who remain in this land, and those who dwell in the land of Egypt. I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a reproach, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them. And I will send sword, famine, and pestilence upon them, until they shall be utterly destroyed from the land that I gave to them and their fathers.” ~ Jeremiah 24:8- 10
The Jews in Jeremiah’s day, who loved wickedness, and whose hearts were not circumcised, were exiled from the land, and even worse, they were exiled from God’s presence and their memory was being cut off.