1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. For me to write the same things to you is not tedious, but for you it is safe. 2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation! (Philippians 3:1–2, NKJV)
Identifying enemies of the truth and warning against those who destroy souls with their false doctrines and sinful conduct is not pleasant. Undoubtedly, that is why many refuse to do it. They prefer to let others do the hard work of exposing “the enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18; Eph. 5:11). Yet, Paul said doing so was necessary for the spiritual safety of the Philippian Christians. He did not see this work as bothersome, and he would not neglect it (v. 1). He gives three warnings concerning those “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is their shame—who set their minds on earthly things” (Phil. 3:20). 1) Beware of dogs. Isaiah described the irresponsible watchmen (leaders) of Israel as “dumb” (silent), lazy, and “greedy” (Isa. 56:10-11). There are still people who scavenge for the souls of the innocent, like pack dogs. Jesus warned of these “dogs” (Matt. 7:6). 2) Beware of evil workers. You will know the false prophets who speak in the name of the Lord by their fruit when they stray from the commands of God (Matt. 7:15-21; Psa. 119:115). 3) Beware of the mutilation. Those who bound physical circumcision on Gentiles for salvation were mutilators who put confidence in the flesh instead of the Spirit (Phil. 3:3; Gal. 6:12-13; Col. 2:11-12). That is what error always does and why it must be resisted (Jude 3).
16 And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. 17 From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. (Galatians 6:16–17, NKJV)
The nation of Israel was chosen by God, fulfilling a promise He made to Abraham to make his seed a great nation (Gen. 12:2; Deut. 10:22). God told Israel through Moses, “‘Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel” (Exo. 19:5-6). Sadly, Israel often rebelled against God. Their crowning rebellion was rejecting the promised Messiah. As a result, the kingdom was taken from Israel and given to Christ’s kingdom, His church (Matt. 21:42-45; Heb. 12:28; 1 Pet. 2:4-10). Because His kingdom is “not of this world,” physical descend and possessing land do not define “the Israel of God” in this gospel age. Faith, not flesh, identifies the children of God (Israel) now (Rom. 2:25-29; 9:6-8). No longer does physical lineage and circumcision of the flesh by the Law of Moses. Now, the gospel of the cross of Christ produces and identifies God’s chosen people (Gal. 3:26-29). Paul experienced great physical suffering for Christ and the gospel. Yet, God’s peace and mercy rested on him and on all who walk according to the standard of truth, the gospel, that God’s Spirit revealed through the apostles and prophets of Christ (Gal. 3:1-3; 5:7, 16-26).
12 As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. 13 For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. (Galatians 6:12–13, NKJV)
Paul warned the Galatians of those whose teaching was perverting the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:6-10; 2:4-5; 3:1-3). Their false doctrine of binding the Law of Moses on Gentile Christians was damning them and endangering many others (Gal. 1:8-9; 5:1-7). Paul summarized his letter to the Galatians with a scathing indictment of these opponents of the truth. They had hidden agendas (Gal. 2:4). 1) To escape persecution (v.12). These Jewish Christians were avoiding persecution by compromising (corrupting) the gospel. Fellow Jews would not persecute them “for the cross of Christ” if they showed solidarity over the Law of Moses. Changing our teaching to avoid persecution is a sin against Christ and the truth (Matt. 24:10-12; 1 Pet. 3:). 2) To boast in their accomplishment (v. 13). Like the hypocritical Pharisees who gloried in making proselytes, these Jewish Christians boasted in the circumcision of the Gentiles (Matt. 24:15; Phil. 3:4). They “zealously courted” the Gentile Christians, only to enslave them to their error to do their bidding (Gal. 4:17). We must only boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and never in personal accomplishments over others (Gal. 6:14-15; Rom. 15:17-18). Our faith must be free of personal agendas that tarnish the cause of Christ and His disciples.
1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. (Galatians 5:1–2, NKJV)
Sinners are freed from sin by Jesus Christ (John 8:36). Christ frees us from sin when we believe and obey His gospel from the heart (Rom. 6:17-18). However, freedom in Christ does not mean freedom from living by the very gospel pattern (“form of doctrine,” Rom. 6:17) that frees us from sin. Liberty in Christ is not carte blanche to decide what is truth for ourselves (truth is not self-defined). Liberty in Christ freed Jews and Gentiles from the “yoke of bondage” produced by trying to be “justified by law,” as illustrated by demanding the circumcision of the flesh for salvation (Gal. 5:3-4). The plan of salvation, what is moral, what is sound doctrine, true worship, and everything else that “accords with godliness” must harmonize with the revealed gospel of Christ (1 Tim. 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13). We are free from sin in Christ to live by the light of His truth and have fellowship with God (1 Jno. 1:5-7). The liberty to which the gospel calls us is not “an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal. 5:13). Put plainly, liberty in Christ does not permit us to practice sin (see Gal. 5:16-26, where Paul explains this). Liberty in Christ compels us to live by “faith working through love” by “obeying the truth” of the gospel (Gal. 5:6-7; Jno. 8:31-32).
1 Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek. (Acts 16:1–3, NKJV)
Are we willing to follow the example of Timothy? Some debate whether Jews would consider Timothy to be Jewish or Gentile (New American Commentary: Acts, Polhill, 343). Regardless of that, as the uncircumcised son of a Jewish mother, Timothy’s gospel influence among Jews would be diminished if not nullified (v. 3). His circumcision was not compulsory; it was voluntary for the progress of the gospel. Paul did not want uncircumcised Timothy to be a potential barrier to the spread of the gospel and the salvation of souls. Neither did Timothy. His willingness to become “all things to all men” and be circumcised is an example of not becoming a stumbling block by refusing a personal right or liberty (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Timothy did not have to be circumcised to be saved (Acts 15). But, as a companion of Paul and Silas, it was expedient for him to do so. Are we willing to accept pain and forego our “rights” for the sake of the gospel? Or, are our personal liberties more precious to us than trying to save some? Timothy continues to be “an example to the believers” (1 Tim. 4:12).
11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses (Colossians 2:11–13, NKJV)
The apostle of Christ treats physical circumcision as wholly inferior to “the circumcision of Christ,” which takes place when the sinner is “buried with Christ in baptism.” Cutting off the foreskin of flesh was a figure of what actually happens in the circumcision of Christ – a cutting off of sins performed by divine hands. God performs a spiritual operation (“the working of God,” v. 12) when the sinner is baptized by cutting away the sinner’s sins and giving that person newness of life (Rom. 6:4). This passage explains that the circumcision of Christ (the cutting away of sin) takes place when the sinner is buried with Christ in baptism, and results in the forgiveness of sins (v. 13). The circumcision of Christ is as real as the sinner upon whom the operation is performed. Without this operation of God the sinner remains dead in sin. With it, he or she is forgiven and alive in Christ. To deny the necessity of water baptism to be saved is to deny the removal of sins that occurs by the circumcision of Christ.
11 And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised. (Romans 4:11–12, NKJV)
God commanded circumcision of Abraham as a “sign of the covenant” He made with him (Gen. 17:1-14, esp. 10-11). The apostle calls attention to that historic moment. Like a seal marking authenticity, Abraham’s circumcision served as a sign or indicator “of the righteousness of the faith which he had” while still uncircumcised. This distinction is notable and confirms the blessings of Abraham are offered to all (Jews and Gentiles). It also confirms that faith is the means of justification, not the works of the law of Moses (Rom. 4:13). Verse 12 says Abraham is the father of those who “walk in the steps of the faith” he had before circumcision. Walking is active. Thus, faith is active – it involves steps. Faith obeys God, just like father Abraham. He did not earn the blessings of the covenant through keeping law. He was sinner, saved “by grace, through faith” (Rom. 4:1-5). His (obedient) faith expressed his trust in God, and his faith was accounted to him for righteousness. Obedient faith is the only kind of faith that saves us (Jas. 2:17, 20-24).
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. (Romans 2:28–29, NKJV)
The gospel of Christ makes no fleshly distinctions when identifying the chosen people of God. The text before us is very clear. The gospel of Christ does not identify a Jew by outward circumcision, but by the inward circumcision of the heart. In Christ “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). God’s “chosen generation” today is His church that is composed of Christians, whether Jew or Gentile in the flesh, it makes no difference to God (1 Peter 2:9; Acts 15:9). Scripture says, “nor are they all children because they are the seed of Abraham” (Romans 9:7). Any doctrine that elevates any race of people above another has distorted the gospel of Christ and the salvation it extends to all, regardless of whether they are a Jew or a Gentile (Romans 1:16-17). Fleshly Israel was told to “circumcise the foreskin of your heart” (Deuteronomy 10:16). In Christ, it is the circumcision of Christ – the cutting away of “the body of the sins of the flesh” (which occurs in baptism) – that identifies a person as a child of God (Colossians 2:11-13).
17 But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. 18 Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. 20 Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. (1 Corinthians 7:17–20, NKJV)
What Paul taught about marriage in verses 10-14 applies a foundational and universal principle he now explains in verses 17-22 (24). (That the believer is not being under bondage to the unbeliever in verse 15 applies another foundational principle, verse 23.) Non-sinful relations and conditions of life do not affect one’s salvation in Christ. Therefore, it is right and good to “remain in the same calling” in which you were called (v. 18-20). Circumcision illustrates this, which is inconsequential concerning salvation. What matters is keeping God’s commands, and circumcision is not commanded for salvation. Similarly, marriage is not commanded for salvation, but it is allowed. We conclude with certainty that Paul is not giving permission to remain in a sinful relationship when one becomes a Christian, including sinful marriages (Rom. 6:1-2; Matt. 19:9). Every sinful action and sinful relationship must be repented of and abandoned when one becomes a Christian (Acts 2:37-38; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Thess. 4:1-5).
11 Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh—who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands—12 that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:11–13, NKJV)
The fleshly circumcision that identified Israel as God’s covenant people was an operation performed “in the flesh by hands” (v. 11). Removing the foreskin was a foreshadowing of the “circumcision of Christ,” which is “the putting off of the body of the sins of flesh” – the operation God performs when a sinner is “buried with Him (Christ, jrp) in baptism” (Colossians 2:11-12). Baptism is an action of faith in the power of God that saves the sinner and raises him or her to spiritual life in Christ (Colossians 2:12). Whether you are a Jew or Gentile in the flesh does not matter. In this gospel age, one is not a child of God until the circumcision of Christ occurs in the heart, as the sinner is buried with Christ in baptism and God forgives his or her sins by the blood of Christ (Colossians 2:13). That is when the sinner rises from spiritual death to walk in newness of life.