Monday: Circumcision

One of the great issues in this conflict was circumcision. This was not a human institution (contrast Matt. 15:2Matt. 15:9). Rather, it had been commanded by God Himself as a sign of His covenant with Abraham’s descendants as His chosen people (Gen. 17:9-14).

Read Exodus 12:43-49. In addition to born Israelites, who else was supposed to be circumcised?

The Argument

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The blessings of the covenant were not restricted to born Israelites but were extensive to any slave or sojourning stranger who wished to experience it, as long as he were to be circumcised. After circumcision, the stranger would have the same status before God as the born Israelite: “He shall be as a native of the land” (Exod. 12:48, NKJV).

Circumcision, therefore, was indispensable (for a male) to be a full member of God’s covenant community. And because Jesus was the Messiah of Israel, it seemed natural that the Judaizers would insist that no Gentile could benefit from His salvation without first becoming a Jew.

Read Romans 3:30, 1 Corinthians 7:18Galatians 3:28, Galatians 5:6. What was Paul’s understanding of circumcision?

By saying that no Gentile could be saved without first joining Judaism, these men were mixing up two distinct concepts: covenant and salvation. Being a member of God’s covenant community did not guarantee salvation (Jer. 4:4Jer. 9:25). In addition, Abraham himself was saved (justified) by faith, which happened before, and not because, he was circumcised (Rom. 4:9-13). Salvation has always been by faith, whereas the covenant was a gracious provision through which God would make Himself and His saving plan known to the entire world. Israel had been chosen for this purpose (Gen. 12:1-3).

The problem, however, was that by too closely associating covenant and salvation, these believers came to view circumcision as meritorious. God’s saving grace, however, does not operate where human works operate. So, to impose circumcision on believing Gentiles as a means of salvation was to distort the gospel’s truth (Gal. 1:7Gal. 2:3-5), nullify God’s grace (Gal. 2:21), and make Jesus of no benefit (Gal. 5:2). Furthermore, it was a denial of the universal character of salvation (Col. 3:11Titus 2:11). Paul could never agree to this type of thinking.

What’s the danger of thinking that salvation comes from merely being a member of the right church?

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Source: Daily Sabbath School Lessons