Paul the Apostle, Law, and Sin, Part 3

The Pauline Concept of Law and Sin

The Pauline Concept of Law and Sin

Abrahamic Covenant

Paul establishes in Romans 4 the principle by which Man is saved:  “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (4:3, Gen. 15:6).  In response to Abraham’s imputed righteousness, God covenanted with Abraham to make his progeny a great nation, from which flows Election.  The sign of Election would be circumcision.  It was never circumcision but faith that saves, Paul notes (4:9-13), but circumcision is an action which those who enter into the Covenant, as a class, were required to take as a sign of acceptance and commitment.  Moreover, circumcision literally marked Israel as God’s designated Chosen People.

However, “they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6).  “They which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7, see Rom. 9:8).  “But they have not all obeyed the Gospel” (Rom. 10:16).  Since national Israel on the whole rejected Christ, the “branches” of unbelief have been “broken off,” leaving only the “root,” which nevertheless remains “holy” (11:16-20).  Gentiles who are of Abraham-like faith now benefit from Israel’s present loss by being “grafted in” to the elect “root”; whereas Jews, if they believe, can be “grafted in again” (Rom. 11:23-29).  Since Christ has now fulfilled the Law (Rom. 8:3 f., 10:4), believing Gentiles, who have not literally replaced Israel, have yet been added to the class of the Elect through faith.  Circumcision, originally an act of commitment to the Covenant, has been nullified through Israel’s unbelief and breaking of the Law (Rom. 2:25, 1 Cor. 7:19, Gal. 6:13).  Now all those who through faith are “circumcised in the heart and spirit” (i.e., converted) may enter into the Covenant (Rom. 2:26-29, 3:30, 4:11 f.; Gal. 5:6, 6:15; Eph. 2:11; Php. 3:3; Col. 2:11), and be saved, whether Jew or Gentile (3:21-31, 9:30).  Just as Abraham received the Covenant through faith, those who believe enter in by faith, which is by nature an exercise of free will:  having heard the Gospel preached, they have believed, and called on the Lord to be saved.

God made a covenant with Abraham, confirmed by circumcision

  • The covenant made, Genesis 17:9-14
  • Abraham circumcises his household, Genesis 17:23-27
  • Isaac circumcised, Genesis 21:4

Circumcision continued in Moses’ Law

  • Gershom threatened because he was not circumcised, Exodus 4:24-26
  • God confirms circumcision in Moses’ Law, Exodus 12:43-50
  • Circumcision commanded on the eighth day after birth, Leviticus 12:1-3
  • God will circumcise the people’s hearts in restoration after judgment, Deuteronomy 30:1-10
  • The people circumcised before entering Canaan, Joshua 5:2-9

God considers true circumcision to be “of the heart”

  • Circumcision of the heart, associated with the “Great Commandment,” Deuteronomy 10:12-22
  • A call to repentance, circumcision of the heart, Jeremiah 4:3-9
  • Israel is uncircumcised in heart, Jeremiah 9:26
  • God will give Judah a heart to know him, then shall they return to him wholly, Jeremiah 24: 7
  • God will take Israel’s stony heart and give them a heart of flesh, Ezekiel 11:19
  • Israel called upon to make themselves a new heart, Ezekiel 18:31-32
  • God will take Israel’s stony heart and give them a heart of flesh, Ezekiel 36:26-27
  • No one uncircumcised in heart shall enter God’s sanctuary, Ezekiel 44:6-9
  • Tear your heart, not your garments, Joel 2:12-13

Circumcision not required for Gentile Christians

  • Paul and Barnabas dispute with those who teach circumcision as required for salvation, Acts 15:1-5
  • Peter argues against burdening Gentile Christians with circumcision, Acts 15:6-11
  • James proposes compromise: to abstain from idolatry, fornication, and blood (Noahide Laws), Acts 15:13-31
  • Paul opposes compliance with circumcision in favor of “a new creature,” Galatians 6:12-16
  • True circumcision is of the heart, Romans 2:25-29
  • Do not be circumcised, for it means nothing, 1 Corinthians 7:18-20
  • The main advantage in Judaism is that they received God’s revelation, Romans 3:1-2

© 2013 Paul A. Hughes

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