Ephesians 2:11-16(HCSB)11 So then, remember that at one time you were Gentiles in the flesh—called “the uncircumcised” by those called “the circumcised,” which is done in the flesh by human hands. 12 At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah. 14 For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, 15 He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. 16 He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it.
There is a clear movement from the bloodlines of ethnic separation to the unifying bloodline of Christ in Ephesians 2:11–16. We have to be sure to see the biblical foundation for this way of thinking, and for this Christ-exalting vision of oneness and harmony among alienated and hostile ethnic groups.
In the Old Testament, God divided humanity into two “racial” groups: Jews and Gentiles. God’s intent was for the Jews to be a kingdom of priests, ministering to the Gentile nations. Instead, for the most part, the Jews became proud of their status and despised the Gentiles. Jesus Christ put an end to this, destroying the dividing wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14). All forms of racism, prejudice, and discrimination are insults to the work of Christ on the cross.
What Paul is addressing in these verses is the centuries-long divide between ethnic Jews and all the other ethnic groups of the Near East called Gentiles. God himself had chosen Israel from all the peoples of the world.
Genesis 12:1–3(HCSB)The Lord said to Abram: Go out from your land, your relatives, and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make you into a great nation, I will bless you, I will make your name great,and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. }He had focused almost all of his special, saving, self-revealing work on this Jewish people for two thousand years (from Abraham to Christ). He allowed the nations to walk in their own ways. Acts 14:16(HCSB) In past generations He allowed all the nations to go their own way. And yet he had told Abraham, the Father of the Jews, that through him and his offspring, “all the nations of the earth would be blessed”.
Genesis 12:3(HCSB)I will bless those who bless you, I will curse those who treat you with contempt, and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you
There is a dividing line between the era of bloody separation and the era of blood-bought reconciliation and that line is the cross of Christ, and in this text that line is drawn between verses 12 and 13. Ephesians 2:12-13(HCSB)12 At that time you were without the Messiah, excluded from the citizenship of Israel, and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus, you who were far away have been brought near by the blood of the Messiah.
God aims to create one new people in Christ who are reconciled to each other across racial lines. Not strangers. Not aliens. No enmity. Not far off. Fellow citizens of one Christian “city of God.” One temple for a habitation of God. And he did this at the cost of his Son’s life. We love to dwell on our reconciliation with God through the death of his Son. And well we should. It is precious beyond measure—to have peace with God Romans 5:9-10(HCSB)9 Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath. 10 For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by His life!
Hear this! God ordained the death of his Son to reconcile foreign people groups to each other in one body in Christ. This too was the design of the death of Christ. Think on this: Christ died to take enmity and anger and disgust and jealousy and self-pity and fear and envy and hatred and malice and indifference away from your heart toward all other persons who are in Christ by faith—whatever the race whatever the culture!
These designations,these racial divides as Paul points out, are fleshly and say nothing about the heart condition of those who partake in them. In other words, the Jews were causing division within the church over whether or not men ought to be circumcised in the flesh. In Acts 16:3(HCSB)3 Paul wanted Timothy to go with him, so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all knew that his father was a Greek, Paul had Timothy, circumcised. Timothy was half-Jewish, and Paul circumcised him so that he would not be a hindrance as they sought to reach out to unsaved Jews. Although the Bible did not require Timothy to be circumcised, it was something he did willing for the sake of reaching the Jews. However, as Paul states without a doubt in Galatians, circumcision does not aid either salvation or sanctification in Christ. Of course, the incident with Timothy does not directly apply today because Christians need not be circumcised in order to reach unbelievers, whether Jews or Gentiles. Philippians 3:(HCSB)2 Watch out for “dogs,” watch out for evil workers, watch out for those who mutilate the flesh. 3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who serve by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh— 4 although I once also had confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; 6 regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless. 7 But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. 8 More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of Him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them filth, so that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith. 10 My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, 11 assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead.
Paul being the good Jew that he was, gave his credentials in verses 4-6, and before that explains that it is confidence in the flesh. After his credentials he says they are worthless like dung compared to knowing Christ.
Paul take sit further in Galatians when he speaks of those who are disturbing the pure gospel saying circumcision is the way to holiness by cutting it all off and be super holy!
Galatians 5:1-12(HCSB)Christ has liberated us to be free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery. 2 Take note! I, Paul, tell you that if you get yourselves circumcised, Christ will not benefit you at all. 3 Again I testify to every man who gets himself circumcised that he is obligated to keep the entire law. 4 You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace. 5 For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. 6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love. 7 You were running well. Who prevented you from obeying the truth? 8 This persuasion did not come from the One who called you. 9 A little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough. 10 I have confidence in the Lord you will not accept any other view. But whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty. 11 Now brothers, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished. 12 I wish those who are disturbing you might also get themselves castrated!
The principle of circumcision is a matter of the heart not the flesh. In severe contrast to the racial bigotry of the Jews of Paul’s day, the circumcision that God is concerned with is the circumcision of the heart.
Deuteronomy 10:16(HCSB)16 Therefore, circumcise your hearts and don’t be stiff-necked any longer.;
Deuteronomy 30:6(HCSB)6 The Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love Him with all your heart and all your soul so that you will live.
Jeremiah 4:4(HCSB)Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, men of Judah and residents of Jerusalem. Otherwise, My wrath will break out like fire and burn with no one to extinguish it because of your evil deeds.
In fact, the sign of circumcision was really nothing more than that: a sign.
Romans 4:11(HCSB)11 And he received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while still uncircumcised. This was to make him the father of all who believe but are not circumcised, so that righteousness may be credited to them also. When a Jewish person was circumcised in the flesh, it was an outward sign of what their parents hoped would become an inward reality. Though the sign was performed outwardly, the reality was manifested inwardly. This is why Paul is able to say, in Romans 2:28-29 (HCSB)28 For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, and true circumcision is not something visible in the flesh. 29 On the contrary, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart—by the Spirit, not the letter. That man’s praise is not from men but from God. Hence, no one can claim a more favorable status in the eyes of God due to any sign made in the flesh, but rather the reality that is manifested in the heart.
Furthermore, those who would hope, by their circumcised flesh, to call themselves by the title “circumcision” are without warrant unless they are truly circumcised of the heart. There is nothing efficacious about the outward symbol in and of itself. The animosity that existed between the Jews and the Gentiles was so profound that the gospel was often hindered from reaching the Gentiles abroad. Paul’s message is primarily about the gospel and how Christ broke through those barriers to reach the Gentiles.
Paul is discussing the role of the Old Testament Law as it relates to Christianity. He argues that Jewish circumcision is only an outward sign of being set apart to God. However, if the heart is sinful, then physical circumcision is of no avail. A circumcised body and a sinful heart are at odds with each other. Rather than focus on external rites, Paul focuses on the condition of the heart. Using circumcision as a metaphor, he says that only the Holy Spirit can purify a heart and set us apart to God. Ultimately, circumcision cannot make a person right with God; the Law is not enough. A person’s heart must change. Paul calls this change “circumcision of the heart.”
This concept was not original with the apostle Paul. As a Jew trained in the Law of Moses, he was certainly aware of this discussion from Deuteronomy 30. There, the Lord used the same metaphor to communicate His desire for a holy people: “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6). Physical circumcision was a sign of Israel’s covenant with God; circumcision of the heart, therefore, would indicate Israel’s being set apart to love God fully, inside and out.
John the Baptist warned the Pharisees against taking pride in their physical heritage and boasting in their circumcision: Matthew 3:9(HCSB)9 And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones! How exactly do you suppose they boasted in it? How did they check?
True “children of Abraham” are those who follow Abraham’s example of believing God (Genesis 15:6). Physical circumcision does not make one a child of God; faith does. Believers in Jesus Christ can truly say they are children of “Father Abraham.” “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29).
God has always wanted more from His people than just external conformity to a set of rules. He has always wanted them to possess a heart to love, know and follow Him. That’s why God is not concerned with a circumcision of the flesh. Even in the Old Testament, God’s priority was a spiritual circumcision of the heart: Jeremiah 4:4(HCSB)Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, men of Judah and residents of Jerusalem. Otherwise, My wrath will break out like fireand burn with no one to extinguish it because of your evil deeds..
Both Old and New Testaments focus on the need for repentance and inward change in order to be right with God. In Jesus, the Law has been fulfilled (Matthew 5:17). Through Him, a person can be made right with God and receive eternal life (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9). As Paul said, true circumcision is a matter of the heart, performed by the Spirit of God. God has reconciled us to Himself regardless of our race, ethnicity, gender, heritage, location, or nationality. He chose us and none for that matters, therefore none of that should matter to us IF we are in Christ.
Ephesians 2:14-16(HCSB)14 For He is our peace, who made both groups one and tore down the dividing wall of hostility. In His flesh, 15 He made of no effect the law consisting of commands and expressed in regulations, so that He might create in Himself one new man from the two, resulting in peace. 16 He did this so that He might reconcile both to God in one body through the cross and put the hostility to death by it.