by Lim Chong Teck
Consider the questions asked in these passages: “For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 Therefore, if an uncircumcised man keeps the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision? 27 And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law?” (Rom. 2:25-27).
If an uncircumcised man who keeps the righteousness of the law and fulfills the law is counted for circumcision, therefore does it mean that if a non-Christian keeps the moral laws of the New Testament, that person is considered as being saved?
A simple answer would be a Christian is not saved by works but by faith in Christ through grace in obedience to God.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9).
“But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness” (Rom. 6:17-18).
Therefore without faith in Christ, no one through works can be saved.
But let’s take a more detailed look at Rom. 2:25-27.
In Genesis 17: 1-14 the covenant of circumcision was made by God with Abraham and his descendants. The Law of Moses was given to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 5:1-3 and not their forefathers. But the law of circumcision was incorporated into the law and became a component in the law of Moses. (Lev. 12: 3.)
Jesus rightly concluded in John 7:22 “that Moses therefore gave you circumcision (not that it is from Moses, but from the fathers), and you circumcise a man on the Sabbath.”
However the institution of the Mosaical law (old covenant) was solely for Israelites; the Gentiles continue to be under the law of conscience.
“for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them” (Rom. 2:14-15).
The Gentiles were not subjected to the Law of Moses which includes the law of circumcision. Therefore the Gentiles by keeping the moral laws in the Law of Moses would have been deemed to have kept the law and would have been accounted as Jews who were circumcised and kept the law. Note that Paul said that a real Jew accepted by God is one who is circumcised and kept the law. It is the doer of the law that is justified. (Rom. 2:13.) This principle the same would apply to the Gentiles if they were a doer of the law.
The ten commandments was the first time God’s law was given in a written form, the hand of God writing on two tablets of stone and subsequently the rest of the written covenant. Prior to the Law of Moses, God gave oral laws to the patriarchs.
The separation of the people into Jews and Gentiles came when the Law of Moses was given, between circumcised and uncircumcised. (Jer. 9:25-26.) The establishment of the Old Testament was solely for the Israelites. The Israelites were to have these written laws written in their hearts. (Deut. 6:6, 11:18.)
Similarly the Gentiles would have the oral teachings passed down through the patriarchs and other appointed men to be kept in their hearts. These teachings would be termed as law of the heart in Romans 2:14-15 and together with law of conscience would be their guide.
The Gentiles being under the law of the heart and the law of conscience would have been deemed to have kept the law if they have kept the moral laws that God had given through the oral teachings of the patriarchs and the law of conscience working together.
The Jews and Gentiles each had laws given to them that run concurrently, where there is no law there is no sin. (Rom. 4:15.) Both the Jews and Gentiles were not able to keep the laws given to them. Romans 3:23 tells us “all have sinned” (both Jews and Gentiles) “and fall short of the glory of God.”
But God provided for man to be redeemed back to Him. “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8). And through Him we have atonement, justification and reconciliation. (Rom. 5:9-11.)
A Christian is not saved by works but by faith through grace in obedience to God. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is,
and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him”(Heb 11:6).
“For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘The just shall live by faith’” (Rom 1:17).
Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and all those mentioned in Hebrews 11 will be justified by God through their faith in obedience to God. This is made possible by Christ whose blood is a sacrifice once for all time (Heb. 9:26) that all who lived by faith is imputed to be righteous by faith (Rom. 4:20-24) through the blood of Christ (Heb 9:15.)
Therefore it is not circumcision or uncircumcision that justifies but it is God who justifies by faith through Christ.
“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, 26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Of works? No, but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the deeds of the law. 29 Or is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also the God of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith” (Rom. 3:23-30).
Finally when Christ died on the cross He took away the law (old covenant) and brought about the unity of the Jews and Gentiles. They are both subject to the law of Christ, the New Testament. (Eph.2:11-16.) Hence both are now subjected to the gospel of Christ. (Rom. 2:16.)
Paul told us in Romans 1:16 that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, both to the Jews and the Greeks. It is imperative that the gospel be preached to all men so that all may have faith in Christ and render obedience to Him and be saved.
As such we conclude that the deeds of the law cannot save a person and without faith in Christ one cannot be saved.