When faith is real, the heart is circumcised. But man cannot see the heart. He sees the body, which is why we cannot judge the heart. “People look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart,” God told Samuel (1 Samuel 16:7).
The legalism of the Pharisees judged the body because the letter of the law concerned the body. Circumcision was of the body. Worship of God that the Pharisees accepted was irrespective of the heart, meaning you could get away with rote, insincere worship. “Watch out! The time is soon coming when I will punish all those who are circumcised only in the flesh,” God told Jeremiah (Jeremiah 9:25).
That’s not to say the body is allowed free rein. “Present your bodies as a sacrifice—alive, holy, and pleasing to God—which is your reasonable service,” Paul wrote (Romans 12:1). A circumcised heart produces fruit in the body. “Be sure you live out the message and do not merely listen to it and so deceive yourselves,” James wrote (James 1:22). The fruit in the body is good works for God’s glory. They are not a religious test, however. They are not the causes of salvation, but the effects.
Hence, these teachings are not opposite, as they appear on the surface, but coexistent:
- Jesus taught we should “hate” life and renounce worldly possessions for service to God (Luke 14:25-33).
- Paul cautioned against “works” in the sense of man earning his way into heaven, justified by his righteousness (e.g., Galatians 2:16). Jesus is man’s justifier (Romans 3:26), not man himself.
Think of a stream, overflowing because the river it feeds is backed up. God is the river, you are the stream. What you who are saved give is overflow from the abundance of grace God gives him through Christ’s body.
Christianity is “lawless” in one sense. The law, which circumcises the flesh, has been fulfilled by the faith of Jesus, which circumcises the heart. Losing the testament of the law is no great loss. The “law is not intended for a righteous person” (1 Timothy 1:9). Those who don’t need the law do well without it. Those who need the law to govern their bodies need a change of heart even more.