But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.

Romans 2:29

It is the inner man that determines who is truly among the chosen people of God. In the context of Romans 2, Paul is saying that if a Gentile was obedient to God he would be an “inward Jew.” He would be uncircumcised and not a part of the covenant relationship given to physical Israel, but in terms of his relationship to God, he would be a Jew, albeit “one inwardly.” That’s why Paul says that obedience to God does not come from “through the motions” law-keeping. It comes from the heart, in the spirit. It does not come from “the letter” (the written-down Law).

Don’t misunderstand: Paul is not saying the written commandments do not (or did not) matter. He’s saying that just blindly following God’s commands without a true love for God is pointless and fruitless. The Jews kept the Law only to the extent that they used it to act superior to other nations. They were “obedient” (in the strictest sense of the word) in order to receive praise of men, not God.

On the other hand, if I seek the praise of God I will be obedient to God’s commands. My obedience will be received of God, because it will come from the heart. That is why our salvation is “not of works” (Ephesians 2:8-9), yet still requires obedience to commandments (Mark 16:16). We obey, not because the commands give life, but because the God who gave them gives life.

Paul is saying you could be born to Jewish parents, be circumcised the eighth day, and be read the Law every day from birth, but that doesn’t make you right with God. You can go to the Temple, offer the sacrifices, keep the sabbath and do all the things the Law of Moses commands, but if your heart isn’t in it, you might as well not even be a Jew (Romans 2:25).  If your heart isn’t in it, the commandment-keeping means NOTHING.


Just because I put on a baseball cap, doesn’t make me Babe Ruth.

Just because I put on an apron, doesn’t make me Julia Child.

And just because I’m dunked in water doesn’t make me a Christian.

I have to obey, yes. But I have to obey FROM THE HEART (Romans 6:17). If I don’t, it’s just vanity. I’m not saved by works. I’m saved by Grace through faith, according to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.