N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 12 (Circumcision of the heart, Part 6)


N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplish our salvation.

Rom 2:25-29, Part 6 [JFG]

(Rom. 2:25-29 ESV)  25 For circumcision [the mark of a Jew] indeed is of value if you obey the law [Torah], but if you break the law [Torah], your circumcision becomes uncircumcision [of the heart under Deu 10:16 and 30:6].  

26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law [Torah], will not his [physical] uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision [or the heart]?  27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code [Torah] and circumcision but break the law [Torah].

28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.  29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter [merely knowing Torah rather than obeying Torah]. His praise is not from man but from God.

Joel [JFG]

We have to cover Joel 2:28-32a, because the NT authors repeatedly cite to this passage:

(Joel 2:28-32a ESV)  28 “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  29 Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.

30 “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke.  31 The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes.  32 And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”

At Pentecost, Peter declared this prophecy fulfilled. We generally skip ahead to Acts 2:38, ignoring almost all of Peter’s sermon. But this is the passage that Peter both began and ended with. And it’s the passage that Paul relies on in Rom 10. That is, the two passages we rely on to teach the Five Step Plan of Salvation are both based on this passage in Joel! It just might be important.

Notice that we again see the image of the Spirit being poured out — like water from a pitcher. This promise is to “all flesh” — not just Jews — and equally on men and women. By Joel’s time, the Spirit had been on such women as Deborah (Judg 4:4) and Miriam (Exo 15:20). Most of those who received the Spirit in the OT were men, but it wasn’t just men. The change promised by Joel was not the addition of a handful of women but the full inclusion of women — no longer just a few but “all flesh,” regardless of gender, nationality, or social status.

At Pentecost, Peter declared Jesus of Nazareth to be “Lord and Messiah” (Act 2:36). “Lord” is a reference back to Joel’s prophecy, which Peter quoted at the beginning of the sermon (Acts 2:17-21). But in Joel, “Lord” translates YHWH! Peter is claiming that Jesus is God, and therefore to be saved, we must call on the name of the Lord Jesus.

Now, the theme of the sermon, based on Joel’s prophecy, is that when the Messianic age begins and the Kingdom comes, this would be marked by the outpouring of the Spirit (visible to the audience in the disciples who were preaching) and by the ability to be saved by calling on “the name of the Lord.” And so Peter tells them to be baptized “in the name of King Jesus” (Acts 2:38).

Paul says something very similar in Rom 10 —

(Rom. 10:9-13 ESV)  9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.  11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.”  12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him.  13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

V. 13 is a quotation from Joel 2:32. Paul takes “everyone” to refer to both Jews and Greeks, and “Lord” (YHWH in Hebrew) to refer to Jesus.

Now, there are those who deny that the Spirit is poured out on those who are converted today, and they try to limit the promises of the Spirit to the apostolic age, while contending that the promise of salvation continues until today. But Joel saw the two as connected, surely because he knew that circumcision of the heart is essential, and that comes only by the Spirit.

In fact, in light of these prophecies, consider —

(Tit. 3:4-7 ESV)  4 But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared,  5 he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,  6 whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior,  7 so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 

Paul says the Holy Spirit is “poured out on us richly,” a clear reference back to Joel and Isaiah. But in Titus, Paul is not speaking of those who were at Pentecost or who had had apostolic hands laid on them. He is speaking of “us” — all followers of Jesus — and this is why they had become heirs of eternal life. He ties receipt of the outpoured Spirit to salvation — but then, he’d read Joel.

In fact, Paul says in 1 Cor —

(1 Cor. 1:2 ESV) 2 To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: 

That is, he defines the “church” as “all those who … call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is a plain reference to Joel 2:32a, which Paul considers to define who is saved, once God revealed Jesus to be Lord and King (Messiah or Christ).

Of course, the salvation doesn’t come merely by calling on the name of Jesus as Lord. As Paul says in Titus, those saved are saved by the washing and renewal of the Holy Spirit.

What does the Spirit do? Well, if you’ve read the Law and the Prophets, you know that the Spirit circumcises hearts so that we may love God with all our hearts and souls, and so that we’ll no longer be too stubborn to submit to God and will instead be obedient to his commands.

That is, the tiresome arguments over the meaning of good works by Christians in their salvation are resolved by the OT passages on the Spirit and the circumcised heart. We are commanded to obey God and honor his commands, but we cannot comply by ourselves. We need his help so that our hearts are transformed from hearts of stone to hearts of flesh, to hearts marked as belonging to God by being circumcised by God’s Spirit.

But we receive the Spirit so that we’ll be obedient. We don’t earn salvation and we don’t earn the Spirit. But having received God’s wondrous, mysterious, precious gifts — like a pearl of great price or a field with treasure buried in it — we give up everything for the sake of the Kingdom.

(Deut. 10:12-16 ESV)  12 “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul,  13 and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?  14 Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it.  15 Yet the LORD set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day.  16 Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.”

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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3 Responses to N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 12 (Circumcision of the heart, Part 6)

  1. Dwight says:

    We probably don’t regard the covenant between man and God enough. In our agreement with God there is the promise of the HS as well as the remission of sins. The HS like salvation is anot act of mercy and grace by God. Those who walk in the Spirit will live by the Spirit and produce spiritual fruits.
    To Abraham a bargain was struck in God will be with Israel if Israel is with God, except God still remembered Israel even as it wandered from God, it was his child, but more importantly it was through Israel that salvation would come to the world.
    1 Cor.1:2 reflects the truth of the church or congregation who are all those who “call upon the name of the Lord” and this is regardless of time or place.

  2. David says:

    It would seem that Joel 2:30, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” was the apostle’s prooftext to show that when the Messiah and Spirit came, the ceremonial laws of Moses would be irrelevant.

  3. Profile photo of Jay Guin Jay Guin says:


    I agree. Just posted some thoughts expanding on yours as a main post.

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