A current phenomenon occurring with increasing frequency is sometimes called “cutting,” or self-mutilation. Many young people in particular practice this perversion, which often seems to be performed by the victim of some horrendous crime such as incest. It may also be related to drug activity or demonic influence. We rightly shudder at such behavior. It is instructive, then, to realize that Paul condemns all who would trust in their works for salvation as the “concision.” The Greek word means “cutting off” or “mutilation.” Paul makes a play on words with circumcision. The “circumcision” were once those who received a cutting off of the flesh as an outward sign of their covenant relationship with God. Those who were thus marked acknowledged that God had given them His holy law and that they were intended to keep it. But with the advent and death of Christ, Paul explains that “by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal 2:16), and anyone who thinks that he may be righteous before God through his own good works stands condemned of an act equivalent to self-mutilation. Everywhere we turn, the unregenerate world applauds individuals they perceive to be good. “She’s a good person,” they observe approvingly, “a good neighbor and friend; he’s an upstanding citizen, a moral pillar in the community. They are generous and give to many worthwhile causes.” All of those things and more may be true—and certainly it is better to behave that way than to engage in stingy, mean, or criminal behavior. But if they account those actions as righteousness before God, they are dripping with blood from self-inflicted cuts.
“Beware of the concision,” Paul admonishes believers. Their self-righteousness is contagious, their decency deceptively alluring. The religion of good works beckons the unwary with enticing persuasion. “Ye shall be as gods,” Satan lied to Eve. And what could be more seductive than the thought of self-righteousness, of being godlike? The human heart contains no greater hope than self-righteousness; in some form, man clings to his own goodness when he has abandoned everything else; and nothing is harder to drive from the human heart and mind than the idea that God is pleased to save those who are good, or those whose measure of goodness outweighs the bad, or at least those who have some good intentions, or . . . No matter how sinful a given individual is, he still looks within himself for some merit that might persuade God not to condemn him. The wise Solomon observed that “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” (Pro. 20:6). And the Lord Jesus warned His hearers: “Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward” (Matt. 6:2), i.e., the praise of men, but not of God. Yet Paul affirms that true believers “rejoice [“boast”] in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:3).
Self-righteousness is repugnant to God and should be to every true believer, who is to make his boast in righteousness of Christ. “Beware of the concision.” Beware of self-merit. “For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3), Paul warns the Roman saints. Apart from the saving, sanctifying work of Christ, “there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:12). May we share Paul’s testimony: “[May I] be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” (Phil. 3:9).
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