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Monday, December 12, 2011

The Circumcision of the Heart - Part 1

Colossians 2:11-13 - 11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,

Are you living an up and down unstable Christian life? Do you feel pulled in two different directions when it comes to following God or following less than godly ways? Do you frequently feel as though you’ve run out of spiritual steam? If any of these questions are answered in the affirmative, this teaching on the circumcision of the heart will be of interest to you.

In Colossians Paul states the Christian is “complete in Him” (Col. 2:10). Jesus has what we need to live victoriously and abundantly in this life. But there was a problem at the Colossian church and that problem is often found in the church today.

Some at Colosse were claiming that spiritual maturity and acceptability to God was based on keeping outward rituals like circumcision. Now you might not see how this relates to your present situation but bear with me. There is something very important to see in Paul’s discussion about ritualism.

One commentary accurately states, “If someone claims to be super-spiritual because of meticulous adherence to some religious practice that believer is to be reminded that new life comes in the power of the Spirit and solely on the basis of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross ([Colossians] 2:13–15).” You do not need to be circumcised to be saved. You do not need to be baptized to be saved. All you need to do to be saved is to accept by faith the good news of the gospel that Jesus died for your sins and rose from the dead. Saving faith by nature is repentant; it turns away from sin; it does not continue to live in sin. But that is a product of your salvation not a work to earn your salvation. In faith you turn from your sins to God through faith in Jesus Christ and God then forgives your sins and gives you spiritual life by the indwelling regenerative work of the Holy Spirit.

The value of a ritual is its use as a symbolic shadow of something related to Christ and our relationship to Him. Circumcision was a badge of identification for the Jew. It represented the mark of belonging to God. It symbolized being set apart to God and was introduced by God to Abraham (Genesis 17). But the outward ritual of circumcision was never meant to be a superficial mark that didn’t include the heart condition of the one circumcised. Circumcision was always to indicate a heart stance toward God. Abraham was circumcised after God stated he was counted righteous because of his belief in God (cf. Gen. 15:6). The history of Israel indicates that there was a tendency to rely on the outward ritual of circumcision separate from a heartfelt trust in God. Circumcision was always meant to symbolize more than a mere outward sign.

The prophet Jeremiah was inspired by God to point to this deeper meaning of circumcision when he wrote:

Jeremiah 4:4 - Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your hearts, You men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Lest My fury come forth like fire, And burn so that no one can quench it, Because of the evil of your doings.”

Through Jeremiah God reminded the wayward sinful people that outward ritual separated from heart decision was meaningless and deserving of God’s judgment. Why? Because they may have been outwardly circumcised but their hearts were still full of evil and it showed in their “doings.” Through Jeremiah God exhorted, “take away the foreskins of your hearts.” Circumcision symbolized something to do with the heart.

This is what Paul was inspired to clarify to the Jewish believers in the church. The early church had to deal with transitional questions related to Judaism and the church (cf. Acts 11 and 15). How much of Judaism was to be adhered to by those in the church of Christ? Some, (known as Judaizers) were saying that salvation in Christ must include a requirement of being physically circumcised as well as adopting and adhering to other Jewish rituals and laws. But the New Testament clearly disagrees with this. Circumcision and ritual served their purpose in pointing people prophetically to Christ. The church is now to be a coming together of Jew and non-Jew gentles in Christ (Eph. 2:11ff.). The gospel is by God’s grace alone and does not include additional works (Eph. 2:1-10; Galatians 1-3). You do not need to be circumcised to be acceptable before God. You do not need any other ritual to be right with God. All you need is saving faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and LORD.

Paul was inspired by God to warn against tacking on to the gospel religious rituals and works. The Jewish rituals of sacrifice and the law were only a “shadow” of Christ (2:17). These were meant to point us to Christ (Gal. 3:24) He speaks to Jewish believers in Jesus concerning the place and true deepest meaning of circumcision when he writes:

Romans 2:28-29 - For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.

All the laws, sacrifices, ceremonies and rituals of Judaism, the entire Old Testament point to Jesus Christ (Heb. 10:7). There was and is great blessing in the Old Testament types and symbols that God used to point us prophetically to Christ (Rom. 3:1-2). There is rich revelation and understanding to be gained by a study of the Old Testament. Indeed, one cannot truly grasp and understand the New Testament without studying the Old Testament. The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed. The New Testament is the Old Testament revealed. The best commentary on the Old Testament is the New Testament. And therefore, when we want to understand the most significant aspects of Old Testament rituals, we need to look at them through the illumination of the New Testament.

Have you been relying on outward rituals that are disconnected from the reality in your heart? How is your heart spiritually? Is there a fight going on inside you? Do you feel like there’s a war within you? If so, you won’t want to miss the second part of the series on the circumcision of the heart. What does that mean? Why is it important and valuable for us to know about? That is what we will consider in part 2 of this three part series.

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