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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Circumcision of the Heart - Part 3

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,

The circumcision of the heart results in a glorious life and freedom from slavery to trespasses. “Trespasses” (παράπτωμα - paraptōma, par-ap´-to-mah) refer to a false step, blunder, “a lapse from uprightness, a sin, a moral trespass, misdeed, is translated ‘fall.’” Prior to conversion we are out of step with God. Earlier in Colossians Paul stated our need to be reconciled because we were out of sync with God (1:20). Here Paul points to the wobbly walk we have apart from Christ. We walk wobbly because we walk with a heavy burden of sin. This existence is characteristic of the one who is, “being dead in your trespasses.” This is the person who needs to be born of the Spirit; born again; saved from their sin. And God provides by grace a way for this person to be forgiven their trespasses; the cross (2:14).

But there is a further application to be made here. Paul refers to “the uncircumcision of your flesh.” Notice he states a twofold condition. He states of the Colossians, “And you, being dead in your trespasses . . .” That’s the first condition which needs salvation. He then uses the conjunction “and” to add a further condition. The “and” can refer to something concurrent or an addition, or it can refer to something that follows. Paul says, the second condition is, “and the uncircumcision of your flesh.” That is the second condition and that needs the circumcision of the heart. Sometimes these two aspects are dealt with concurrently or at the point of accepting Christ as Savior. But at other times there is a lapse of time before the flesh is recognized as an unwanted unreliable tenant and then is circumcised.

The flesh is like a tenant who crosses the line of boundaries. The flesh doesn’t stay in its place but barges into your living space. Like a rude boorish visitor who comes in and takes over like they own the place, eating your food, wearing your clothes, turning your TV to the channels it likes, and just taking over. The flesh is a pest and makes your life miserable once you accept Jesus into your life. Why? because your flesh intrudes on your every attempt at conversation with Jesus. When you want to go out with Jesus the flesh is an unwanted presence. When you want to celebrate with Jesus, the flesh crashes the party. You get sick and tired of the flesh’s constant presence. But he’s persistent and powerful and wont’ go away. You try to get rid of him but he just won’t leave you alone. The flesh can be an oppressive bully. Jesus can and will step in to free us from the bully flesh. He will help us to drop the flesh like a bad habit. He will help us to throw the flesh off like a smelly shirt. Jesus will circumcise our flesh away from us.

The flesh is also very deceptive. It influences us in subtle ways that hinder our walk with Jesus. The flesh tempts us to be self-confident. It tricks us into thinking we can do it ourselves in whatever we are doing, even good things for Jesus. This leads to let downs. At times we live an up and down existence as Christians. We walk wobbly as Christians. It’s as though we are still dead as we attempt to live right but in our own fleshly power. Life is a struggle living in the flesh in our own strength (e.g. Rom. 7:24). We are dragged down by trespasses, or stumbling and bumbling as Christians.

When I was a kid I had a toy called a gyroscope. It was a round circular object inside another circular ring with a rod in it. Both spun independently of each other. You could spin it like a top and it made for a fun past time. You’d spin it and watch it to see how long it would last before it ran out of energy and toppled over. It was especially fun to watch it spin close to the edge of a table until it slowed down and fell crashing to the floor. My point is when we try to live as Christians in our own strength we are like that gyroscope. We may spin fast and perfectly at first, but eventually we will run out of energy and topple over into sin. We need to be energized by the Lord, by the Holy Spirit in particular. His energy does not dissipate. We, because we are humans, need regular re-fillings of the Spirit (e.g. the early church filled with the Spirit in Acts 2 and then again in 4:31). The Holy Spirit is always ready to oblige us. Our flesh gets in the way of this. That is why it needs to be circumcised out of the way.

A Subsequent Work?

It should be mentioned that not everyone accepts the idea of the possibility of this circumcision of the flesh or baptism with the Holy Spirit as being a subsequent work to salvation. Not everyone accepts that a second work of God’s grace in the heart is a valid proposition in the Bible. They state that a person receives the Holy Spirit at conversion and that the baptism with the Holy Spirit is conversion. But there is good scriptural evidence to show the reality of a second work of God in the believer. The second work of God in the believer is also confirmed in the personal experiences of believers.

Jesus told His disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they received the “Promise of My Father” which He described as “power from on high” (Luke 24:49). He breathed on the disciples and commanded them to “Receive the Holy Spirit” at the end of the gospel (John 20:22). This imperative of Jesus confirms the ones He spoke to were born again or had received the indwelling Holy Spirit prior to the empowerment Jesus was speaking about that was fulfilled in Acts. Can there really be any realistic doubt that the disciples were not born again after the resurrection of Jesus at the end of the gospels?

In Acts Jesus clarified that the Promise of His Father and this power was linked to the Holy Spirit coming “upon you” (Acts 1:4-5, and 8). The fulfillment of this empowerment occurs in Acts 2 and was subsequent or after the conversion of the disciples. This empowerment is referred to as the baptism with the Holy Spirit (e.g. Acts 19:4-5). It is also described in terms of a purifying of the heart (Acts 15:8-9). And it is this last aspect of this subsequent work of God that is pertinent to the circumcision of the heart.

The circumcision of the heart is God’s means to purify the heart. The heart needs to have spiritual surgery to cut away the flesh or sinful selfish nature of a person. It is the flesh that constantly contradicts and wars against the voice and will of the Holy Spirit. The flesh is like an obstinate aggravating unwanted entity that intrudes on the Holy Spirit’s conversations with us. The Spirit speaks to our heart but the flesh is there to intrude and contradict what the Spirit says. The flesh discourages us from obeying the Holy Spirit. The flesh must be surgically removed. The Holy Spirit is the surgeon. We need only present ourselves to Him for surgery to remove the flesh. That flesh, once removed, will grow back if we choose to feed it by following its tempting incitements. If we walk in the Spirit we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh and we will experience victory and an empowered life (e.g. Gal. 5:16).

The circumcision of the heart involves God providing us with a new aliveness where we live victoriously over the momentary lapses where we succumb to the enticing of the flesh. There always remains the potential or possibility of falling because we are never immune to temptations. But if we do sin Jesus remains our Advocate (1 John 2:1f).

We can live victoriously in this life. Victory is the product of living “together with Him.” It is a life where we exalt in God’s forgiveness. God forgives all our sins at conversion. And He will even cleanse our hearts from our fleshly sinful nature as we walk with Him. That work is ongoing too. We will never in this life be free from the possibility of sinning. And in all likelihood there will be times when we sin. We will sense that within as any sin or fleshly behavior grieves the Holy Spirit. Therefore this is not sinless perfection. But it is a life of victory over fleshly lapses due to spiritual immaturity.

God created humanity in His image (Gen. 1:27). God’s plan and purpose for humanity is to be like Jesus (Rom. 8:29). The serpent tempted Eve with the prospect of becoming like God (Gen. 3:5). The serpent took God’s holy plan of Christlikeness and warped it; desecrated it with a sinful selfish proud motivation. You can’t achieve God’s purposes by relying on the sinful nature; or on the flesh (Gal. 3:1ff.). That is because the fleshy sinful nature is inherently sinful and at war with God (Rom. 8:7). The flesh is always warring and competing against God for control and rule. There can be only one Lord or Master in our heart and life. Therefore the heart needs to be circumcised and the flesh removed from power.

The flesh or sinful nature has a proclivity to proudly assert itself as “God.” The flesh is always trying to take the place of God. It is the flesh that wants us to rely on the Law or ritual so that it can say, “See what I have done. See what I have accomplished.” That is a religious mindset. That is the flesh. The gospel is all about what God has done in Christ. We relate to God on the basis of His grace and provision for us. The perfect holy life involves loving God supremely because of what God has done for us. We love God supremely out of thanks. We love others sacrificially as a way to offer God an appreciative offering of our love for Him. We present ourselves in full surrender to God because we have been bought by Him (1 Cor. 6:19-20). We belong to God; He is Lord of our lives (Rom. 10:9-10).

Have you experienced the circumcision of your heart by Jesus? Are you a wobbly Christian? Do you struggle with an unwanted tenant within who intrudes and pushes you around like a bully? Jesus wants to free you from such wretchedness. He wants to cut your flesh away. He wants to help you throw off your flesh and have a freer closer relationship with Him. He wants to circumcise your heart. Seek Him and ask Him to cut your flesh away. Throw your flesh off and let it follow as a defeated foe in your victory procession in Christ.

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