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Monday, September 4, 2023

Christian Circumcision

Most everyone is aware that in Old Testament times beginning with Abraham God required that the males among whom he was in covenant relationship with be circumcised or else be cut off (excluded) from among his people.  We first read about this commandment when God made a covenant with Abraham in Gen. 17 (read especially verses 10 through 14).  It was a fleshly circumcision (v. 11), it was to "be a sign of the covenant between me and you" (v. 11 NKJV), it was to be done on the eighth day after birth (v. 12), and for any male that was not circumcised "that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant." (v. 14 NKJV)

Those who were not fleshly descendants of Abraham were not totally excluded from having a spiritual relationship with God among the Jews.  They could become what we call proselytes as shown by Exodus 12:48, "And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it." (NKJV)  To be uncircumcised was to be unclean and unholy.

Circumcision was to be a sign of a relationship, of a covenant that was being kept, not of one being disregarded.  It was meant not to be just an outward act but an act that tied the heart of man to the heart of God.  True an 8 day old child knows nothing of any of this but as he grew up and was taught it was to have meaning to him, importance.  Even so, it did not work out that way.  God says in Jer. 9:26, "All the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart." (NKJV)  Fleshly circumcision did not set them apart to God as it should have for their heart was not into a relationship with God where they would allow God to rule over them.

Paul says of the Jews of his own day that they sought "to establish their own righteousness" (Rom. 10:3 NKJV) and did not submit to the righteousness of God.  Of Israel of old he says they pursued the law of righteousness but did not attain it because they sought it by works rather than by faith (Rom. 9:31-32).  The circumcised of the Old Testament were to "walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised." (Rom. 4:12 NKJV)  This the majority of them did not do.  There is an important lesson in this that needs a little explanation.

One must obey God.  Disobedience is sin and will condemn a man.  The question is not whether or not a man ought to obey for he must.  Many see an emphasis on obedience as being the same as trying to obtain heaven by works.  That is a misguided view of the matter.  The real key to the matter is within the heart of man with the question being "why am I obeying?"  Is it because I think I can keep the commandments of God so well that he will almost owe me heaven (salvation by works) or is it because God gave me a command, I have faith in him to know that he knows best, I love him, and thus my heart is such that I am driven to obey?  It becomes a matter of the heart.  Never let yourself be misled by one belittling obedience to a command.  In reality, such a person is encouraging rebellion against God and has a heart that is not right with God.

This brings us up to the era of Christianity.  When Christ died on the cross, was buried, resurrected, returned to heaven, and then sent the Holy Spirit to the apostles on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 an old era ended (the Law of Moses) and a new era began (the era of Christianity).  The Jews continued to circumcise their male children but it was no longer required in the law of God.  "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters." (1 Cor. 7:19 NKJV)  "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love." (Gal. 5:6 NKJV)  "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation." (Gal. 6:15 NKJV)

However, while circumcision of the flesh no longer matters there is a circumcision that does matter and always has--the circumcision of the heart.  "Circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God." (Rom. 2:29 NKJV)  "For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh." (Phil. 3:3 NKJV)  The "we" in this passage are Christians.  Yes, circumcision matters--circumcision of the heart, not circumcision of the flesh.  The heart must be right in God's sight.

In Col. 2:9-13 Paul talks about spiritual circumcision when he says:

"For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in him, who is the head of all principality and power.  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, 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.  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." (NKJV)

Forgiveness of sins is found in Christ.  Salvation is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 2:10).  The phrase "in him" is used 3 times in the passage just quoted.  According to Paul elsewhere we are "baptized into Christ Jesus" placing us "in him." (Rom. 6:3 NKJV--see also Gal. 3:27)  It is in Christ where forgiveness takes place but we enter into Christ by the process of "putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ." (Col. 2:11 NKJV)  Paul in Rom. 6:3-8 (see especially verses 5 and 6) teaches that in baptism our old man dies "that the body of sin might be done away with" (Rom. 6:6 NKJV).  We have here parallel passages teaching the same thing both passages having been written by the same man inspired by the Spirit of God.  One could really summarize all of verse 11 by simply saying, "In him, you were forgiven." 

The phrase "with him" is also used 3 times in this passage of Col. 2:9-13.  We were "buried with him in baptism" (compare with Rom. 6:4), we were "raised with him" (compare with Rom. 6:4-5), and we were made "alive together with him" (compare with Rom. 6:4--the last phrase).  Also, take a close look at Rom. 6:8-11 on being made alive to God and compare it to Col. 2:13.

The last phrase of our passage (Col. 2:9-13) confirms the connection of this spiritual circumcision with baptism.  Paul says, "having forgiven you all trespasses" (Col. 2:13) which ties in perfectly with Peter's command to the crowd on the Day of Pentecost when they were told to repent and be baptized "for the remission of sins." (Acts 2:38 NKJV)  We have forgiveness in both passages for when sins are remitted they are done so by God's forgiveness of them.

To develop this line of thought further we have Peter's statement in 1 Peter 3:21 where he says, "There is also an antitype which now saves us--baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God), through the resurrection of Jesus Christ." (NKJV)  Baptism is "the answer of a good conscience toward God" thus a matter of the heart.  Let us take a look at some examples showing this.

On the Day of Pentecost when Peter required those who believed to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38) if you were a believer could you have turned your back and walked away and said “I am a believer and I can have a good conscience (a good heart) even if I defy Peter’s Holy Spirit inspired command?”  Could you have done that and been truthful?

When Paul was directed by Ananias to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins (Acts 22:16) could Paul have walked away from it disregarding the command and said “my conscience (my heart) is clean?”  How about the Philippian jailer (Acts 16) who could have said "see here it is already past midnight, let's just put this thing off (baptism--Acts 16:33) to a more convenient time when we are not all so worn out?"  Yes, circumcision is a matter of the heart--what kind of heart?  I think the answer is clear enough when you give it a little thought about what happened versus what could have happened.  The good heart acted, obeyed the command, and was baptized.

In fleshly circumcision, a part of the physical body was cut off and cast away.  In spiritual circumcision (the circumcision of Christ) the old sinful man (sinful in heart, mind, and actions) is cast off and replaced by a new man of the spirit.  Christ does this but he uses means to do it.  By his word faith is created, the heart is changed, and then in baptism the old man is put away and one arises from the water to walk in newness of life (Rom. 6:4-5), a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). 

This is not water salvation but salvation by faith for Paul says in Col. 2:12, one of our principle verses, "you also were raised with him through faith in the working of God," (NKJV) raised, that is, after being "buried with him in baptism." (Col. 2:12 NKJV)  There is no such thing as a scriptural baptism that is not first preceded by faith.  Without faith in what God, not man, has said about baptism and faith in what God has said he will do for us as a result of faithfully obeying him in baptism, without that faith baptism amounts to nothing.  If you do not believe what God said about baptism, speaking through Peter by means of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:38, why waste your time with it?  There is no point. 

Quickly, I want to run through three or four other passages found later in the book of Colossians confirming what has been said.  In Col. 2:20 we have this, "Therefore, if you died with Christ" (NKJV) why do you subject yourselves to various things--things Paul then lists.  How and when do we die with Christ?  Paul, the writer of the book of Colossians, says in Rom. 6:3-8 that it was in baptism.  Combine that with what Paul says here in Col. 2:20 and in Col. 2:12 and you come to the conclusion, inevitably, that the Colossians were a baptized group of believers.  So, so what you might say? 

Here is the what--what if you did not die with Christ in baptism?  Well, if you didn't then don't worry about what Paul has to say (Col. 2:20) for he is talking only to those who have died with Christ.  Thus for those who claim to be Christians without baptism, the circumcision performed by Christ, parts of the Bible do not pertain to you for you never died with Christ.  You die with Christ in baptism.  You were not baptized.

Another similar passage is Col. 3:1 where the text says, "If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above." (NKJV)  Well, if you were never buried with Christ in baptism you were not raised with him (you have to be buried before you can be raised) thus you need not concern yourself with seeking things above for this passage relates to only a certain class of people--those who were raised with Christ.

Col. 3:3 is another like passage.  It says, "For you died." (NKJV)  This is not for you if you never died with Christ in baptism.  “We were buried with him by baptism into death.” (Rom. 6:4 NKJV)  I do not know of any passage in the Bible anywhere that teaches one can die to sin or die with Christ other than in baptism.

The last Colossian passage I will use is Col. 3:9-10, "Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him." (NKJV)  We have already given the passages that show us where the old man with his deeds was put off and the new man put on (read Rom. 6:3-8 again and Col. 2:11-13).

Sometimes people grow upset with the idea that God uses means to accomplish his ends.  When a text says God does a thing they seem to have the idea he must act alone--that he is not allowed to use means to accomplish ends.  If we applied that to life as we live it daily we would readily see how ridiculous that kind of thinking is.  Am I not allowed to build a house using hammers, saws, tape measures, squares, and even engage other men to help me do it?  God punished Judah but the reality is he used the Babylonians to do it (read Ezekiel).  What does this have to do with our topic?

Just this much--men seem to be determined that God cannot use baptism as a means to an end he has chosen, the end being the salvation of man.  He can use other tools if he so desires but just not this one.  Why not this one?  Because they see it as being something a man must perform and salvation is a work of God, not man.  Let me ask a question.  Who and what cleansed Naaman of leprosy in 2 Kings 5?  He was told by Elisha to go dip in the Jordan 7 times.  Naaman had something to do.  When he did it he was cleansed.

Now let us think about that just a little.  Who really cleansed Naaman of leprosy, was it the water, or was it God?  Was Naaman saved by works or by faith?  Had Naaman never heard of Elisha and had just gone down on his own to the Jordan and dipped in it 7 times with no idea of being cleansed but just dipping as in bathing would the water have cleansed him?  We all know the answer.  God cleansed him but on a condition.  What was that condition?  Faith!  Do you Naaman believe me enough (Elisha was speaking to Naaman as God's spokesperson) to go do this?  If you do you will be cleansed.  If not you will remain a leper. 

As you recall Naaman refused at first.  He wanted God to heal him merely by having Elisha speak the word--let it all depend on God, put no burden on me.  Only when time had elapsed, others spoke to him reasoning with him, and he humbled himself and gathered enough faith to obey was he cleansed.  However, one must always remember it is not the process that saves but God.  God could have cleansed Naaman any way he wanted to or not cleansed him at all.  It was God's call, God's decision.  But, once God has made up his mind as to how he wants to go about achieving an end man has no choice in the matter but either comply or rebel.  Naaman had that choice and came close to going back home the way he came--as a leper.  His change of heart leading to compliance saved him.

It is no different with baptism.  It takes a change of heart to get a man into the baptismal waters.  Jesus uses means to cleanse us and puts us to the test.  It is not only a test of obedience but also one of faith.  The man without faith will never submit to a baptism that is acceptable to God.  He may be baptized to please his family, or to join some manmade denomination, or for some other reason but until he believes the scriptures and what they say about baptism and acts out of faith in those scriptures in obedience he will never be circumcised with the circumcision of Christ.  Christ ultimately cleanses us regardless of the conditions he imposes upon us for doing so--faith, repentance, confession, and baptism being the conditions.  A man who has complied with those conditions out of faith in the word of God is a man who has experienced the circumcision of Christ.  He is a man with a circumcised heart.    

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