Understanding the Principle of Spiritual Circumcision
In the Bible God revealed to us a spiritual principle and experience called circumcision. As with all spiritual truth God first revealed it in a physical picture in the Old Testament. In order to understand the Spiritual truth that we are to apply and experience in our Christian lives, it is first necessary to look at the dynamics of circumcision as God revealed them in the Old Testament.
The prevailing idea in most churches is that God’s primary objective is to forgive our sins so we can make it to heaven for eternity. While salvation and the forgiveness of sin is a fundamental objective in God’s plan for His creation, and heaven is our ultimate destination, this falls way short of the complete work God desires to do in and through you and me. It was never a thought in God’s mind that we would find forgiveness only to be left in bondage to sin. It wasn’t God’s intent that you keep repeating a cycle of sin and forgiveness over and over. Here is God’s perfect vision for you…
“For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” Rom. 8:29
Jesus’ death on the cross accomplished much more than simply the forgiveness of sins. It made it possible for you to become like Christ. In order for you to become Christ-like you must get rid of the old flesh nature that is sinful. This is where the spiritual principle of circumcision comes in. Circumcision is the cutting away of the flesh.
God Reveals His Covenant To Abraham
“This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner–those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Gen 17:11-14 NIV
When God revealed Himself in a covenant to Abraham He gave Abraham a sign of that covenant … Circumcision. Many times we read right past significant issues never realizing the spiritual message God is trying to impart to us. Almost any thinking person would have to ask a simple question here. Why circumcision? What does that have to do with anything? Why is God so concerned about an extra little piece of skin?
It brings to mind the scripture where God commands the children of Israel not to eat any leaven or even to have it in their house during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:15). Does God have something against yeast?
In both of these instances God seems to be pretty serious about the people’s obedience to His commands. In both cases the people who didn’t obey were to be cut off from Israel–left out of the covenant. This is serious business in God’s eyes.
In the big scheme of things we can be pretty sure that having yeast in our house or having an extra little piece of skin isn’t a big offense to God. Therefore God must have had something else in mind when He gave these commands.
Jesus asked the Jews an important question. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? John 3:12
God first established spiritual truth with natural laws. Once the principle of the thing was understood, He could make the jump to spiritual truth and application.
Throughout the Old Testament God spoke to Israel in picture form. His commands, although righteous, also carried a deeper prophetic message. The seven yearly Feasts, the temple, all the sacrifices and the minute detail of the elaborate costume of the high priest all bore more significance than the Jewish people (and most Christians) actually knew. So it is with the issue of circumcision.
God has a spiritual truth for you and me to enter into. In order for us to understand it He had to give us a physical demonstration so we could see it. Before we look at the dynamics of circumcision revealed to Abraham, let’s see what the New Testament has to say about the issue.
” A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code…” Rom. 2:28-29
“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” Col. 2:9-14
Notice these two New Testament scriptures speak of a “spiritual circumcision.” This is what God is after. The Old Testament law was simply an example and picture to help us understand what God was really after … a heart that was circumcised to him.
What is the significance of circumcision and how do we become spiritually circumcised? Let’s look.
First of all we need to understand the significance of circumcision from God’s point of view. He gave the natural or physical sign to illustrate spiritual truth, so we need to start there.
From our passage in Genesis 17:11-14 we can glean some important facts.
Circumcision was not optional. It was to be KEPT!
Every person had to be circumcised, even foreigners who lived with the Jews.
It was THE sign of the covenant.
Circumcision was to be performed on the 8th day after birth.
Failure to be circumcised was regarded as a breaking of the covenant and was grounds for being “cut off” or removed from the people of God.
To these obvious statements we might add a few other observations.
A person didn’t circumcise themselves. They yielded to circumcision.
Circumcision was the “cutting off of the flesh.”
Circumcision was done in a private, personal part of the body
That which was cut off is unnecessary.
Circumcision was a point of consecration.
It concerned the cutting away of flesh.
From the two New Testament passages we can ascertain that:
God wanted our hearts circumcised
The Spirit performed spiritual circumcision.
Let’s begin to apply these principles to the spiritual circumcision.
Circumcision Was Not Optional
Under God’s Old Testament illustration circumcision is not optional. It is something that the Jews had to submit to. If God’s pictures are to convey any truth at all they must remain consistent. I believe that God was telling us that spiritual circumcision is not an optional part of Christianity. Not to go through spiritual circumcision would be a breaking of God’s spiritual covenant, just as failure to be circumcised was a breaking of His natural covenant. We need to understand this spiritual principle and yield our lives to it.
How does this apply to our spiritual lives? First, many people make a profession of faith in Christ, but their lives never changed. By its very nature, salvation is a life altering experience. It isn’t a mental assent to live better or turn over a new leaf. It is a personal, spiritual encounter with God whereby a person’s very nature is changed from the inside out. These passages in Romans 2 and Colossians 2 point out that the spiritual circumcision is performed by the Spirit of God.
When a person is born again a circumcision takes place. Something of the old flesh nature is cut away and the Spirit of God is imparted. Where no life change take place there has been no spiritual circumcision and thus no salvation.
A Sign Of The Covenant
Circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant. It was the seal, so to speak. The New Testament gives us a “sign of the covenant” and even links it to the old sign. We have just looked at Col. 2:9-14. Notice how circumcision is the common subject, both physical and spiritual; but also notice how Paul brings in baptism and says that a circumcision takes place at that point. Baptism thus becomes the sign of the new covenant, just as circumcision was the sign of the old covenant. Paul says something happens in our lives when we yield to baptism in faith.
I have sought God on the issue of baptism for a number of years and I am convinced that indeed a spiritual work takes place in a person’s life when they yield to baptism in understanding, faith and obedience.
Performed On The Eighth Day
There are several reasons for this. Physically and medically it has been shown that the blood clotting agents in the male blood stream reach their peak on the eighth day after birth and then diminish afterwards to normal levels. This was the practical side of the issue. A baby circumcised some 3000 years before modern surgical methods would not bleed to death.
Spiritually I believe that God knows when we are ready to have something of our flesh cut off. God doesn’t want us to “bleed to death” spiritually, so He works in out lives to prepare us for His dealings.
Another reason is more directly related to spiritual reality. Circumcision wasn’t performed right after birth. Likewise God doesn’t start our Christian life out by cutting deeply into our hearts. While there is a fundamental change that takes place when we get saved, we usually go through a nurturing period where God is very tender and loving.
As we begin to grow and mature God begins the work of spiritual circumcision. Circumcision is God cutting off that part of us that is unnecessary. It is a deep and personal thing and cuts to the very core of who and what we are.
The number 8 in the Bible is the number of new beginnings. Throughout the Bible God did things in series of sevens, seven being the number of divine completion. After God brought His purpose to completion there was a new beginning. This is significant in the context of circumcision for two reasons.
The first is that nobody was ever circumcised before they had experienced one Sabbath. (See the booklet “Keeping Sabbath” in this series of messages for a better understanding of the principle of spiritual Sabbath.) Cutting off our fleshly nature is not easy. We were born with a sense of self-preservation. Nobody likes to deny himself or herself. God did not expect a man to circumcise himself. He was to submit to it. Experiencing spiritual Sabbath is resting in God’s ability to get the job done in our lives. We stop striving and working and we begin to place our faith in God to do what we could never do.
One of two problems exists today in this area of cutting off our flesh. Either we’ve never been told it is necessary, or we set about to do it on our own. Spiritual circumcision is something that we must rest in. It came on the 8th day after a day of rest.
The 8th day also signifies a new beginning. Something is different after circumcision. It is the start of a new thing in our lives. Sometimes people come to know the Lord and are really excited about God, but after a while they get stagnant. Newness comes after the old has been cut off. And the reverse is true also. There are some new things we can’t enter into until we’ve submitted our lives to spiritual circumcision.