Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Point of Circumcision

The Point of Circumcision

How did the Jews miss the point of what circumcision was all about?

"But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth - you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you. For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God." Romans 2:17-29 (ESV)

Circumcision, the physical modification of the the appearance of the body, became in itself equal to righteousness before God. Regardless of individual, specific sinful behavior, the Jew who was circumcised expected praise and favor from God. Being circumcised became the equivalent of justification by God as being righteous.

However, Paul describes circumcision as merely an outward sign of one's deep, inner desire to honor and obey God. Paul goes so far as to say that even without the physical sign of circumcision, a person who faithfully kept all of God's commands would gain God's praise. Essentially, according to Paul, the label of "Jew" identified a person who, inwardly, with all of their deepest desires, considered God as their greatest treasure...someone who was willing to have themselves "cut off" from the world as long as they could enjoy praise and favor from God alone.

In contrast to physical circumcison, how is circumcision "of the heart" acquired, and what does it mean?

"But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God." Romans 2:29 (ESV)

INWARDLY: en (fixed position or instrumentality, resting in) and kryptos (concealed, private); from krypto (to conceal by covering)

Being a Jew is an inner, invisible motivating force. Any behavior or actions seen outwardly are merely the result of something that is deeply hidden within the person. Behavior is the RESULT, not the CAUSE, of inward desires or emotions.

MATTER OF THE HEART: kardia (the thoughts and feelings of the mind); from kar (the heart)

Circumcision is a physical, visible representation of the hidden thoughts and feelings of a person, in the same way that a book or letter is a physical, visible representation of the inward thoughts and feelings of the author. Without the written words, without the circumcised body, the hidden, inward thoughts and feelings of a person would not be seen by others, although they still would exist.

The implication is that only God can detect the inward, hidden thoughts and feelings of a person. If those thoughts and feelings tend toward love, honor and thankfulness for God, then the person will be praised by God, and God will give them mercy and grace. If those thoughts and feelings tend toward hate, dishonor and ignorance of God, although masked by outward actions of apparent righteousness, the only mercy and grace that the person will experience will be at the hands of finite humans. God will not be deceived or pacified by mere outward behavior.

"Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn." Deuteronomy 10:16 (ESV)

STUBBORN: orep (the nape or back of the neck, or the back) and qasha (to be dense or severe); from arap (to bend downward, to droop or drip)

Physical circumcision requires a person to cut off a portion of their body that covers and protects a vital organ. The act is painful and permanent and outwardly observable by others. The body heals quickly, and the person must adapt to the loss, but it serves as indisputable evidence of the person's social status.

Spiritual circumcision requires a person to put away barriers and arguments against God. The spiritually circumcised person treasures God as Supreme Authority, Sole Savior and closest Friend. All secrets, all passions, all desires, all doubts and all fears are surrendered to God for His judgement, mercy and grace. No defensive walls or barriers are needed, or desired, by the person who allows God to circumcise his heart.

Circumcision of the heart requires a person to become "unstubborn": to make their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and desires tender towards God, willing to allow Him to shape their life as He determines.

The process is painful and permanent, and the person must adapt to both losses and gains, but it serves as indisputable, although hidden, evidence of the person's spiritual status with God.

"And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live." Deuteronomy 30:6 (ESV)

At the core of spiritual circumcision is love for God, desiring His care and consideration with every thought and feeling, and every breath.

"Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem; lest my wrath go forth like fire, and burn with none to quench it, because of the evil of your deeds." Jeremiah 4:4 (ESV)

EVIL: roa (badness, as marring); from ra'a (to spoil, to break into pieces, to be good for nothing)

Humans naturally tend to feel independent of God, unwilling to submit to His authority and too proud to depend upon His providence. Humans have a spiritual covering over their hearts that shields them from outside influence or control. We tend to stiffen our spiritual necks, refusing to bow in submission, resisting God's care and consideration.

The result of our natural hardness toward God is a life that becomes spoiled, broken into worthless pieces, and eventually becoming good for nothing and no one.

In His ultimate wisdom, God knows that His care and consideration is ultimately best for us, and His ultimate love requires Him to bestow only His care and consideration...nothing at all. His righteous wrath and promise of damnation is ultimately the best thing for a creature that resists His care and consideration. Here on earth we all, believer and unbeliever, experience a huge portion of God's mercy and grace. Despite His unconditional, universal care, some of us will persist until death denying our need for Him. In the end, we all get what we desire: an eternity with Him, or an eternity without Him.

Without God's compassionate care and consideration, an eternity without Him will be as painful and destructive as unquenchable fire.

"Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh - Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart." Jeremiah 9:25-26 (ESV)

Cutting one's foreskin away or cutting the corners of one's hair accomplishes the same spiritual result: nothing.

Without a spiritual love for God, all the outward expressions of righteousness or religious zeal cannot prevent or pay for our natural tendency toward wickedness and rebellion.

Study questions provided by Serendipity House and Lifeway Christian Resources, "Who We Really Are", a study of excellence based on Romans 1-7.

Image provided by 96488489@N00, Creative Commons license