Understanding Circumcision Through Faith Assignment
“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.”
To whom shall I speak, and give warning, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken: behold, the word of the LORD is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it.
“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.”
Circumcision is a symbol of separation from the world, of purity, and of loyalty to the covenant. It provides the powerful metaphor of “circumcision of the heart,” which designates a heart that is committed to God and is inwardly set apart to God, rather than being stubbornly resistant. Circumcision of the heart evidences salvation and fellowship with God.
When Jesus Christ established God’s new covenant, he fulfilled the requirements of the old covenant. It is not necessary for Gentile believers to be circumcised, since they are incorporated into the people of God through faith in Christ. One must turn in confidence to God and his promises, lay aside natural strength and the customs of the world, and live a new life by faith.
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. …
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.
He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well,
Since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.
Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness.
For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs,
1 Corinthians 7:19
For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. …
For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
“Unlike the Noahic covenant with its rainbow sign, which depends totally on God to fulfill its blessings, the Abrahamic covenant with its circumcision sign depends on active faith obedience of the human partner to initiate the sign that activates its blessing. Without the sign a male forfeit his right to belong to the covenant community under God’s blessings. That sign of identification in the flesh has been replaced in the church by baptism for both men and women.
Circumcision in the Old Testament and baptism in the New Testament are signs and seals of justification by faith that precedes them, and both represent the inward work of the Spirit to circumcise the heart and to place us in Christ’s crucified and resurrected body. Abraham kept the covenant sign and secured the covenant blesssings for his decendents. Neither circumcision nor baptism justifies; they signify justification and acknowledgement of Abraham’s God, who raises the righteous through faith in his promise” (Waltke/Yu, pg 320).