Circumcision is awesome. And dangerous—but not just for a certain member of the male anatomy. We’ll get to that part. For now, just look at all of these awesome things that circumcision seals and symbolizes:
- Circumcision is the sign of God’s covenant with Abraham, a seal of the righteousness that Abraham had by faith (Genesis 15:6).
- Circumcision is a symbol of the cleansing we need as impure sinners (Genesis 17:7).
- Circumcision is a symbol of the cleansing we have received through judgment, through the bloody removal of flesh (John 7:22-23).
- Circumcision is a symbol of the propagation of a favored race through marital procreation (Genesis 17:12). Not favored in a Slytherin-esque pure-blood way, but favored as in full inclusion into the nation of Israel, even for non-Jewish Gentiles (Exodus 12:48).
- Circumcision was a symbol of belonging to the covenant community of Israel, the recipients of all of the promises of God to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David.
And we haven’t even gotten to the New Testament yet, where the rich symbolism of circumcision finds its fulfillment and explodes into a swirling sea of indicative glories. Ready?
Circumcision’s bloody, fleshly symbolism terminated in the circumcision of the infant Christ just as the bloody, fleshly sacrifices of the Old Covenant terminated in the sacrifice of Christ (Matthew 3:15). This Christ’s (Anointed One, Messiah, Hero) name is Jesus, meaning Jehovah Saves, formally given to Him at his circumcision to show that His circumcision was for our cleansing, not His own (Luke 2:21). Circumcision, a seal of the righteousness Abraham had by faith, was fulfilled in our regeneration. As Moses commanded, our hearts have been circumcised; the dead flesh has been cut away (Deuteronomy 10:16). The Holy Spirit that indwells us (regeneration) gives us a new heart of obedience and is the seal of righteousness that we have by faith (Ephesians 1:13-14) In bewildering glory, Christ was “cut off” from the land of the living on the cross, and in Him we are circumcised. In the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ we have received cleansing through judgment. We therefore experience what was symbolized in the Old Covenant cleansing rite of circumcision through the New Covenant cleansing rite of baptism (Colossians 2:11-12). We are united to the death and resurrection of Christ by faith, symbolized by baptism, which unites us in one body, the very body of Christ, the True Israel. In Him we are therefore recipients of all the promises of God to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, even Christ Himself, as full members God’s covenant people. All of this culminates in the apostle Paul’s mind-blowing declaration: “We are the circumcision” (Philippians 3:3). Our spiritual worship personifies the reality of circumcision’s consummation.
Head-spinning stuff, but let me ask the obvious: where in any of that do we find a single cause for boasting? Where in circumcision, righteousness, faith, regeneration, baptism and union with Christ do we Christians have any claim for pride? Nowhere.
In fact, that’s the point. Do you ever find it odd that the Scriptures constantly assert that God does things so that no one may boast? For example, Paul says that faith, through which comes the righteousness of which circumcision and the Holy Spirit are a seal, is a gift of God “so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Get this: Paul is saying that the point of integral components of salvation were designed so that no human being could boast in the presence of God. God gets all the glory. That’s the purpose of the whole Bible, of everything. However, before you get jealous, get thankful. Things turn really ugly really fast when God’s glory gets usurped (see: Satan, Jezebel, Absalom, Judas, Herod, you get the picture).
This is the error of the Pharisees (Jesus’ Jewish opponents) and the Judaizer’s (Jewish Christians who demanded Gentile converts to Christianity be circumcised). They were boasters. To them, circumcision was an identity instead of the symbol of their identity. Simply, circumcision became an idol, “a good thing gone bad by being given God’s place.” Ultimately, however, all idols are symptoms of an ultimate idolatry of self. The Pharisees and Judaizers thought they were special and they shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces because of it (Matthew 23:13). Their mark of humility became the very weapon of their pride.
This is as much an “irreligious” error as a religious one. Pride is an equal-opportunity destroyer. The materialistic university professor comes to mind. You’ve met him or her if you’ve been to college. With his office wall plastered with his merits of salvation, er, I mean, degrees, meant to garner the favor of the faceless deity of academia, he sits smugly behind his pulpit, sorry, lectern and preaches, um, lectures his students that their existence is nothing but a fortunate collision of time, chance and matter. Smirking smugly in his smarmy J. Crew sweater vest, he feels quite satisfied with his hand-me-down presuppositions and, probably priding himself on his tolerance, scoffs at and marginalizes anyone daring to believe differently. Ironically, the very faith he has in a materialistic system that should drive him to the valley of humility fuels his ascent to the summit of arrogance. Why? Pride.
So, Christian, what about you? Especially you reformed Christian, (probably the only people who made it this far in an article about circumcision) with your strong belief in God’s sovereignty in salvation and penal substitutionary atonement? Are you a Pharisee with better doctrine? Does your theology make you smug? Does it cause you to exclude people, shutting the kingdom of heaven in their faces?
The Gospel that circumcision prefigured is a stunning paradox. As spiritually dead, wrath-deserving sinners saved by nothing but the majestic grace of the God who gave us new life when we were hell-bent on usurping his throne, our faith should drive us to deeper chasms of humility than the materialist could imagine. Again, there is no room for boasting or for superiority-complexes in the Christian faith. And yet, we are not simply forgiven. In Christ, we are redeemed from slavery to sin and exalted higher than any mountain, above the cosmos to the right hand of God in Heaven, ruling and reigning over creation in His image (Ephesians 2:7). We are the first-fruits of a new creation who will one day put on imperishable bodies (1 Corinthians 15:53). We are therefore to boast in Christ alone (Galatians 6:14). So it appears there is no room for self-deprecation or inferiority-complexes in the Christian faith, either. We are odd creatures indeed.
Mean Christian, cocky Christian, cowardly Christian, look to Christ. Look to the exalted one, hanging on a cross in shame. Feast on Him and walk with the swagger and limp that one has when the cross alone is their boast. Circumcision was a gift of God that became an idol to many, but became truer and greater when Christ came. These truths of God should blow your mind, but labor to rest in Jesus and do not take any credit for your faith in these truths other than the righteousness that God credits to your account. Make your boast in Him, and love others as He did by the power of the Holy Spirit, the seal of God’s love for you.