Does this blessedness then come upon the circumcised only, or upon the uncircumcised also? For we say that faith was accounted to Abraham for righteousness. How then was it accounted? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised. Romans 4:9-10, NKJ
Circumcision is required of God’s people when God’s kingdom comes to Planet Earth. The act of circumcision on human flesh helps us understand spiritual concepts. When we understand what the Spirit is doing, we can glory in God’s Spirit and boast about what he has done instead of glorying in what we have done: cutting off a piece of flesh or eating a strict diet to make us acceptable and holy. Glorying in what God has done to make us acceptable and holy teaches us to be humble.
Abraham was 99 years old when he received the sign of circumcision, but only 85 years old when he received the blessedness of the covenant God made Jesus, one of Abraham’s future sons.
And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also walk in the steps of the faith which our father Abraham had while still uncircumcised. Romans 4:11, NKJ
Abraham possessed faith before he was circumcised. His faith gave him favor with God, not the sign of circumcision that would come many years later and be a token to remind God, “This one is mine.”
As you’ll recall, Abraham went to Canaan expecting God to make him a great nation that would be a blessing to all families of the earth. When he arrived in Canaan, he learned that the blessings would come through a son who it was impossible for barren Sarah to bear. Twenty-five years later, she did bear a son named Isaac, but he did not possess the Promised Land. Nor did his son Jacob possess the Promised Land. Jacob’s twelve sons did not possess the Promised Land, either. Isaac, a son, but not “the son” of promise, was one son among many; until finally a son was born to a daughter of Abraham named Mary. And even Jesus, to whom the promises were made, has not possessed the Promised Land.
God was very specific about the boundaries of the land promised to Abraham’s seed. When in Jesus’ lifetime on earth did he ever own all the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates River? Jesus lived in the land as a stranger and a foreigner, just as Abraham did. Jesus himself is waiting for the inheritance, just as we have all waited, from Abraham to this day. Those who came before Jesus died in faith; Jesus died in faith, we are still dying in faith. If we possessed the inheritance today, we would no longer need faith that what we hope for will be given to us. And what we hope for won’t be given to us unless God sees “the sign of circumcision.”
Paul not only called circumcision a sign he also called it a seal. (Keep this important fact in mind, because we will come back to it later, and it will help us understand the meaning of circumcision of the heart.) God gave Abraham the sign of circumcision for the same reason he put a rainbow in the sky, so God will see the sign and remember his covenant.
For you are not real Jews just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the Jewish initiation ceremony of circumcision. No, a real Jew is anyone whose heart is right with God. For God is not looking for those who cut their bodies in actual body circumcision, but he is looking for those with changed hearts and minds. Whoever has that kind of change in his life will get his praise from God, even if not from you. (Romans 2:28-29, The Living Bible)
Stephen is the first person in the New Testament to speak of circumcising the heart. Heart circumcision is among the last words he spoke in his defense before the Sanhedrin condemned him to death by stoning. He said:
You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it. (Acts 7:51-53, NKJ)
Then they cried out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and ran at him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man named Saul. (Acts 7:57-58, NKJ)
The Pharisee Saul, who would soon become the Apostle Paul, consented to Stephen’s death, but he could not excise Stephen’s words from his mind – “Uncircumcised in heart”. Paul realized Stephen was right after he converted to Christianity. Obeying laws cannot justify us if we resist the desire of God’s Spirit. Paul picked up Stephen’s words and carried them throughout the then-known world. Along the way, he took his own Christian Jewish brothers to the highest authority of his day because they were reluctant to set aside things they knew didn’t work.
Before Stephen and Paul, Moses told Israel to “circumcise your heart.” The circumcision Stephen spoke of was not a new doctrine, nor was it a new idea. But what does it mean to have our hearts circumcised? Is it something we do? Is it something God does? If there’s ever anything we want to be sure about, it’s this.
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, [Sound familiar? Jesus said this is the greatest most important commandment in all the law] and to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes which I command you today for your good? Indeed heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it. The Lord delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as it is this day. [Abraham is our father too! If we are in Christ, we are Abraham's descendants and heirs according to the promise.] Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer. [Why must we circumcise the foreskin of our heart?] For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes a bribe” (Deuteronomy 10:12-17, NKJ).
The Interlinear Bible reads “so you circumcise foreskin of heart of you and neck of you not you make stiff longer.” Remember this: If we would circumcise our heart, we would not be stiff-necked anymore.
Didn’t God command Abraham to circumcise his children when they were eight days old, making it only something a father can do?
And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deuteronomy 30:6, NKJ)
After telling us to circumcise our hearts in Chapter 10, Moses tells us God must circumcise our heart. Can’t Moses make up his mind? Do I circumcise my heart or does God circumcise my heart?
Before I get any deeper into this issue, let me give you a heads-up: If you have the gift of speaking with “other tongues,” what I’m about to say will be easier for you to understand. When you speak with tongues, is God speaking, OR are you speaking?
According to Acts Chapter 2, both are speaking.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4, NKJ)
If I speak with other tongues, the Holy Spirit gives me the utterance — but it’s my voice doing the uttering. I can’t do it without him – and he can’t do it without me! It’s similar with the circumcision of your heart: Both man and God have a part. Let’s look at our part first.
For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem: Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts …” (Jeremiah 4:3-4, NKJ)
The Lord warns us not to sow among thorns. How can I do that unless I know what the thorns are? Jesus identified the thorns in the parable of the sower.
And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up and choked them. (Matthew 13:7, NKJ).
Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful. (Matthew 13:22, NKJ)
God told us not to “sow among thorns”. Jesus said the thorns chocked the seed that was sown and then defined the thorns as “deceitfulness of riches”. Mark’s version adds “desire for other things” to the list. Luke says, “cares, riches and pleasures of life.”
These “thorns” will choke the word you have received, making you unfruitful. Notice: It doesn’t say the word becomes unfruitful. It says YOU, the soil the word is planted in, will become unfruitful.
So, you say, what does that have to do with circumcising my heart so I’m not stiff-necked anymore — and sowing to the flesh or the Spirit? Everything relevant, when you consider the experience of the children of Israel in the wilderness and what made them stiff-necked! Let’s look at their complaints against God and see if we can determine the real issue behind their unhappiness. Look for a common factor in the following nine complaints.
…Let the Lord look on you and judge because you have made us abhorrent in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, to put a sword in their hand to kill us. (Exodus 5:21, NKJ)
…Because there were no graves in Egypt, have you taken us away to die in the wilderness? Why have you so dealt with us, to bring us up out of Egypt? Is this not the word that we told you in Egypt saying, Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness. (Exodus 14:11, NKJ)
What shall we drink? (Exodus 15:24, NKJ)
Oh, that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger. (Exodus 16:3, NKJ)
…Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst? (Exodus 17:3, NKJ)
… Who will give us meat to eat? We remember the fish which we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our whole being is dried up. There is nothing at all except this manna before our eyes! (Numbers 11:4-5, NKJ)
If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt? Let us select a leader and return to Egypt. (Numbers 14:2-4, NKJ)
Why have you brought up the assembly of the Lord into this wilderness, that we and our animals should die here? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt, to bring us to this evil place? It is not a place of grain or figs or vines or pomegranates; nor is there any water to drink. (Numbers 20:4-5, NKJ)
Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in this wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and our soul loathes this worthless bread. (Numbers 21:5, NKJ)
“Eat, drink, ‘cause I’m gonna die! Cares of life, if I don’t starve to death or die of thirst, somebody will kill me!” Can you hear them worrying about their lives? That’s what made them stiff-necked. That’s why they resisted God’s direction. That’s why they sowed to the desires of the flesh instead of sowing to the desires of the Spirit.
Let’s now compare for a few moments the attitudes of the two thieves who were crucified with Jesus. Both deserved death; one of them understood that; the other did not. One thief hanging on a cross near death worried about his life. He said to Jesus, “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.” He wanted God to save him from the very justice he deserved. The other said to his fellow thief, “We are here justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds.” He was not worried about his life. He did not ask Jesus to save him from justice. He was willing to die for the sins he’d committed, if only Jesus would remember him when God establishes Jesus eternal kingdom on earth. This thief had cut the foreskin from his heart and cast it away. Therefore, Jesus assured him that he would be with God until the time comes for him to be “remembered!”
How do we circumcise our heart, so we won’t be stiff-necked like the first thief and the unfaithful Israelites in the wilderness? Quit worrying about your life. Jesus went up into a mountain and said,
…[D]o not worry saying, What shall we eat? or What shall we drink? … do not worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:31, NKJ).
This is our part in the circumcising of the heart. This is what we do to cut the foreskin from our hearts, lest we become stiff-necked like faithless Israel. Peter said it this way: “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7, NKJ).
And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. (Deuteronomy 30:6, NKJ)
If God hasn’t circumcised your heart you can “not worry and be happy” all you want and still hear God say, “I never knew you”. So having your heart circumcised involves much more than maintaining a carefree attitude.
But how do I know God has circumcised my heart to love him? Are mere words enough? In a movie I once watched with my children, a young boy boarded the wrong plane and ended up in New York instead of in Florida with his family. He had his father’s bag with all the family’s money and credit cards, so he decided to have his own vacation without them, and he tricked the hotel employees into thinking his father was staying in the room with him. But before long the hotel employees became suspicious and tried to question him. Realizing he was caught, the boy ran into the bedroom, where he had made a tape from a gangster movie he’d watched the night before. When the hotel employees approached the door, they heard a gun shooting and a voice saying, “All right you dirty rat get on your knees and say you love me!” The hotel employees, frightened by the gunfire, kneeled and said in unison, “We love you!” — only to find out later that they’d been deceived. The boy’s father wasn’t standing behind the door with a gun in his hand, demanding to hear an insincere “We love you.”
Many people have been driven away from Christianity by “sons” who’ve deceived others by presenting a false image of a “God” standing in heaven with death in one hand and hell in the other, demanding to hear an insincere “I love you” when God has done everything he can to win a sincere “I love you” from our lips. If your love isn’t sincere, he can’t let you into his kingdom. You’ll mess it up for those who really do love him.
Most people would love God if they were being fed a true knowledge of God, because he is very loveable. But how can you love him if you don’t know him? Don’t fall on your knees and cry out to God, “I love you!” because you’re afraid to die. Don’t reject him because the image of God his people have built is distasteful to you. God’s people are growing in knowledge of their God, and we don’t always get it right. Ask God to tell you who he really is, and he will give you his Spirit so you can know him.
I told you previously that Paul called circumcision not only a “sign” but a “seal,” and that we would come back to that because it is very important. Now let’s do so.
And He [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised. (Romans 4:11, NKJ)
The seal is a sign to God that we have faith that entitles us entrance into his kingdom. This sign or seal supersedes anything we can do outwardly, because we can cut all the skin we want to off our bodies and that will mean nothing to God. He looks on our heart for the seal he placed on your heart. “Sealing” you is God’s part in the circumcision of your heart.
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, [a reference to the resurrection] to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:13, NKJ)
After you hear the word of God, and place your faith in him, God will seal you or “circumcise you” by giving you his Holy Spirit. The presence of his Spirit in your life will guarantee that you receive an inheritance when the resurrection takes place. Contrary to some teaching, we don’t receive our inheritance when we get saved; we only receive the Holy Spirit as a down payment guaranteeing God will give us the rest. After I receive his Spirit, I must now do my part by ceasing to worry about my life.
Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burdens are light. Don’t worry! Cast all your care on God who cares for you and be happy!