Thursday, September 8, 2011

Circumcision of the Heart

In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ. (Colossians 2:11)

Here we see one of the issues of the Judaizing influence that was trying to make its way into the Church at Colosse: the matter of circumcision (removal of the foreskin). In the Old Testament, circumcision was a token of the covenant God made with Abraham (Genesis 17:11-14) and was passed down to his descendants as a sign. Every male Israelite was to be circumcised. It marked them out as belonging to the chosen people.

Now there were Jewish teachers coming into the churches, saying that Gentiles who believed in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, needed to be circumcised, and this would make them full and complete members of the people of God. That is contrary to the heart of the gospel, which is that we are made complete in Jesus the Messiah, who is ruler over every principality and power, and in whom all the fullness of God dwells in bodily form (Colossians 2:10).

And yet there is still a circumcision for all those who are in Jesus. As important a sign as physical circumcision was in the Old Testament, and one commanded by God, God was much more concerned with what was going in the heart, the inward reality of which circumcision was meant to be the outward sign:
Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer. (Deuteronomy 10:16)

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)

Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your hearts. (Jeremiah 4:4)
The physical rite was the cutting away of the flesh and symbolized faithfulness to the covenant God made with Israel. Removing that little fold of skin, however, could not produce what it signified. But Jesus has accomplished for us what physical circumcision never could. Paul says, “In Him you were circumcised.” The Greek text has it in the aorist tense and passive voice. The aorist tense means that it has been completed; the passive voice means that it was something done for us, not something we did for ourselves.

This circumcision is one “made without hands.” Not a physical one performed by a man with a knife, but a circumcision of the heart. “Putting off the body of the flesh,” is how Paul has it here (in the oldest Greek manuscripts). The NIV says, “the putting off of the sinful nature.” Paul frequently used the word “flesh” (Greek, sarx) to refer to human sinfulness, the state of those without the life and power of God at work in them. The circumcision Jesus performs, the circumcision of the heart, frees us from the deadness of our fallen human nature and breathes new life, divine life, the life of the Spirit of God, into us.

In the Old Testament, circumcision was a sign of who God’s chosen people were, through whom He would bring the redemption of the whole world. Now what matters is not circumcision or uncircumcision, but “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). What Paul means is faith in Jesus, God’s Messiah, Redeemer of the whole world, His love working in and through us.



The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

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