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July 24, 2021 | Doug Sauder
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“And God said to Abraham: ‘As for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant.’”—Genesis 17:9-14 (NKJV)
Circumcision doesn’t make it into most conversations. Considering the image that comes to mind, it’s understandable. But if we look at it from God’s perspective, it takes on a picture that is less squeamish and more spiritual.
This “cutting off,” which is what circumcision means, was God’s way of setting the Hebrew nation apart as His chosen people, and it was the first covenantal process which required Abraham’s participation (and the men with him).
It’s important to note that circumcision was not the covenant; it was the symbol or sign of the people’s relationship with God. In fact, the word circumcise is used for another body part in Scripture, as well: the heart. In Deuteronomy, Moses called for the nation of Israel to circumcise their hearts and the hearts of their descendants and to love the Lord so they would live (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6). And throughout Jeremiah, the Lord commands the people to “circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your hearts (Jeremiah 4:4 NKJV). To God, circumcision is not only a physical severance but an allegorical one as well. Both represent a separation from flesh and sin to join God fully in life and heart.
It’s also notable that God said: “My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant”. But if Abraham was cutting away flesh, how is God’s covenant kept in his flesh?
Look back at verse 9 where God promises the covenant is for Abraham and all his descendants. Not just the men with him at the time, but the multitude of people born from his “seed.” This includes Isaac, Jacob, Jacob’s twelve sons, and their children after them. It also includes anyone who is born from his seed in Christ. The apostle Paul writes in Galatians 3:29 (NASB) that “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.” God’s everlasting covenant with Abraham is in anyone who believes in Jesus.
So, the picture begins to emerge of spiritual circumcision. It’s a symbol of our separation from God. And when a person believes in Jesus, the Holy Spirit begins that “cutting off” process; removing the sinful nature and conforming us to the image and likeness of Christ. Warren Wiersbe describes this as a “spiritual surgery that enables us to have victory over the desires of the old nature and the old life.” This New Covenant of Christ is something we are all invited to participate in.
DIG: What is the significance of circumcision and how does it apply to Christians now?
DISCOVER: What does the idea of participation in the time of Abraham and the time now mean when it comes to a relationship with God?
DO: Is there something in your life you feel the Holy Spirit is trying to cut out? Pray and ask Him for help in participating in this process.
Lisa Supp lives in Utah and has served within the CCFL Web and Prayer Ministry since 2011. She also volunteers as an editor on the CCFL Prayer Wall and is a writer on the Communications Team. Retired from teaching, Lisa and her husband Ron volunteer at their local Calvary Chapel and share a passion for Scripture, apologetics, and education.