The True Circumcision
…And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ…
The first of the metaphors in this list is that of circumcision. Paul, in Galatians, says that anyone who is depending on physical circumcision for salvation, then Christ has become of no value to them Gal.5:2 . So it is clear that physical circumcision is not what is in view here.
Paul uses this metaphor elsewhere in the NT and these will help us to build a picture of what the true circumcision is.
C5.1 Not physical
But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.
The first reference noted is that from Romans. The apostle states that true circumcision is that of the heart, and not of the letter.
The Jews were proud of their ancestry and were jealous of it. If any Gentile wanted to become part of God’s covenant people they had to submit to circumcision. In fact this became such a divisive issue in the early church.
A group of Jews who had come to know Christ insisted on the Gentile believers becoming circumcised, teaching that unless they did they could not be saved. This provoked the first ‘church conference’ in Acts 15, where it was agreed by all the apostles that physical circumcision wasn’t necessary at all.
So why physical circumcision then? Paul in Romans shows that physical circumcision was a sign given to show that Abraham was justified by faith. Abraham was justified by faith before circumcision came in! see Rom. 4:9-13. So circumcision didn’t bring justification, rather it was a sign that justification had happened.
The Jews thought that the act of physical circumcision, following the letter of the law, made them true Jews. Paul emphatically says that was not the case. Instead a true Jew has had an inward circumcision, a circumcision of the (spiritual) heart, that is an inward work of grace performed on a person’s inner-most being.
In the Roman passage quoted above Paul uses a play on words. The word Jew is derived from Judah, meaning praise. It was the tribe from which the Kings of Israel came (excepting Saul and Moses). So Paul says that it is those who are circumcised in heart who has the praise of God.
Often in the NT we see the point of those who prefer the praises of men to God (eg Jn.12:42-43). In the Galatian letter Paul makes the point quite strongly about pleasing man or God Gal.1:10. The only thing that pleases God is faith Heb.11:6
C5.2 No confidence in the flesh
For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.
Turning to the second reference of spiritual circumcision, Paul says that the people who are of the true circumcision are those who worship God in Spirit and have no confidence in the flesh.
It is interesting that Paul puts these two actions in juxtaposition. Firstly those who worship God in the spirit. This parallels closely the conversation of Jesus with the woman at the well. Notably:
Woman believe Me the hour cometh when ye shall neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews But the hour cometh and now is when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth for the Father seeketh such to worship Him. God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.
The Jews worshipped in Jerusalem. In fact they were commanded to go three times year to Jerusalem for the feasts, Deut.16:16. The Samaritans on the other hand had their own place to worship. The Jews despised the Samaritans and would have nothing to do with them. For both peoples though worship of God was external, it had outward forms. For the Jews these external forms were laid down in the Mosaic law as part of the Old Covenant. But whilst keeping to the letter of the Law their hearts were far from God Mtt.15:8.
Jesus speaking to this woman, who was outside of God’s covenant, said that a day was coming when the true worshippers would do so in Spirit and truth. This, according to Paul, refers to those of the true circumcision. Those who have had the heart circumcised, and as a result worship in Spirit and truth, and have no confidence in the flesh, and in the context of worship meaning not trusting outward forms to please God.
C5.3 Putting off the body of sins
In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:
The final passage in the NT on this is the one we have in Colossians. Here Paul makes it clear that this circumcision is not external, but is spiritual. It is made without hands. But it puts off the body of sins.
The biggest problem of the human race is the human heart, for it is wicked above all else Jer.17:1-10. This circumcision without hands is the answer to that. It puts off that body of sins which we had inherited from Adam’s disobedience. It is a spiritual work. Paul in I Corinthians puts it like this
For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption:
The Jews find the cross a stumbling block! But it is the power of God unto salvation. No sign, as in circumcision, nor in any other external ceremony, nor any of man’s wisdom can deal with the problem of the human heart. The heart has to be circumcised by the power of God, the cross.
Sin is not lack of gnosis, it is what we have inherited from Adam and his transgression resulting in our disobedience to God, Rom.5:12-21. Salvation is not obtaining a secret gnosis in the heart, instead it is having the heart circumcised.
This revelation of a circumcised heart, that Paul shows us, should not have surprised the Jews. This truth of an uncircumcised/circumcised heart was in their scriptures all along, and it is this we shall consider in the next article.