Circumcision of the Heart
17 But if you bear the name "Jew," and rely upon the Law, and boast in God, 18 and know His will, and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law, 19 and are confident that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having in the Law the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth, 21 you, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself? You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal? 22 You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the Law, through your breaking the Law, do you dishonor God? 24 For "the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you," just as it is written. 25 For indeed circumcision is of value, if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. 26 If therefore the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 And will not he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? 28 For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. 29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. NASB
Paul is writing the those who have accepted that Jesus is the Messiah, that is the church, in Rome. This congregation consisted of both Jews who had accepted Christ and of Gentiles who had been won over to this faith. The Jews would have been a prominent part of the church.
Paul had seen what well meaning Jews could do to Gentile believers. The Jews who had accepted Christ often insisted that to be saved one would need to be circumcised and become a proselyte to the Jewish faith. He goes into great detail in this letter to the church in Rome about how one is saved, not by being Jewish, or a Gentile proselyte to Judaism, but by faith in Jesus Christ. Our salvation is not purchased by keeping the Law, but by our faith in the Law Giver. We will obey the Law when we believe the Law Giver loves us. It is our faith in Him, not our obedience to the rules that saves us.
The Jews were proud of the fact that they had the Law of God as given to them by Moses. They traced their heritage back further to their ancestor, Abraham. They were descendants of this father of the faith. His blood flowed through their veins. It was also very important to them that clear back to Abraham they had circumcised their male children. This was one of the main identifiers of faithful Jews. It set them apart from the people of other nations whom they called gentiles.
Paul wants to help them avoid the conflicts he has seen in other congregations surrounding this issue. Here in the verses we have read this morning he speaks of their relationship to the Law and about what it really means to be circumcised. For Paul the circumcision of the flesh was to be an outward indicator of something that occurred in their hearts.
In our day, many male children are circumcised shortly after birth. It has little to do with the ceremonial cleansing that surrounded the rite practiced by the Jews. In our society there is some controversy about the value of circumcision. For some it is a means of preventing infections. Others see it as a mutilation of the body.
To be circumcised in the heart means to have been changed from the inside out. God comes to dwell within us as we accept Him as Savior and Lord. We recognize Him in his Son, Jesus, the Messiah, the ultimate sacrifice of God for our redemption. He comes to lead us to deeper faith and to stronger commitment to following God who loves us.
Abraham's faith was tested when he was asked by The Lord to sacrifice his son. The son promised by God. The fulfillment of the promise God had made so many years before. Now God was asking Abraham to take this son and sacrifice Isaac to God. How difficult it must have been for Abraham to obey.
Many see this episode and think only of how awful God must be to have even asked Abraham to do such a horrible thing. But God knew what He was doing. He knew He would provide the sacrifice. He also knew that He needed this father of many to lead them and to set an example for them. God knew that people needed to see the faith He required of His servants. We must be willing to sacrifice anything and everything to follow Him. He does not want to take those things we love from us, but we must be sure they do not take God's place in our hearts. We have to love Him with all our heart, mind, soul and strength. He must come first. All others must come second.
The circumcision of the heart is the cutting away of those things that would take God's place in our affections. These must be placed on the altar. Even those things that God had promised to us and had planned for our good and for our pleasure. They must be put on the altar. They must be put aside.
God may or may not give them back to us. If He promised them to us, He will bring them back to us in His time and in His way.
I was reading in Job this week. Just a few minutes ago as I write this.
God had blessed Job with family and riches. God allowed all this to be taken away. His children were gone. His wealth was gone. His health was taken away. Now all he had were a few friends and a wife. The friends believed he must be the greatest sinner ever for God to have done this to him and his wife said he should curse God and die.
Job did not. He said, “Though He slay me, yet will I serve Him.”
God will allow all of us to be tested. Our faith in Him will be put to the test in some way. Why? Because He does not love us? No!!! But because He does love us. He knows we need to deepen our faith in Him. We need Him more than we need the air we breathe and the food we eat.
Keep on casting your bread upon the water, soon it will come back to you, pressed down and running over.
Abraham's son was saved. Job's riches were restored. He had more children.
Their faith was tested, but not broken. They stood the test and we can too.
If we get serious about serving God we will be tested in some way. God loves us too much to let us waste away in a corner. He will use us to show others how much He loves them. He will use us to demonstrate what true faith in God is all about.
What does God need to cut away from your heart in order to purify your faith in Him? Only God knows that. He will reveal it as you seek Him and love Him with everything in you.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews said “without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.
The cleansing of our hearts to love God above all else. This is the meaning of circumcision of the heart. God insists on being Lord. Not just Lord out there in the universe, but Lord here in the depths of our hearts and lives.
Lord, Take the First Place by Barney E. Warren
(Chorus) “O take the first place in my heart,
O take the first place in my heart;
I open the door, come in, I implore,
Lord, take the first place in my heart.”
I yield to Thee, Savior, forsaking my all,
From sinful things now I will part,
To Thee I surrender, for mercy I call;
Come take the first place in my heart.
O come, gentle Spirit, don't leave me, I pray,
From Thee I will never depart;
I come to Thee now, for I cannot delay,
Lord, take the first place in my heart.
I cannot be lost, Lord, for Thee I will live,
Forgiveness, O Savior, impart;
If I will confess Thou wilt freely forgive,
And take the first place in my heart.
The joybells of heaven will ring in my soul,
My Savior, Redeemer, Thou art;
To Thee I surrender, wilt Thou make me whole?
Take now the first place in my heart.
(Chorus)“O take the first place in my heart,
O take the first place in my heart;
I open the door, come in, I implore,
Lord, take the first place in my heart.” (Page 397 in Worship the Lord, Hymnal of the Church of God)
Your relationship with God is the most important thing in life. With Him as your Lord life is sweet even when the world thinks we are going through a living hell. Without Him, the most pleasant of circumstances in life can be a living hell. God wants this relationship with you more than you want anything else. He will not force it upon you. He will offer it freely if you will but surrender to Him as Lord and Savior.
What does God want for you? He must be first in your life. This is what circumcision of the heart is all about. This is what sanctification means.
29 But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.