Have you ever heard someone talk about how physical circumcision was of the old covenant and those of us who are part of the new covenant look to a circumcision of the heart? Well, today I want to take a look at where that terminology originates and in so doing, we will seek to better complete the thought that is trying to be conveyed.
Most of the time, this phrase comes from one of Paul’s writings. Before we jump to the topic of the day, I realize I’ve yet to discuss at length the 2 covenants. Generally what we are referring to is the covenant with Abraham as the first covenant (sometimes referred to as the Mosaic Covenant since he was given the Law, but the covenant with Israel began with Abraham), and the covenant of Jesus Christ as the second. We’ll look at this in greater detail in a later post, but for now I will present part of Paul’s teaching in Galatians.
Galatians 4:21-28 (ESV)
21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman.23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia; she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written,
“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than those of the one who has a husband.”
28 Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise.
We will explore the rest of this teaching at a later time, but for now at least we have established the validity of teaching 2 covenants. Paul focused on correcting the Galatians who were buying into the notion that one had to submit to the first covenant in order to take part in the second (Judaizers) which was a false gospel preached by false teachers who should be accursed (twice). Paul also spent time explaining the Law and the covenants to another group of believers in his letter to the Romans. It is here we will find the beginning of our topic today.
Romans 2:17-29 (ESV)
17 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God 18 and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; 19 and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20 an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— 21 you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22 You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. 24 For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. 26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? 27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. 28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.
In this portion of Romans (and please, the book of Romans should be read as a continuous letter) Paul is distinguishing salvation and the forgiveness of sin comes through faith rather than by works of the Law. It was difficult for many of the early Jews to accept that the Law pointed to the Gospel, and was not in itself a means of salvation; rather, that Christ fulfilled the Law and gave Himself as the atoning sacrifice. We see it explained in great detail in Hebrews, Romans, and Galatians. We see this truth referenced in several scriptures outside of these epistles. This is critical to understanding the New Covenant Jesus presented at the last supper.
Luke 22:14-20 (ESV)
14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.16 For I tell you I will not eat it until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.” 17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.“
Jesus Christ is our Passover lamb, by His blood on our door post we have no need to fear the Destroyer. By His blood, we’ve been set free from Egypt (the kingdom of darkness) and we will pass through the Red Sea (water baptism) in Christ. As we follow Christ, we will spend the remainder of this life (one generation) walking as exiles in the wilderness(still living in a fallen world) with a hope of reaching the Promised Land (Heaven). Praise the Lord.
Was the “Circumcision of the Heart” a New Concept?
Interestingly enough, the answer is “no”. While Paul was clearly writing under the inspiration of God the Holy Spirit, this concept that the circumcision is a matter of the heart is found in the Old Testament. In fact, in the Law of Moses! I think this is fascinating, so let’s go check it out. For a little bit of background, I recommend reading Deuteronomy 29, beginning in the first verse. God renews His covenant with Israel in the land of Moab. After making clear the blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience in chapter 28, God instructs Moses to speak to His people and to set them straight, reminding them of all they had witnessed of the Lord God who brought them out of Egypt. Let’s look at the final verse in chapter 29 and move onto chapter 30.
Deuteronomy 29:29 (ESV)
29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
Deuteronomy 30:1-10 (ESV)
1 “And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, 2 and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you.4 If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. 5 And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. 7 And the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. 8 And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today. 9 The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, 10 when you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Jesus made clear that He didn’t come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it. This is on reason why it is so important that we be careful how we refer to the 2 covenants. Here, in the Law, we have the message of salvation, only we lack a pure, spotless Lamb of God to be the final sacrifice. For all men (including Jews) are born in the sin of Adam. The law reveals our sin, but it also points to the Promise of our Salvation in Christ. We see in the first verse a prophesy of the exile and scattering of the Jews. Jesus came to gather his sheep from both the Jews and the Gentiles. Which commandment is the Greatest commandment according to Jesus?
Matthew 22:36-38 (ESV)
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment.
Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have access to the Spirit of God, whereby God circumcises our heart (remember, Paul specified that the circumcision of the heart is by the Spirit) so that we can love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, and mind… that we may live, as promised both according to the Law and the Gospel. Let me be absolutely clear… apart from Jesus Christ we cannot fulfill the Law and have no salvation in it; rather, we are condemned by it for we are born in sin. Thankfully, we have the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as the perfect and final sacrifice, so that in Him we might be saved.
As we continue in our Walk, we must mature and grow into the fullness of Christ. We must search His Word, and rightly understand what is revealed of God in both the Law and the Gospel. It is my sincere hope that you who have accepted the Gospel of Jesus Christ, will continue in it, study it, and study also the Law that Christ completed on our behalf. It wasn’t “done away with”, merely completed in Christ. Much of the Law points to Jesus Christ and His Gospel, but it all points to God. I pray for blessing and understanding from God the Holy Spirit as you continue in the Word.