It seems years ago when my daughter Annie Rose called from her room, “Mommy, I need you.” Krista went into her room to find out what was the matter, but quickly returned to the family room saying, “This one is for you to deal with.” I got up off the couch a little perplexed and walked to Annie’s room wondering what needed my attention that Krista felt was over her head. I quickly found out.
Annie’s third-grade class had been reading through the Bible and discussing Abraham. In the midst of reading about Abraham, they ran smack into “circumcision.” Mrs. Lake being the wise teacher she is avoided the topic. Can you imagine trying to teach third graders about circumcision in a large group? It has America’s Funniest Videos written all over it. Mrs. Lake instructed the kids to ask their parents about it at home.
“Annie, what’s up?” I asked as I entered her room. “Daddy,” she responded somewhat shyly, “I’m supposed to ask you about circumcision. Mrs. Lake said so.”
I believe God ordained the moment because I happened to have on a hooded sweatshirt. An object lesson began. “Annie, when boys are born they have a hood over their penis.(I am demonstrating with the hoodie pulled over my head.) Circumcision is when they cut the hoodie off.” We went on to discuss personal hygiene and the covenants. Of course, she asked me the “are you” question. After our conversation, I kissed her on the forehead and was thanking God as I returned to the family room to tell the story to Krista.
Then God said to Abraham, “Your responsibility is to obey the terms of the covenant. You and all your descendants have this continual responsibility. This is the covenant that you and your descendants must keep... Each male among you must be circumcised. All must be circumcised. Your bodies will bear the mark of my everlasting covenant. Any male who fails to be circumcised will be cut off from the covenant family for breaking the covenant.” Genesis 17:9-14
Circumcision is first found in the Book of Genesis. God was desirous to call a people to be His own. Abram was His man. God made a covenant with Abram– a type of agreement - and changed his name to Abraham. God’s part in this covenant was to bless Abraham and his descendants and to make them a nation. Abraham’s and his descendants’ part in this was to serve God faithfully and lead a blameless life. The mark of belonging to this covenant was circumcision.
Two problems arose from this covenant. Of course, man was responsible for both. First, over time the Jews began to see the mark of circumcision (an act performed by man’s hand) as the means that made them right before. They also failed to follow God wholeheartedly, faithfully, and blamelessly. The Jews always found something that leads them astray – the gods and customs of other nations topped the list. These failures led them to experience some tough times. God allowed them to be conquered, dispersed, forced into slavery, and oppressed.
We all are susceptible to relying on marks of our faith – our efforts – as a means to make and keep us right before God. How often have you and I bought into that idea of doing this or that to gain God’s approval? The fact is that we can listen to the “right” music and “right” sermons, read the “right” books and magazine and subscribe to the “right” newsletters and blogs… We can attend the worship services, small groups meeting, and Bible school classes… We give large sums of our money and time and are no better off for our efforts. The marks of faith - circumcision included - didn’t change the way the Israelites lived, nor will it or can it change the way we live. They are a sign of an agreement, a symbol of a commitment, and a work of man’s hands. All of which are empty of substance outside an unchanged heart. God does want our marks, efforts, or sacrifices he wants our hearts.
“But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day,” says the LORD. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”
God is still in the covenant business. God is still desirous for a people to call His own. He has given us a new covenant in Christ. In Christ, we receive His blessing and become His princes and princesses and His sons and daughters. In Christ, we receive an abundant life filled with purpose, meaning, and joy.
The mark of this new covenant is no longer an act of man’s hands, but of God’s Holy Spirit. God no longer wants us to be circumcised by a surgical procedure, but to have our hearts circumcised by the His Spirit as it fills us and cuts away our very sin nature. He wants us to allow the Spirit of God to have access to our hearts, to change us, and transform us into the likeness of His Son.
Father, forgive me… forgive us for trying to live for You from our own means. Spirit, fill us – circumcise our hearts – change us – cut away our flesh and its desire – transform us for your glory.