Circumcision - A Matter of The Heart
Updated: Feb 22, 2019
Sometimes, as Christians, I think we can get side-tracked by trying to work out what the right answer or perspective or action is.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” (Thessalonians 4:1-7 ESV)
Sometimes, as Christians, I think we can get side-tracked by trying to work out what the right answer or perspective or action is. We want to know whether it's a sin to have a tattoo, whether someone can lose their salvation or whether it’s compulsory to circumcise our children. The fact of the matter is that having an answer to these things are secondary to our pursuit of sanctification, which is God's primary will for us. As wonderfully put by John Piper: “In every decision, if you are acting in a biblical, holy way, God is pleased”.
A similar concept was expressed in Romans 8:5-6:
“One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks."
And in Romans 8:14:
"I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean."
Here, the Apostle Paul was making it clear that in matters not expressly stated to be biblically wrong, it is the heart of each believer and the personal convictions placed within it which determine whether or not the person is pursuing holiness or sinning against God. If you believe an action is a sin or you have been given a personal conviction against something and still pursue it then you have put aside what you believe to be the desire of God in pursuit of your own will. You have chosen not to walk in holiness as directed to you by the Spirit, and that is displeasing to God.
Technically, in the Romans 8 discussion above, those Christians who believed that they were free to eat any meat were correct (according to popular doctrine) and yet this was not the point stressed by the Apostle. This highlights just how important our sanctification is because a person that submits increasingly to the convictions of the word and the Holy Spirit is more pleasing to God than a person that accurately aligns their actions with the popular doctrines/theology around them. Their sanctification (or circumcision) takes place primarily in their heart rather than the black and white letter of modern day Christian law.
Let’s not forget that when the bible commands us, not to control our body “in the passion of lusts” (1Thessalonians 4:5), it doesn’t only mean sexually impure desires. This was already covered by the command to abstain from sexual immorality! No, we are to honour God in our rejection of the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, all in the pursuit of this righteous sanctification. All these “lusts” lead us in impurity rather than sanctification. (1 John 2:15) That’s a huge spectrum of behaviours, desires and ideologies that we are challenged to reject! But all of these lusts manifest firstly in the heart. That is where our spiritual transformation must take place.
So then, the issue we should be more focused on when making decisions about our theology, our actions and our decisions is not whether or not these things are the "right", choices, but whether or not these things lead us into deeper consecration. For instance, when applying for a job, is your first thought; "I need to apply for this because I'll get so much money", or are you considering how the job will allow you to contribute to the expansion of God's kingdom? How it will process and prune you so that you can display fruit like patience, kindness and self-control, and how the job will allow you to spend more quality time with God? In choosing to wear that expensive blue shirt, are you considering how many compliments you will get for your fashion sense or are you taking the opportunity to walk in humility? In deciding to research salvation, election and other biblical doctrines are we seeking to understand how these things draw us closer to God or are we just trying to build strong arguments so that we can win debates?
God desires our holiness in very decision rather than the decision itself. He wants us to turn are our hearts so fully towards Him, that the manifestation of His will for us flows out of our desire to please Him and not our desire to be right.