Happy Sixth Day of Christmas! You know that Christmas is a Season, right? There are twelve days of Christmas. So, if you are still in the gift-giving mode, go buy six geese who are currently laying eggs for the one you love. How creepy would that be to receive?
I hope you had a great Christmas celebration. We attended a powerful Christmas Eve service at the Southridge Church of God and then went home and watched home movies from when our kids were little. They were videos we had never seen. It was so much fun. My cheeks hurt from smiling so much! Memories made my heart glad and served as an additional reminder that time passes so quickly. I saw not only younger versions of our kids, but a younger version of myself as well. I’ve changed a smidge in the 19 years since I became a mom. While there are some obvious physical changes that have taken place, I hope there are also obvious spiritual changes. I hope I am more like Jesus than I was 19 years ago. I hope the Fruit of the Spirit is more evident in my life. I hope I can say I know Christ better, that I know Scripture better, and that I know the voice and power of the Holy Spirit in more fullness than I did 19 years ago. I hope I look less like me and more like Jesus.
I can’t imagine what I will look like 19 years from now, but truly more important to me is how I will look spiritually. If God allows me 19 more years on this earth, what will my soul look like? My faith? The level of my obedience to God? My service? How much fruit will my life produce? What needs to be pruned out of my life, cut away from my soul, so that there can be a harvest of righteousness in and through my life? I am so proud of these who have taken the step of baptism as it is an outward sign that an inward change has taken place. These folks who have been baptized have witnessed that they desire to identify with Jesus completely—Not just in thought or word, but with their lives. For baptism symbolizes death to sin and self and being resurrected with Jesus, becoming like Him as the Holy Spirit empowers us and transforms us. Taking on the life of Jesus isn’t possible without taking on the nature of Jesus, and that isn’t possible without the help of the Holy Spirit.
Just as God has made it possible for us to have peace with God through Jesus’ death and resurrection, He has also made it possible for us to become like Jesus and to live a life of resurrection, power and authority through a relationship with the Holy Spirit. As you anticipate the New Year, I encourage you to set relational goals, career goals, financial goals, physical goals, and goals for your emotional well-being, but I also encourage you to purpose in your heart that you will allow God to do some spiritual surgery on you, and to cut away anything that might hinder you from growing more faithfully and fully into the image of Jesus Christ.
Colossians 2:9-13-9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, (verse 12 is going to connect circumcision and baptism for us as signs that people belong to God) 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.
I’m guessing no one here anticipated a New Year’s message on circumcision. It wasn’t what I was thinking I would be sharing either, but God showed me that without a circumcision of our hearts, we can’t become more like Jesus in the purity of our lives, in the purity of our thoughts, in the purity of our speech and in our ability to hear and discern the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Circumcision is a word that means “cutting away of flesh.” To understand what Paul means when he talks about a circumcision of the heart, we are going to have to go back to Genesis 17 when circumcision was introduced into the biblical narrative. When God reaffirmed His covenant with Abraham, God said that a sign of the covenant, a sign that the Jewish people belonged to God and had entered into the covenant relationship would be the cutting of the flesh of all of the men of the nation. Look at the story in Genesis 17:
Genesis 17: 1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am GOD ALMIGHTY; walk before me and be blameless. 2 I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” 3 Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5 No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6 I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. Skipping to verse 9:
9 Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. 10 This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. 11 You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you.
When God reaffirmed His covenant with Abraham, when He established circumcision as the sign of the covenant, it wasn’t a random symbol that God was using. There was a direct correlation between cutting away part of the flesh on the male reproductive organ and what God promised Abraham He would do. In verses 5 and 6, God promised to make Abraham fruitful and reaffirmed that he would be the Father of Many Nations. In fact, in earlier chapters, God told Abraham his descendants would be as many as the sands on the seashore and the stars in the sky. That is pretty fruitful, right? So hold on to the idea that circumcision and fruitfulness go together.
Notice how God began in verse one. He called himself God Almighty. The Hebrew translation for God Almighty is El-shaddai. This is the first use of this name for God in the Old Testament. We could easily translate it to mean, “The Fully Capable God.” God wanted Abraham to know He was fully capable of delivering on the promises He was going to make. He would accomplish in and through Abraham what He said He would. Tell your neighbor, “God is fully capable to do whatever He has promised.”
In this story, God spoke to Abraham when he was 99 years old. Everybody say, “That’s old.” Abraham and Sarah had never had children together. Abraham had a son 13 years prior with Sarah’s servant, but Abraham and Sarah had never had a child. And so God came to Abraham and Sarah when Sarah was certainly well past childbearing years, when there was no way they could produce an heir from their bodies, and God did the impossible. When Abraham and Sarah were powerless to be fruitful, God stepped in. Can you tuck that thought inside your mind for a second?
Also in the context of this circumcision sign being established were name changes for both Abraham and Sarah. Abram became Abraham here in the verses we read, and later in the same chapter, Sarai became Sarah. Abram meant “high father,” but Abraham meant “Father of a Multitude.” Sarai meant “princess,” but Sarah meant “Mother of Nations.” There was an intentional shift with these slight name changes. The spelling and sound of the new names were a slight change, but the implication of the name changes were monumental. God was going to be at work in and through Abraham and Sarah to accomplish something big, something unique, something eternal, and He wanted their names to reflect that work. Their names reflected a transformation of their identity. Can you squirrel that thought away for a bit?
And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the shedding of blood was involved in the sign of circumcision. One final thing about Old Testament circumcision—Since it was performed on the male which contained the seed to generate life, it was a reminder that we are all conceived in sin but are able to come to God in and only through the grace of God.
Old Testament circumcision was a symbol of the Covenant Relationship God’s people had with God. It was an outward sign of a covenant of grace, a covenant that reflected that the Israelites had undergone a change in identity, that they were powerless on their own to accomplish all God had for them, that they would be fruitful because the fully capable God would be their God.
New Testament circumcision is an inward experience. Look again at Colossians 2: It says we have been circumcised in the putting off of our sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
The Old Testament mark reminded people they needed God’s grace to deal with their sin. The New Testament circumcision is actually a cutting away or a removing of that sin nature and replacing it with the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. If you are a Christian, you have received the fullness of Christ on the inside of your being. The fullness of Christ includes the fullness of God. Allow me to say it like this: God has made His home on the inside of you so that He can remake you from the inside out. This is New Testament circumcision. It is a circumcision of the heart. It is a replacing of our nature with the nature of Jesus Christ. It is an overhaul of our way of thinking. It is a makeover of our view of life, death, relationships, priorities, faith, dreams, and more. It is transformation of our desires. It is a total life change. You see, just as in the lives of Abraham and Sarah,
God brought life to you when you were powerless to produce life for yourself. Abraham and Sarah were powerless to change their circumstances, but God! The same is true for us.
Romans 5:6 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. We were powerless against sin, but Christ’s willingness to die in our place on the cross has secured eternal life in heaven and an abundant life on earth for anyone who wants to receive it.
God wants your life to be fruitful! Like Abraham and Sarah, you and I are supposed to have spiritual descendants; people who enter into a relationship with God because we show them how to connect with Him. John 15:4-5 4 Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 5 “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit–fruit that will last.
God wants to transform your identity. Just as God transformed Abraham and Sarah’s identities, God wants to give you a new identity in Christ. II Corinthians 5:17-17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! Galatians 2:20–20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Colossians 3:3-43 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
These verses tell us what happens when someone gives their life to Christ. They gain a new identity. They learn who they are in Christ. The Apostle Paul’s life totally, radically changed when he became a Christian. I don’t have time to tell you how insanely different he was. It was because he decided to identify 100 percent with Jesus. He said in Philippians 3:7-9 that everything he had achieved, everything people praised him for meant nothing compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Jesus. He basically said he was trashing everything people applauded him for so that he could be, (his words) “found in Christ”. Paul found himself in Christ. That is, he discovered who he was supposed to be as he fully embraced Christ! He let God change his identity as he was relocated inside of Jesus Christ. You will never discover who you were truly meant to be until you find yourself in Christ!
The same God Almighty who was fully capable to act in and through Abraham and Sarah is fully capable to perform His miracles in and through you. What does Philippians 1:6 say? “He who began a good work in you is faithful to complete it.” Philippians 1:6 Our God is the God who will never fail!
Just as the circumcision of the flesh was a perfect illustration of what God wanted to do with Abraham and Sarah’s lives, baptism is a perfect picture or sign that demonstrates what God wants to do with your life. Revisit with me what Paul said about baptism in Colossians 2:12: 12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.
That’s pretty vivid imagery, isn’t it? Going under the water symbolizes being buried. When we choose to follow Christ we voluntarily give up our lives and are raised to a new life in the power of God. God has saved us and raised us in order that we can become like Jesus. Romans 8:29 tells us that God desires that we conformed to the likeness of Jesus. That isn’t possible by simply cutting away some of our flesh. That won’t happen with some outward sign. It’s gotta be an inside job. It has to be a supernatural and spiritual experience. It can’t just be symbolic. It can’t just be a ritual or going through some spiritual kind of motions. And it can’t just be the removal of something from our lives. Our sin nature needs removed, yes, but it needs to be more than removed. It needs to be replaced with the nature of Jesus Christ, and that will only happen when you give the Holy Spirit full access to your heart. That is the way to experience a circumcision of the heart. It is to remove every sign in your heart that says “Keep Out,” “Off Limits.” Remember, the goal is that we become like Jesus.
Let me close with the story of Stephen. This guy was off the hook. He was hooked on Jesus. He was Holy Spirit amped. He was preaching and teaching like nobody’s business. Acts 6 says he was full of the Holy Spirit, full of grace, full of power and full of wisdom. Well, people got all up in arms about his preaching, and they treated him like they treated Jesus. They made up lies about him and drug him before the Sanhedrin, the same religious ruling body that condemned Jesus and handed Him over to the Roman courts. Stephen’s words in Acts 7 as he faced the Sanhedrin were incredible. He started by reminding the Sanhedrin leaders of the story of Abraham and the whole covenant of circumcision. He gave them a whole Bible History lesson by taking them through Joseph and then Moses and then the Tabernacle and the Law and Ten Commandments. He waxes on about David and Solomon and the building of the Temple.
And then he said this: Acts 7:48-51 48 “However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: 49 “‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord. Or where will my resting place be? 50 Has not my hand made all these things?’ 51 “You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit!
There it was. It wasn’t that these religious leaders didn’t know the Scriptures or the religious rules. It wasn’t that these religious leaders didn’t know there was a protocol for Holy Living. The problem was they had never experienced the heart change that could bring life to a dead religion, that could birth a relationship between them and God, that could make them fruitful, that could transform their identity and empower them to live with God’s authority and power. They had never had a circumcision of their hearts. They had never let the Holy Spirit have His way.
The Sanhedrin members weren’t having it. They were furious and verse 54 says they “gnashed their teeth at him.” I’m not uber sure what “gnashing one’s teeth at someone looks like, but that’s what they did!” They couldn’t handle Stephen because they couldn’t handle Jesus. He had become like Jesus. His heart had become circumcised. I have to read from verse 55 on because it proves Stephen had a circumcised heart.
55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, 58 dragged him out of the city and began to stone him…59 While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”
60 Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.
While Stephen was being killed, he did two things exactly the same way Jesus did them. He asked for his murderers to be forgiven, and he asked God to receive his spirit. I read that the stoning of Stephen set the stage for the rapid spread of Christianity to the rest of the world. Because of that violent persecution of Stephen and because of his murder, Christians began fleeing Jerusalem in search of safer places and spaces and when they did, they took the Gospel with them, planting churches and proclaiming the Good News. He lived a fruitful life and died a fruitful death.
Stephen was all in. He was willing to live for Jesus and he was willing to die for Jesus. Why? Because he had been radically changed from the inside out. He had allowed the Holy Spirit full access to his heart. The Holy Spirit cut out the wisdom of the world and replaced it with the wisdom of God. The Holy Spirit cut out the desires of the world and replaced them with the desires of God. The Holy Spirit cut out the fear of man and replaced it with the boldness of Christ. Stephen had undergone a circumcision of the heart. He was full of all things Jesus.
Deuteronomy 29 and 30 is another Old Testament passage where God’s people have a Covenant Renewal moment. There, Moses, leads the people in remembering all God had done and in admonishing them in all God desires for their lives. He says this in 30:6 6 The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. It was never about a mark of the flesh. It was always about a condition of the heart. God doesn’t want a superficial sign from you, but a surrendered heart. He doesn’t want a flesh wound that proves your love for Him, but a heart of flesh that beats with passionate love for Him.
I don’t have a pretty bow to put on this message. I don’t have one central “aha” I hope you will embrace. I didn’t even title it because I want each of us to hear a unique call today. I will say this: Circumcision of the heart goes way beyond attending church and keeping our noses clean. It is far weightier than wearing Christian jewelry and maintaining high moral standards. It sits deeper than Bible reading and good works. It’s about giving it all up so that we can go all in with Jesus and so that the Holy Spirit can take every part of us, eject what needs to go and replace it with all things Jesus. As we approach 2019, let’s make sure we aren’t resisting the Holy Spirit and are giving God access to every part of our hearts.