Wednesday, November 9, 2011

God's Holy Spirit and the Circumcision of the Heart

This post is a continuation of the previous article, Becoming Circumcised as a Christian. As noted there, every Christian must be circumcised, but the meaning of "circumcision" is spiritual: physical circumcision is symbolic of the spiritual process of cutting out and putting away our inborn sinful nature. This post will elucidate the intimate connection between circumcision and receiving the Holy Spirit. Just as physical circumcision was rendered useless for a Jew who did not keep the law, so also spiritual circumcision is rendered useless for a Christian who does not keep the law.

In making a point about physical circumcision in Romans 4:11, Paul refers to the circumcision of Abraham as a "seal of the righteousness of [Abraham's] faith." The Holy Spirit is also referred to as a seal given to those who believe in Christ:
Ephesians 1:13
... having believed [in Christ], you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise
I have already demonstrated that the New Covenant's "circumcision of Christ" is equivalent to symbolically putting the sins of our flesh to death at baptism. If a man under the Old Covenant was circumcised but then did not follow God's law, then his circumcision was useless. So also, if we repent and are baptized but do not receive the Holy Spirit, then our spiritual circumcision is useless. Why? What it is that we need the Holy Spirit for?
Ezekiel 36:26-27
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.
Humans are naturally "hard-hearted," meaning we are unwilling to submit to God's law. Through Jeremiah, God spoke to the "men of Judah," who were already physically circumcised, saying "circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskin of your hearts" (Jeremiah 4:4). Additionally, God stated in Deuteronomy 5:29 that keeping the law required a heart that is inclined to God. As I have labored to show through this series of posts, circumcision of the heart is repentance. Repentance is a process of deep sorrow towards God because we have broken His law. Therefore, repentance, just like physical circumcision, is of no avail if we do not continue in God's law afterwards! For this reason, God promised that He would also give us the Holy Spirit, just as the above scripture states, to compel us to keep His law.

Without the Spirit of God, no man can live the way that God requires. Critics of God's law claim that God set up an impossibly high standard that Israel could not keep and that Christ was sent to abolish the law so that people wouldn't have to be punished for breaking it. The truth is that instead of God lowering His standards, He gives us access to the Holy Spirit, which is able to raise us up to meet His standard!
Romans 8:7-9
the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 
The "carnal mind" is what you are born with, and its primary problem, as Paul points out, is that "it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be." If you do not receive the Spirit, then you simply cannot obey God - and if you cannot obey God, you "cannot please God." Now notice the very next verse, which deals specifically with spiritual circumcision:
Romans 8:10
And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness.
As I've shown, the first part of this verse is spiritual circumcision: "the body is dead because of sin." The latter part of the verse goes on to define what it means to live a circumcised life: "the Spirit is life because of righteousness." As I pointed out, Ezekiel 36:26-27 shows that the purpose of the Spirit was to cause us to keeps God's law, which is the definition of righteous behavior.

Therefore, the observable difference between a spiritually circumcised person and one who is spiritually uncircumcised is adherence to the law of God. A true Christian acknowledges through circumcision (i.e. repentance) that their own way of living was insufficient for God, and, as a result, changes their way of living because of the Spirit of God dwelling in them, which compels them to want to keep God's law.
Ephesians 4:17-24 
... You should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk... being alienated from the life of God... because of the blindness of their heart... put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts,  and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.
Just as physical circumcision was intended to be a "seal" or a sign indicating a life of obedience to God, so also the Holy Spirit, which leads us into righteous behavior, is a "seal" of our obedience to God. If we,j by continuing to sin, do not follow the Spirit which is in us, then we have made that seal worthless.

The step that every Christian must take, therefore, is to learn what God's law is and endeavor to follow it, which the Spirit will compel you to want to do. The best way to learn God's law is from His own Word, and I suggest carefully reading (or re-reading) the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy with this in mind. If you have only ever thought of the law as a set of physical rules that doesn't apply to you, then you need to get that notion out of your head! While much of it is given from a physical standpoint, the spiritual implications are what God wants us to learn - take my explanation of circumcision as a case study! Ask yourself what the purpose of each commandment is, both physically and spiritually, and what you need to do to fulfill it in your life.

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