Rejoice In The Lord And Beware Of Those Who Place Confidence In The Flesh― Part 3 (series: Lessons on Philippians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

13 He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant.

Again, circumcision is the badge of the covenant. They did not have to do this in order to get the covenant; God had already made the covenant with them. I trust you will see this because it is so important. The same thing is true today. A great many people think that, if they join the church or are baptized, they will be saved. No, my friend, you don’t do those things to get saved. If you are saved, I think you will do both of them—you’ll join a church, and you’ll be baptized—but you don’t do that to get saved. We need to keep the cart where it belongs, following the horse, and not get the cart before the horse. For in fact, in the thinking of many relative to salvation, the horse is in the cart today.

Unfortunately, the Jewish people eventually made this ritual a means of salvation. Circumcision was a guarantee that you were accepted by God. (Some people today place the same false confidence in baptism, communion, and other religious rites that can be very meaningful if rightly used.) They did not realize that circumcision stood for something much deeper: the parent’s relationship to God. God wants us to “circumcise our hearts” and be totally devoted to Him in love and obedience (Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; Rom. 2:28-291).

Romans 4:9-12{2] makes it clear that the physical operation had nothing to do with Abraham’s eternal salvation. Abraham had believed God and received God’s righteousness before he ever was circumcised (Gen. 15:6{3]). Circumcision was not the means of his salvation but the mark of his separation as a man in covenant relationship with God. The legalistic element in the early church tried to make circumcision and obedience to the Law a requirement for salvation to the Gentiles, but this heresy was refuted (Acts 15:1-35). In his Galatian Epistle, Paul argues convincingly for salvation by grace alone.

Scripture reference and special notes for verse 13
{1] For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; 29 but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
{2] For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.
{3] And he believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.

14 And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant."

The fact that there were those who disobeyed (practically the entire nation disobeyed when they came out of the land of Egypt) did not count against the covenant. That disobedience simply meant that the individual would be cut off (separated from his people), because of his disobedience. Being cut off from the covenant community usually meant being banned or ostracized, and the loss of secular benefits stemming from being part of the special, chosen, and theocratic nation, which is the meaning here; but at other times the person was put to death, as in Exodus 31:14-15{6]. However, as far as the nation is concerned, no individual or group could destroy this covenant which God had made with Abraham and his descendants. It is an everlasting covenant. The man who had broken the covenant was cut off, but the covenant stood. That is how marvelous it is.

Elsewhere scripture refers to circumcision as a symbol of separation, purity, and loyalty to the covenant. Moses said that God would circumcise the hearts of His people so that they might be devoted to Him (Deut. 30:6). And Paul wrote that “circumcision of the heart” (i.e., being inwardly set apart “by the Spirit”) evidences salvation and fellowship with God (Rom. 2:28-29; Rom. 4:11.). One must turn in confidence to God and His promises, laying aside natural strength. Unbelief is described as having an uncircumcised heart (Jer. 9:26{5]; Ezek. 44:7-9).

What does all this mean to Christian believers today? The seal of our salvation is not an external rite but the presence of an internal witness in the person of the Holy Spirit of God (Eph. 1:13{1]; 4:30; Rom. 8:9, 16). We have experienced a “spiritual circumcision” (Col. 2:9-12{2]) that makes us part of the “true circumcision” (Phil. 3:1-3{3]). When we trusted Christ to save us, the Spirit of God” performed spiritual surgery that enables us to have victory over the desires of the old nature and the old life. Circumcision removes only part of the body, but the true “spiritual circumcision” puts off “the body of the sins of the flesh” (Col. 2:11) and deals radically with the sin nature. Believers today are not sealed with a physical mark; they receive the Holy Spirit as the seal at the time of their conversion (Eph. 4:30).

The “spiritual circumcision” is accomplished at conversion when the sinner believes in Christ and is baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13{4]). This baptism identifies the believer with Christ in his death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, and also in His circumcision (Col. 2:11-12{2]; Luke 2:21). It is not “the circumcision of Moses” but “the circumcision of Christ” that is important to the believer.

All the descendants of Abraham became known as the “circumcision” (Acts 10:45) and Gentiles were called the “uncircumcision” (Eph. 2:11). It is also the sign and seal of the righteousness which Abraham had by faith (Rom. 4:5). But then the words “circumcision” and “circumcised” took on a variety of meanings. “Uncircumcised lips” (Ex. 6:12) signified a lack of skill in public speaking. “Uncircumcised ears” and “uncircumcised hearts” spoke of failure to hear, love, and obey the Lord (Lev. 26:41; Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 6:10; Acts 7:51). “Uncircumcised in flesh” (Ezek. 45:7) meant unclean.

In the New Testament, “the circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11) refers to His death on a cross. Believers are circumcised through their identification with Christ; Paul speaks of it as “the circumcision made without hands in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh” (Col. 2:11). This circumcision speaks of death to the fleshly nature. It is true positionally of every believer but should be followed by a practical mortifying of the sinful deeds of the flesh (Col. 3:5). The apostle speaks of believers as the true circumcision (Phil. 3:3), in contrast to a group of Jewish legalist known as “the circumcision” (Gal. 2:12).

Abraham immediately obeyed God and gave every male of his household the mark of the covenant. No doubt, when he told them his new name, he also explained what this ritual meant.

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