“What, indeed, is the point of circumcision?” Romans 3:1.
God told Abraham, “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Genesis 17:14
Circumcision is a ritual, a symbol. Symbols and rituals are potent things, much more so than we’ve believed. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue” (Proverbs 18:21), and a ritual is the performance of a promise or words of promise dramatically acted out. Circumcision acts out the dedication of a man’s seed or generations to God. God required each generation of Abraham’s future children to dedicate the next generation to Him in the same symbol, generation after generation.
The words of our fathers matter. The oaths of our fathers apply to us. But the power of the oath increases or decreases with our level of participation. We might have a robust spiritual heritage that blesses or curses our family. We must choose whether to participate in the previous generations' oaths or renounce them.
The apostle Paul asked,
“What, indeed, is the point of circumcision?” Romans 3:1.
This challenge of symbols is the question of every generation. Some children ask, “Why do we go to Church? Why do we lift our hands in worship? Why do people get baptized? Or why do some Christians close their business on Sunday? Why do we make wedding vows?”
Other children ask, “Why did Daddy leave? Why did Mom and Dad get divorced? Why did Daddy hit me? Why was I given up for adoption?”
Different strokes for different folks, but all our strokes (actions and words) are powerful rituals that influence generations. It is important that we consciously and carefully choose our rituals.
God required circumcision because He wanted Abraham’s family to remain loyal to the covenant He inaugurated for the sake of the world. The whole world’s salvation was riding on the shoulders of the seed of Abraham. Hence, the symbol and requirement of circumcision. God wanted a faithful and committed carrier of the covenant of hope.
The negative side of oaths is the curses they bring. A broken commitment comes with a curse. Before they entered the promised land, Moses compelled the children of Abraham to renew the covenant with God, including this negative oath:
‘Cursed is anyone who does not fulfill the words of this Law by doing them.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen.’
We should know by now that broken marriage oaths come with a curse. When we say, “For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do us part,” and then we break that oath, we come under the curse of a broken vow, and we place our children under the curse of a broken vow. Have we realized yet that divorce is contagious? The sins of divorce, adultery, infidelity, etc., get passed down the family line and spread into the wider community. Oaths are solemn things to make and solemn things to break.
Jesus said, “Make no oath at all but let your ‘yes’ mean yes and your ‘no’ mean no. Anything more is from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:36-37).
So why did God make an oath and command Abraham’s children to renew the commitment?
In Matthew 5:36-37, Jesus commented on the legal games people play with their words when they break them and say that it is okay because their words were not under oath. The practice He addressed is similar to someone making a promise with their fingers crossed behind their backs. Many of us believe such a promise can be broken because of crossed fingers, and Jesus clearly says no to such a belief. But Jesus is not against oaths. Instead, Jesus said that our “yes” or “no” should be as binding as the most solemn oath.
Humans are inclined to lie, though God never lies. Because of this inclination, God swore to confirm to humans the seriousness of His promises:
For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear an oath by no one greater, He swore by Himself, saying, “INDEED I WILL GREATLY BLESS YOU AND I WILL GREATLY MULTIPLY YOU.” And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. For people swear an oath by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath serving as confirmation is an end of every dispute. In the same way God, desiring even more to demonstrate to the heirs of the promise the fact that His purpose is unchangeable, confirmed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to hold firmly to the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and reliable and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:13-20.
So oaths matter, circumcision matters, and rituals and symbols matter.
If, according to the promise made to Abraham, circumcision was necessary to determine your acceptance among the people of God, how can the circumcised apostle Paul say, “Circumcision, you see, is nothing; neither is uncircumcision. What matters is new creation.” (Galatians 6:15)?
The goal of God’s covenant with Abraham was not circumcision but new creation. Circumcision was never an end in itself, as though it pleased God somehow for men to cut off the foreskin. What pleased God concerning circumcision was the loyalty commitment it represented for themselves and their future generations to follow in the faith of their father, Abraham. The faith of the commitment was required, not circumcision.
Circumcision is not required by the Church today because God inaugurated a new covenant through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. The goal of the covenant with Abraham was a new creation, and the resurrection of Jesus is the beginning of that new creation. In other words, God fulfilled His oath, and that first covenant was completed. What is required today for entrance into God’s renewed people is baptism, the circumcision of the heart.
God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.”
1 Peter 3:20-22 NASB
“Baptism now saves you” can be misunderstood similarly to the statement God made to Abraham, saying, “Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people.” The water of baptism does not save you in itself, nor the rolling away of flesh in circumcision. What saved us in the past was the faith to be circumcised, and what saves us in the present is the faith to be baptized. In each case, it is faith in God’s word that saves.
“What shall we say then? Have we found Abraham to be our father in a human, fleshly sense?” Romans 4:1
Salvation is for the children of Abraham. But in what sense are we children of Abraham? When we share the faith of Abraham, we are Abraham’s children.
“If you really were Abraham’s children,” replied Jesus, “you would do what Abraham did!” John 8:39 NTE
Circumcision as a topic takes up much of the seventeenth chapter of Genesis and much of the Bible. Circumcision is a big deal. It's painful, it's weird, and it is deliberate. Nobody is accidentally circumcised. Circumcision must be done on purpose.
“In the very same day Abraham was circumcised, and Ishmael his son. All the men of his household, who were born in the house or bought with money from a foreigner, we're circumcised with him.” Genesis 17:26-27
Circumcision was God's ordained way for men to say, “I'm in. Count me in.”
Joshua said to the Israelites, “But if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods which your fathers served, which were beyond the Euphrates River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” Joshua 24:15 NASB
“Baptism now saves you.” 1 Peter 3:21
Jesus established baptism as the seal of membership under the new covenant. There is a reason many of us waver and delay getting baptized. It is a spiritual step that the devil does not want you to take. It is a Holy ritual that sets you apart to God. Baptism is the seal of covenant membership in the new covenant inaugurated through Jesus. Baptism
is required in the same way that Israel was required to put the lamb's blood on the doors of their houses on the night of the Passover. Anyone can talk all day long about their commitment to Christ or their faith, but the step of obedience in baptism speaks more than words; it's a binding ritual.
When a Roman centurion gave his life to Jesus, He did the same thing Abraham did on the day God covenanted with him, only instead of circumcision, he got baptized.
“And he (the Roman jailer) took them (Paul and Silas) that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.”
If you have never taken the step of faithful obedience and been baptized, today is the day to follow through for the sake of you and your whole household. Dedicated your family to God. Your words and actions are powerful rituals that influence generations to come. Choose your rituals wisely.