A Circumcized Heart
For centuries men have thirsted after a utopian society – an era when peace, righteousness, justice and equity would exist for all men. Mankind has feverishly endeavored to purge the world of war, famine and sickness.
Many have put their faith in a progressive, enlightened world, believing that as mankind became more knowledgeable – as he advanced scientifically and technologically – he would naturally turn his vast knowledge and ability toward creating this society. Actually, however, history demonstrates this hope to be false. Instead of progressing toward this utopia, man has been on a continuous decline, morally and spiritually. He has advanced from the individual weaponry of a club to potential total ruination by the atomic bomb – from a moral conviction of absolutes to a philosophy of situation ethics – from societal concern to near total apathy.
Centuries ago, God gave the formula for a perfect age to Israel in the Hebrew Scriptures. Its fulfillment will be found in the Messiah, as recorded in the Old and New Testaments.
This naturally leads to the question, “How does the Messiah deal with the issue of man’s ills?” Or, even more importantly, “What is the ultimate purpose of the Messiah?”
Necessity Of Conversion
The historical record of man’s dilemma is analogous to that which God has taught concerning the heart of man’s problem. Ultimately, man’s failure to reach a utopian age is traced to sin – a conscious and unconscious rebellion toward God. Sin is anything which contradicts God’s character. It not only involves breaking God’s laws, but also includes not doing what He desires of us. It is anything that removes us from harmony with Him.
A salient glance at society reveals sin in every sphere of human experience. A discerning inward examination unmasks the truth that we are all at enmity with God. It is not necessary to be a theologian or religionist to recognize that mankind falls short of the requirements of God.
Both the Old and New Testaments are very clear and unambiguous in their teaching concerning sin. God declares that there are none righteous – no, not one – all have sinned against Him (Ecclesiastes 7:20, Psalm 14:1-3, Isaiah 64:6, Jeremiah 17:9 and Romans 3:9-10 and 23). It is precisely for this reason that God demands conversion. Both the Hebrew and Greek words translated conversion mean turning from one thing to another.
Conversion has no bearing on one’s birthright, but rather affects one’s personal relationship with God. Contextually, conversion refers to man’s turning to God and away from his present condition of sin. Obviously then, it is erroneous to say that a Jewish person becomes a Gentile, or a Gentile becomes Jewish, when accepting Jesus as Saviour and becoming converted.
The biblical teaching on this subject is unobscured. Doctor Luke, in his historical account of the early church testifies to this truth in the Acts of the Apostles: “And being brought on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy unto all the brethren” (Acts 15:3).
Obviously, Luke was not implying that the Gentiles had become Jews, but rather that they had turned from their life of paganism to the true, living God by accepting Jesus as Messiah. One only needs to read the context of the chapter to understand his statement.
Conversion is not unique to the New Testament, for in the Old Testament Israel was entreated to be converted. King David, in his penitential prayer, declared his concern for his people: “Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee” (Psalm 51:13). Likewise, Isaiah makes a similar statement concerning the conversion of the Jewish people in Isaiah 6:10. David and Isaiah were not exhorting Jews to become Gentiles, but rather to turn to the true, living God and away from their lives of sin. This is what Isaiah had in mind when he said, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way . . .” (Isaiah 53:6).
Since we are all sinners, and have all gone astray, all must be converted.
Necessity Of A Circumcized Heart
The Bible teaches that every person, both Jew and Gentile, must have circumcision performed on the heart. Obviously, God is not speaking of literal, physical circumcision; He is referring to a spiritual, internal change.
Man’s predicament is vividly demonstrated in Isaiah’s statement: “But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you, that he will not hear” (Isaiah 59:2). This presents an insurmountable problem. Since all men have hearts that are in opposition to God, how can one convert? How can one turn to God from his present position?
The answer once again is found in the Bible. A transformation must take place within, which will permit man to have an intimate relationship with the true and living God. The only possible solution to man’s dilemma is found as God himself makes the heart kosher (pure, fit and clean).
On three occasions the Apostle Paul states that the only way to have a true relationship and fellowship with God is to undergo the internal operation of having the heart circumcized. God is not referring to the heart which maintains life support by pumping blood throughout the body, but to the very core of man’s total being, all that he is – emotions, intellect and will.
In his epistle to the church in Rome, Paul emphasized this principle. In chapter 2, starting at verse 17 and continuing through the end of the chapter, he unfolds the truth about the natural-born Jew. In verses 28 and 29, Paul explains what it takes for this natural Jew to be a Jew as God intended him to be. He says that it is only as one experiences circumcision of the heart: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision 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 and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” Paul in this passage, as well as in Philippians 3:3 and Colossians 2:11, reveals that circumcision of the heart is synonymous with new birth, regeneration, and becoming a new creation.
This doctrine is not only found in the New Testament, for circumcision of the heart originated with the nation of Israel in the Old Testament. It was this truth that Jesus drove home to Nicodemus, as recorded in John’s Gospel in chapter 3. Nicodemus, a Jewish leader and teacher apparently searching for the truth, came to Jesus by night. Jesus minced no words with Nicodemus as He immediately told him what was necessary if he wished to enter the kingdom of God: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (verse 3). Surprisingly, Jesus seemed to be critical of Nicodemus. After he heard what was required to enter into the kingdom of God, Nicodemus was perplexed. He did not understand how a person could be born a second time. Jesus response was, “Art thou a teacher of Israel, and knowest not these things?” (verse 10). In essence, Jesus was stating that this teaching of new birth should not have confounded Nicodemus, since he was a teacher of all Israel.
At this time two major facts must be pointed out, for the significance of this event is momentous! First, Jesus had not yet died; and second, the New Testament had not yet been penned. It is the conviction of many that the belief in the new birth, or a regeneration experience, is synonymous with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament. While this is true, it must be asked: “What was Jesus referring to, because it is obvious He expected Nicodemus to understand what He was talking about?” The only possible explanation is that the Old Testament revelation to the nation of Israel had also taught this doctrine called new birth or regeneration. Since Nicodemus was a teacher of Israel, he should not have been caught unaware of this truth.
Today, we have an advantage. We have the completed revelation of God – both the Old and New Testaments.
Centuries ago, Augustine said, “The Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament, and the New Testament is concealed in the Old Testament.”
In light of the New Testament, one can now go back to the Old Testament and see that which is concealed, particularly the teaching concerning a circumcized heart.
Israel’s prophets promulgated the message that God insisted upon a circumcized heart. Moses, Jeremiah and Ezekiel not only revealed this truth but arduously warned Israel of the consequences if they did not heed God’s commandment. Moses taught that the remedy for life was through the circumcision of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6). Jeremiah exhorted the Israelites to circumcize their hearts to escape God’s fury because of the evil of their doings (Jeremiah 4:4). Ezekiel also unveils the necessity for a new heart (Ezekiel 11:19, 18:31, 36:25-27).
There is no doubt that Jesus was implying that the new birth (circumcision of the heart) should have been understood, and that it was imperative for the Jew as well as for the Gentile, if indeed they desired to enter the kingdom of God.
Necessity Of Entering Into The New Covenant
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a NEW COVENANT with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah, Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, which, my covenant, they broke, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord; But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel: After those days, saith the Lord, I WILL PUT MY LAW IN THEIR INWARD PARTS, AND WRITE IT IN THEIR HEARTS, and will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:31-33).
In the days of Jeremiah, God promised Israel that a day would come when He would work in the hearts of His people, unlike the external law covenant given through Moses. This would be accomplished through the New Covenant which He would make with Israel.
One may search diligently through the entire Old Testament, from Genesis to Malachi, and not find the fulfillment of this New Covenant. It is only as one reads the progressive revelation of God in the New Testament that the fulfillment of the New Covenant is found.
Much to the surprise of many, the first book of the New Testament, the Gospel according to Matthew, is unequivocally Jewish. While this may be new to some, it really should not be thought of as strange – for it was written by a Jewish writer to Jewish people about the Jewish Messiah and Saviour of the world. There are scores of Old Testament Scriptures quoted throughout. Even a brief survey of this book undeniably reveals Jesus to fulfill the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament Scriptures.
It is within this context that the fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy concerning the New Covenant is found.
Jesus, a Jew himself, was fulfilling the law by observing the Jewish feast of Passover with his Jewish disciples. Matthew records this event, which is commonly referred to as The Lord’s Supper: “And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament (covenant) which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28).
Since we are removed from this historical event by over nineteen hundred years, special care must be used in interpreting it. However, by placing ourselves in the sandals of the disciples, we can better understand what Jesus meant by this statement. Surely we must rule out the belief that the disciples actually ate the physical body and drank the literal blood of Jesus. Obviously, this could not be so, since He was very much alive and participating in the event Himself.
A closer look clearly reveals that this was a symbolic act, even as Passover itself was. The disciples knew that the Mosaic Covenant, which God made with Israel, was made in blood. They also knew that God had promised Israel a New Covenant. It would not only be inconsistent with the Old Testament Scriptures, but equally unthinkable that the New Covenant would be made without blood. Actually, Jesus was illustrating that as a lamb was sacrificed and its blood shed centuries earlier in behalf of Israel, so He was now going to become the true Passover Lamb by shedding His blood in behalf of Israel and the whole world. There can be no doubt that Jesus was referring to the New Covenant about which Jeremiah spoke.
The quest for a utopia has plagued man ever since the fall out of harmony with God. It will one day become a reality, when mankind becomes reconciled to God through the Messiah. But what about today? And of a graver nature, what about individual accountability to God – not only for today, but for all eternity? The reconciliation that will one day bring total peace, justice and righteousness to the world can be ours today. It must become ours – yours and mine – if we desire, as Nicodemus did, to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
Not only will you have a full and meaningful life here on earth in relationship and fellowship with God, but you will be assured of eternal life with God as well. This can only come about as we permit the Master Surgeon to circumcize our hearts.
The Apostle Paul wrote that heart circumcision is accomplished by the circumcision of Christ, the Messiah (Colossians 2:11). When you put your trust in Jesus as your personal Saviour, believing that He was the Lamb sacrificed for your sins, this internal surgery – new birth, circumcision of the heart – is accomplished.
God explicitly states that there is nothing we can do – it must be accomplished by Him. The part you and I play in our salvation is to accept the free gift that God has given us, eternal life through Jesus the Messiah, our Lord: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ, our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
While this provision is not a continuation of Judaism, it is consistent with biblical Judaism. The question of supreme importance then, to both Jew and Gentile – to you and me – is: DO WE HAVE CIRCUMCIZED HEARTS? Our decision is a matter of life or death!