The Good News - Home
The Cross and Circumcision
By David A. DePra
And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations. This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. (Gen 17:9-11)
And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved…..But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses. (Acts 15:1, 5)
Circumcision was the SIGN or TOKEN of the Old Covenant. You could not be under the Old Covenant unless you were circumcised. Indeed, circumcision was the sign that you were one of God’s people. The women were considered to fall under the circumcision of their father, and then later, their husbands.
Circumcision was not optional under the Old Covenant. It was the doorway INTO the nation of Israel, and to the promises of God. In fact, if you were not naturally born of the race of Israel, but were circumcised – it would be as if you were an Israelite.
And when a stranger shall sojourn with thee, and will keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as one that is born in the land: for no uncircumcised person shall eat thereof. (Exo 12:48)
Again I say – because we must establish this – that circumcision was how you became one of God’s people. Or, to put it another way, circumcision SET YOU APART and IDENTIFIED you as one who belonged to God. Because of this, it meant EVERYTHING.
Now, when we turn to the New Testament, we find Paul, a Jew, making an incredible statement. He says:
Behold, I Paul say unto you, that if ye be circumcised, Christ shall profit you nothing. (Gal 5:2)
For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision avails any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which works by love. (Gal 5:6)
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. (Gal 6:14-16)
Paul was, in these verses, completely invalidating circumcision for those in Christ. Now can we see why he aroused such anger from the Jews? Paul was essentially saying that the Jews were no longer the exclusive people of God – because the very sign that set them apart from others, and identified them as those that belonged to God, was no longer of any avail. He was really saying that the Old Covenant, which circumcision represented, was done away in Christ.
It is probably impossible for us today to grasp the magnitude of Paul’s proclamation that circumcision meant NOTHING. On the one hand, it was a statement that represented a great freedom. But on the other, it completely destroyed the foundation of the religion that had been practiced by the Jews.
A New Testament Circumcision
Most all of those things God gave and commanded in the OT had New Testament counterparts. The OT was, "the shadow of things to come." The NT brought the reality of CHRIST IN US. The OT was all about Christ – but the New Testament WAS Christ Himself. Circumcision was one of those shadows that spoke of a greater reality.
Earlier I said that circumcision SET APART a person as one of God’s people. It was essentially surgery that was performed, cutting off the foreskin, and marking that person forever as belonging to God. This not only ushered that person – normally 8 days old – officially into the nation of Israel, but it also put them under the law. Likewise, it entitled them to certain blessings and inheritance. Thus, circumcision was a visible sign in the flesh of a person that they were all of the above.
There is much said in the NT about circumcision. Of course, front and center is the fact that it means NOTHING as far as access to God, relationship with Christ, or salvation. But it did represent a great Truth that is found in Christ. Circumcision represented the CROSS of Jesus Christ – and the necessity of each believer coming TO it, and UNDER it, and THROUGH it.
And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; (Col 2:10-13)
The Bible reveals that Jesus did not merely deliver us from the penalty FOR sin. That is, of course, included in what He did. But more importantly, Jesus delivered us from SIN ITSELF. In fact, He delivered us, through His death on the Cross, from the old creation – from the Adam race. And through His resurrection, we are born again a NEW creature.
We see this, not only in the above passage, but through a number of parallels between circumcision and the Cross. First, circumcision was the, "cutting off," of the flesh. Indeed, God chose that particular part of the body for an important reason. Circumcision illustrated the Truth that, through the Cross, God cut off the Adam race completely. In the Cross of Jesus Christ, Adam, and everyone in Adam, dies. What better way to show the death of the entire Adam race than to figuratively CUT OFF that which procreates and continues that race?
God was illustrating that the human race had no ability to produce LIFE through pro-creation. Oh, we can birth other spiritually dead people. But we cannot produce those who are alive unto God. The Adam race is DEAD. But rather than think about this in terms of God condemning Adam, think about it in terms of God delivering us from the Adam race. In other words, God was delivering us from the utter futility of continuing a dead race. Rather, He made a NEW creature – a new kind of man in Christ.
Here we see the real meaning of the Cross. The Cross is the death of the Adamic race. Through the Cross, God has completely set aside, indeed, put to death, if you will, everything that belongs to that old creation. He has CUT IT OFF. The Adamic race ENDED at the Cross of Jesus. That is why He is called the Last Adam. After Him, there is NO more Adam – what we see since the Cross is nothing more than the working out of that through the impact of the Cross in the lives of people.
God says that believers are, "planted into Christ" – planted INTO His death – and also, "planted into Christ," unto newness of life through the resurrection. This tells us much. It means that, yes, Christ died FOR us – He tasted a death for us that we will never have to taste. But this was all so that we could die IN HIM and be raised IN HIM. You could not be set free from Adam or become a new creation if Christ simply did things FOR you. But He did all these things FOR YOU so that you could experience them IN HIM, and thus, received the impact IN YOU.
Through the Cross, God CUT OFF the Adam race, and if we come to the Cross, the Adam race is cut off from US. We are then SET APART for God – and become one of God’s people – through the resurrection, in identification with Christ. Remember how circumcision set one apart as one of God’s people? This is exactly what the Cross makes possible. Indeed, only the Cross makes it possible.
Here we see the error of neglecting or denying the Cross. This would be worse than telling an Old Testament Jew that he did not have to be circumcised to become one of God’s people. It would equal to saying that you can be IN ADAM, but IN CHRIST, at the same time. Make no question about it, if you don’t enter into Christ through the Cross, you are NOT in Christ. You are NOT saved. This is just that important.
For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. (I Cor. 1:18)
Through the Cross we are not only delivered from sin – from the Adam race – but we are delivered UNTO God. We now BELONG to Him. Of course, people tend to think of this in negative terms, as if God gets to do as He pleases with us, and this will make us quite miserable. Well, God does have the right to do as He pleases, but if we had a clue about Him, we would pray that He would!
Have we yet realized that a Christian BELONGS to God? That is really the definition of a Christian – a Christian IS one who belongs to God. If you look in the Bible, you will find that the most often used term to refer to a Christian is the term SAINT. Well, the Greek word that is translated SAINT means, "a holy one; one who is set apart for God’s use." In fact, the word SAINT comes from the same word that is translated, "sanctification," and often from the same word translated, "holiness." The terms, "saint," and, "holiness," and, "sanctification," are all talking about the same Truth – that those who are in Christ no longer belong to themselves, but to God. In addition, how about the HOLY Spirit that dwells in us? The Holy Spirit makes one holy.
God states this Truth directly in scripture:
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For you are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's. (1 Cor 6:19-20)
When you read a verse like this, and realize that you don’t belong to yourself – and begin to meditate upon what that REALLY means – how does it strike you? Well, for one thing, we might ask if the reason we obey God, and avoid evil – which is talked about right in this passage – is because we have a reverence and a consciousness of the Truth that we are not our own, but belong to God? Or do we obey God because we are afraid NOT to obey?
If we had a real thankfulness for what Jesus has delivered us FROM, and a real reverence of what we are delivered TO – we would not want to sin. We would not want to VIOLATE what Christ has done. We would live as if we really DID belong to God – or at least that would be our goal. It would not be forced by law, or come about as part of a religious exercise, but would be the result of a reverence for, and a relationship with, Jesus Christ.
As mentioned, HOLINESS means, "to belong to God" – to be set apart for His use. But people try to be holy by doing holy things – or what they think are holy things. No. Holiness is the result of relationship with God. I have been bought with a price, and if I have become rightly related to Him by faith, the result will be that I will want to live in the reality of belonging to God – and what emerges will be a holy life of obedience.
The irony of trying to become holy by doing holy things is that if that is how I am trying to become holy, then I am unholy. I don’t believe I belong to God through the Cross of Christ, but am trying to belong to Him through works. Thus, the very means by which I belong to God, and become holy, I am denying – and trying to make it happen through works. This is unbelief, which is an unholy thing.
A Christian, by definition, is a HOLY ONE – a saint. This is not because of anything about us. It is because we are IN CHRIST – and that means we are set apart for God. And the only way to enter into such a relationship with God is through the Cross of Jesus Christ. Just as OT circumcision set you apart as one of God’s people, now the Cross sets you apart as one of God’s people – as one of His saints, or holy ones.
A Christian IS holy. That is because we are IN Christ. But this doesn’t mean we always live holy. That is why Paul exhorts Christians to remember that all of this is Truth – it is not religion.
The Offense of the Cross
And I, brethren, if I were preaching circumcision, would I suffer persecution? No. For then is the offence of the cross ceased. (Gal. 5:11)
But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. (Gal 6:14)
But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; (1 Cor 1:23)
The offense of the Cross is what we already seen – the Cross completely cuts off everything that the Adam race has to offer to God. You cannot commend yourself to God by pointing to any assets that you acquired by natural birth. Rather, you must LOSE all of that. Not in the sense of never using any natural talents, etc. But in the sense of absolutely losing everything about yourself that might otherwise seem to make you good, righteous, or profitable to God.
Of course, the primary thing we try to present to God is our good works. Now, even if you are continually living in condemnation and defeat, because your good works aren’t good enough, you are guilty of trying to present your good works to God. Sure. The REASON you are defeated is that you are trying to present your works to God – and you are doing a bad job of it. You are just as self-righteous as those who think they are doing good works, but your self-righteousness is a frustrated one. To put it another way, your faith is in your works, and right now, your faith isn’t very strong because your works aren’t very good.
Circumcision is often used by Paul to illustrate our attempt to do in our flesh what can only be done by God through His Spirit. Circumcision was an identifiable mark in the flesh. Indeed, Paul even says that those who demanded circumcision wanted to, "make a good show – or appearance – in the flesh." In other words, these people thought that if you LOOKED holy, and LOOKED like you belonged to God, then you DID. They completely set aside the Truth of the Cross, and the necessity of faith.
There are many who demand circumcision today – although not literally. They demand that you DO this or that, or you cannot be right with God. They don’t preach or teach Christ, or teach the reality of the Cross – but substitute for that with religion that looks holy and right. But it is entirely possible to keep all kinds of laws and rules, and to alter my conduct according to an accepted religious norm, and yet NEVER even be saved. This is as futile as actually being circumcised and thinking that it makes you belong to God.
Of course, there IS another side to this Truth. Paul did say that circumcision avails nothing. But he also said that uncircumcision avails nothing. The point is this: You may realize that good works cannot make you holy. But don’t think that you are holy because you refuse to do good works. There are many Christians today who refuse legalism, but embrace license. You will never be made holy by what you refuse. You will be made holy by what you embrace – the Cross. And if you embrace the Cross, you will do good works. It’s just that you won’t do them to GET holy. You will do them because you ARE holy.
You will note in one of the verses above that Paul said that he could not glory in anything except the Cross of Jesus Christ? What did he mean by that? – that he took pride in himself because he relied on the Cross? No. Rather, Paul was saying, "I take glory in the means by which I am shown to have nothing to take glory in – the Cross." In other words, Paul was using what we might call IRONY, or a play on words. He was saying, "I take glory in the fact that I have nothing in which to take glory. I glory in the fact that I am nothing, and He is everything." Paul wasn’t taking pride in his humility, or taking pride in his faith. He was simply saying that if you want to brag about something, brag about Jesus Christ – and the fact that He has exposed you as one who has nothing over which to boast.
Have we realized the freedom of having NOTHING over which to glory? There is great freedom in having nothing to protect about ourselves, and in having no façade to try to keep up. The Cross provides this freedom. But to those who WANT something of themselves to glory over, the Cross is an offense.
An OFFENSE, or stumbling block, is something that you trip over, or must GET OVER – in order to embrace the Truth. An offense arouses in us a resentment. The Cross is an offense to those who don’t want to belong to God, but want to belong to themselves. The Cross is an offense to those who aren’t willing to stand before God naked and exposed. The Cross is an offense to those who still think that Jesus came to bring out the best in them.
You hear that preached all the time today by people like Joel Osteen, and many others. I’ve even heard it said that the reason God puts His Treasure in our earthen vessel is to make the earthen vessel great. This is such a lie. When God puts His Treasure in us – in our earthen vessel – we are never made great. Rather, we are made BLESSED. But again – we still think we have something to offer God. If you believe that, then read this shocking, humiliating, and sobering verse:
Don’t you know that unless Jesus Christ is in you, you are reprobates? (2 Cor. 13:5)
That pretty much says it. We are merely BLESSED recipients of God’s grace. We bring NOTHING to the table. We must RECEIVE. This is exactly why God uses the picture of circumcision – all that we are in Adam must die; must be cut off. There is nothing in Adam that can be salvaged.
But this is WHY people are offended by the Cross. Now, don’t think of being offended by the Cross as getting mad, or stomping around, or overtly denying it. Most people who are offended by the Cross simply neglect it, or consider it needless, or just hold it as a meaningless doctrine. But they won’t come to the Cross. They don’t think they NEED to, and any suggestion to that effect they consider an insult to their integrity, and a matter of God putting them down.
Now, I do realize that many people come to the Cross because they want forgiveness for sins, and even because they realize they need forgiveness for sins. I’m not putting that down – it is a good start and essential. But we must realize that not only did Jesus bear our sin on the Cross, but He also bore US. What I’m saying is that you must surrender your sin, yes, but you must surrender your SELF. And ironically, if you won’t surrender your SELF, then you actually are not surrendering your sin, because central TO sin is your SELF.
The core of sin is SELF ownership. Isn’t that interesting, seeing as how central to salvation is that we belong to GOD? Here we again see the centrality of the work of the Cross. The Cross cuts off ownership over ourselves, and through the resurrection we belong to God. There is NO OTHER way to be saved.
For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect. For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. (1 Cor 1:17-18)
For two-thousand years, people have been trying to turn Christianity into a HOW TO method of either getting God to move, or of getting God to accept us. Instead of receiving, we try to earn. The error behind this is that we still think we CAN earn, and don’t realize that the only way to receive, is, well, to freely receive.
Circumcision was an outward show – literally in the flesh – that proved that you belonged to God. So we might ask – what kind of things do Christians use today to prove they belong to God, are right with God, or to prove they are spiritual?
Well, you name it and it has been used. People think they are right with God because of good works. They believe they are right with God because they go to church. Or because they said, "the sinner’s prayer." Or because they, "are good people who never did anything to hurt anyone." Even without verbalizing it, or putting it down on paper, professing Christians continue to hold up something about themselves that they think merits God’s grace. But all of it amount to nothing more than saying that, "circumcision," matters. It may not be OT circumcision, but it is the same thing – we look for evidence in our flesh that we are right with God. And yet ironically, this is exactly what God says is NOT proof that we are right with Him. Indeed, He says that the very flesh we present to Him must be crucified.
It never occurs to most Christians, but self-righteousness is SIN. Trying to make yourself right with God through SOME means – even using the things of God – is SIN. It is sin because it is unbelief. ALL of this must come to the Cross. ALL of it must be cut off. And then, when we are completely convinced that we have NOTHING about ourselves in which to glory – we will glory only in the Cross. We will be free unto a relationship with God, in Spirit, Truth, and grace, that results in good works.
You are a Christian, and right with God, because of Jesus Christ. We are created IN Christ Jesus UNTO good works. Circumcision – even the modern kind – means NOTHING. What means everything is that we are a NEW CREATION in Jesus Christ.
The Good News - Home