The Circumcised Heart

Introduction

Jesus as Lord

Before discussing the circumcised heart, I want to discuss the lordship of Jesus.  Unfortunately, in our present western culture we don’t understand completely the concept of lordship nor the idea of a master-servant relationship.  In fact, we are taught to question all authority.  Many of us have been raised to have a low view of any authority.  The idea of having someone lord it over us, or the idea of becoming someone’s bond servant have become looked upon as extremely negative in our current world.  Regardless of your view of authority, it is likely that it is rather difficult for you to understand what it means to truly make Jesus the Lord of your life.  Consider the term landlord.  The landlord is the lord of the land.  He controls the land or property completely.  As the landlord is lord of the land he owns, Jesus should have the same ownership over your life.  This begs the question: Is Jesus really the Lord of your life?

The system of this world is focused on putting our “self” or our happiness at the center of our lives.  As Christians, we must surrender to the authority and lordship of Jesus Christ.  We must be willing to surrender our lives totally to Jesus and make Him our Lord and Master.  He must control every aspect of our lives totally.  We all must make Jesus Christ the center of our lives and remove whatever else is currently taking that place.

If Jesus is to be our Savior, He must first become our Lord.  In Romans 10, Paul discusses the criteria for us to be saved, vs. 9, “…because, if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord”, remember that this confession is not a carelessly or casually spoken word but is to be considered a statement of the truth from our hearts that Jesus has become the lord of our lives, “and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.(RSV)” 

Again in Matthew 7:21 Jesus says, “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”   Doing the will of the Father exhibits true lordship, but saying “Lord, Lord” is not enough; for some it’s only words.

We know from the scriptures that one day every tongue will confess Jesus as Lord (Philippians 2:11), and  we will be judged according to how we lived our lives under His Lordship, either by giving Him praise and honor with thanksgiving and serving Him with pure hearts, or disrespecting Him and rebelling against what we know to be His will.  We as Christians now have the honor and responsibility to submit to Jesus as Lord of all, especially in our own lives and our own hearts.  And so the question arises: “Have you made Jesus the Lord of everything in your life?” and “What does this require according to the scriptures?”  If we are to make Him our Lord than we must circumcise our heart.

Lest We Regret

As I read the teachings of Jesus in the scriptures as recorded in the gospels, I notice that He often pointed out how a person’s failures would lead to deep regret.  He emphasized this regret in order to motivate His disciples.  The point of many of his parables was to learn a lesson from those who experienced deep regret.  “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” was the expression he often used to exemplify the severity of the regret experienced by the characters in His examples. For example, the rich man who neglected Lazarus, or the man who buried his talent, the unwise virgins, the man without the wedding robe at the King’s wedding feast, to name a few.

If we don’t attentively address the issues that the Holy Spirit brings before us, we too will have regrets.  My desire is to have no regrets whatsoever; this motivates me and I hope it will motivate you to take action if necessary in your life.  I would also remind you of Esau, as the writer of the book of Hebrews also mentions in Hebs. 12: 16 that he sold his birthright and later attempted to regain it but could not, even when he sought for it with tears.

2 Cor. 5: 10 says: ”For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”  Once we die, we are without opportunities to correct those things that would fall into the ‘bad’ category.  Please allow the seriousness of these words sink into your mind.  Don’t shrug them off lightly. I am solemnly warning you now so that you can take action and not have regrets when you stand before Christ and answer for your life.  For some readers, there very salvation may come in question, since they have not truly exercised the type of faith required to enter into the new covenant with God through faith in the cross of Christ, and have not surrendered totally to His Lordship.  For others who stand on the foundation of the cross of Christ, they must remember that there still remains a judgment for the Christian to determine what was built on top of this foundation that was laid by Jesus in their life.  Consider 1 Cor. 3:12-15, “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.  If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.  If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”  There will be severe regret for those who built with wood, hay and straw.  Let us strive to do better.

It is my sincere belief that a circumcised heart, and the faith needed to obtain this condition of our heart, is critical for attaining the godly character and holiness expected of us by God.

The True Christian

Some Christians may believe that having radical faith and commitment to serve God and severing ourselves from this world is only intended for certain elite Christians like the apostles, evangelists, or missionaries, or certain extreme Christians that God has called for a special ministry.  I want to make it known from the outset that I have determined from the scriptures that having a circumcised heart, that results in what some would call a “radical” faith and commitment to serve God, is not an option for us as Christians, but it is a requirement. The circumcised heart should happen when we apply our faith to the message of the crucified Christ.  In Galatians 6:14, Paul says “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me, and I to the world.” This principle of considering ourselves having died with Christ to this world and to our flesh, and also considering ourselves having risen with Him and seated at the right hand of the father, is something that Paul repeatedly teaches in his epistles. It is inferred that this realization should occur at our conversion and is symbolically expressed and sealed by our water baptism. Romans 6:3-11 says: “Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This is not just something for Paul and the early Christians to do, but it is for all Christians of all ages.  I believe that everyone who was baptized in the early church had this principle thoroughly explained to them before they entered the water.  And so I ask you, do you fully understand what this means to die with Christ?  Do you have this principle working in your life?

The Source of Power

You may be overwhelmed with these ideas of total submission and lordship, or death to this world and our flesh.  Understand that these are the true source of power for the Christian. True freedom from bondage and the invaluable fruit of the Spirit will be yours if you put these principles to work in your life.  New life cannot come unless the old life dies.  When we allow the Holy Spirit to circumcise our heart, we will then realize what it means to truly love.

The Circumcision of Abraham

First let us look at the covenant of circumcision that God established with Abraham, because Abraham’s circumcision was a foreshadowing of the new covenant and established the principles required for us to partake of the new covenant with God though Christ.

Faith viewed as righteousness

The covenant that God made with Abraham was as follows (in simple terms):  God made a promise to Abraham; Abraham believed God; God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness.  Paul emphasized in his teaching on the subject in the epistle to the Romans that Abraham’s acceptance by God was not based on works of the law but on God’s grace as a gift, not something that Abraham earned.  Even though Abraham was a sinner and under the curse of sin as a descendent of Adam, God forgave Abraham’s iniquities because of his faith.  This is stated very clearly in Romans 4:3-8: “For what does the scripture say?  ‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.’ Now to one who works, his wages are not reckoned as a gift but as his due.  And to one who does not work but trusts him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is reckoned as righteousness.  So also David pronounces a blessing upon the man to whom God reckons righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not reckon his sin.’”

Much of what Paul wrote about in the book of Romans was to counter teachings of the Jews who were pressing the Roman Christians to adhere to the Mosaic traditional laws and to be physically circumcised.  I would like to focus in on a truth that Paul mentions later in this same chapter 4 of Romans, vs. 20-25 (speaking of Abraham’s faith): “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  That is why his faith was ‘reckoned to him as righteousness.’ But the words, ‘it was reckoned to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.  It will be reckoned to us who believe in him that raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”  It was because of Abraham’s faith that God counted him as righteous.  The faith that Abraham displayed in believing God’s promises resulted in him being accepted by God as righteous, and likewise we need to have this same faith that Abraham had to be accepted by God as righteous.  We, now in the new covenant, are to place our faith in a similar promise from God, a much better promise, having to do with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the guarantee that likewise we too who have died with Christ will be resurrected in like manner.  My emphasis here is that we must have the same faith as Abraham so that we too can be counted as righteous before God. We need to take a closer look at this faith.

Abraham’s faith defined

We need to ask ourselves what kind of faith God really requires of us as Christians.  Do we think it is sufficient to simply say a sincere “yes” when asked “Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins?” When we are first converted to Christianity, is it sufficient to simply say “Yes I believe” and repeat a simple prayer of confession? I put forth to you now that this is not the type of faith that God requires.  The scriptures are clear that the type of faith Abraham had was much more than this.  Certainly he could have answered a sincere yes when asked about his belief in the promise that God had made to him, but the type of faith that Abraham had was much deeper.  It caused him to change his lifestyle, change his view of reality, change his goals, change his hopes, and change his motives.  Here’s what it says about Abraham in Hebrews chapter 11: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”

And Abraham’s faith caused him to be obedient even to the point of sacrificing his son Heb 11: 17: “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, “In Isaac your seed shall be called,” concluding that God was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.”

The new convert should be asked if they are willing to sever themselves completely from this world and live for God.  Are they willing to consider themselves dead to this world and the flesh?  This is the faith that God requires and the church should be relaying this same requirement.  This is the true Gospel message.  Sincerely saying “Yes, I believe that Jesus died for my sins” is just a starting point but doesn’t constitute a true conversion.

If we are to have this same faith as Abraham, we too must allow a change to take place in our hearts.  The change in Abraham’s heart was symbolized by the physical act of circumcision.  Rom. 4:11 “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also.” The cutting away of the flesh of the foreskin was symbolic of the cutting away of the world from Abraham’s heart. Abraham truly had a circumcised heart.  This was the foundation of his faith.  In other words, Abraham now totally believed in the promise of God, so much so that he severed himself from the promises offered by this world.  We are expected to do the same.  True faith involves this act of cutting away the world from our hearts.  This is the kind of faith that God requires from us in order to be reckoned as righteous by Him.  This is the faith that is required to enter into the new covenant with Him.

This cutting away of the world coincides with the truth that Jesus taught us about storing our riches in heaven and not accumulating wealth here in this world.  Luke 12:32-34 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Abraham had re-focused his heart from treasuring the things that this world has to offer to treasure God’s riches in heaven.

Again in 1John 2:15-17 “Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world passes away and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.”

Many “Christians” have never made this transition in their hearts, or never really exercised this type of faith that would consider themselves dead with Christ (really) and completely severed the ties of their heart from this world.  Notice that I put the word Christian in quotes because it brings into question if they are truly converted.  At the very least, it explains why many Christians struggle with sin and live shallow, immature lives, continuing in the “milk” of the word but never attaining to the “meat” to help them grow. In 1 Cor. 3: 1-3 we learn that Paul dealt with this type of faith that is still focused on the things of this world: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal (fleshly), as to babes in Christ.  I fed you with milk and not solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able; for you are still carnal.  For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not still carnal, behaving like mere men?” The footnote in my Bible says that “behaving like mere men” literally means walking according to man.  In other words, their hearts are still focused on this world and functioning in this world system.  They haven’t yet severed their hearts from this world like Abraham did.

Faith, Circumcision and Repentance

The word repentance, in the original language of the Bible, means to change the way you think, change your mind or mindset.  In Hebrew, the word typically translated as “repent” meant to retreat or turn back.  Because of their rebellion and unwillingness to repent, God called the Israelites “stiff-necked”, indicating their refusal to turn their heads to take a different view or direction or to listen to God’s instructions.  In Deuteronomy 10:16 Moses says: “Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.”  This verse is part of the statement Moses made to the Israelites when he gave them the Ten Commandments (for the second time, after destroying the first tablets), before they went into the Promised Land, to encourage them to serve God with all their hearts, to fear Him and keep His commandments.  Moses knew that they needed to change their hearts in order to truly be able to serve God as they were required.  We can learn from this verse that, from early on, circumcision was intended to happen in the Israelite’s heart, not just their physical body, and was also intended to cause a change or a repentance to occur (i.e. “be stiff-necked no longer”). Later in the New Testament in Romans Paul makes a similar statement about circumcision being a function of the heart, inward and spiritual, not physical, Rom. 2:28-29 “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.”  I think it is clear to see that circumcision was always intended to represent an inner change of the heart and mind, a change to the way we think and the way that we view this world.  Circumcision represents a true repentance, a true severance from the old lifestyle to become a new creation.  This is the faith of Abraham, and this is the type of faith that is required of every Christian.

In Colossians 2:13, Paul says ”And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses.”  Here Paul is referring to the state of the Colossian Christians before their conversion.  He suggests that being in a spiritually dead state for the unbeliever is not only due to their sins (trespasses), but also is a result of their uncircumcised heart.  As we shall see, sin and an uncircumcised heart are very closely related.  A total victory over sin is only attainable if our hearts are circumcised.  Another way of looking at it is to say that an uncircumcised heart is the root source of many sins.  Yet many Christians have not circumcised their hearts and therefore struggle with gaining victory over sin in their lives.

Circumcision for the Christian happens at the cross of Christ through faith.

Circumcision in the New Testament

At the Cross of Christ we find Hope

The cross of Christ, in the New Testament, is the instrument of circumcision for the Christian heart.  The critical work of circumcision is done with our hopes and affections, deep in our hearts.  True circumcision of the heart has to do with tearing out our existing hopes that are based on this life and this world, and replacing them with a new hope that is based on the promises of God.  God’s promises, and the resulting hope, are established at the cross.  Consider these promises of Christ that are guaranteed by His death on the cross:

  • Forgiveness of sins and redemption from judgment – Christ’s perfect sacrifice presented once before the Father removes the legal judgment against us and presents us holy and blameless before Him.
  • Eternal life – we are promised that if we die with Christ we will be raised with Him.  The resurrection of Jesus indicates that God has accepted His sacrifice on our behalf.  Jesus is the first born of all the resurrected children of God.  Death has been defeated.
  • Inheritance as children of God – once we are accepted by the Father because of the redemption of Christ we become His children and as His children, heirs of the kingdom
  • The curse is removed – Jesus as the second Adam removed the curse on the cross by becoming a curse for us.  Our eternal life will be free from the curse of Adam.

These promises are our hope, and this hope is the focus of our joy, and this joy is the source of our strength and cannot be taken away.

Remember Abraham’s situation.  Now we have the same situation under this New Covenant with God in Jesus: God made us a promise (an even greater promise in Christ); we now believe God and believe in the promise; our faith is counted to us as righteousness.  But our act of believing in the promise must be the same as Abraham’s act of believing in the promise.  As Abraham waited for the promise of “the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (referring back to Heb. 11 quoted above), we are waiting for the final redemption when Christ comes again in glory.  We wait in the same manner as Abraham waited “as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents,” that is, severed from this world.

We cannot have 2 hopes in our lives.  We cannot hold onto the hope of this life and also take hold of the hope that is in Christ Jesus.  This is impossible.  It’s one or the other. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that we have both or fool ourselves into thinking that we have taken hold of the hope in Christ but in reality we are still holding onto the hope of this world.  The truth is that if we take hold of any part of the hope offered by this world, we have dismissed our hope in Christ.

By establishing in our hearts the “Living Hope” of the promise of God as guaranteed by the crucifixion of Christ, we begin the work of circumcising our heart.

Consider Yourself Dead at Baptism

Jesus death on the cross was also intended to set an example for us as His followers.  After the discussion in the book of Hebrews chapter 11 about the great examples of faith, the writer says this in Hebrews 12: 1-3 “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” And similarly again in Hebrews 13: 12-14 “Therefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.  Therefore let us go forth to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach.  For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”

My point is this, the Lord Jesus’ death on the cross was not only a great price that he paid to purchase our pardon from God’s judgment and not only an establishment of the promises of God to give us a great hope, but it is also an example for us to follow.  We are to take the same approach, enduring the death of our flesh and death to this world, enduring any suffering and shame associated with our faith, and looking towards the joy set before us when one day we too will be raised up to join Jesus.  This is our direction and focus as Christians. Jesus had a circumcised heart.  He didn’t set His heart on the false hope offered by this world.  He wasn’t distracted by the temporary pleasures that this world offers. His focus was on doing the will of His Father, and He was obedient even to death on the cross.

Jesus told His disciples to “take up their cross.”  In Matt. 16:24-25 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” It is interesting that Jesus said this before He had been crucified, and therefore He was not directly referencing His own crucifixion, although He knew that His disciples would later make the connection.  Jesus knew that He was on the way to the cross, but His disciples didn’t.  I believe that the phrase “take up your cross” was a commonly understood phrase used in that day and that everyone knew that if you were carrying your cross, you were going to die on it, as it was commonly used as a means of capital punishment.  Jesus was requesting a severe change in the lives of his disciples, asking them to lose their lives for His sake, and to no longer desire to save their lives.  Isn’t this really the heart circumcision we have been discussing?  Isn’t this really the faith that Abraham displayed when leaving his family and former life for the sake of God’s promise?  What does it mean to lose our lives?  Jesus doesn’t want us to literally, physically die.  He wants us to die to this world, to cut away all the hopes we had in this life in exchange for the hope that is in Him for the next life.

In Colossians 2: 11-15 we learn the concept that we are to circumcise our hearts at the cross of Christ by considering ourselves as having died with Christ: “in Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

And then later in vs. 20: “If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?”  In the King James version it is translated slightly different: “If ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances..”  The word “rudiment” in the original Greek means “the order of, system of.”   Paul states here that we should consider ourselves dead to the order of this world, or the system of this world.

All of us as Christians must make this monumental step of faith that completely changes our heart by removing any connection to this physical world and replacing it with a connection to the spiritual world, the kingdom of God.  As Christians we have a new king, Jesus.  We are citizens of a new kingdom, Heaven.  We belong to a different eternal world and view this present, temporary world as a place we are merely passing through as aliens and strangers.  This must be our attitude and the reality of our hearts at all times.  If not, it will become the root of sin in our lives.

Colossians 3:1-4 says “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.  For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.  When Christ who is our life appears, then you will appear with Him in glory.” The key truth here is for us to set our minds on the things above and not on the things that are on earth.  This is a powerful position for our minds and hearts to be in and Satan doesn’t want us to establish our thinking in this way.  The result of this heart/mind attitude is victory over our flesh and victory over sin.  The result is that the law becomes written on our hearts. Listen to a similar verse in Roman that explains this truth in more detail, Romans 8: 5-8, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” When Paul says “things of the flesh” he means the physical things on this earth that we can encounter with our senses.  The “things of the Spirit” are the same “things that are above” mentioned in Col. 3:1.  The same Greek word, phroneo, is used in both verses for “set your mind” and it means “to savor” or to “set your affection on”, indicating that the hope of our hearts is what’s in question.  Is our hope set in heaven or on earth?  Are we storing up our treasures in heaven or on earth (for that’s where our hearts will be)?

The current teaching in today’s Christian churches regarding material prosperity and seeking material blessings is extremely dangerous because it “sets our hearts” on earthly things that feed our flesh. We need to be very careful about what we allow our heart and mind and affections to be placed on; only heaven and spiritual things are acceptable according to the scriptures.

We circumcise our heart by establishing in our heart the eternal and permanent hope that we have in heaven, being sure to remove the temporary, false hopes that we have built up in this world (for what does it avail a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?).  To emphasis how extreme this change of hope in our hearts should be, we are to consider ourselves dead to this world, having died with Christ, and alive to God and the kingdom of heaven, having risen to new life with Christ. In other words, we need to apply our faith toward that hope we have established in our hearts at the cross.  We need to exercise the faith of Abraham.  And in like fashion to our father Abraham, we need to allow our faith to influence our view of our circumstances, ultimately affecting our actions.

Of course, it takes time for our hearts to fully realize this hope, for our faith to make this hope a reality in every part of our lives.  It doesn’t happen overnight.  We need to apply our faith to the truths of God’s word and daily feed our minds so that it becomes a concrete reality to us.  Prayer and Bible reading are critical to the process of heart circumcision, but as we pray and read we must focus on the spiritual hope that God has promised to us. We must focus on removing the false hope of this world that we’ve embedded in our minds as part of our old nature.

Put off the Old Nature

Colossians 3: 3-10 says, “For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.
But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him,”

Here Paul is giving the Christian the key to victory over their old nature of sin, and that is to consider ourselves dead to this world.  (He says “for you died” meaning you considered yourself as dead to this world) If we consider ourselves dead to this world, than the things that pertain to this world should also die.  Sin is an outward manifestation of what is in our hearts. The change needs to happen in our hearts, in the way that we think, in the way that we view the world.  A radical change needs to occur in the Christian when they are born anew in the spirit.  Once our hearts and minds are refocused on the hope we have in heaven and away from this world, we then need to allow this newness in our inner thoughts and desires to work its way through to our outward actions.  Notice that the scripture says to put to death “what is earthly in you”, meaning these things mentioned are rooted in our old earthly desires and ways of thinking that were focused on this world.  Putting them to death is really an alignment with our new circumcised heart that is set on things above.  We are no longer living for the here and now.  We have abandoned the “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die” attitude that has fueled these worldly activities.  For some of us these have become embedded habits that need work and effort to put them to death, but if we have our hearts changed then the outer habits will drop off inevitably as we continue in the spirit.

The parable of the prodigal son is a good example of the result of having our heart set on earthly things.  The prodigal son said in his heart “I want my inheritance now so that I can enjoy it now.”  This attitude was what fueled the type of debase living that eventually led him to poverty and ruin.  As Christians we need to patiently wait for our inheritance and obediently serve our Father knowing that we are heirs of the kingdom and not look for our inheritance from Him now.  As soon as we begin to focus on the “blessings” and pleasures of this life, our flesh comes to life and we plant the seed for the same type of ruin as the prodigal experienced.  I’m not saying that God won’t bless us in this life, but we can’t focus our hearts and minds on it.

Again, the choice we as Christians make is whether our hearts are “set” or focused on this world or focused on heaven.  The heart that is focused on physical things in this world, which before we were converted is what we have been in the process of developing since we were born, results in a self centered life and creates enmity with God because you can’t serve two masters.  We either serve our “self” (that is, our sinful, fleshly nature) or we serve God.  This is the root of our sins.  The heart that is focused on spiritual things in heaven, which requires exercising our faith and trusting the promises of God, results in a selfless life that is God centered.  This is the root of holiness (separated unto God), Christ likeness, and ultimately a love nature.

Col. 3: 12-14 says “Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on the tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another, even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.  But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection.” As important as putting off the old nature, is the need to put on the new nature, knowing that we are now “the elect of God”.  Having our hearts circumcised will make this transition from old nature to new nature an easy process because the inner heart is the root of the outward nature.

Renewing Our Minds

Many times in the scriptures the same word in the original language (Hebrew or Greek) is translated as “mind” in one place and “heart” in another, depending on the version of the translation or even within the same version.  It’s interesting to note that the authors in the Biblical times didn’t have the same understanding of the human body as we do nowadays, especially with the biological functions of the mind and its being the center of cognitive thought.  I’m not sure exactly what they understood, but most likely they surmised that a person’s thoughts came from somewhere in the center of our beings.  The word translated as “heart” often meant “the center of anything” or ”the middle”. We seem to limit our definition of heart to represent our emotions or feeling only.  In the scriptures, the word heart and mind are interchangeable and both words encompass both the intellect as well as the emotions. I say this so that we don’t lose some of the meaning through the translation of these scriptures that refer to mind or heart.  The principle of heart circumcision includes the way we think, not just our emotions.  Changing the way that we think is also part of the transformation that takes place when we circumcise our hearts.

It is imperative that we change the way that we think as Christians.  We can no longer allow our minds to function as they did before we were converted.

Romans 12:1-2 says: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” The word “transformed” in the Greek is similar to the word metamorphosis.  Like a caterpillar changing into a butterfly, we are completely changed when we “renew our minds” or change the focus of our hearts and change the way we think and react to situations.  Our attitudes should be completely different as Christians, content in our circumstances, patient in our trials, loving our enemies.  The source of this attitude is our thoughts, how we think, how we view the world around us, how we view circumstances.  It is extremely important for us as Christians to pay attention to our thoughts and attitudes.  On a daily basis or even on a minute to minute basis, we should attend to our thought life, making sure our thoughts are rooted in faith and are viewing our circumstances from a spiritual perspective.  This is the key to victory.  This is how we walk in the spirit.

Once our heart is circumcised, it will begin to change the way that we think.  This is the transformation that Paul was talking about when he said, “And do not be conformed to this world” and if we remove the hopes of this world, the things that we covet and long for that have to do with this life and this world, we will not be conformed to this world any longer and the way that we think and view things will change.

Fruit of the Circumcised Heart

Spiritual Eyes

When our hearts are circumcised, it results in the ability to see the world from the God’s perspective.  What a difference it makes in our circumstances when we include God in the picture.  It’s like putting on rose colored glasses; everything looks different.

There are many examples of this in the scriptures, but I like the story of David and Goliath to illustrate this truth.  David had a circumcised heart.  He was able to view his circumstances in the light of God’s promises.  The circumstances were that Israel was at war with the Philistines and David’s brothers were in the army.  Before they actually engaged in fighting, every day the Israelite army lined up on one side of the valley while the Philistines lined up on the other side.  The Philistine warrior Goliath would then come forward and challenge the Israelites to a one on one fight to end the conflict.  If Goliath won the Israelites would become their slaves and vice versa.  The Israelites soldiers were terrified as they looked at Goliath’s immense size and considered that he had been a warrior since his youth.  Even King Saul didn’t know what to do but looked for a solution.  When David approached the scene and saw this event, his first reaction was to say, “Who is this uncircumcised heathen to insult the Living God?”  David knew that with God’s strength he could defeat Goliath.  The Israelites including King Saul were looking at the circumstances with the eyes of their flesh, looking at the physical circumstances without recognizing the influence of God.  They looked with uncircumcised hearts, forgetting that God is in control and He has the power to deliver.  Their hearts were too caught up in this world.  They were looking to men, maybe to King Saul, or to the ways of man for a solution rather than looking to God for their perspective.  David on the other hand saw the circumstances with spiritual eyes, not regarding the physical attributes that were so overbearingly in favor of Goliath and the Philistines from the world’s perspective.

The connection with the circumcised heart is this: as you set your affections on the hope in heaven, you begin to then function in the realm of heaven.  Jesus said, “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.”  So if your treasure is in heaven, then your thoughts will be in heaven. (we all know the rest of David’s story with Goliath)

I also think about the attitude of Job as shown in the scriptures as a good illustration of having a circumcised heart and being able to see with spiritual eyes.  Due to his circumcised heart, God considered him a righteous man.  Consider his reaction when he was told that he had lost everything, all of his riches and his family also.  His response was to tear his robe and fall to the ground and worship.  Then he said “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked shall I return there; The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”  How could any man respond like this unless his heart was circumcised from this world and totally fixed on heaven?  We are somewhat de-sensitized to death and loss from viewing so much of it on television, but I assure you that if you found yourself in this same place as Job, it would be a severe shock and trauma.

As we focus our hearts more and more on heaven and not on this world, we too will be able to respond as Job did.  Communion with God through prayer and reading His word will focus us on the spirit.

Treasures in Heaven

If we truly embrace and make heaven a reality in our lives and live as citizens of heaven, we will also begin to understand the value of investing in heavenly treasure.  Once our worldly hopes are removed from our hearts, we are then free to invest in heaven with no conflict.

The devil has us deceived into thinking that earthly treasures will bring us happiness, but the flesh is never satisfied.  Once we attain what we are coveting, we only want more.  It’s almost like we feed off of the hope of getting earthy treasures more than the actual attaining of them.  We feed off of the hope as we drive ourselves towards these earthly goals and treasures seeking fame or fortune or some other earthly thing that we think will bring us happiness, but we never really end up being truly happy.  We can only compromise our hearts and convince ourselves that we are happy, but deep down we are not.  Don’t be deceived; whatever the earthly hope may be, it will never truly bring satisfaction or the joy that we expect it to bring.  Even good things can take too high a place in our hearts – things like a spouse, or a job position, or a house, or even a ministry – these things are not wrong in themselves but if we allow them to become the center of our heart’s affection or focus, they will take our heart away from the hope in heaven and will ultimately disappoint us and may even cause us to be so discouraged that we give up the faith.

There are many ways for us to receive reward from our heavenly Father.  Things such as loving your enemy, going the extra mile, loving the unlovable, being obedient to God, giving to the poor or needy, even our prayers will be rewarded.  Our actions should be motivated out of love and a desire to honor our Creator, but we also need to connect our actions with our hope in heaven, recognizing that these acts of love are also storing up for us riches in heaven.

Remember that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ and nothing can take away the hope that has been secured in Him.  Eternal life by itself is more valuable than any riches that this world can offer.  Everything here is temporary, but God’s gifts are forever.  When we allow this truth to become a reality in our hearts, we can then do all of these acts of love with a joyful heart.

Victory over Tribulation

To people whose hearts are focused on this world it is absolute foolishness for a person to look at suffering through trials and consider it a joy, and yet this is what the scriptures teach us to do.  James 1:2-4 says “Count it all joy, my brethren, when you meet various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness and let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” James’ concern is for Christians to endure the trials not only to be perfect and complete but so that we receive our reward, as he emphasizes a few verses later in verse 12: “Blessed in the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love Him.” Once our hearts are circumcised and our focus is on the spiritual values in this life and our hope is set in heaven we can begin to take on this same attitude towards the difficulties we encounter.  Paul gives us another hint about how this is possible in Romans 8: 18 when he says “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”  And so if we too would be consumed with the glory that awaits us in heaven (our hope) then we would be like minded.   The key to this type of victory in trials and tribulations is having our hearts circumcised, severed from this world and set on our hope in heaven and the promises of God.  Looking (again) to the example of Jesus, who for the joy set before Him, endured the suffering of the cross (Heb. 12: 1-3)

Victory over Sin

I covered this earlier in the section about putting off the sinful nature, but here is more on the victory over sin:  Gal 5: 16 – “So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”  This quote is from the New International Version – notice it says “…you will not gratify…” and the King James is similar saying “..ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”  But the Revised Standard version says “ …and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.”  I’m not sure why there’s a difference here and I’ll leave that to the scholars to debate, but it is my firm belief that having our hearts set on the spirit is the key to victory over the flesh.  In the RSV, the next verse in Galatians, verse 17 goes on to say “for the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other to prevent you from doing what you would.” I conclude from this statement that if we focus on the desires of the flesh, we will be prevented from doing what is right and good.  When Paul says “desires of the flesh” I take this to mean not only the lusts for sex or money or fame, but include many other desires that have to do with this physical world and are not spiritual desires.

Maintaining a Circumcised Heart

Guard your treasure box

Unfortunately, after circumcising our heart, it is possible for us to shift our focus back to this world and re-engage with the false hopes that this world has to offer.  We are constantly being bombarded with the thinking of the world, on the job, from television and other media, teachers, friends, family, it comes from everywhere in this world (except from prayer, Bible reading, and Godly preaching and teaching).  We therefore need to keep watch over our heart and make sure that only spiritual things are being treasured there.  I like to think that our heart has compartments or boxes that we store things in.  There are many boxes but the important ones are the treasure box and the desire box.  In the treasure box are the things that we have set our affections on, the things that we are longing for or coveting.  Only the things of heaven are allowed in this box.  The desire box is different; it holds the desires that God has given us, but they must remain in God’s hands to be fulfilled, therefore the items in the desires box are expendable, meaning if they for some reason are removed (like what happened to Job), then we must say “the Lord’s will be done.”  The problem is when the things in the desire box get moved over to the treasure box.  In other words, things that have to do with this world begin to take a preeminent place in our hearts.  We begin to long for them and base our happiness on them; they become the center of our affections.  Many times when we are sad or depressed it is the result of having the focus of our hearts on something in this world, and when it looks like this thing may be removed, we get dejected and depressed.  What is needed is for us to remove the worldly item from the treasure box and place it back into the desire box. In other words, we need to adjust our minds to say “Lord this thing is in your hands.  I’ll forget about it!”

Another test for where our hearts focus lies is how we look for praise.  Are we concerned about the praise of men or only the praise of God?  Remember the verse I quoted earlier in Romans 2: 29, speaking about how the real circumcision is a matter of the heart and spiritual, the last part of that verse says “..his praise is not from men but from God.”  How important it is that we make sure that we are seeking God’s praise and not men’s.  As soon as we find our hearts desiring men’s praise we can be assured that our focus has shifted back to this world.

Proverbs 4: 23 says “keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”  The keep here means to guard or protect, much like a gate keeper guards the entrance.  “With all diligence” suggests work to be done; other translations say “with all vigilance” meaning that it is a constant effort to protect and guard your heart.  Again we must remember that the word heart includes our thoughts, not just our feelings.  Most importantly, we need to make sure that our hope is set in heaven.

Stress and anxiety are also signs that we have allowed our hearts to become fixed on earthly things.  We are admonished by the Lord Jesus to “be not anxious for your life, what you should eat or drink….”(Matt. 6:25); in Philippians 4: 7 we are told to “be anxious for nothing.”  It is impossible for anxiety or stress to result from having our hearts set on heavenly things.  Later in chapter 6 of Matthew, we are exhorted to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.”  I like the J.B Phillips translation of  Matt. 6: 33, “set your heart first on His Kingdom and His goodness..”  Since the things of heaven require faith and trust, it is impossible for us to become anxious about them.  When you find yourself stressful or anxious over something, you should examine the source of the anxiety and stress to see if we have allowed our hearts to become overly concerned about some earthly thing.

Focus on the Hope

In 1 Cor. 13: 13, Paul concludes the chapter in the Bible known as the “love chapter”, where he defines love, with these words: “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”  Here Paul establishes the three great hallmarks of the Christian life.  Paul explains that love is the greatest because it will remain whereas faith and hope will someday not be needed for our hope will be revealed and given to us, and therefore our faith will no longer be required.  All three of these are greatly needed now though and each is interconnected.  We must exercise our faith, but it is important that it is focused on our hope, and if we do so the result will be love.  My experience in today’s churches is that the emphasis on hope is sadly forgotten or misunderstood.  We must be daily visiting the truths and promises that establish hope in our hearts.  We should be “rejoicing in hope” as Paul admonishes us in Romans 12.  When David was faced with one of the most difficult of situations in his life in 1 Sam. 30 where his men were ready to stone him because the Amalekites had burned their homes and had taken captive their women and children, the scripture says “but David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.”  Another version says that he “encouraged” himself in the Lord.  What exactly do you think he did?  I believe that he brought back to memory the promises that God had made to him.  He remembered what God was able to do in the past with Goliath and other enemies.  He strengthened his heart and mind with the promises of God.  This is what we need to do also.  We need to soak our minds with the truths of the scriptures, especially the promises that God has made to us through Jesus regarding our hope in heaven.

We don’t know what the future holds for us regarding suffering, tribulation, trials, persecution.  The source of our strength to overcome in these types of circumstances is having our hearts fixed on heavenly things and being filled with the Holy Spirit.  The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is God’s part; our part is to have our hearts and minds circumcised, knowing how to daily walk in the spirit.

Conclusion

Love God with all your heart

Notice that in Col. 3: 5 when talking about putting off the old nature that covetousness is mentioned as follows: “Covetousness, which is idolatry.”  Isn’t that what we are really talking about here?  The things that we set our affections on are the things that we covet and they are idols in our heart.  Heaven is the only thing we should be coveting.  This is honoring to God.  Christianity is really about making God your God and removing all the idols.  This world system is geared for idolatry.  Everything is done to turn our focus, somehow, to self gratification.  It may be disguised as self sacrificing, but ultimately there is an underlying motive to receive the praises of men for selfish reasons.

When we as Christians focus our hearts on our hope in heaven we are really enlarging our love for Jesus and God the Father.  For the scriptures say that the one who is forgiven much loves much, and our hope is a direct result of receiving the forgiveness of God.  As our hearts rejoice in hope they will also well up with love for God.  Jesus said the greatest commandment is Deut. 6:5-6: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today (the law) shall be in your heart.”  How can we love Him with “all” of our heart if there are idols there represented by false worldly hopes or coveting? But if we remove those idols and totally circumcise our hearts from this world, we will love Him as He wishes and He will become our God.  He will then put the law in our hearts, meaning that we will be changed from the inside and will do naturally what the law requires.

Final Words

Our faith, if it is focused on our hope, will produce love, and this love will produce in us a Godly nature, the very nature of our Lord Jesus Christ.  It is my sincere hope that these words have opened your eyes to new truths from the scriptures or at the least have enforced the truths that you already know.  My goal is to make sure that the proper emphasis is placed on the principle of heart circumcision or cutting away the fleshly desires from our hearts and focusing our hope on heaven.  May God help us to accomplish this in our hearts and keep them diligently until

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