WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A CHRISTIAN? Are you one because you signed a pledge card, or raised your hand at a crusade, or walked to an altar and prayed the sinners prayer?
In previous posts, we saw that conversion is likened to going through a New Birth or becoming a New Creation. But there are other metaphors. One of the most conspicuous is having a circumcised heart—an analogy of the apostle Paul. All true Christians have a circumcised heart.
Genital circumcision was a matter of great Jewish pride. God commanded all Jewish males to be circumcised on the eighth day. It was a sign of their unique covenant relationship with God. But what God always wanted was the “heart circumcision” that the genital circumcision pointed to, but that was the one thing Israel could not do. This is what God had in mind when he commanded them to—
Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.Deuteronomy 10:16
Because that didn’t happen God sent the prophets with the same message, but now it was coupled with a warning.
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh— Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in heart.Jeremiah 9:25-26
By the time we get to the New Testament a circumcised heart, not physical circumcision, is the sole identifying ingredient of a true Christian, i.e. someone who is a member of the Israel of God. And here is the sober truth. We can’t circumcise our hearts, only God’s Spirit is capable of such a massive transformation.
“For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” (Romans 2:28–29).
In this passage heart circumcision is a synonym for new birth. So, what does Paul mean by the heart? And, how does it feel to have it circumcised?
The heart is who we really are. It is who we are when we are alone and no one is watching. Everything that we say and do proceeds from our heart. With our heart we love. With our heart we hate. With our heart we feel prejudice. When Charles Darwin’s ten-year-old daughter, Annie, died he blamed God. It was a heart issue. He was bitter towards God.
The Bible uses “heart” to describe the inner person…the synonym the Bible most often uses for the inner being is the heart. It encompasses all the other terms and functions used to describe the inner person (spirit, soul, mind, emotions, will, etc.) These other terms do not describe something different from the heart. Rather, they are aspects of it, parts or functions of the inner person. The heart is the “real” you.Paul David Tripp, Instruments In the Redeemers Hands, pg 62 (Phillipsburg, P&R, 2002)
Jesus contended that out of the heart we speak (Matthew 12). The heart is the seat of desire. From the heart we lust—for good things and bad. The heart is the CPU, the motherboard, that directs our lives. That is why no one can behave or believe like a Christian without a significant heart transformation. Before one can become a Christian the sinful heart must be circumcised, radically changed. Becoming a Christian requires a heart transplant.
So, what does Paul mean by circumcision of the heart? Just as physical circumcision involves cutting away the foreskin, spiritual circumcision is the cutting away of the spiritual hardness and prejudices that cover our hearts. Paul is thinking about hardness towards God, (i.e. unbelief), hardness towards virtue, towards the spiritual world, towards the authority of the Bible, and the prejudices against God and spiritual things that control our pre-converted lives.
So, this is what it means to be converted. It means a heart transformation. God removes the heart of stone and replaces it with a soft, supple heart of flesh. In other words, God will do in the Believer what he or she could never do themself under the Old Covenant.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.Ezekiel 36:26-28
Does this mean no temptation, no sin? Does it mean spiritual Nirvana? No, the Believer still struggles with ungodly passions. But a new principle has entered the heart. The Believer now has the capacity to believe the gospel, to love God, to long for personal holiness. There is now a war between the old man and the new. That war is prima facie evidence that the heart has been changed.
Has God circumcised your heart? Is there a love for holiness that didn’t previously exist? Is there a new hunger to know and love God? Is there a longing for holiness that is altogether new? Rejoice! These are evidences of heart circumcision.