God required Israel to be circumcised. If they did not cut off the foreskin of their flesh, then God would cut them off from his covenant promises:
“And the uncircumcised man child whose flesh of his foreskin is not circumcised, that soul shall be cut off from his people; he hath broken my covenant.” – Gen 17:14
Many still perform physical circumcision for this very reason not knowing that God later changed his instructions and told Paul that circumcision did not avail anything:
“For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.” – Galatians 5:6
Circumcision of the Heart
The real lesson of physical circumcision was written in the law. It was supposed to reflect an inner circumcision of the heart. That is, Israel was supposed to separate itself from the desires of the flesh and be obedient to God’s instructions. Notice what the law book of Deuteronomy says:
“Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiffnecked.” – Deuteronomy 10:16
This was true inner submission to God and his precepts as recorded in the law. Those with circumcised hearts would serve the Lord with all their heart and soul by keeping the commandments (Deut 10:12-13).
Even though Israel had kept the covenant of physical circumcision they had broken the law of inner circumcision by not submitting their hearts in obedience to God.
This is why Jesus took the kingdom away from unbelieving Israel and gave it to the believing remnant.
“Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.” – Mat 21:43
It is also why Stephen, filled with the Holy Ghost, calls unbelieving Israel “uncircumcised in heart and ears”.
“Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” – Acts 7:51
Paul explains about hypocritical Jews that true Jewish circumcision was an inward circumcision of the heart. Their flesh circumcision was not sufficient for righteousness even though it was an outward obedience to the commandment.
“But he is a Jew, which 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.” – Romans 2:29
Circumcision Without the Law
Both the physical circumcision and inward heart circumcision were required by the covenants to Israel long before Jesus or Paul showed up.
However, when Christ revealed the mystery to Paul he speaks about a different circumcision. Paul describes it in Col 2:11.
“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:” – Col 2:11
This circumcision is not part of Israel’s covenants. It is not physical. Neither was it the inner circumcision of the heart which was commanded to serve the Lord “with all thy heart and soul” (Deut 10:12).
This mystery circumcision describes an operation of God, not of ourselves, lest any should boast. It is God circumcising us from the body of the sins of our flesh. This doctrinal separation was a part of our crucified identification with Christ (Gal 2:20, Rom 6:3-4).
Glory of God’s Operation
It is only when God separated us from the body of the sins of the flesh that he could rightly declare us righteous in Christ. When our own body is cut off, then we are free to live in Christ without the sins of the flesh weighing us down.
This great mystery where we reckon our flesh dead and alive unto God describes a truth that has been performed already upon you by God the moment you believe. Like many grace truths, we learn about it after studying the mystery of Christ.
It is not the flesh circumcision that avails, neither is it the obedience of our heart to a covenant. While we were still sinners Christ died for us and when we put our faith in his finished work we are cut off from the old man. Glory to God!