In his letter to the Philippians, Paul taught his students to beware of the “false circumcision” (Phil. 3:2). Then Paul wrote, “[F]or we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and take pride in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3). The word “true” was supplied by the NASB translators. As stated before, the “truly circumcised” give precedence to the Spirit over the desires (particularly, the lusts) of the flesh.
Several years earlier, Paul addressed the subject of circumcision when he wrote his letter to the Romans. He wrote:
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 of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from people, but from God.
Being the authentic people of God is not a matter of genetics or one’s ancestral pedigree. Particularly, ever since the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, being a part of God’s people or being an “authentic Jew” is a spiritual matter. In fact, it might be argued that every believer is in “status” or “position” a true Jew, but if you follow Paul’s argument, to be truly authentic, we must remain faithful and continue on our journey of faith, always seeking to please God. Our first moment of believing that Jesus is the Christ is just the beginning of our journey. None of us are sinless, but we must remain faithful and continue to walk in love.
The ritual of circumcision was always pointing to something far greater than just the removal of flesh from the male phallus. Symbolically, it was always pointing to a new spiritual reality. At 1 Corinthians 7:19, the Apostle Paul wrote, “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is keeping the commandments of God.” Now, we have a new way of obeying God. We are commanded to walk by the Spirit, wherein the Word of God is a light to our feet, trusting in Christ Jesus, while having no confidence in the flesh. This is our new way of freedom that we have in Christ Jesus (Gal. 2:4). Now, Christ is in us, and as the Psalmist wrote, the Word of God is designed to be a “light to our feet” (Ps. 119:105), and we live for God (Gal. 2:19).
At Galatians 5:6, Paul wrote, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” Then Paul added, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word in the statement ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF” (Gal. 5:14). So, the true meaning of circumcision can be summed up as walking by the Spirit in love for God and your neighbor. If we have ears to hear, God’s commandments can flow to us like an ever-flowing stream coming to us from beneath the throne of God by means of His Spirit and Word (Rev. 22:1). The Spirit and Word bring life and fruitfulness to humanity. Then at Galatians 6:15-16, Paul repeated himself, but he added a new twist. He wrote, “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And all who will follow this rule, peace and mercy be upon them and upon the Israel of God.”
Did you follow Paul’s argument? We Christians are supposed to be a new creation, a new type of humanity, who have a whole new way of being. No longer are we to live by the lusts of the eyes, the lusts of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). We are required to walk by the Spirit and the Word in love, serving our God. This is what it means to be a true Israelite. The reader might recall that the religious rite of circumcision was required to be performed on the eighth day (Gen. 21:4; Phil. 3:5). The eighth day was symbolic for a “new creation.” We are a new creation in Christ. We are called to function in Christ. At 2 Corinthians 5:17, Paul taught, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, this person is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Yes, we are a new creation with a new way of being.
Like the Patriarch Jacob (a/k/a Israel), during our spiritual maturation, we may wrestle with God, but ultimately, we must learn to trust and rest in the sovereignty of God (Gen. 32: 22-32). Yes, growing to maturity sometimes feels like you are wrestling with God, and yes, God is going to win. Trust in His sovereignty! Accept that God is the ultimate reality hidden behind all creation! Like Abraham, God wants us to receive a blessing and be a blessing to others (Gen. 12:2).