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Why Circumcision?

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Tim Keller explains what it means to have a “circumcised heart.”


And, here’s what it means to have a circumcised heart: when what you ought to do and what you want to do are the same thing. What you most ought to do and what you most want to do are the same thing. You know, the best expression of a completely circumcised heart I know, is this great little line from the John Newton hymn,

Our pleasure and our duty,
though opposite before;
since we have seen his beauty,
are joined to part no more.

I love that and I can quote that in a lot of situations. But, there we have it, our pleasure and our duty are the same. That’s a circumcised heart, that’s not just circumcised flesh, circumcised heart.

Why couldn’t God ask for a tattoo? What is this circumcision thing about? It’s gross and bloody, and of course, that’s the point. Circumcision is gory, it’s gross, it’s bloody, it’s intimate, it’s creepy. It’s creepy and I mean why not some other part of the body?

It’s creepy. As a way of trying to show you the penalty of sin–the penalty for sin. Sin is so dire, sin is so intimate. Sin is so gross. And, now you say, “Well then why do we keep this circumcised heart thing going?”

Well, there’s a strange spot Colossians 2, and I promise not to talk about baptism right now. There’s a great place in Colossians 2 where it literally says, this is Doug Moo’s, neutral translation, “In Christ, you Christians, have been circumcised in the circumcision of Christ.” It’s talking about the cross and it says, “Christians, in him, you have been circumcised in the circumcision of Christ.” It doesn’t just say that when you become a Christian, you get a new heart; you get a circumcised heart. It says you get a circumcised heart because of the circumcision of Christ. What’s the circumcision of Christ? And, the answer, most of theologians I think are willing to point to is this: that on the cross Jesus Christ was experiencing the penalty, the curse of the covenant. What’s the curse of the covenant? To be cut off.

What’s the curse of the covenant? To be cut off.

If you ever wrong somebody, what happens? You get cut off. If you lie, if you cheat, if you wrong people, that’s always really the penalty–to be cut off. But God says that, “If you disobey me, the penalty is to be cut off from me. To be cut off from life. To be cut off from light. To be cut off from everything.”

And, on the cross Jesus Christ was getting what you might say is the cosmic experience that we deserve.

On the cross Jesus Christ was getting what you might say is the cosmic experience that we deserve.

He was receiving the penalty of sin. Or another way to put it is, in the Garden of Eden, out goes Adam and Eve because of their sin. And, who is put at the door? A cherubim with a sword, guarding the way to the tree of life. Which means the only way back into the tree of life is to go under the sword. And on the cross, Jesus Christ went under the sword. In that sense he was circumcised.