Physical circumcision was always pointing to Christ and the circumcision he administers, by the Spirit.
- When God called and made his covenant with Abraham–to be his God and the God of his descendants after him–God commanded circumcision as the sign of the covenant (Gen. 17:9-14). Covenant means “cutting.” God “cut off” a people for himself from the rest of humanity and gave the sign of circumcision, the cutting off of the foreskin (v. 11). God also warned that anyone who remained uncircumcised was to be cut off from his covenant people, because he was breaking the covenant (v. 14).
- But this circumcision in the flesh was to remind the people that they must be circumcised in the heart (Deut. 10:16), a circumcision only God can administer (Deut. 30:6).
- Now fast forward to the New Testament, and what do we find? We find that physical circumcision was always pointing to Christ and the circumcision he administers, by the Spirit (Col. 2:11-14 and Rom. 2:25-29).
- In fulfillment of this greater reality, the circumcision of Christ, we find God “cutting off” his Son, in his death, to redeem sinners and to establish the New Covenant (Mark 14:24). In physical circumcision blood was shed. In the circumcision of Christ, his blood was shed. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. No New Covenant (Hebrews 9:22 and Matthew 26:28).
Circumcision in the flesh was the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham and his offspring. The blessings of the Old Covenant were twofold: physical and spiritual (Gen. 17:8 and Rom. 4:11).
In Romans 4:11, Paul says that Abraham received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness which he received by faith while he was still uncircumcised. Notice that circumcision was not a sign of Abraham’s faith. No, circumcision was a sign and seal of the righteousness he received by faith. This is crucial for our understanding, especially those of us who are Baptists.
When an infant male, eight days old, received circumcision in the flesh, it was to be a sign and seal of the covenant promise, that when faith is exercised, God would be faithful to his covenant promises: he circumcised the heart, forgave sins, and bestow his righteousness. While Abraham received all these covenant blessings BEFORE receiving the sign of the covenant, his descendants FIRST received the sign, meaning that when they came to faith, God would faithfully to his covenant promises.
However, per Romans 9:6-7, not all who received the sign of the covenant in the flesh were circumcised in the heart (Jer. 4:4; 9:25-26). This is even clearer in Romans 2:25-29.
Because of the covenant nature of Scripture, which unifies all of Scripture, Paul says that New Covenant believers are “the circumcision” (Phil. 3:3). Perhaps at this point we should stop and reread Colossians 2:11-14.
So much more could be said about the genius of covenant theology. But let me simply add this: there is only ONE people of God. “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham” (Gal. 3:7). “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (v. 29).