“This is My covenant, which you are to keep, between Me and you and your offspring after you: Every one of your males must be circumcised. You must circumcise the flesh of your foreskin to serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and you” (Gen. 17:10-11).
Genesis 17 introduces circumcision. The flesh of the foreskin was cut away. This cutting away of the flesh was the sign that a person participated in a mutually binding agreement (covenant) with God.
Paul writes, “You were also circumcised in Him with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah. Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Col. 2:11-12).
Jesus became sin. The sinful nature (or “flesh”) we inherited from Adam was accounted to Christ. In Christ, the sinful nature was put to death and buried. When Jesus rose from the dead, He rose without the sinful nature. The flesh was cut away and left in the grave. Through the cross, God performed spiritual surgery. Circumcision represented this surgery.
God told Abraham, “This is my covenant…. Every one of your males must be circumcised” (Gen. 17:10). Circumcision was one of the terms of Abraham’s relationship with God. He (and his offspring) consented to circumcision. In return, God would be with them and give them Canaan (Gen. 17:7-8).
The cross is the true covenant, the agreement that is mutually binding on God and man. The terms of our relationship were set through the cross. On our behalf, Jesus consented to the circumcision of the cross in the garden of Gethsemane: “My Father! If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will” (Matt. 26:39). Jesus agreed to drink in our sinfulness, to become it, and to die so our sinfulness could be surgically removed. God agreed to raise Jesus from the dead, eternally alive and free from sin. This is the covenant, “the new covenant established by My blood; it is shed for you” (Luke 22:20).
There is no other covenant. The cross is the only agreement God will honor. God told Abraham, “If any male is not circumcised…that man will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Gen. 17:14). Anyone who refuses the circumcision of the cross is cut off.
We refuse the circumcision of the cross when the flesh is our means of operating. This might mean the desires of the flesh govern us (Gal. 5:19-21). We live immorally, for ourselves, without regard for imaging God. Or we rely on our own resources and morals to please God (Php. 3:2-6). We live in the flesh anytime we think imaging God is our behavior rather than Christ within.
When Christ is in us, we carry the circumcision of the cross within (2 Cor. 4:10). The circumcision of the cross manifests through us. Our crucified/circumcised lives become signs of the covenant. Paul said, “From now on, let no one cause me trouble, because I bear in my body the marks of Jesus” (Gal. 6:17). People disagree about how literally to take Paul’s comments. Some say Christ’s nail wounds can mystically appear on the hands and feet of especially committed believers. But doesn’t this physicalize the cross in the same way that circumcision did? Wasn’t Paul fighting our tendency to physicalize spiritual things? Requiring genital surgery or literal wounds amounts to flesh-focused thinking.
Paul’s comments should be taken as evidence of his fellowship in Christ’s sufferings (Php. 3:10; Col. 1:24). Did he have literal scars? Most assuredly (2 Cor. 11:23-25). But our covenant with God is the cross of Christ, not physical mutilation of any kind (Php. 3:2-3). This covenant is definitely a cut above the rest 😉