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Monday, August 20, 2012

Wiithout Hands; the Circumcision of the Heart

'The Lord delighted only in your fathers, to love them; and He chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples, as [ it is ] this day. Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.'

From the beginning, as we can see from this passage of Scripture; the outward act, whether it was circumcision ( the cutting off of an obstacle to sexual enjoyment ), water baptism, or some other outward sign always and only ever pointed to, or was significant of the inward reality. Moses instruction to 'circumcise the foreskin of your heart' was given after God had told Abraham to circumcise the flesh of the foreskin, as 'a sign of the covenant', and shows to anyone with an understanding 'heart' that God's intention was that the outward action was simply to be a sign of the inward ( spiritual ) reality, the removal of the obstacle to true worship ( enjoyment ) of God, childish rebellion of the 'heart', or from the inmost being. This is why it is commanded, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength'. As we have seen in previous articles on the subject (of 'love' ); it is not enough merely to say 'I love you', even if it is from the 'heart'; one must actually, with all their strength, do something to show, or prove that love! By squelching, or removing that rebellion, we are enabled thus to move past our naturally rebellious instincts and show our love for God by obeying His commands, like good, faithful and wise children!

Although we must keep in mind the eschatological context of this passage, and that of the change in the nature of God's people, it is plain that we are responsible to do what is right and good, and if necessary, to give up our own selfish desires for the sake of the Kingdom.

If [ any ] of you are driven out to the farthest  [ parts ] under heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you. Then the Lord your God will bring you to the land which your fathers possessed, and you shall possess it. He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.


The subject of water baptism, to me, has always been one of interest, not solely because I was brought up with a hearty appreciation for it, and its effects, whatever they might be. I remember at one point in my early adult-hood ( maybe more like early to mid-teens ), thinking, 'whose work is it, ours or God's?' You must understand that I was brought up in the Reformed Baptist Church for the earlier part of my life, and then in a Reformed congregation, in both of which a fairly hefty emphasis is placed on the importance, if not necessity, of water baptism, not so much, maybe, as a salvific issue, but as an ordinance, a command.

This is where the eschatological context of these words comes into play, especially concerning water baptism! It is fairly well-accepted, I believe, by most Reformed theologians, and maybe even non-Reformed theologians, that this form of baptism is the New Covenant 'replacement', if you will, for circumcision under the Old, or first covenant. This, although it almost sounds reasonable, is not quite true!

Circumcision ( cutting off of the foreskin ), as we saw in the first quoted passage, was a symbol, or a sign for the metaphorical 'circumcision of the heart'. Just as water baptism was simply a sign of a 'good conscience' ( I Peter 3:21 ), so the circumcision of the flesh was merely to be a sign of one's covenant faithfulness to God. 

With the 'passing away' ( I Corinthians 7:31, 3:7 ( Hebrews 8:13 ) I John 2:8 & 17 ) of the Old Covenant ( Mosaic ) and the transition, or re-birthing of the Church, as the Body of Christ, the true 'Israel of God', the signs which pointed to that greater spiritual reality in Christ ceased to be necessary. When one has reached the destination, the reality to which all signs have pointed; signs are no longer necessary, and can even be detrimental!

'I indeed baptized you with water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.'


Baptism is necessary to one's 'salvation', there can be no doubt of that! If one has not been baptized with, or by, the Holy Spirit of God, then one still has that 'heart of stone' the prophet Ezekiel talked about ( Ezekiel 36:22-38 ), and will not be sensitive to the things of God, but having a hard ( immature, rebellious ) heart, will be unwilling to yield to any but their own selfish desires.

As with the sign of circumcision, which is no longer in general practice, save in some more barbaric societies, so water baptism, which was a sign of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, was for the 1st-century Church, during the 'birth pangs' ( Romans 8:22 ( Micah 4:10 ), or the transition period between the final sacrifice of the Old Covenant ( Christ on the cross ), and the Final end of the Old Covenant economy, with the subsequent Revelation of the New Covenant in Jesus the Christ!

We have noted before, in a previous article ( a few years ago, actually ) that this baptism of John was simply a carry-over, or continuation, of the priestly baptism which was to be performed when one entered the ministry, so, for now, we won't rehash all that. We will, however, take a brief look back at certain of the references in the Hebrew Scriptures where God promised this 'baptism of the Holy Spirit'.

First of all, though not necessarily in chronological order; we have the above-mentioned passage in Ezekiel 36;

'Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.'

First, we must note that this 'sprinkling' ( literally, 'startling' ) occurs after the Israelites have been brought back from Exile and deposited back into the Land  As in the first Exodus ( a type of the True ), Grace was first shown, then the 'change' was instituted! First deliverance ( Grace ), then, through that deliverance, Law was revealed!

And it shall come to pass afterward
That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
Your old men shall dream dreams,
Your young men shall see visions.
And also on [ My } menservants and on [ My } maidservants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days
.


Peter quoted this passage to an assembly of Israel ( Acts 2 ), and told them that this prophecy was fulfilled in the tongues of fire that appeared over the heads of certain typical and representative individuals among them. This is the baptism of the Holy Spirit which had been promised by the Prophets! 

 'Turn at my rebuke; surely I will pour out my spirit on you;I will make my words known to you.'


Though this promise, much the same as the one in Joel, is given by 'Wisdom'; we can see, looking through the  'eyes of wisdom', and the covenant context of Scripture, that 'Wisdom', as such, is personified in Jesus the Christ ( Exodus 31:3, Deuteronomy 3:9, I Kings 10:24, Psalm 104:24, Proverbs 2:10, etc. ) All this, which was prior to the Revelation of Jesus the Christ, was, in type, and even in actuality, a baptism of the Holy Spirit, though not the one prophesied, and promised by God, where 'We will come to him and make Our home with him.' ( John 14:23b ).

'As for Me,” says the Lord, “this is My covenant with them: My Spirit who is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth, shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your descendants, nor from the mouth of your descendants’ descendants,” says the Lord,                    'from this time and forevermore.'


This is God's work; this is the baptism of the holy spirit! As we shall see in the following conclusions of the matter, and as you can ascertain from a studied reading, with understanding of the context of these passage, this is not to say that we have no part to play in this story of redemption! We have a part to play, and though this part meshes perfectly with God's plan; we have a responsibility, nay, the privilege, to act upon this Grace that we have received! Because of the baptism of the Holy Spirit, which we have received as part of the Body of Israel, and through this baptism, we have a 'heart of flesh', one that is moldable, and receptive, sensitive to the 'things of the Lord', and to His people!

The Myth of Individualism

Much importance, as mentioned earlier, especially in certain parts of the Church, or Body of Christ, is placed in the sign of water baptism as a means of Grace. Also as mentioned earlier, this baptism was a transitory sign for the first-century Church, 'the Church in short-pants', as one brother of ours so humorously puts it.

Reading through the prophetic Scriptures, as has been hinted at, through the lens of covenant context; it should be clear that, though as part of the Body of Christ, and like the resurrection ( which I have written about previously ), individuals are undoubtedly involved, and have received baptism of the Holy Spirit, much as we partake in the resurrection ( these two are closely related, and are very nearly interchangeable ); this baptism, as the resurrection, was of the corporate Body of Israel, a baptism ( and thus resurrection ) into new life ( II Corinthians 5:17 ), a lie where, as we saw earlier, God once again dwells in the midst of His people!

Having received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and as His corporate Body, the circumcision of the heart; let us go forth with a renewed confidence and conscience, loving and serving God and His Kingdom, and our neighbor as ourself!

Charles Haddon Shank

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