And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. Acts 7:8
In the disastrous consequences of my addiction, I was utterly lost. I thought I was a Christian, but I didn’t understand how a Christian could act as I had – lying, cheating, and stealing. Did my corrupt behavior mean I didn’t know God? How could I do such things and still say that I followed Christ?
In seeking the answer, I came to understand that as long as we remain in these physical bodies, we retain a flesh nature (a flawed human nature). Just as our physical bodies aren’t made perfect when we come to faith, our flesh nature isn’t made perfect. We all have broken desires and self-destructive behaviors. We’re not destined though to be victims of our nature. Jesus commanded that as his disciples, we must daily put to death the old self and follow him. In following Christ, we’re to be continually in the process of putting off the old life to pursue the new one.
This seems to be an important part of the somewhat grotesque covenant that God made with Abraham in today’s passage. In the narrative, Stephen recalls how God set his people apart by asking Abraham to institute the practice of circumcision. In obedience, Abraham circumcised his son, physically removing part of his flesh.
This physical gesture symbolized God’s people’s willingness to take radical steps to abandon themselves to follow him. Why the penis though? Why not trim off part of the left ear? If circumcision is a reference to our destructive flesh nature, then it’s no coincidence that the act involved the part of the body that has led so many men to destructive choices. God wants all of us, even our sexuality.
So often, we claim faith while hanging on to those things that we don’t want God to touch. Maybe it’s addiction, greed, or gluttony. Or maybe it’s our relationships and sexuality. Whatever it is, we cling to it, keeping it from God, because, even though we know it’s destructive, we want it. The thing we most desire to keep form God is always the thing that he asks us to surrender, so that we may truly follow him.
Today, the church doesn’t practice circumcision. Under the new covenant of Christ, this physical act isn’t required. We are however, told to practice circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29), a spiritual act that means we daily commit to doing whatever is necessary to abandon our destructive nature to follow Christ.