We’re all actors. Some of us are just better than others. There are a lot of times when we don’t want people to see the real us. For instance, when we’re hurting inside and we don’t the world to know, we mask our real feelings and act as if everything is okay. Or there are those times when someone has really made you angry, but you know you can’t show that anger. And just as we all can put on an act about how we feel, we can put on an act about our holiness and faithfulness to God. We may even be so good with our act that we fool ourselves. The catch is that we never fool God. God expects us to be inside what we’re supposed to be. And His point in Scripture is if we’re right on the inside it will boil forth to the outside. Also, if we’re wrong on the inside, that will come forth as well. Therefore, it’s on the inside that we’ve got to work on.
And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” – Genesis 17:9-14, ESV
One of the interesting things about circumcision is it’s not something that’s seen. It’s a hidden trait. It represents a commitment to God which is not visible to the public. And this is exactly the reason why God asked Abraham to perform this kind of physical sign. Again, we have ceremony. Again we have a physical reminder. But this time it’s not for everyone to see. What God is modeling here is a commitment on the inside to be the man or woman whom loves God and follows God no matter what. And note the timing of it. It comes right after God renames Abram to Abraham. God has been working for years with His servant, and now, when it is almost time for the child God promised, God comes to Abraham with a renewal of the covenant and a visible sign as to His commitment to it. But this physical sign was also a symbol of Abraham’s commitment to God.
Unfortunately, we know from history that while the physical circumcision was performed among the Israelites, the internal change it was supposed to represent wasn’t followed by most. This is why Paul wrote about circumcision in the majority of his epistles. The physical sign is meaningless without the inward heart change. As Paul wrote in Romans:
For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. – Romans 2:28-29, ESV
It is a matter of the heart. So why give Abraham this physical sacrament? Think about how often this sign should be visible to the individual man. If he knew this was a difference between those who followed after God and those who didn’t, then that offered a time to reflect on what it meant to serve God. What was in his life that was honorable? What was in his life should he discard? When he was all alone, what did his life look like? Those are the types of questions that physical sign was supposed to generate. And it is those same questions we should ask of ourselves. The answers to those questions determine whether or not we are set apart to God or merely among the rest of the world. In closing I’ll leave you with a quote from my Citadel days, “Discipline is doing what’s right even when no one is looking.”