What is Circumcision of the Heart at the conversion level
by Keith Green. Last updated [3/3/2010].Further updated [1/11/2012]
Circumcision of the heart at the conversion level (Deuteronomy 30:6; Colossians 2:11) according to God who “calleth [names] those things which be not as though they were.” (Romans 4:16; KJV), is the removal of the old sinful self (spiritual foreskin) when a person is baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Note: there is a type of circumcision of the heart that takes place at the spirit being level when a person is changed from an old creation subject to fleshly type sins into a new spirit being creation. However it is not the subject of this particular article.
In other words, when a person becomes a Christian he is then JUSTIFIED in God’s eyes, called a new creation, and said to be free from sin (yet what God calls the old creation, still sins).
By taking into account what God inspired Paul to write in Galatians 2:20, it can be deduced that what God refers to as the new sinless creation consists of the spirit in man combined with Christ’s divine nature, but does NOT include the sinful nature.
Paul explains the sense in which sin is removed after baptism by the Holy Spirit in Romans 4:6-8 “...
Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying. Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin...”
In other words when a person receives the Holy Spirit we come under GOD’S GRACE and we are given the gift of eternal life. Accordingly, when we inevitably commit further sins during our Christian lives, no charges are laid, so to speak, unless we commit the unpardonable sin. God may choose to chasten or put us through experiences to educate us and further our growth, but we are not condemned. From His perspective we are a new creation – free from sin.
This new creation, even though connected with our physical existence, is viewed by God as separate from our sinful nature because it refers only to a persons Christlike conduct.
Circumcision of the Heart – described by God in the New Testament
Circumcision of the heart, according to Colossians 2:11, is performed “without hands” and happens ‘instantaneously’ when a person is baptized with the Holy Spirit:
“In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ…”, (all biblical references in article are quoted from the NKJV unless otherwise stated).
Typified in the Old Testament
Under the terms of the Old Covenant, it is clear that the act of physical circumcision for a male native born Israelite child was a definite requirement. (Leviticus12:3) – a continuation of a command God gave to Abraham. It was intended to be an outward sign that a male person was a citizen of God’s physical nation Israel and as such: was under obligation to conform to all Old Covenant law. This is made clear in Galatians 5:3 “And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law”. (NASU).
For example, when a Gentile was circumcised he became a citizen of God’s physical nation Israel which allowed him to worship God as though he were a native born Israelite. An example of this can be seen in Exodus 12:48-49:
“ And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it. One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you."
Physical circumcision, like so many other Old Covenant physical observances, was a shadow of a spiritual reality – in this case, circumcision of the heart. In the same way physical circumcision was required of a male in order to be a citizen of physical Israel, circumcision of the heart is required in order for a person to become a citizen of spiritual Israel.
Circumcision of the heart is first spoken about in the Old Testament and is concerned with a transformation of ones heart to enable willing obedience to God’s way of life in contrast to a hostile attitude or mere external compliance :
"And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments of the LORD… 16 Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.” (Deuteronomy 10:12-16).
In the above verse God reveals the presence of a spiritual foreskin (sinful nature: explained later in article) that needs to be removed.
Mentioned in the New Testament
In the book of Romans, Paul confirms that circumcision of the heart is definitely to do with the transformation of a person’s heart:
“ For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.” (Romans 2:28-29).
This spiritual act is required in order for a person to participate in the New Covenant and was prophesied to eventually happen to physical Israel in the future by giving them the Holy Spirit when they come into the promised land:
“ I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.” (Ezekiel 36:26-29)
Notice in this verse that circumcision of the heart, as mentioned at the beginning of this article, takes place while we are still human; when Israel dwells once again in the promised land as human beings. The removal of the stony heart mentioned in this verse, as will be further explained, refers to the sinful nature (spiritual foreskin).
Further proof that circumcision of the heart takes place while we are still human can be found in a letter written by Paul to the Colossian congregation in which it is clear that the members of the church were spiritually circumcised when baptized with the Holy Spirit: “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,…” (Colossians 2:11-12).
Notice the use of the past tense word “were”. Circumcision of the heart definitely happened to these members when they were given God’s Holy Spirit because of the related reference to: “… putting off the body of the sins of the flesh…” which refers to the ‘figurative’ death of the old person mentioned in Romans 6:6. This event happens when a person is baptized with the Holy Spirit. The removal of the old person ; “...body of sins of the flesh...” through ‘circumcision of the heart’ parallels the removal of the foreskin in regard to physical circumcision.
The presence of this spiritual foreskin is what prevents human beings from becoming members of the spiritual nation of Israel and having a new covenant relationship with God the Father: ‘So then, those who are in the flesh (referring to those without the Holy Spirit) cannot please God” (Romans 8:8; NKJV; my comments in brackets). In another verse, in which God is communicating with Israel , He reveals that it is our sins that separate us from having fellowship with him: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you,...”(Isaiah 59:2).
God’s method of removing the sinful nature (spiritual foreskin) is by the instantaneous conception of what He calls a new creation. Once a person becomes changed into that new creation God no longer looks upon that person as a sinful creation (even though in reality they still are). This perpective is mentioned in the book of Romans:
“...Even as David also describeth the blessedness of the man, unto whom God imputeth righteousness without works, Saying. Blessed are they whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man to whom the Lord will not impute sin...”(Romans 4:6-8).
“And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”(Romans 6:18).
This new creation is described by Paul as Christ in him and accordingly regarded as sinless: “I have been crucified with Christ; [old person] it is no longer I who live [old person], but Christ lives in me; (new person) and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,...” (Galatians2:20; my comments in brackets).
For a complete explanation see article entitled “God’s Perspective of the New Person”
This new creation is also talked about in the book of Galatians and is conceived when a person is baptized by the Holy Spirit:
“For not even those who are circumcised [physically] keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified [By of baptism with the Holy Spirit, resulting in Circumcision of the sinful fleshly nature; old creation] to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.” (Galatians 6:13-15; my comments in brackets).
According to God, circumcision of the heart is the conception of a new creation (Christ within) by baptism with the Holy Spirit. At that time the spiritual foreskin (old person; stony heart; sinful nature) will, according to the way God describes things, be REMOVED – even though LITERAL REMOVAL will not happen until a christian is resurrected to a spirit being. Only then will a person be literally free from his fleshly related sinful nature and conduct.