“Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing” (Galatians 5:2).
Genesis chapter seventeen contains the first Biblical reference to the act of circumcision. In that portion of Scripture, God spoke to Abraham and said, “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you” (Genesis 17:10-11 NIV).
While God could have chosen any number of signs to reflect His covenant with Abraham, this directive served to communicate some important things. First, we should first consider God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:2: “I will make you into a great nation…” Since God promised to build a nation through Abraham’s descendants, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that the sign of that covenant was associated with his physical capacity to reproduce. Furthermore, the act of circumcision served to remind Abraham and his descendants that God had set them apart and they were different from everyone else.
However, its important to remember that it was faith that made Abraham right with God, for Genesis 15:6 tells us, “Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” By this we know that Abraham had “right standing” with God by faith long before he commanded to engage in the external act of circumcision.
We can apply this general idea to other types of observances as well. Much like the act of circumcision, our participation in a ceremony, ritual, or other outward observance does not serve to make us right with God. Paul the Apostle clarified this idea in the New Testament book of Romans where we’re told, “… true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit” (Romans 2:29 NLT).
So true circumcision -the kind that God desires- is not a mere external observance. It is a new attitude towards God generated by a relationship with Christ. This explains why Paul offered the following instruction to the church that met in the city of Corinth…
“Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:18-20).