January 13, 2008 ©Homer
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Commentary — From the Margins
Circumcision of the Heart
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord [YHWH], when I will punish all those who are circumcised merely in the flesh—Egypt, Judah, Edom, the sons of Ammon, Moab, and all who dwell in the desert who cut the corners of their hair, for all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart. (Jer 9:25-26)
The Apostle Paul begins his letter to Titus with, “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior” (1:1-3).
Much is claimed in the above declaration: (1) Paul is a servant of God; (2) he is an apostle; (3) he doesn’t address everyone; (4) he writes to shore up the faith of the Elect; (5) he writes to increase the Elect’s knowledge, not everyone’s; (6) knowledge equates to godliness (this assumes the knowledge is applied); (7) the knowledge pertains to eternal life; (8) God promised eternal life before the ages began; (9) God never lies; (10) at the proper time eternal life would be received, with this time declared in Scripture; (11) preaching would reveal when this proper time is; and (12) Paul was entrusted with this preaching by God.
There are those today who believe that Paul, like Moses and Aaron before, took too much unto himself, that he falsely exalted himself. Their reasoning is that all of the first disciples were apostles; all were holy, every one of them; and the Lord was among them. These detractors of Paul, like so many modern Korahs (Num 16:3), compare Paul to miniature size clones of Herbert W. Armstrong, who indeed had the audacity to publicly compare himself to Paul (that comparison cost him a million and a half dollars or so in a divorce settlement). These detractors of Paul shrink him to the size of a David Pack or a Gerald Flurry; then these detractors brush all of them away as if they were flies on carrion. Certainly Pack and Flurry behave as blow flies feeding on the corpse of the former Worldwide Church of God, but for the vapid voices arising as vapors from the stinking corpse to magnify any of the tiny Armstrong clones to Paul’s size verifies what Paul wrote to Titus:
For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. … They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works (1:10-11, 16)
Paul apparently was not a supporter of free speech, but then, neither was God when the earth opened to swallow Korah and his supporters.
The empty talkers about whom Paul was warning Titus had caused the fellowships on Crete to fall away from what Paul taught: Paul begins his instruction to Titus with, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (1:5 — emphasis added).
The 1st-Century Church—the
apostolic era—had more in common with the end of the Armstrong era than
many will want to admit: whole congregations were leaving Paul, were teaching
that disciples needed to be physically circumcised, or were adapting their
messages to win as many Greeks as possible to Christ. At the end of the
Armstrong era, whole congregations went with dissidents, or stayed with
hypocrites, or returned as dogs to their vomit to the lawless gospel of Evangelical
Christendom. There was no unified voice coming from a headquarters church, no
unified message, but there were many teachers coming from Jerusalem to the
hinterlands of Achaia and Asia, each with a message, each professing to know
God, each with his hand out to receive the tithes and offerings of converts,
each divvying up the dwindling pool of tithe-paying disciples Armstrong had
gathered to himself. Who was a person to believe? Paul, Apollos, Phygelus,
Hermogenes, Diotrephes? Or Kilough, Hulme, Meredith, Flurry, Pack? What was the
faith once delivered? Jude found it necessary to write disciples to contend for
this former faith (v. 3), but what
was it? It certainly was not the faith of the Pharisees and Sadducees, with
modern rabbinical Judaism having developed from the purity sought by the
Pharisees. What is the former faith for which endtime disciples should contend?
It certainly is not that of the Roman Church, with it mingling of secular and
theological authority to function as an arm of spiritual
Regardless of what a faith professes about “knowing God,” if the faith denies Him by its works, the faith is “detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:16). It will teach what is contrary to sound doctrine (2:1), and it will be silenced by God, not by the prince of this world or by his disguised ministers.
Paul wrote Titus that Christ Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (2:14). Paul told Titus, “The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works” (3:8). Paul added, “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (v. 9).
The gospel Paul would have Titus deliver to what remained of the Church on Crete was a message about good works, about spurning lawlessness, about young men exercising self-control, about young women loving their husbands, about being reverent in behavior, sober-minded, dignified, not argumentative, not pilfering. It was a gospel that required what remained of the Church to exercise godliness and renounce worldly passions. It was a gospel that would have disciples to avoid quarrels about the law or disputes about words … what happened to this gospel? Did what remained of the Church on Crete follow after those who had left Paul? Apparently so, for the Church that comes down through history elevated the vain works of repeating words and fumbling with beads for the good works that comes from keeping the commandments.
When the vain works of the Roman Church were challenged by 16th-Century Protestant Reformers, the world was stood on end. Faith alone was determined to be adequate for salvation. No works were needed. But what was this faith? Was it doing evil so that good might come (Rom 3:8)? Was it permission to break the law at will? If God will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith, has faith overturned the law? Or does faith uphold the law (vv. 30-31)?
The gospel Paul taught fell upon hard times as his
epistles were twisted by the ignorant and unstable into instruments for their
destruction (2 Pet 3:16). However, from the Reform movement—and for this
all Sabbatarian disciples owe a debt to the Reformers—came reformers who
were called “radicals.” And these noisy Radical Reformers fled from
Throughout the forty years that Moses led Israel, not one Hebrew baby was physically circumcised … does this surprise anyone? Moses had no infant circumcised, for every infant was covered by the cloud. All ate the same spiritual food; all drank the same spiritual drink (1 Co 10:1-4)—after the first thirty days, Israel under Moses ate manna. The nation’s clothes did not wear out; its sandals did not wear out. Time seemed to be suspended as the nation numbered in the census of the second year died from unbelief, one after another until only Moses, Joshua, and Caleb were left when a second covenant was made on the plains of Moab with Israel, now a mixed nation composed of the circumcised and uncircumcised children of the nation that left Egypt.
Under the second covenant, ratified by a song and
not by blood as an earthly shadow of a heavenly thing (Heb 9:23)—the
covenant that Paul identified as “the righteousness based on faith”
(Rom 10:6)—upon the demonstration of faith, Israel would return to
God’s rest and there receive circumcised hearts (Deut 30:1-2, 6), with
Judea being a visible type or representation of salvation (cf. Isa 10:22-23; Rom 9:27-28), and with Sabbath observance being analogous
to entering into God’s rest (cf. Heb
3:16-4:11; Ps 95:10-11; Num chap 14) … it is to this second covenant that
better promises were added when its mediator became the glorified Christ, with
the foremost better promise being that receiving spiritual birth now precedes
demonstrated obedience. As the cloud covered
Note well that link between an uncircumcised Israelite initially entering into Judea where he would be physically circumcised (Josh 5:2-7) and a physically circumcised Israelite, after going into captivity, returning to Judea where he would be spiritually circumcised: in both cases, entering into Judea is contingent upon obedience (either when on the plains of Moab, or when in a far land).
The faith once delivered is found in the Book of Deuteronomy. It is found in the circumcision of hearts cleansed by a journey of faith undertaken when Israel is far from God. It is found in Gentiles who, when living in a far land, turn toward God and begin to love God with all of their hearts and minds, expressing this love through obedience to God, keeping His laws and commandments. Their uncircumcision will, when keeping the precepts of the law, be counted to them as circumcision (Rom 2:26). And the circumcised Israelite who will not undertake a journey of faith by which he cleanses his heart will be punished for his unbelief; for the journey every natural Israelite must take continues past obedience to the law, and on to professing that Jesus is Lord with one’s mouth and believing in the person’s heart that the Father raised Jesus from the dead (Rom 10:9).
Circumcision comes after entering into God’s
rest, not on the journey to God’s rest. Physical circumcision did not
occur in the wilderness of Sin, but after the children of
The hearts of disciples who remain in Sunday
observance are not circumcised; the laws of God have not been written on their
hearts and placed in their minds. They are not today under judgment; thus, they
are not yet firstfruits … disciples are glorified or not glorified when
their judgments are revealed. The person who does not take judgment upon him or
herself through inclusion into the holy nation of
Baptism has long been considered the ritual for
inclusion into the household of God, but baptism marks the death of the old
self that is as the nation was that died in the wilderness of Sin/Zin because
of unbelief. That nation—with the exceptions of Joshua and
Caleb—died in the wilderness before the children of that nation
were circumcised after crossing the
Again, who is a person to believe? Peter, Paul, John, Apollos, Phygelus, Hermogenes, Diotrephes, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Fischer, Knox, Smith, White, Dugger, Graham, Armstrong? The list is almost endless.
Gentiles or the uncircumcised have no cultural expectations concerning obedience to God; therefore those who did not pursue righteousness obtain it by faith (Rom 9:30), this faith causing a person from the nations to turn to God, loving God, obeying Him by keeping His commandments. For the Gentile, keeping the commandments requires the person to undertake a journey of faith that is analogous to a physically circumcised Israelite returning to God when in a far land. Beginning to observe the Sabbath, now, equates to the physically circumcised Israelite returning to the Promised Land. So it is after a Gentile convert begins to keep the Sabbath and to live as a Judean that this convert’s heart is circumcised.
The natural Israelite who will not undertake a journey of faith is merely circumcised outwardly, and God promises that this Israelite will perish.
When there is no cultural expectation of obedience
to God—when obedience only occurs by faith—then whatever is within
the person’s heart and mind becomes apparent for all to see through the
person’s actions. Obedience that occurs as a product of faith in, and love
for God is counted to the person as righteousness; for when in a far land,
disobedience is the expectation of the land whereas in
What Paul did not realize is that in the 1st-Century Gentile converts entered into a church culture that expected obedience to God. Similar expectations were placed upon 20th-Century disciples in the former Worldwide Church of God, almost all of whom were converts from some other “Christian” faith. For whatever reason, a person converted, then came under the authority of an administration [in the case of Church of God disciples] that rode roughshod over the person, delivering through fiery sermons the expectations of this new church culture though often confusing the expectations of God with the expectations of the Church.
In the 1st-Century, those who were in
fellowships in Achaia and in Asia (and on
The hundred plus thousand disciples in the former
Worldwide Church of God lived in a church
culture that was as repressive as any since 17th-Century Puritans immigrated
When first entering Judea, circumcision of the heart was not offered to Israelites even though it was described in the Moab covenant; for Israel first had to go into captivity before salvation was offered following demonstrated obedience by faith … before the hearts of disciples are spiritually circumcised, these disciples must enter into God’s rest, then have the opportunity to leave; must have freedom from the constraints of a church culture.
The authority of the Church must wax and wane with each generation so that every disciple, after having sampled the love of God, can on his or her own really decide whether he or she will by faith keep the commandments as the Christian’s expression of love for God. In other words, the collapse of fellowships, the turning away from Paul, the great falling away in the Tribulation—all are necessary opportunities that allow disciples to “escape” from the oppression of God if that is the disciple’s will.
When a disciple chooses life on the spiritual
The many fellowships that left Paul in the 1st-Century and the splintering of the former Worldwide Church of God in the 20th-Century left disciples, as greenware vessels, without easily identifiable spiritual leadership. Who were they to follow? Anyone? Could they go it alone … many tried, and some few achieved undiscovered success. But most were broken as if dropped from the top rack of a drying shelf onto a concrete floor.
If those disciples who were shattered by the
breakup of Armstrong’s spiritual fiefdom were ever spiritually
circumcised, they will be tossed into the lake of fire when resurrected. The
assumption has been that they were spiritually circumcised, that they had
hearts circumcised when they initially journeyed into obedience to God. But for
their sake, let us hope that this is not true. Let us pray that they were as
the children of
Circumcision of the heart is absolutely essential before a disciple will be glorified. Those who remain only physically circumcised when judgments are revealed will perish.
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"Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved."