NOT OUTWARDLY IN THE FLESH, IN THE LETTER, BUT INWARDLY OF THE HEART, IN THE SPIRIT
Romans 2:28-29 says that circumcision is not “outward in the flesh,” but “of the heart, in the spirit, not in the letter.” Circumcision is not an outward matter; it is an inward one (Phil. 3:3). The same is true of baptism. Baptism should not just be a form; it must be an inward reality. Let me tell you a story that I heard more than forty years ago. In Central America, the Catholic Church accepted and baptized as members many people who were not saved. One day, a certain priest sprinkled a few drops of water on a boy’s head and changed his name to John. At that time, the Catholic Church insisted that on Fridays its people eat only fish, not meat. One Friday, this John had only meat to eat. Since the priest had sprinkled water on his head and had changed his name to John, he thought that he could do the same to the meat. Therefore, he sprinkled water on it and called the meat fish. He then proceeded to cook the meat by boiling it. As he was boiling the meat, the priest came by. Smelling the aroma of boiling meat, he was angry with John and asked him what he was doing. John replied, “I am doing nothing wrong. This is not meat; it is fish. Don’t you remember sprinkling water on me and changing my name to John? I followed your way and sprinkled water on the meat and called it fish.” This is not real baptism nor the genuine changing of names. Baptism must be an inward reality in the spirit, not an outward form of sprinkling a few drops of water on a person’s head.
THE CIRCUMCISION OF CHRIST
Colossians 2:11 speaks of “the circumcision of Christ.” Real circumcision is in Christ. The circumcision of Christ, like baptism, means to terminate our old being and to make us a new creation, a new person. Galatians 6:15 says, “For neither is circumcision anything nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” The book of Colossians reveals that Christ is our eternal portion (1:12), our life (3:4), and our hope of glory (1:27), and that we must live by Him as the seed and walk in Him as the land (2:6). If we a*re to walk in Christ, we must not be distracted by other things. The way to live by Christ and walk in Christ is to be buried with Him. We who have been buried with Christ have been brought into His resurrection, not by our effort but by the operation of God, which is carried out by the Spirit of God. When we realize that we have been terminated with Christ, buried with Him, and ushered into His resurrection, the indwelling Spirit will honor our realization with an operation, minister the riches of Christ into us, and make us a person in resurrection. This is not a matter of mere teaching; it is the operation of God, the exercise of the living Spirit within us. This is the circumcision of Christ.
Colossians 3:9-10 tells us that we have put off the old man and have put on the new man. This is the real changing of names, the true significance of circumcision, and the genuine experience of baptism. To circumcise the flesh is to put off the old man and to put on the new man. Then as the new man, we shall have the seed for the fulfillment of God’s purpose. Moreover, when we are in the new man, we are in the land, the church. This is altogether a matter of the experience of Christ. When we see that we have already been terminated with Christ and ushered into His resurrection, the indwelling Spirit will honor this by operating within us so that we can put off the old man and put on the new man. In this way, God has the seed and the land for the fulfillment of His eternal purpose.
NOT I, BUT CHRIST
Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” The real changing of names is the change from I to Christ. This is the significance of circumcision and the meaning of baptism. The circumcision of Christ works out one thing—the change from I to Christ. Then it is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me.
NOT I, BUT THE GRACE OF GOD
Eventually, the “not I, but Christ” becomes “not I, but the grace of God” (1 Cor. 15:10). The Apostle Paul said that he labored more than the other apostles; yet it was not he, but the grace of God. What is grace? As we have seen, grace is God coming to us to be everything for us.
In Genesis 18:10 and 14 we find a very strange saying: “At the time appointed I will return unto thee, according to the time of life, and Sarah shall have a son.” What does this mean? There was no need for God to come in order for Sarah to have a son. If we had been Abraham, we probably would have said, “Lord, You don’t need to do that much. You can simply stay in heaven and say a word, and Sarah will have a son.” But the Lord said that the birth of Isaac would be His coming, His arrival. It seems that the coming of God was very nearly the birth of Isaac. God seemed to be saying, “The delivery of Isaac will be My arrival. Isaac will not be out of you, but out of My coming. When I return to you, Sarah will have a son. My coming will be the birth of Isaac.” I am not saying that Isaac is God or that God is Isaac, but I do say that it appears that the return of God nearly was the birth of Isaac. Isaac was an unusual person. Although he was a human being, his birth was the result of a divine visitation. What was that divine visitation? It was grace. Hence, both Abraham and Sarah could say, “It is not I, but the grace of God.”
God called the time of Isaac’s birth the appointed time. The appointment was made in 17:21, when God said, “My covenant will I establish with Isaac, which Sarah shall bear unto thee at this set time in the next year.” God called that appointed time the time of life, saying that according to the time of life He would return and Sarah would have a son. This is very meaningful. Everything we do must be according to the time of life and by God’s visitation. The seed that we bring forth must be the coming of the Lord in His visitation of grace. This visitation of grace is the birth of Isaac. This proves that only the very Christ whom God has wrought into our being can be the seed to possess the land for the fulfillment of God’s purpose. This is absolutely a matter of grace. It is not I, but Christ. It is not I, but the grace of God. Praise the Lord that we do have Christ and the grace of God worked into us so that we can have the seed and possess the land. We have Christ as our seed and the church life as our land. This is altogether the result of circumcision.
(Abraham—Called by God, Chapter 13, by Witness Lee)