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Sermon #44 — Romans Series


      Title:                                 “The Sign of Circumcision”


      Text:                                  Romans 4:11-12

      Subject:               The Meaning of Circumcision

      Reading: Genesis 17:1-27 and Exodus 4:24-26



Let’s open our Bibles to the 4th chapter of the book of Romans. — My text is Romans 4:11-12.


(Romans 4:11) And he (Abraham) received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also: (12) And the father of circumcision to them who are not of the circumcision only, but who also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised.


The most prominent, most distinguishing feature of the Jews’ religion in the Old Testament was the circumcision of every male child on the eighth day after it was born. This ceremony separated the Jews from all other people. It became to them a matter of great honor and of great pride. This Old Testament ritual of circumcision is the only ordinance of Old Testament worship that the Jews continue to practice, in reality, other than the keeping of the Sabbath. But the Lord God never intended for circumcision to be a permanent ordinance, any more than he intended Sabbath keeping and animal sacrifices to continue forever. All these things were symbolic and typical of spiritual things. They were never intended to be anything more than temporary pictures of the grace of God in Christ.


You have the title of my message before you in verse 11. — “The Sign of Circumcision” — That is my subject. — “The Sign of Circumcision”


Proposition: The Old Testament ritual of circumcision was a typical picture, a sign, of the regenerating, sanctifying work of God the Holy Spirit in the hearts of his elect. It was a picture of grace, a picture of the saving grace of God in Christ.


That is Paul’s subject in Romans 4. He is here telling us how God saves sinners, how sinners are justified freely by the grace of God through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, without works of any kind. To illustrate and confirm his doctrine, the Apostle was inspired to point us to the example given in Holy Scripture of Abraham.


The Text


First, let’s take a careful look at our text. If Abraham was justified before he was circumcised, as the Scriptures declare, the question is asked, “Why was he circumcised?” God the Holy Ghost answers, “He received the sign of circumcision” as “a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised.” Circumcision was God’s seal to Abraham of the righteousness of God imputed to him, the righteousness he had received from God by faith in Christ before he was circumcised. Circumcision did not make Abraham righteous. Circumcision was God’s assurance to Abraham that he was righteous, a sign in his body by which the triune Jehovah pledged himself to Abraham as his covenant God in Christ, by which he assured Abraham of all the promised blessings of the covenant. And circumcision was a sign in his body by which Abraham was separated unto God, by which Abraham was pledged to God.


But there is more, much more. By his circumcision Abraham was made, symbolically, the father of all who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, the father of all who walk in the steps of his faith, of all who trust Christ alone as their Lord and Savior, the father of all the Israel of God, the father of all God’s true covenant people (Galatians 3:22-29).


(Galatians 3:22) But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.


(Galatians 3:26) For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.


(Galatians 3:29) And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.


Deuteronomy 30:6


The Mosaic law itself declared that the carnal Old Testament ordinance of circumcision was only a sign of something else, a sign of something spiritual. Turn back to Deuteronomy 30:6. Let’s look at the prophecy and promise of God given by Moses in the book of Deuteronomy — Deuteronomy 30:6. Here Moses, the prophet of God, describes the work of grace which the Lord God performs upon the hearts of chosen sinners in the day of his grace. This is a prophecy of God’s work of grace in the kingdom of Christ, the Messiah. All the ancient Jewish writers taught that this passage of Scripture referred to the Messiah.


NOTICE: No mention is made here of physical circumcision, because physical circumcision, being a part of legal worship is no longer observed by those who worship God; neither is it honored and received by God. The days of carnal, legal worship are forever ended. — We are free from the law!


“The Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed.”All the hosts of God’s elect, all the seed of Israel must be circumcised in their hearts. This is that spiritual circumcision of which circumcision in the flesh was typical. As physical circumcision was a cutting of the flesh, spiritual circumcision is a cutting of the heart, not with a knife, but by the Word of God, not by the hands of men, but by the Spirit of God.


“To love the Lord thy God with all thine heart and with all thy soul.” — This is the result of having the heart circumcised. This is the result of the Holy Spirit’s work in a person. It is the duty of all men to love the Lord their God with all their heart and all their soul; but not one does so by nature. — “The carnal (heart) is enmity against God.” Fallen man hates God! There is no love to God in any heart until it is circumcised by the Spirit of God. But all who are born again by the grace and power of God the Holy Spirit love God. Their affections are set on Christ (1 Corinthians 16:22). This is the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22).


John Gill rightly tells us that a person has been circumcised in his heart when he “sees his sin and his Savior, and the one is odious and the other precious; when the blessings of grace are applied and the love of God shed abroad in the heart, which cause love to God and Christ.”


“That thou mayest live!” — Heart circumcision is regeneration. It produces life, spiritual life, eternal life. There is no spiritual life in the soul until the heart has been circumcised by the Spirit of God. Then, after the Holy Spirit has quickened the heart, those whose hearts have been circumcised “live a life of faith on Christ, of holiness from him, of communion with him, and have both an open right unto and meetness for eternal life” (John Gill).


Colossians 2:11


That is the prophecy and the promise. Now let’s look at its fulfillment in Colossians 2:11.


(Colossians 2:9-11) (9) For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. (10) And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: (11) In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:


Verse 9 – All fulness resides in Christ!

  • The fulness of the Godhead
  • The fulness of Grace (1:19)
  • The fulness of Glory


Verse 10 – We are complete in Christ! If you possess him, in whom all fulness is, you are complete. If you are in him who possesses all things, you are complete. You lack nothing. In Christ…

  • We have complete atonement!
  • We have complete righteousness!
  • We have complete worthiness before God (Colossians 1:12). — “Accepted in the Beloved!” (Ephesians 1:6)


Now, watch this — Verse 11. — Colossians 2:11. — “In whom also ye were circumcised!” — We have been circumcised in Christ our Head, “who is made of God unto us sanctification.” We were circumcised “in Christ” representatively, when he was circumcised to fulfil the law for us. And we have been circumcised “by Christ” in regeneration, when he sent his Spirit into our hearts in saving grace and power.


“With the circumcision made without hands.” — This circumcision, the new birth, is not the work of man, but the work of God alone. This is that inward circumcision of the heart of which Paul speaks in Romans 2. It cannot, in any way, be ascribed to…

  • The church.
  • The preacher.
  • The free will of man.

It is God’s work alone (John 1:12-13; 6:63; Romans 9:16).


(John 1:12-13) (12) But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: (13) Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.


(John 6:63) It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.

(Romans 9:16) So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.


“In putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” The body of sins, our corrupt nature with its corrupt deeds, is compared to a garment that must be put off. When a person has been circumcised in his heart, the filthy garment of sin is put off (Joshua the High Priest — Zechariah 3:1-3).

  • It is put off by Christ! — He wrapped himself in the filthy garments of our sins, bare them in his own body on the tree, and became a sacrifice for them (1 Peter 2:24). By his death on the cross, the old man was crucified and the body of sin destroyed.
  • It is put off by faith! — When the blood, righteousness, and sacrifice of Christ are effectually applied to the heart, causing sinners to look to Christ in faith, their consciences are purged of guilt (Hebrews 9:14). Their iniquities pass from them, and they are clothed with the garments of salvation (Isaiah 61:10; Zechariah 3:1-5).


(Isaiah 61:10) I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decketh himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorneth herself with her jewels.


(Zechariah 3:1) And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to resist him. (2) And the LORD said unto Satan, The LORD rebuke thee, O Satan; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? (3) Now Joshua was clothed with filthy garments, and stood before the angel. (4) And he answered and spake unto those that stood before him, saying, Take away the filthy garments from him. And unto him he said, Behold, I have caused thine iniquity to pass from thee, and I will clothe thee with change of raiment. (5) And I said, Let them set a fair mitre upon his head. So they set a fair mitre upon his head, and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the LORD stood by.


  • This putting off of “the body of the sins of the flesh” is accomplished by the power of God the Holy Spirit. — When the Spirit of God invades a sinner’s heart with saving grace, giving life and faith in Christ, he lays sin under the restraint of grace. He will not allow sin to have dominion. He causes grace to reign through righteousness (Romans 5:21; 6:18). — A new life begins in us.
  • And believers themselves, by the grace and power of God, put off the old man with his deeds and put on the new (Ephesians 4:17-24).


(Ephesians 4:17-24) (17) This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, (18) Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: (19) Who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. (20) But ye have not so learned Christ; (21) If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: (22) That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; (23) And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; (24) And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.


Grace promises righteousness. Grace proclaims righteousness. Grace provides righteousness. And grace produces righteousness. “The circumcision made without hands” is not a circumcision that symbolizes righteousness; it is a circumcision that produces righteousness.


Divisions: Let me briefly show you just two things, and I will wrap this message up.

  1. The typical significance of circumcision.
  2. The result of heart circumcision.


Typical Significance


Circumcision in the Old Testament, as it was given to Abraham and commanded in the law by Moses, was a mark involving these five things.


  1. Sealing — A Sealing Mark


God made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15. In that covenant he promised to be his Savior, his Shield, and his Reward, and to be the Savior, Shield, and Reward of all his seed after him. Then, in Genesis 17:9-14, the Lord God gave circumcision as the seal of his covenant. All who were circumcised were heirs of the covenant. All who were uncircumcised were cut off from the covenant, accounted as dead (Exodus 4:24-26).

  • Nowhere in the New Testament are we taught that this seal of the covenant is baptism, as the pedobaptists claim.
  • This circumcision, this seal of the covenant, in the New Testament is the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart (Ephesians 1:13).


(Ephesians 1:12-14) (12) That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ. (13) In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, (14) Which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.


All who have the Spirit of God are heirs of the everlasting covenant of grace. — “If any man have not the Spirit of God, he is none of his” (Romans 8:9).


New Beginning — In the Scriptures the number 8 represents a new beginning. Circumcision was performed on the eighth day after a baby boy’s birth. When a new cycle of life began, the male child was circumcised, entering into all the blessings and privileges of life in covenant with God. Even so, when you were born again, when you entered into a new realm of life in Christ, you entered into all the blessings and privileges of God’s covenant, sealed to you by the Spirit of God (Ephesians 1:3-14). Therefore, the Apostle declares to all who trust Christ, to all who are born of God, — “Ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit” (Romans 8:9).


That is the first thing. The mark of circumcision was a seal of God upon a man; and the circumcision of the heart is the seal of God in a man!


  1. Distinction — A Distinguishing Mark


The only thing that distinguished the sons of Abraham from the heathen among whom they dwelt was circumcision; and the only thing that separates and distinguishes the believer from the unbeliever is the work of God’s grace in him (1 Corinthians 4:7; 15:10). — Circumcision was a mark of distinction, separating God’s people from the rest of the world. By the new birth, by the circumcision of the heart, “the Lord doth out a difference between the Egyptians and Israel” (Exodus 11:7).


  1. Pain — A Painful Mark


In those days, when anesthesia was unknown, circumcision was a very painful thing to endure.


Illustration: Simeon and Levi killed every man in Shalem, the city of Shechem (Genesis 34:25).


The circumcision of the heart, in the experience of it, is a very painful thing to endure. It involves conviction, repentance, and confession of sin. To be circumcised by “the circumcision made without hands” is…

  • To be pricked in the heart, thoroughly convinced of sin.
  • To have the iniquity and corruption of my heart laid in open view.
  • To have my heart broken, groaning under the sense of sin and its shame, loathing and abhorring myself.
  • To have the hardness and callousness of my stony heart taken away (Ezekiel 36:26).


Circumcision involved great pain; and the circumcision of the heart is a painful thing. The first signs of life in the soul are not pleasant, but painful.


  1. Purification — A Purifying Mark


Circumcision was a purifying thing, the cutting away of the foreskin of the flesh; and the circumcision of the heart is purifying to the children of God.

  • It purifies the conscience.
  • It purifies the heart by faith in Christ (Acts 15:9).
  • It purifies the life (1 John 3:2).


How? How does this circumcision of the heart purify us?

  • By Imparting Righteousness!
  • By Making us New Creatures!
  • By Making us Partakers of the Divine Nature!
  • By Forming Christ in Us!


The mark of circumcision involved…

  • Sealing
  • Distinction
  • Pain
  • Purification, and…


  1. Permanence — A Permanent Mark


Circumcision cannot be reversed. Neither can the grace of God be reversed (Romans 11:29).

  • Grace is permanent.
  • Forgiveness is permanent.
  • Eternal life is permanent.
  • The circumcision of the heart is permanent!


The Results


I have shown you the typical significance of circumcision in the Old Testament. It symbolized God’s saving grace, the circumcision of the heart. But how can I know whether I have this “circumcision that is of the heart,” this “circumcision made without hands,” this inward, spiritual circumcision? Turn to Philippians 3:3, and let me show you the results of heart circumcision.


(Philippians 3:1-3) (1) Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. (2) Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. (3) For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.


“We are the circumcision,” Israelites indeed, the Israel of God, the people of God, the sons of God, the heirs of God’s covenant, “which…”


“Worship God in the Spirit.”

  • Worship God
  • Worship by the Spirit of God
  • Worship Spiritually


“And rejoice in Christ Jesus.” — To rejoice in Christ is to enjoy the blessedness of trusting him and him alone for the everlasting salvation of my soul.

  • His Righteousness!
  • His Blood!
  • His Intercession!
  • His Suretyship!


“And have no confidence in the flesh.”

  • The Goodness of the Flesh.
  • The Works of the Flesh.
  • The Pedigree of the Flesh.
  • The Experiences of the Flesh.
  • The Feelings of the Flesh.




(Jeremiah 4:3-4) (3) For thus saith the LORD to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, Break up your fallow ground, and sow not among thorns. (4) Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.


I cannot circumcise your heart; and you cannot circumcise your heart. Yes, God commands it; but you can’t do it. But, blessed be his name forever, there is One who can — The Lord Jesus Christ!

  • Come to Christ — He’ll come to you!
  • Look to Christ — He’ll look to you!
  • Reach out to Christ — He’ll reach out to you!
  • Lay hold of Christ — He’ll lay hold on you!
  • Lay bare your heart to Christ — He’ll lay bare his heart to you!


True religion is not outward, but inward. It is not in the practice of outward duties, but a matter of the heart. It is not carnal, but spiritual.


(Romans 2:28) For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: (29) But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.


This circumcision of the heart is God’s seal of grace and salvation in us, the seal of righteousness, flowing freely to sinners redeemed by the blood of Christ, flowing freely to all who trust the Son of God (Galatians 3:13-14).


(Galatians 3:13) Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree: (14) That the blessing of Abraham might come on the Gentiles through Jesus Christ; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.





Don Fortner








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