3 For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—
Throughout history, the people of God have been marked by a particular physical mark. Circumcision has marked the Hebrew people as God’s special covenantal nation since Abraham. For more than 4,000 years the Jewish people (men particularly) have been identified by this unique covenantal mark. Circumcision is a physical metaphor for the pure lifestyle that the Jewish people were to exemplify as set-apart people in the world. Their entire life was to be especially dedicated to their God and the worship of His name. He specifically designated them as a people upon whom He would set His affections. They were to be people who lived radically different lives than the world around them: lives that were dedicated to the mission and worship of the LORD. The physical mark was important and set them apart from the world around them, but it was a physical mark that indicated a deeper spiritual truth. The true people of God were those who had the sinful flesh nature removed by faith in God’s messianic promises. The true follower of the Lord were not those who simply obeyed the law of circumcision, but those who trusted in “Jehovah Mikodeshkim,” meaning – The LORD who sanctifies you (Ex. 31:13, c.f. Romans 9).[i]
Paul remains consistent with the theology of the Old Testament proclaiming that those who are worshipers of God by the Spirit of God are those who are truly transformed and circumcised in their spirit. Three identifying marks are given for those who are truly the people of God.
First, Christians are people who “worship by the Spirit.” Believers give to God devoted acts of service to Him by the power of His Spirit. Their worship in unique because it is accomplished in the power of His Spirit and not by any power of their own. The only way a person is capable of worshiping the Lord, is if the Lord changes the heart of that person. Romans chapters 1-3 articulate very well the nature of man: a nature that is bent away from righteousness and away from God. The only way for that person to change is for an outside force to enact some sort of change on their nature. Thank God for Jesus Christ who, while we were still sinners, demonstrated God’s love for us when He died for us (Romans 5:8). It is by His Spirit that we are able to worship and it is in the power of His Spirit that we worship at all.
Second, Christians find their identity in Christ Jesus. The concept of glory can best be understood as an accurate depiction of reality. For example: the glory of a frog is that it is slimy, hops, and croaks. The glory of cat is that it purrs, meows, and causes allergies. The glory of man is that he is sinful. So, when a man has been transformed from the heart, by the Spirit of God, that man’s glory is now found in the life of his creator, or more accurately: his re-creator. Christianity is an exchange of glory. The believer exchanges his/her former glory of sin and self for the glory of Jesus (c.f. 2 Cor. 5:21). This is an important truth to grasp: that God has changed the nature of a Christian and has begun the process of sanctification, conforming His adopted children to His own image or glory.
Third, Christians place their confidence in what Christ has done and not in their own life achievements. A believer’s confidence is built upon what has been done for them in Christ. It is not the greatness of the individual who worships the LORD, but the greatness of the LORD that compels the Christian’s confidence. Because Christ has rescued believers, the believer is confident in their present state. Because Christ continues to work in the heart of believers, believers are confident in their abilities. Because Christ has secured the future resurrection, believers are confident of their own personal destiny. This confidence is unshakable because it is not built on human efforts. It is a confidence founded on the greatness of God and His character.
Rest in this confidence, Christian. His greatness is the foundation of our strength.
[i] At the conclusion of the law in Exodus, God tells His people that they will keep the Sabbath as a day of rest. On that day they will remember that it is not their work that makes them Holy, but the LORD who does it.