Chapter 17:9-14 (ESV) - And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
Question to consider: What sign or signs has God given us for the everlasting covenant of Christ?
Whenever God has instituted a covenant to His people, He has marked it with a sign that serves to remind us that God will keep His promises to us, and we are to be dedicated to Him. To Adam and Eve, God clothed them. The shedding of the animal's blood was the sacrifice that sealed the covenant, but the animal’s pelt served as a sign that God had covered over their shame. To Noah, God provided the rainbow as an outward sign that He would not send another global flood to wipe out His creation. These outward signs we can see and be assured that God is faithful in keeping His promises.
The sign of circumcision given to Abraham was still an outward sign, but it is a little more personal. The descendants of Abraham would know that they are part of God’s promise because they bore this mark on their flesh. The foreskin represented their sin which was cast away as they received the promise God gave to Abraham. Obviously, because the mark was located on a part of the body that was covered by the sign of Adam (their clothing), it would not have been a public sign, but it would be known to the bearer of the mark and whomever he married. Every time the people of promise would gather to mark a young man on the eighth day of his birth, they would be reminded of God’s promise to them and of their own place in the covenant.
The Christian has been given both an outward and an inward sign. The outward sign is baptism. Depending on when you believe someone enters into the covenant, the church gathers and baptizes in the name of the Father, Son and Spirit as an outward sign that the recipient has become part of the covenantal community. In it, the congregation is reminded of God’s promise to them and of their own place in the covenant. Some believe scripture only affirms entrance into the covenant upon profession of faith by the believer and therefore only baptizes those who can express their faith. Others see baptism as a sign that is similar to the circumcision of Abraham and therefore welcome infants into the covenantal community since it is God alone who is the author and finisher of our faith.
The inward sign given to Christians is the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God convicts of sin and over the course of our lives changes us inwardly to become more like Jesus. This cleansing process is called sanctification. Jesus spoke of these signs to Nicodemus in John chapter 3:5, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” In this, Jesus was not referring to two separate baptisms but to the two marks of a believer. As James said in his epistle (2:26), “For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.” Those who belong to Christ will manifest outwardly what the Spirit of God is accomplishing inwardly.
Dear heavenly father, thank You for providing signs for us to know we belong to You and remind us that You are continually working out Your promises in us and in the world. May we continue to grow in our faith and knowledge of Christ and tell others of Your life-giving grace in the name of Christ Jesus. Amen.