Should you get circumcised?

I read through Paul’s letter to the Galatians today and something caught my attention in a new way. One of the implied questions addressed in Galatians (and also in Acts) is the issue of whether or not a person must first become a Jew in order to follow Jesus. This was an important question in the earliest church. Jesus was a Jew. His earliest followers were Jews. Did this mean a person must become a Jew to follow Jesus? Paul addresses the question by looking at circumcision. Must a new non-Jewish believer be circumcised (become a Jew) in order to be welcomed by the early Jesus followers? Paul’s answer is a resounding ‘no.’

Paul seems to be saying that following Jesus, and living by the Spirit, is not about becoming a Jew – it is not about a particular religion but is for anyone and everyone (Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, etc). Following Jesus is not about adopting a new religion. One could remain a Gentile (non-Jew) and follow Jesus (interesting to note – one could also remain a Jew, since there was no such thing as converting to the Christian religion).

Ok, so maybe you’re thinking that there’s nothing too terribly interesting here. However, reading all of this made me think about how these concepts might apply today (maybe you already see where I am going). I am wondering if we can replace Paul’s categories of “circumcised” (Jew) and “uncircumcised” (non-Jew/Gentile) with “Christian” and “non-Christian.” Must a person in today’s world become a Christian in order to follow Jesus and live by the Spirit? I know I have blogged about this kind of thing before but I was just particularly intrigued by how Paul’s words in Galatians might relate to this whole issue. What do you think? I am really interested in hearing your thoughts.

One other thing. Paul does not reject the Jewish followers of Jesus. He acknowledges that Peter is an apostle to the Jews. Paul simply wants the other early Jesus-followers (particularly the leaders of the early movement) to acknowledge his calling to the non-Jews/Gentiles as valid. He also does not seem to reduce the value of the church in Jerusalem (a primarily Jewish church). Instead he seems to recognize that both can coexist. Peter should continue to heed his call to the Jews and Paul will continue to proclaim the message of Jesus to the Gentiles. There is room for both. Some might be called to the Jews and others to the Gentiles. Paul’s desire is simply that the religion of the Jews should not be pushed onto the Gentiles – as a precondition for following Jesus.

So what do you think? Can this relate to the whole Christian/non-Christian thing I mentioned above? Is there a place for followers of Jesus who are not Christians? Just as Paul said that becoming a Jew was unnecessary for Gentiles, might he say today that becoming a Christian is not necessary for following Jesus?

Anyway, I know I already blogged about this kind of thing before (similar ideas can be found both here and here) but I thought perhaps it was worth another mention after reading Galatians today.

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20 Responses

  1. It depends on what you mean by Christian…

    Do they have to call themselves by that name, or wear the name tag…no, but do they have to believe and act Christianly…I would say yes.

    There are certain essentials that make up the Christian faith that has been passed down through the ages – The inspiration of Scripture, the Trinity, full deity/humanity of Christ, depravity of man, substitutionary atonement, bodily ressurection and the return of Christ. Some might add to the list and some may take away, but these really are the crux of the Christian faith.

    I would venture to say that it is impossible to follow Christ if one does not believe in the Trinity, because they are not truly folowing the Christ that is revealed in scripture.

    The other measuring stick for me is love. The NT is filled with declarations that say followers of Christ will be set apart by our love. The love command has been at the center of the Christian Faith since the time of Christ, and even if American Evangelicals have skewed this view, Christians are called to do everything out of love.

    So, I hope that answered your question although I probably did not. Conversion is an act of God, and is not up to be to say who is a legit Christ follower and who is not. However, I do believe that there are certain non-negotiables such as the trinity, substitutiuonary atonement and ressurection that must be believed that are distinctives of the Christian faith.

  2. Questions like this sometimes annoy me because they seem so semantical (is that a word?) and sometimes pointless. But, having expressed my slight annoyance (and it truly is slight), let me share my ideas.

    It seems to me that the idea of becoming a Jew before following Jesus (as expressed in Galatians) was a question of physical changes. The Jews were known by circumcision, by the laws they followed, by physical things. In Galatians, Paul is saying you don’t need to be circumcised because that is falling into the trap of the law–why bind yourselves to the law when we already know we can’t fulfill it? I don’t see his argument against circumcision as against pushing religion of any kind on anyone, just as a caution for looking to anything other than Jesus. Maybe it’s the same thing.

    And that brings us to “Christianity”. Again, there’s a lot of semantic argument to be made by what it means to become a Christian. But, to my mind, it’s a heart change. Paul talks about becoming a true Jew and true circumcision in Romans 2. “Don’t you see: It’s not the cut of a knife that makes a Jew. You become a Jew by who you are. It’s the mark of God on your heart, not of a knife on your skin, that makes a Jew.” I think this is the same discussion we’re having about “christian”. It’s not the religious association that makes us Christian. It’s not about physical things at all–what church I go to, what works I do, whether truly good or not. It’s not about if we’re physically circumcised. It’s a matter of believing in Christ (in the fullest sense of the word “believe”) and allowing Him to revolutionize my heart and life–allowing him to circumcise (over and over, it seems!) that part of me that is selfish and dead and replace it with his heart of love and life. That, to me, is the crux of “Christian”, and seemed the heart of what Paul meant by becoming a true Jew. Do you do that before coming to Jesus, or in order to come to him? Impossible! He is the work of Christianity (or of true Judaism), and you can’t separate the two. In the act of following Jesus, my heart is changed, and I become Christian (or truly Jewish–whatever word you want to use); I become more and more like Christ.

    Now if you’re asking if I have to align myself with traditional ideas of Christian, or identify myself with certain social or political ideas to follow Jesus, then I would say no. That’s physical. Again, it all just depends on your definition of “Christian”.

  3. “Christian” is a pretty relative term these days. Sometimes i feel as if it’s not much more than that. Other times i believe that the very definition of the word means “follower of Christ”. So i guess this could be made into a simple “labels” discussion, but i don’t think that’s what you’re askling about.

    So who cares what we call ourselves as long as we agknowledge that this God of ours is truly the Jesus (maybe not known by that name??) who is very much alive rather than some generic twelve step program-ish higher power.

    It seems to me that religion exists for our convenience and not for the overall growth of the Church. But if differnet types of organization or tradition make it easier for someone to have a relevant relationship with Christ, then great! It’s like icing on the cake, you know. It’s probably not totally necessary but makes it all a little easier to swallow. After all, none of us are seeing Him as appetizing all the time.

    So like you say Male of Female, Black or White, Young or Old, Catholic or Protestant, Jew or Gentile, Baptist or Methodist……

    I’ll even continue with Buddhist or Muslim both of which agknowledge a “Christ” figure. Although the story and names vary slightly, is He the same there too? I think maybe so.

  4. Aaron, I don’t what christ figure you are rererring to with buddhist or muslims. Please elaborate.

  5. i think southwestern baptist and some other places would dismiss you easily….but i think youre great and onto something!! look forward to hearing more.

  6. The Quran refers to Christ using the name Eesa as well as many other names that translate to things such as servant of Allah and Messenger of Allah. Further more, they refer to him as the son of Mary (Ibn Maryam).

    In the Buddhist faith, some consider the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama, to be a Christ figure.

    Your welcome to make your own decisions regarding this stuff, but i choose not to close myself off to the idea all together. I believe with all that i am that the Jesus that i know is the Jesus of the Bible who died and rose again. I just don’t want to banish from my heart the idea that Jesus can be the same to others who live and believe in different cultural religiosity’s as He is for me.

  7. I am not a world religions scholar but my understanding of Jesus in reference to non-Christian religions (maybe “Christian” is not the word to use these days) from what little research I have done paints him as a great man, even an esteemed spiritual leader, but not the Savior of the World. I have read that the Qur’ an contains several passages on Jesus and Mary including the virginal birth, the role of Jesus as a prophet, and his mission to confirm the Torah. However, the divinity of Christ is denied, as is also the reality of the Crucifixion. At the end of his life an attempt is made to kill Jesus, but he is delivered and raised up to heaven. There are a number of references to Jesus in the hadith, the Traditions attributed to Muhammad. These show reverence for Jesus and recognize his importance, but they emphasize that he ranks after Muhammad.

    And Buddhists naturally tend to interpret Jesus according to their own system of thought. They may be attracted by his teachings and by his example. They may be willing to recognize Jesus as a bodhisatva, one who renounces himself out of compassion for others. Yet there will still remain a fundamental difference, for they accept Jesus as a wise Teacher, but not as a divine Person.

    We all know that Jesus declared himself to be the only way to the Father. His death and resurrection is absolutely essential to our salvation. There must be atonement made for my transgressions. If He is not the Son of God who came to die for our sins and rose again to give us life eternal, then we are all done for.

    I guess

  8. I absolutely agree with what Sandy says about Jesus, and the inherent importance of his divinity and his revelation of the Father. He was not just a good teacher or a nice person. How worthless that would be.

    I am intrigued though, and I think this may be what Aaron is getting at (I could be wrong on that, though), by something in “The Last Battle”. Lewis writes about this character who has loved and served Tash (who is a false god) his whole life, and yet Aslan accepts this man into his kingdom. When the man sees Aslan, he immediately recognizes him as the one truly worthy of his devotion, even though in life he believed wholeheartedly that Aslan was a false god. The key lies in this man’s heart. (Ooh, there it is again–the heart!) Aslan says to him, “Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me…Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him, for I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him.” The man replies, but “…I have been seeking Tash all my days”, and Aslan says (here is the key, I think) that “…unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek.”

    I know this is a work of fiction, but obviously Lewis thought there was something to this idea, and I have great respect for C.S. Lewis’s theology and grounding in Scripture. I have also heard a story where some missionaries went somewhere (Central America?) and told the people about Jesus, and the people said something along the lines of, “We’re so glad we know his name now.” I think there is something to the idea that the very rocks cry out in testimony of the truth of God, who is Jesus. I can’t get around the fact that not every person in the world has heard the name of Jesus and therefore cannot confess Him as Lord, verbally. Can their hearts confess that without them knowing the words? I wonder if we do not have to know his name, or even know of his sacrifice, inherently important as it is to our relationship with him, as long as there is recognition of a Truth and Love and Goodness that is so far beyond ourselves. This could be called spirituality, or could be seen as faith in the universe or some other crap, and I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about some unexplainable faith in the true God, without knowing that’s what it is, that only God can see and know. I’m talking about the possibility of someone being a “Christian”, being a true follower of Christ, without understanding that it is Jesus they are following.

    I know it is by faith we are saved, not by works, and I believe that. But can we have faith in Jesus without knowing it is Jesus that our faith truly resides in? Can there be something in us that cries out for–and receives Truth–without our brains knowing Who it is we are receiving? What do you think about this idea? Is this closer to what you were asking, Adam? What do you guys think about what Lewis writes about?

  9. So are you saying that there is a way of salvation through eesa? Are you also saying that allah is the SAME god as Jehovah? (how about the fact that mohammad is this religions highest prophet, who’s religion “spread by the sword the faith.”)

    Now, let me think here…..doesn’t buddhism believe that there is no god? and the way of the highest place is “nirvana” where you will just stop the endless cycle of reincarnation?

    Then hindu think that it requires MANY rebirths before one is tired of the worldly pleasures and then finally reach a point where they can just STOP reincarnating.

    Also, one must realize that buddhism is one of many offshoots of Hindu. (worshippers of about 300 gods and they think that a cow is the highest form of life) We do have a couple of brothers (former practicing hindus) in our church who could really shed some light on it for us.

    I know I am probably over simplifying here. But I am trying to understand where there is the idea of sin, mans separation, and atonement and salvation through the sacrifice of the one divine true God. All of this by faith and not by works.

    Unless the very nature of these people are COMPLETELY different I can’t understand how the way to salvation COULD be.

  10. Oops, sorry guys, I forgot to address this for Aaron again! Great thoughts Sandy and Amy!!! This is good stuff!!

  11. I am inclined to agree with Amy though it is just a hunch and I don’t have any scripture to back it up. If anyone has any scripture that addresses this topic, please chime in. As some of you know, I have been reading George MacDonald lately, and he seems to promote some similar ideas. I wonder if.. and this is only me wondering… in the end times, if everyone won’t have an opportunity to either choose Jesus or reject him. Those who thought they had been worshiping in truth and found they hadn’t (might this even include some who wore the the name of “Christian” in this life?) would be given a chance to be with Him and those who choose that they do not want to have anything to do with Him would remain in darkness. And isn’t that was Hell is? The absence of God. The absence of Light and Life? So that begs the question. Why choose Him now? And as we are sharing the wonderful news of our Savior Jesus Christ, exactly what are we saving people from? Oh, I’m afraid another can of worms…

  12. Hey guys – sorry I haven’t joined in the conversation here – this is great! It’s been kind of a busy/stressful week with Ivy so I haven’t been on the blog much but I am very interested in this discussion. I will post some more thoughts soon (I am also going to post some more thoughts about the “Responding to Buechner” post – specifically Angie’s recent comment, which you should read if you haven’t).

    Anyways, I really appreciate the great conversation. I will be back to contribute – right now Ivy is laying on me crying.

  13. Great question Sandy! Very good question. I think Sandy is right though: a whole other can of worms. Since that is being brought up though, I would love to see a discussion of the word “salvation”, or even just Sandy’s question addressed specifically.
    I think that Paul was trying to get the Galatians to move away from acts that “saved” you, and get them to understand that it was the beliefs- the faith that was required. I have never read more into it than that, especially since we as humans are constantly trying to seek something tangible to give us spiritual security. I doubt the Galations, especially practicing a new religion, were any different.

  14. I apologize for my poor communication.

    From amy’s comment- “I wonder if we do not have to know his name, or even know of his sacrifice, inherently important as it is to our relationship with him, as long as there is recognition of a Truth and Love and Goodness that is so far beyond ourselves. This could be called spirituality, or could be seen as faith in the universe or some other crap, and I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about some unexplainable faith in the true God, without knowing that’s what it is, that only God can see and know. I’m talking about the possibility of someone being a “Christian”, being a true follower of Christ, without understanding that it is Jesus they are following.”

    This is the overall gist of what i was trying (and failing) to say. Sometimes i wonder if we all might be better off being one of those villagers in south america. Our theology just gets in the way. I think this has been made more true to me than ever after reading some of these comments.

    Is it possible to have a relationship with Christ without knowing of His name or His sacrifice. Without knowing anything about christian theology. Yes yes yes!!!

  15. Thanks Aaron! I now understand where you are coming from. I do agree that we are at a HUGE disadvantage having all of this “THEOLOGY” around. All our God wants is a relationship with us! Although I don’t know about South America. (unless it was high in the Andes! LOL)

    I guess I would have to agree with you in a way on the fact that God can reveal himself to people by other means. However, I have a hard time coming to the point of saying that one can become a Christian that way. But hey, Paul had one heck of an experience. (however there could have been some other exposure that could have affected him before his walk to Damascus. But I guess he was on his way to kick some christian butt! LOL)

    I did do some really interesting reading last night by a guy writing about MacDonald’s theology: BTW, MUCH easier read!

    His beliefs on the very existence of hell and the judgment are really stretching my faith!

    http://www.george-macdonald.com/theology.htm

  16. Just some food for thought on what aaron and amy are saying:
    If it might be possible to have a relationship with Christ and not know it, what about those who know of Christ and have the opportunity to learn about Him, the Bible, etc and reject Jesus specifically as the Lord and Saviour? Of course there are many who never had that opportunity, but there are many who do, and yet still choose something else. Maybe they choose Islam, or Buddhism, athiesm, etc, etc, etc. Or what about those who are raised one religion, and will never be able to turn their back on what they were raised in, even if they don’t 100% believe it?

    I’m certainly not disagreeing with you guys. I think I probably do mostly agree in fact, but it still brings up more questions.

  17. Hey all,

    I love hearing other’s opinions on these subjects, so first of all: thanks, Adam, for bringing it up! I’ve been out of town, though, so I’m just now getting caught up on the comments. The questions raised do seem to be wound around “what is salvation?” and “how is one saved?” Personally, I think I stand with Amy and her C.S. Lewis quote from The Last Battle, about the man who had faithfully served and sought/followed Tash–only to find out that he was actually serving and following Aslan. As others have pointed out, even this isn’t a full explanation–but what is? I don’t think that any of us can truly comprehend the full reality–and I’m OK with admitting that there’s a lot of mystery involved. Not only mystery, but even uncertainty (as John Henry Newman puts it, certainty is really just an accumulation of probabilities; at least, this side of eternity it is).

    But as far as I can tell, the Tash/Aslan excerpt is the best description I have ever found of what I think it must mean to be saved by grace and by faith. ‘Cause after all, isn’t it possible for our conscious “decision for Christ” or “faith in Christ” to be a “work”? As for any sort of Scriptural reference (aside from all the faith/works/grace parts) to this specifically, I’d suggest Jesus’ comment that his disciples have seen Him and believed, but blessed are those who have NOT seen, and yet believed.

    There’s more I could chime in on–and definitely more areas of uncertainty and further questions than areas where I can say “this is what I really feel sure about,” but I’m going to stop. At least for now. ;)

  18. “Why choose Him now? And as we are sharing the wonderful news of our Savior Jesus Christ, exactly what are we saving people from?”

    Due to some teaching I heard over the radio several years ago (I know, I know…) I’ve pretty much decided that I don’t believe in hell as it’s been taught–a place of eternal damnation and torture for those who don’t know Jesus. I’m not so sure I believe in hell at all, though McDonald’s idea of hell (good article, Clint) is more palatable than anything else I’ve heard. I could go into why I believe that, but not right here. Feel free to ask me if you want.

    In any case, I no longer believe in (and never really liked) the idea of Jesus’ salvation as salvation from hell and not much more. I think what Jesus is saving us from is much more related to what Mark has been talking about recently: right relationship with God, right relationship with people, right relationship with creation. I think Jesus came and lived and sacrificed himself for us to redeem us from ourselves, from our failed efforts to achieve these right relationships. Certainly, we see people all over striving to have right relationship with God–that’s what most religions are about. We see people constantly trying to succeed in their relationships. We see people trying to fix all that is wrong with our world. But I believe that there is inherently something wrong with us. No matter how hard we try, we will always ultimately fail. Yes, there will be good things that come of our efforts. Great strides will be made. But ultimately we will never reach true rightness without the redemption of Jesus.

    This is also related to a paradigm shift I had after moving to Waco. I was never too affected by legalistic rules and regulations, but I am by nature a pleaser. I tried very hard to please God by trying to do what he said. I tried so hard to have patience, to have love, to do the right things. And I succeeded to a point. But what freedom I have gained when I realized that that’s missing the point. I am not expected to live the Christian life! I am supposed to throw my hands up daily and say, “I can’t do this!” THat’s my job! I’m supposed to allow this Jesus to live through me, to change my heart, my desires, and ultimately, my actions. That’s why we need him now, so he can save us from ourselves and so he can bring about true goodness and beauty and selflessness and love in us, and therefore in our world. We cannot separate the actions of our faith from the faith itself. Without one another, they are not of much worth.

    The salvation of Jesus–Jesus himself–is relevant because of how desperately we need him right now, not because of some future utopia we are waiting around for. Jesus is relevant and necessary now because we need him to be the people we were meant to be, and to live–really live–fully.

  19. […] all of my blog titles with “etc.”) First of all, what happened? 18 comments on the previous post? Wow. Thanks for the good discussion – obviously it had nothing to do with me. I have been so […]

  20. Adam,

    Hope this fits in with what your musing on?

    Rich

    Christianity
    Soren Kierkegaard

    When Christianity entered into the world, people were not Christians, and the difficulty was to become a Christian. Nowadays the difficulty in becoming a Christian is that one must cease to become a Christian. One best becomes a Christian without ”Christianity.” Not until a person has become so wretched that his only wish, his only consolation, is to die–not until then does Christianity truly begin.

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