Circumcision was introduced in the Old Testament for several reasons, primarily to set apart those who would follow God (i.e. the Hebrew children) as a sign of their dedication. According to Hastings Dictionary of the Bible: "Jewish teachers...regarded this as purification from obstinancy and imperfection. The rite was regarded as a token in the flesh (symbolic) of God's divine grace in the heart (see Deuteronomy 30:6). To do so promotoes cleanliness, fruitfulness and avoidance of disease."
Stick with me. Some Bible interpreters have actually used cleansing and circumcision interchangeably. In Justifying grace, we invite God to circumcize our hearts to promote cleansing from sin and avoidance of the same so that we can be fruitful in our Christian lives. Circumcision is symbolic of removing original sin---the desire all humans inherit from Adam and Eve to be self-sufficient...wanting to look good/worshipping ourselves and our wants (pride). The "flesh" that Paul often referrs to is original sin: the desire to be in charge, the desire to please self.
When I asked God to forgive my sins --- my actions that drove a wedge between myself and His love -- He gladly and lovingly did so simply because I asked! Justification is a multi-layered term:
- when God forgives my sins, He makes it "just-as-if" I'd never sinned by forgiving and forgetting (Psalm 103:12), something God does easily but humans struggle with.
- If you're as old as I am, you know the terminology for margins on the typewriter: justification brings the text "into line" with the rest of the words.
- If brought up on trial, justification means total forgiveness of guilt and being regarded as innocent.
Does justification mean you're perfect? That you never sin again? No. But that's a topic for another day.