Reflections on Sermon 17: “The Circumcision of the Heart”

Reflections on Sermon 17: “The Circumcision of the Heart”

"Circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter." —Romans 2:29

I once heard a story of two cockroaches that came in to a feast on a filthy house. The kitchen sink was filled with leftovers on unattended dishes. Out of sheer excitement, the younger cockroach began to relate that he was starving for a few days because he had been trapped in a spotlessly clean house. He described the other house’s high sanitation standards to his older dining companion, who by then was gorging himself on the leftover bits of food. The older cockroach, hearing about how clean the other house had been, cleared his throat and stated: “Excuse me . . . do you mind? Why are you telling me about clean houses? Can't you see I am eating here? All your talk about a clean kitchen is causing me to lose my appetite!”

Just like these cockroaches, cleanliness sounded unpleasant to me at one time. The world and its filth were so satisfying to me that living in a Christlike spirit, without anger, anxiety, or hurt sounded nerdy, frighteningly unappealing, and unrealistic.

John Wesley correctly stated in his sermon “Circumcision of the Heart” that “Most men have so lived away the substance of that religion…that no sooner are any of those truths proposed which [highlight the] difference [of] the Spirit of Christ from the spirit of the world, that they cry out, ‘Thou bringest strange things to our ears; we would know what these things mean.’” The idea of being separated from the world and its ways after being deeply saturated in the world and its ways is foreign to the lovers of worldly culture.

The notion of being circumcised communicates a painful cutting away of something that seems natural. The idea of circumcising the heart strikes fear in those who have become entirely self-reliant and satisfied with living in the dark. It is the kind of fear that the Roman governor Felix experienced when Paul confronted him with the message of faith in Christ (Acts 24:22-25). Many are so accustomed to a darkened world such that even a ray of light breaking through the darkness can be more fear-inducing than enlightening, liberating, and relieving.

Wesley inferred regarding the uncircumcised heart that “… we are by nature wretched, and poor, and miserable, and blind, and naked.” To experience the heart circumcision is to be convinced “… that in our best estate we are, of ourselves, all sin and vanity; that confusion, and ignorance, and error reign over our understanding; that unreasonable, earthly, sensual, devilish passions usurp authority over our will…”

When we are cut away from loving worldly ways, we come into an intimate relationship with God.

In such a godly relationship, we find sacred honor and relief from that inbred, corrupt nature that saddles us with guilt, shame, and an insatiable desire for harmful practices. When God’s Spirit leads us to be free from pursuing our own happiness, we find eternal joy in being called “children of God.” Let us seek that divine, liberating work of the Spirit in our lives.

Gabriel Benjiman currently serves as the regional education and clergy development coordinator for the Church of the Nazarene in Africa. He holds graduate and postgraduate degrees in theology and social sciences. Gabriel and his wife Mary, along with their two daughters, live in South Africa.  

To read the full text of the sermon, click here.