Friday, January 8, 2016

Retracing Wesley - #2 Circumcision of the Heart

A circumcised heart (according to John Wesley) is one which is beating within the breast of a person who has…

…the distinguishing mark of a true follower of Christ, of one who is in a state of acceptance with God, is not either outward circumcision, or baptism, or any other outward form, but a right state of soul, a mind and spirit renewed after the image of Him that created it….To be more particular:  Circumcision of heart implies humility, faith, hope, and charity.[2]

Wesley did not come up with that in a vacuum; he read Paul, who got it from God:

And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit.  Romans 2:29b(NLT)

For John Wesley, the problem was not a matter of understanding what a circumcised heart was, or looked like; his problem was how to preach it to a church that had for generations been living so comfortably with their sins and false profession of faith, that they couldn’t recognize their own condition if it was reported to them live on CNN in living color!

Indeed, how do you preach “salvation” to those who believe they’re already saved and without sin?  Scripture tells us:

But people who aren’t spiritual can’t receive these truths from God’s Spirit. It all sounds foolish to them and they can’t understand it, for only those who are spiritual can understand what the Spirit means.
1 Corinthians 2:14(NLT)

All Mr. Wesley could do was describe what a circumcised heart looked like, bathe the sermon in prayer that God’s Spirit would pull-back the blinders on eyes and allow hearts to be born-again.

Indeed, that is all that can be done, ever by any preacher in the pulpit, or witness in the workplace, or friend telling a friend or neighbor about the power of God to save – so that hearts can be renewed, and culture changed, and the world transformed.

And that is what I intend for our time together here.  As Wesley,

Humility – Faith – Hope – Charity (love)


In the Bible humility refers to an understanding that all of us are without power to do anything about our sinful condition.

John Wesley struggled with that.  He tried to be so good God would take him on his merits alone; he got so tired of trying to be good, failing, and being miserable, he fell into awful bouts of depression.  Then one night Wesley attended a Moravian meeting on Aldersgate Street; his journal tells the story of his profound life- transformation:

In the evening I went unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther's preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter to nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation, and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine and saved me from the law of sin and death.[12]

This is Biblical humility – trusting Christ alone for saving us.


It’s hard to know which comes first, humility or faith.  I tend to think they are simultaneous.  Faith is given to every person to believe; humility is acting upon that faith, in the way that activates it (or makes it effective).

In that way, this is what it means to step towards God in faith in humility; this is that about which Jesus said: 

However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them.  John 6:37(NLT)

And when Jesus accepts you, all of what is possessed by Jesus, the Son of God, is what is offered to everyone who becomes a child of God by faith through grace. 

Too often I’ve heard the mistaken idea that we are ALL children of God.  That is a lie from the pit of Hell.  We are born as children of Adam’s race, imperfect and innocent, but bent towards sin.  We all choose to abandon our innocence.  In order to become a child of God there must be re-birth; a second birth that is eternal life.

This, in turn, is where we receive power to overcome sin in our lives.   Wesley pointed to faith strong enough to push down strongholds – things, thoughts, trends which keep a person from serving God and only God.

I have observed (in many others, but primarily in myself) a peculiar shortfall in faith that imagines – as John Wesley did – that we alone are somehow responsible for absolutely everything about remaining a Christian. 

Part of what kept me from making a decision to trust Christ alone was this thought that I am not good enough or strong enough to keep holding on to Christ for my whole life.  What I didn’t “get” for a long time was that it was up to me to place my hand in His, but His promise was that it was His power that held me from that moment on.  I submitted; He holds!

And he does the “holding-on” so that he can change us:

….let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.  Romans 12:2(NLT)

Christ changing us is what leads from faith to…


Hope” for a Christian is not a hand-wringing lottery ticket kind of wondering if it’s all true; that Jesus really loves us and will save us.

Rather hope is an assurance of the promises of God in Jesus Christ. 

This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.  Hebrews 6:19(NLT)

Wesley put it this way:

By this anchor a Christian is kept steady in the midst of the waves of this troublesome world, and preserved from striking upon either of those fatal rocks, - presumption or despair.[3]

Apostle Paul talked about running a race with certainty; this is the assurance of hope, that we confidently serve Christ every day, with a calm purpose that is not like muddy water – we see clearly, with a cleansed conscience that Christ awaits us at the end of the day.

This is the certainty of Christian hope! 

Humility and faith lead to hope, which ends in…


Charity, or love, is what completes, or is the result of the process of a heart’s circumcision. 

Wesley wrote in his sermon that if you first take humility, faith and hope, If thou wilt be perfect, add to all these, charity; add love, and thou hast the circumcision of the heart.[4]

Of course you cannot speak of “love” without two primary passages:

      1.     Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was; he replied that it was to love God with all you’ve got…and the second was like it, love your neighbor the same way.[5]

      2.     The second primary passage is Paul’s great “love chapter” which ends by saying the eternal realities which endure forever are faith, hope, and love; love being the greatest of all.

So, the holy (or circumcised) heart is one that:
      ·       In humility discovers only God can meet one’s deepest need

      ·       In faith discovers God is able to look beyond our sin

      ·       In hope discovers it is God who has been keeping me all along, and

      ·       In love we discover we can give ourselves to this God by giving ourselves to others; I can live like he lived, die like he died, and live eternally!

Circumcision was (and still is) a special physical mark of covenant relationship between God and Israel. 

There are always those who count more on the things that can be seen than that which is beyond human vision.  The first followers of Christ were somewhat blind to that until God finally awakened them to how foolish it was to count on the physical, outward marks (or lack of marks), when there was a whole unseen bigger picture. 

God looks at the heart – never just what man sees. 

There were two men, who
      ·       both had been physically circumcised as the law of Moses commanded, ceremonially  performed by a priest at the temple on the eighth day following their birth.

      ·       they were both Jews, loved in the eyes of the Father in heaven.

      ·       both loved Israel.

      ·       both wanted to be there for the salvation of God.  And…

      ·       both wandered around with the other apostles before the crucifixion. 

One of these men was laid in a tomb, but the tomb couldn’t hold him; the other hung himself out of despair; death still holds him.

Which one of these men do YOU suppose had a circumcised heart?

And past that – what do YOU say about having a circumcised heart of your own? 

Would you be willing to pray with others here that God might have every bit of you, to do with as He sees fit?

Would you be willing to surrender your life’s pathway to give God complete control?

This morning we want to end our worship service by encouraging each other to do just that – submit to the surrendered life of following Jesus without reservation; we want to give him our hearts to circumcise and make whole.

We want to come in humility, by faith placing our hand in His, and experiencing hope and love as all that thrills our souls.

And here is our prayer, written by John Wesley:

Speak this out loud with me to be an encouragement to all:

Desire not to live, but to praise his name:  
Let all your thoughts, words, and works, tend to his glory.  
Set your heart firm on him, and on other things only as they are in and from him.  
Let your soul be filled with so entire a love of him, that you may love nothing but for his sake.
Have a pure intention of heart, a steadfast regard to his glory in all your actions.
Fix your eye upon the blessed hope of your calling, and make all the things of the world minister unto it.
For then, and not till then is that mind in us which was also in Christ Jesus; when, in every motion of our heart, in every word of our tongue, in every work of our hands, we pursue nothing but in relation to him, and in subordination to his pleasure;
when we, too, neither think, nor speak, nor act, to fulfil our own will, but the will of him that sent us;
when, whether we eat, or drink, or whatever we do, we do all to the glory of God.[6]

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

[1] Title Image:  By Profesor Boidi, via Wikimedia Commons (The Salesian Coat of Arms, designed by Professor Boidi, appeared for the first time in a circular letter of Don Bosco's on 8th December 1885. The shining star, the large anchor, the heart on fire symbolize the theological virtues; the figure of St. Francis de Sales recalls the Patron of the Society; the small wood in the lower part reminds us of the Founder; the high mountains signify the heights of perfection towards which members strive; the interwoven palm and laurel that enfold the shield either side are emblematic of the prize reserved for a virtuous and sacrificial life. The motto Da mihi animas, caetera tolle, expresses every Salesian's ideal.
[2] The Sermons of John Wesley - #17 The Circumcision of the Heart
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Matthew 22:36-40 (loose translation)
[6] Ibid.

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