Cut Off

“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” (Gen. 17:14).

- Genesis 17:14

Though there is a certain priority given to Abraham’s natural seed (see Gen. 17:21), from the beginning it is clear that all nations could be incorporated into his family. Abraham was commanded to circumcise everyone in his household, native and foreigner, son and servant (vv. 12–13). After this day, any Gentile who wanted to celebrate the Passover was required to be circumcised in order to signify their desire to be set apart as God’s people (Ex. 12:48).

The mandatory administration of circumcision reveals the importance of this sign and seal. The sign itself could become empty for those lacking faith, and indeed, many trusted in their circumcision (or following of the Law) for salvation instead of leaning wholly on God’s sheer grace. However, even though our Creator redeems His people by grace, we cannot disregard His instituted ordinances. As today’s passage tells us, all old covenant members who remained uncircumcised were guilty of breaking covenant.

Scripture knows nothing of a “private faith.” Those who desire to belong to the Lord must testify outwardly that they are His. The permanent mark of circumcision, under the old covenant, was a testimony to the world of an individual’s incorporation into the people of God and the stipulations of the covenant. To remain uncircumcised was, in effect, a hard-hearted, public denial of Yahweh’s covenant. Such flagrant violation cut that person off from salvation. This does not mean salvation can be lost, it only recognizes that when we refuse to obey God’s will, our claim of faith is a false one (James 2:14–26).

The one who is uncircumcised is “cut off from his people” (Gen. 17:14), and this is a dreadful fate. We stand before the Lord individually, but there is a corporate dimension to redemption nonetheless. Professing believers are incorporated into the Lord’s body, and it is in this community where He works to complete salvation. To be cut off from the community is to be cut off from the ordinary means of grace and God’s promises (Eph. 2:11–12). This is why excommunication is to be feared in the new covenant. Those cut off from the church have testified through flagrant sin that they lack faith.

Coram Deo

The visible/invisible church distinction and the reality toward which circumcision points make this discussion all the more meaningful. Today, consider your thoughts on church discipline. Do you understand the authority elders have to discipline those in flagrant sin? Understand that to be cut off from the church is a fearful consequence; therefore, support your elders through righteous living and prayer.

Passages for Further Study

Ex. 4:18–31
Matt. 18:15–20
1 Cor. 5
1 Tim. 1:12–20

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.