How long is forever?  I’m not 100% sure, but I believe it is a very long time, maybe even an unending amount of time. How long is forever? Maybe a few quotes will help us figure it out.

  • Love is not written on paper, for paper can be erased. Nor is it etched on stone, for stone can be broken. But it is inscribed on a heart and there it shall remain forever.”  — Rumi
  • I know a way to stay friends forever–there’s really nothing to it: I tell you what to do, and you do it.” – Shel Silverstein
  • “What love we’ve given, we’ll have forever. What love we fail to give, will be lost for all eternity.” – Leo Buscaglia
  • I intend to live forever. So far, so good.” – Steven Wright

And my favorite Hamilton lyrics (from “You’ll Be Back”):

“You say my love is draining and you can’t go on.
You’ll be the one who’s complaining when I am gone.
No, don’t change the subject!
‘Cause you’re my favorite subject,
My sweet submissive subject,
My loyal, royal subject
For ever and ever and ever and ever and ever.”

I think we would all agree: Forever is a long, long unending amount of time! And that is the problem because Genesis 17:9-14 says that circumcision is forever. I’ll emphasize the important words in red. There, we read: 

Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised, including those born in your household or bought with money from a foreigner—those who are not your offspring. Whether born in your household or bought with your money, they must be circumcised. My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male, who has not been circumcised in the flesh, will be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” 

Now, one would think that if circumcision was forever and, at the same time, critically important, that we would insist that believers today would be circumcised. But we don’t. And we haven’t since the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 said we didn’t need to do so. But how can something that is to last forever, not last forever? In my opinion, there is only one explanation (spoiler alert!): The only way is if baptism replaces circumcision as the sign of the covenant. 

Now, I know everyone saw that coming. I’ve been saying baptism replaces circumcision since day one in this series, but we have not yet proved it. And while I believe Colossians 2:9-12 answers the question, it is not as clear as we would like and many argue it is not clear at all. See what you think. Paul writes (Colossians 2:9-12): 

For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.  In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.”  

Honestly, I think this is sufficient proof, but I know many people who don’t (those crazy Baptists!). But thankfully, Colossians 2 does not stand alone. There is a lot of supporting evidence that makes our view more likely. What evidence? Consider these three points.  

First, although there are two different testaments, the Bible only sees one people of God. Now, since there are two testaments, we would expect that there will be great discontinuity; and we are right. We see tons of discontinuity between the testaments! But unexpectedly, there is also great continuity; and when it comes to who the people of God are, we see this continuity frequently. Think about how often the New Testament authors swap names freely between Israel and the church. For instance, in Acts 7:38 Stephen calls the congregation of Israel on Mount Sinai, the church in the wilderness.  And when the author of Hebrews quotes Psalm 22, he feels free to change what the Psalmist said.  The Psalmist said “in the assembly.”  But the author of Hebrews says, “in the church.”   And the New Testament often calls the church, Israel.  Paul concludes his letter in Galatians 6:16 by saying, “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule–to the Israel of God.” Paul in Ephesians 2 is even more dramatic.  He says, 

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called ‘uncircumcised’ by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (which is done in the body by human hands)—remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household!” 

And note how Peter in 1 Peter 2:9 takes words that applied specifically to Israel and applies them to the church: “For you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” That’s right, the church is a holy nation!  Paul in Philippians 3 even calls the church, the true circumcision.  He writes: “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.”  We could go on, but you get the point. There is one people of God.

Second, both the Old and New Testament see children as members of the covenant community. When God made a covenant with Abraham in the Old Testament, he gave him a sign that would indicate membership in this covenant. This sign was circumcision. But that sign was not only given to the adults, but also to their children (see the Genesis 17 passage above). God gave this sign as a lasting ordinance (forever and ever and ever). Now, here’s the important part: this command to circumcise their children and to include them in the covenant was never revoked. There is not one place in the New Testament that explains that inclusion in the covenant is now by faith alone and for adults alone and children were no longer included.  Now, if the New Testament was to make such a dramatic change, one would expect that it would be dealt with somewhere and in sufficient depth, but there is no such passage. Instead, the New Testament seems to carry on the same pattern as the old; children of believing parents are members of the visible church and included in the covenant.  That’s why Peter on the day of Pentecost doesn’t add clarifications and exclusions, instead he welcomes children into the “new” covenant just like they were welcomed in the “old” covenant. Peter says in Acts 2:39 (right after he calls the people to repent and believe): “For the promise is to you and to your children. . . .” (Note the shades of Genesis 17:7 here!).  And that is why Paul, speaking of children of even one Christian parent, can say in 1 Corinthians 7:14: “Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.”  This word ‘holy’ is a covenant word.  It means “set apart in a special way to God.”  Children of even one believing parent were set apart as holy to God and were members of the covenant community.  And since both testaments include children in the covenant community, we have further proof that there is only one people of God.

Third, both the Old and New Testaments contain signs that spoke of a person’s incorporation into the covenant to distinguish them from the world.  This marker was a sign of God’s ownership and grace. In the Old Testament this sign was circumcision; and by this sign, children were treated as members of the covenant. Again, if there was no accompanying sign of incorporation in the New Testament, we would expect someone somewhere to explain that obvious discontinuity. Instead, the New Testament continues with the same pattern as the Old and offers followers of Jesus a sign. This sign is baptism. Now, if baptism didn’t replace circumcision, we would expect Jesus to say: “Go, and make disciples, circumcising them in my name.”  But he didn’t. He said (Mt. 28:19): “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” It is pretty clear: baptism is the New Testament equivalent of circumcision; and if that is the case, then children ought to be baptized because there is only one people of God. 

Now, this could go on forever, but we need to bring today’s post to a close. Are we done? Not even close. But we’re building a case and we are getting there, but getting there will have to wait until next week. In the meantime, sing it with me . . . 

Some are like water, some are like the heat.
Some are a melody, and some are the beat.
Sooner or later they all will be gone.
Why don’t they stay young?
Forever young–I want to be forever young.
Do you really want to live forever,
Forever, and ever?”

That’s right, I’m ending with Dylan’s “Forever Young” because Dylan is forever.