*this is an adaptation of a message given in Grace Harbor Church
Have you ever felt that the commandments and statutes in the Old Testament are too ancient and obsolete to have any relevance today? Knowing this, many churches intentionally avoid preaching out of more difficult and outdated texts of the Bible. If you don’t believe me, think of how many sermons you have heard come out of the book of Leviticus or Numbers. This is my burden, and hereafter, I seek to explain an ancient Biblical verse, Deuteronomy 10:16.
In the earlier chapters of Deuteronomy, Moses describes the history of Israel after the Exodus event, before exhorting the nation to trust in God’s promise to enter the land of Canaan. He stops this long list of commands to remind the Israelites of how they partook in idolatry by worshipping the golden calf. Then, beginning in verse 12 –
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you except to fear the Lord your God by walking in all His ways, to love Him, and to worship the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul?
Keep the Lord’s commands and statutes I am giving you today, for your own good.
The heavens, indeed the highest heavens, belong to the Lord your God, as does the earth and everything in it.
Yet the Lord was devoted to your fathers and loved them. He chose their descendants after them—He chose you out of all the peoples, as it is today.
Therefore, circumcise your hearts and don’t be stiff-necked any longer.
Let’s zoom in on verse 16, the last sentence. Moses is telling the Israelites to do two things – circumcise their hearts, and, stop being stiff-necked. Actually, they are two sides of the same coin – a positive imperative to circumcise their hearts, and a negative one to stop being stiff-necked. Circumcision was a badge of having the covenant identity, having its roots in the Abrahamic covenant. Being circumcised meant that you were part of God’s chosen people. On the other hand, the heart symbolises the inner man, what one really thinks and feels. When you put that together, circumcising one’s heart means removing the stubbornness that prevents the heart from properly loving God, which is really the same as the second part of the sentence to stop being stiff-necked, an ancient way of describing stubbornness. Moses is basically saying that God wants more than just outward conformity to His laws, He wants the hearts of the Israelites.
In light of that, this is the main point of the passage – Partner with God in His sanctification of your soul. This is done in three ways – 1) Accept God’s immeasurable love for you, 2) Recognize your need for a Savior, and 3) Allow the Holy Spirit to work in you.
Firstly, accept God’s immeasurable love for you. The first word of the verse is the conjunction, “therefore.” This tells us that there is a reason why Moses is asking the Israelites to circumcise their hearts. The reason is clear in its preceding verse – God chose the Israelites.
Moses is saying that because God chose and loved the Israelites, therefore, they should circumcise their hearts and stop being stiff-necked. God didn’t just choose the Israelites, He chose you. He didn’t just love the Israelites, He loves you. All He’s asking you to do is to accept this great love that He has for you. To be clear, God didn’t choose you because of anything you have done. Isaiah says that all of our righteous acts are like filthy rags, and that includes the exam you aced, that huge sum of money you gave to a charity and that sleepless night when you consoled your depressed friend. None of that can stand up to the perfectly just God, because of the sin in our hearts: the sin that causes us to lust, raise our voices in anger and be arrogant. We all deserve the judgement of God, but instead, He gives us love and grace.
So how do you accept it? The same truth Moses spoke of thousands of years ago still apply – give your heart to God and stop being stubborn. One of the best ways to do this is committing to come under the teaching of the Word every Sunday at church. That is how you can accept God’s love for you, by listening to His Word preached and explained. Beyond that, accept God’s love through daily devotions, quiet time and prayer. When we intentionally take time out of our schedules to read the Word or come into God’s presence, we let Him and His love into our hearts. This is how we partner with God in His sanctification in us, by accepting His love for us.
But, we cannot do this alone. Moses tells the Israelites to circumcise their hearts and stop being stubborn. But God knows that we cannot achieve this on our own. He knows that we are sinful and that we cannot cleanse our hearts ourselves. This is why later, Moses says,
The LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the hearts of your descendants, and you will love Him with all your heart and all your soul so that you will live.
But even this was not enough. This commandment for Israel to cease from being stiff-necked is echoed throughout the Old Testament. Even God’s elected people, with the Law, were unable to fully circumcise their hearts and be freed from sin. We aren’t any different. We are completely unable to free ourselves from the clutches of sin on our own. That’s why we need a Savior, and God is asking you to recognize your need for one.
We need a Savior, and the good news is that God has given us One. Remember how God gives us love and grace? Well, that love and grace was fully manifested in Jesus. While we were still yet sinners, He died on the cross for our sins, taking on the full punishment of all of them, that we might be reconciled with God. Then, He rose triumphantly from the dead, which symbolized God accepting His sacrifice for our sins. Jesus is the way, and that means that we can only go to the Father through Him by believing in Him and accepting Him as the Savior that we need.
Maybe you’re thinking, “Come on, tell me something I don’t already know.” Let me tell you this, the minute you find yourself getting bored by the Gospel, you know that something is not right with your soul. Everytime that I have felt that I know the Gospel already, and was tired of hearing it, I have found unrepentant sin in my heart that needed to be confessed to God. Never stop recognizing your need for a Savior by preaching the Gospel to yourself and confessing sin daily. This is how you constantly remind yourself how you need the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ in your life, that is, how you need a Savior to partner with God in His sanctification in you.
However, that is not the end of the story. Thousands of years later, in the book of Acts, the martyr Stephen rebukes the Jews for rejecting Jesus Christ as their Savior, saying,
You stiff-necked people with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are always resisting the Holy Spirit; as your ancestors did, so do you.
Stephen’s words echo those of Moses, and he equates being uncircumcised of heart and stiffneckedness with resisting the Holy Spirit. How about us? Maybe we think that we have accepted God’s love and recognized Jesus as our Savior, but somehow, we resist the Holy Spirit. How this can look like is a self-identifying Christian who lives in unrepentant sin.
One of the surest ways that I know the Holy Spirit works is through our brothers and sisters in Christ. And it makes sense too, since He dwells in them. Therefore, how you can allow the Holy Spirit to work in you is to meet up with brothers and sisters in Christ and hold yourself accountable to them through confession of sin. By placing yourself bare before others in Christ, you are allowing the Holy Spirit in them to work in you through their words. This definitely requires a huge amount of honesty and trust, and the wisdom to always respond to repentant sin with the assurance of grace. There is no way that we can do this on our own without hurting one another, but the Holy Spirit that indwells us gives us the ability to do so.
Beyond these relationships, you can allow the Holy Spirit to work in you by circumcising your heart daily, that is, actively fighting sin. This means fleeing from any temptation of sin that comes up. Stop your wandering eyes from going where they do not belong. Switch off the television when you see something that can possibly cause you to stumble. And intentionally avoid situations that have the chance of causing you to sin. Personally, every time I find myself in a situation where I am prone to sin or have sinned, I shut my eyes and imagine myself at the foot of the cross where Jesus hung. I ask myself if I can bring myself to continue in this sin, knowing full well His sacrifice for me. This is when I confess my utter need for Him and ask for forgiveness. Circumcise your hearts, to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and thus partner with God to sanctify our souls.
In conclusion, let us partner with God in His sanctification of our souls by looking at each person of the Triune Godhead – by accepting God’s immeasurable love for us, recognizing our need for Jesus our Savior, and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in us. God wants our hearts, and when we give it to Him, He will work in us and give us life.
Nick is a junior concentrating in physics and philosophy