Lesson 2: September 10, 2017

Circumcision: Genesis 17

Teaching Strategy: Discuss what a faithful follower of Jesus “looks like.” What visible signs indicate that a person is committed to following Jesus and walking with God?

In Genesis 17 God establishes a covenant with Abraham that includes the promise of land and numerous descendants: “I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you. And I will give to you, and to your offspring after you, the land where you are now an alien, all the land of Canaan, for a perpetual holding; and I will be their God” (vs.7-8). Abraham would become the father of a “multitude of nations.” The passage describing this covenant begins with a short, but powerful demand from God: “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless” (v.1).

God declared that the physical sign of this covenant would be circumcision of every male. Later, circumcision was described not only as a physical act but also as symbolic, “circumcision of the heart” (Deut. 30:6) and compared to baptism, “In him also you were circumcised with a spiritual circumcision, by putting off the body of the flesh in the circumcision of Christ; when you were buried with him in baptism” (Col. 2:11-12).

The lesson raises a profound question. Are there visible signs today to indicate a person is committed to following Jesus and walking with God? If so, what are they? Is baptism a sufficient indicator? Holding certain beliefs? Living in a particular way (or not living in a different way)? Who among us – if anyone – can be the judge?

I would suggest that a group of Christian leaders has provoked widespread discussion of this question even in the media. Although the focus of the recently adopted “Nashville Statement” is human sexuality, and in particular, attitudes toward homosexuality and transgenderism, what is notable for this week’s lesson is that the writers acknowledged they were drawing a line in the sand regarding what it means to be a Christian. They were saying that those who do not accept the Statement as written have abandoned Christianity. “WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness. WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree. … Anyone who persistently rejects God’s revelation about sexual holiness and virtue is rejecting Christianity altogether, even if they claim otherwise.”

The Nashville Statement provides food for thought and discussion that may be of interest to class participants. Beyond the particular content, however, is the broader and deeper question of what are the visible signs that indicate a person is a follower of Jesus? And who – besides God Almighty – can be the judge? When and to what extent can some believers say about other believers – that she or he or they – is/are not Christian? When and to what extent must we accept differences within the universal Christian church? What are the beliefs or practices about which faithful Christians may disagree?

Fall 2017 Theme: Covenants with God

Unifying Principle: Humans have an innate desire to support their children and ensure their future. What is required to make this possible? God used circumcision to ratify an everlasting covenant between God and Abram to make him and his descendants prosperous, provided they walk with God and live blameless lives.

Posted on: September 4, 2017, by : Sharon Harris-Ewing