Circumcision Without Hands
In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11-12, NKJV)
Most of the Colossian Christians were Gentiles who had never been physically circumcised. Paul assures them that they were indeed circumcised in a spiritual sense, which is even more important than physical circumcision.
The Colossians Christians had to deal with a whole array of false teaching. Not only did they have wrong ideas about Jesus, but they also had wrong ideas about things like circumcision. Apparently, they were being taught that they had to be circumcised to be right with God. Paul makes it clear that they were circumcised, by putting off the sins of the flesh.
“It seems probable that the false teachers set a high value on circumcision, and urged it on the Colossians, not as indispensable to salvation, in which case Paul would have definitely attacked them on this point, but as conferring higher sanctity.” – Arthur Samuel Peake
Our spiritual circumcision meant the putting off of the old man:
“The Greek word for ‘putting off’, a double compound, denotes both stripping off and casting away. The imagery is that of discarding – or being divested of – a piece of filthy clothing.” – Curtis Vaughn
“A definite historical fact is referred to, as is shown by the aorist [verb tense]. This was their conversion, the inward circumcision of the heart, by which they entered on the blessings of the New Covenant.” – Arthur Samuel Peake
Paul says these Gentile Christians find their true circumcision in their baptism. Christians don’t need to be circumcised, they need to be baptized.
Even the Old Testament acknowledges that there are two types of circumcision: one of the body and one of the heart (Deuteronomy 10:16 and 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4). Sincere baptism shows that the real “circumcision of the heart” has taken place.
Baptism answers circumcision, but it doesn’t illustrate it. Yet baptism does illustrate our identification with the death and resurrection life of Jesus. We were buried with Jesus and buried under the water. We are also raised with Him and raised up out of the water.
It is as if Paul wrote: “Circumcision is not important; what is important is the spiritual cutting away of the flesh that Jesus performs in the life of every believer. If you want a ceremony to mark this spiritual transformation in your life, look to your baptism and not to circumcision.”
Because Paul made a connection here between circumcision and baptism, some, especially Reformed theologians, say that just as babies were circumcised, so babies should be baptized. But this presses Paul’s analogy between circumcision and baptism too far and neglects examples of baptism in the Book of Acts. Paul doesn’t say that circumcision and baptism are the same thing, but that circumcision is unnecessary for salvation because we are identified with Jesus and we are baptized to show that.
This demonstrates that Paul understood that the power of regeneration was not in baptism or received by the act of baptism, but received through faith in the working of God.
Abba Father God, we desire to circumcise before you. Accept the willing sacrifice of our hearts. In Jesus name, Amen.
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