Last week we looked at the incredible truth found in:
Colossians 2:9-10 (NKJV) For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
We are complete in Christ! Having made the statement that they have, in Christ, already received all that God is, and nothing can be added, Paul now traces how this happened to them. In these next four statements, he tells how believers share in the fullness of God in Christ. First, he declares, they were circumcised with him:
Colossians 2:11-12 (NKJV) 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, 12 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.
With verse 11 Paul turns from the error of Gnosticism to the error of legalism. The Colossians had no need for physical circumcision, since they stood circumcised in Christ's death.
The Judaizers were a group of people who went around in the first century promoting Judaism. They were saying that in order to be a Christian, you must first come through the door of Judaism. You must be circumcised and keep the law:
Acts 15:1 (NKJV) And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved."
This is an attack on the gospel. This is faith plus circumcision.
Let's look at some background on circumcision. There were many religious Jews in that world, and they believed that they were the people of God. Remember, for 1600 years God dealt solely with the nation Israel. If you wanted to come to God, you had to come through Israel. They believed that they maintained a covenant relationship with God which secured their salvation. The proof of their identity and belonging was a mark. They bore a mark as the children of Abraham naturally, which they thought affirmed their right to be called the children of God supernaturally. The Jews held on to that mark, and by it they assumed that, they were secure with God. That mark is called circumcision. To the Jews of Jesus and Paul's day, circumcision was a very important mark.
The Talmud was a collection of Jewish writings that the Jews came to hold more sacred than the Scripture. The Talmud said: "The commandment of circumcision is more important than all the injunctions of scripture." That shows the value they placed on circumcision. The Jews believed that if a Jew was so vile and so evil that he was sent to Hell, before he could enter Hell, there were angels at the gate that removed his circumcision. The most important thing a Jew could do to secure his relationship with God was to be circumcised.
We first read about circumcision in Genesis 17. In chapter 15, we have the inauguration of the Abrahamic covenant. God promises to make of Abraham a great nation. God meets with Abraham and promises him that he would be a blessing. In this Abrahamic covenant is the promise of a Redeemer. That Redeemer is Christ. That is how Abraham is going to be a blessing to all nations - through Christ. The book of Galatians makes it clear that this promise was in reference to the coming Redeemer, Christ. Then in chapter 17, God gives Abraham a symbol of the covenant so he won't forget the promise that was made:
Genesis 17:10-14 (NKJV) "This is My covenant which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: Every male child among you shall be circumcised; 11 "and you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. 12 "He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised, every male child in your generations, he who is born in your house or bought with money from any foreigner who is not your descendant. 13 "He who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money must be circumcised, and My covenant shall be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. 14 "And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant."
Today we wear wedding rings as tokens of the covenant that we made with our spouse. This is God's token of the covenant - circumcision. The English word "circumcision" comes from a Latin word, which means: "to cut around," it describes the original biblical reference to a surgery that was performed on little boys and often on adult males. The simple surgery removes the foreskin from the male organ.
So, you can see from this that it was God who instituted circumcision as a sign or token of the covenant that He had made with Abraham. All Israel and those associated with them had to be circumcised. To the Jews, this was their badge that they were the children of God.
Circumcision was not unique to Israel. It was found in many ancient cultures, often used as a rite of manhood. But God ordained it as a sign for a spiritual reminder.
Nowhere, or at no point, is man's depravity more manifest than in the procreative act. We know man is a sinner by what he says and by what he does, we know he's a sinner by the attitudes that he carries. How do we know that man is a sinner at the very base of his character? How do we know that man is a sinner at the root of his existence? By what he creates, whatever comes from the loins of man is wicked. So nowhere is depravity so manifest; when man procreates, he produces a sinner. Remember, Jesus Christ had no human father, he was sinless.
The male organ, then, is the point at which human depravity is most demonstrated. You see the nature of sin passed on to the next generation. When God demanded that the male be circumcised, He was giving them a symbol that the outward part of man's procreative organ was cleansed to remind them that man needed to be cleansed of sin at the deepest root of his being. Man needed a spiritual surgery to cleanse him. Every time they circumcised a person, they were reminding themselves of the fact that man was a wicked sinner and in need of a cleansing. Even the blood shed that occurred in circumcision symbolized the need for sacrifice to accomplish that cleansing. So, there was even a picture of the pain and sacrifice needed to cleanse the sinner in circumcision.
God intended it to be a physical symbol of a spiritual reality. Circumcision was to be much more than just an outward sign. It was to be the outward sign of an inward reality, but they lost the true meaning and kept only the outward sign:
Deuteronomy 10:16 (NKJV) "Therefore circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.
Jeremiah 4:4 (NKJV) Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, And take away the foreskins of your hearts, You men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Lest My fury come forth like fire, And burn so that no one can quench it, Because of the evil of your doings."
Circumcision was a spiritual thing. They were keeping the outward symbol, but they were not realizing the spiritual significance of it. The symbol means nothing without the reality. The Jews were circumcised on the outside but not the inside. Circumcision is the external symbol depicting the need for a total cleansing from sin, but Israel had reduced it to a tribal tattoo. They felt as long as they were circumcised, they had God's blessing. Then Paul comes along preaching grace to the Gentiles. Paul is teaching that salvation is by faith alone. So the Jews are getting very upset, and they trouble the new churches with Old Testament ceremony. So in Acts 15, we have the first church council to deal with the issue of circumcision:
Acts 15:5-8 (NKJV) But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses." 6 Now the apostles and elders came together to consider this matter. 7 And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: "Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 "So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us,
Peter is saying that the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit just like the Jews had, and they were not circumcised. So the council decided that circumcision was not necessary for salvation.
Galatians 5:2 (NKJV) Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing.
What he is saying here is, "Christ plus circumcision equals nothing." You cannot add anything to faith. If you do, you destroy faith. If you think in order to be saved you've got to be circumcised, then Christ won't do you any good, because you're believing in salvation by works. Let's go back to our text:
Colossians 2:11 (NKJV) 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,
The tense of "were" is past tense. God circumcised us at the point of our salvation. At that moment we entered into union with Christ. Another part of speech indicates that God placed us into union with Christ (passive voice). We did not earn or deserve that privilege; it is an act of God's unadulterated grace.
Paul says we have been given a circumcision, not of the flesh by the hands of men, but with the circumcision done by Christ. By this spiritual circumcision, the old sinful nature (flesh) has been cut away or put off. We have been delivered from the old sinful nature. In other words, Christ has set us free from the bondage to sin. The power of sin has been broken, and we are no longer slaves to it.
"Putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ" The oldest manuscripts read; "the body of the flesh," omitting "of the sins". I think the best way to understand the phrase is to look at Romans 6. Do you remember what the first law of Hermeneutics is? It is called the Analogy of Faith, which means: "Scripture interprets scripture". So turn with me to Romans 6, which is an in-depth commentary on Colossians 2:11-12.
In Romans 5:12-21, Paul introduces the theme of our union with Christ. We were joined to Adam; he was our federal head, and his sin was imputed to us. Now by faith, we are joined to Jesus Christ; he has become our federal head, and His righteousness has been imputed to us. Because we are in Christ, all that belongs to Jesus Christ becomes ours. Your salvation and mine depends only, entirely, and exclusively upon the obedience of Jesus Christ.
Romans 4:5 (NKJV) But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,
There are no works involved in salvation, it is a free gift of God's grace to all who believe.
Romans 6:1 (NKJV) What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound?
Now, the question that naturally arises is: "If everything depends on what God has done, then what does it matter how we live?" Or, "Isn't this teaching antinomianism? Antinomianism simply means: "against the law, or lawlessness."
You can hear the legalist arguing with Paul: "Once saved, always saved leads to lawlessness. You preachers of salvation by grace through faith alone weaken our sense of moral responsibility. You only encourage sinful behavior with that kind of teaching."
Notice Paul's answer:
Romans 6:2 (NKJV) Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?
He shouts out, "May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" He says that we "died" (aorist tense) to sin. He is describing something that happened to us as a fact. We died to sin. This is what Paul is saying in Colossians when he says, "Putting off the body of the flesh." In what sense have believers put off the body of the flesh or died to sin? The answer is found in:
Romans 5:21 (NKJV) so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
We have died to the rule and reign of sin. Sin's reign came in Adam and was broken by the last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ.
How can Paul say we are dead to sin? We still sin, we still feel the power of temptation. How can Paul say this? We must differentiate between what is true of our position as a fact and our experience. Paul is talking here about our position before God. Positionally, we have died to the reign of sin under Adam.
We died to sin's reign, and we no longer have to live in sin. We have been set free. So why do we still sin then? We still sin because there is a great difference between being given a position and realizing that you are in that position. For example: At the end of the Civil war, slavery was abolished in the United States. But what actually happened was that many of the slaves who had endured long years of servitude found it very difficult to understand their new status. When they saw their old master coming, they would respond as a slave. They were free, but it took them a long time to realize it.
The whole object of the Apostle Paul in the sixth chapter of Romans is to get believers to understand that we have died to sin. How did we die to sin? Paul's answer in verses 3-11 is the doctrine of our union with Jesus Christ:
Romans 6:3 (NKJV) Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
The best way to understand the doctrine of our union with Jesus Christ is to be clear as to the meaning of the phrase, "baptized into Jesus Christ." To understand this phrase, we need to understand the word, "baptized." A principle of hermeneutics is; to determine carefully the meaning of words. The Greek word translated here as "baptized" is baptizo. Its primary meaning is: "to plunge, to dip, to immerse." The word is used in the classics of a smith who dips a piece of hot iron in water, tempering it. It is also used of Greek soldiers placing the points of their swords in a bowl of blood.
There is more than one meaning for the original word "baptize." In any language, there may be literal and metaphorical meanings of a word. For example: If I said to you, "I think my wife is one hot mama." What would I be talking about? I could be talking about the fact that she is hot natured, and she is always warm. I could mean that she has a fever. Or I could be talking about the fact that she is an attractive woman. Without a context, would you know how I was using the word? I could be using "hot" literally for temperature or metaphorically as very attractive.
In exactly the same manner, the word "baptize" has a meaning far removed from anything to do with water. Thinking of water in connection with this passage of the Bible leads to obscurity and error as it does with many passages dealing with baptism.
The word "baptize" used metaphorically means: "a change of identity or to identify."
1 Corinthians 10:1-2 (NKJV) Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,
Baptism here means initiation into a new relationship, or identification with Moses. It does not mean immersion, the Israelites were never in the sea at all; they passed over on dry land (Ex. 14:21-22). It was Pharaoh's soldiers who got wet. They were all united and identified with Moses. Moses was God's appointed leader of Israel. The basic Christian significance for baptism is identification with Christ. We are united to Christ, the Son of God, our leader.
The literal use of the word baptize (to dip or immerse) makes utter nonsense of this passage. Only the metaphorical use (to identify with) can give us any meaning at all.
The early writers distinguished between "real" baptism and "ritual" baptism. Ritual baptism is immersing someone in water. Real baptism is the act of the Holy Spirit placing the believer in the body of Christ, this is identification. The very moment we believed on Christ as our Savior, we were baptized by the Holy Spirit, placed into the Body of Christ. By being members of the Body of Christ, everything that is true of the Head is true of each member of His Body:
1 Corinthians 12:13 (NKJV) For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body; whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free; and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.
When we believed the gospel, the Holy Spirit put us into the body of Christ - union. This is not physical but a spiritual identification.
Our salvation is guaranteed because everything that happened to Christ happened to us. As we were united to Adam, so we are now united to Christ, and it is the Spirit who unites us to Christ. I am in Christ and Christ is in me - union.
Romans 6:3 (NKJV) Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
We were baptized (identified) into Christ's death. When Jesus Christ died, we died with Him. We are one with Him, and His death is ours.
The late L.E. Maxwell from Three Hills, Alberta, Canada told this story. I think it will help us in seeing our identification with Christ:
During the Civil War, George Wyatt was drafted into a unit, soon to be called into battle. This was an unfortunate day for Wyatt. For he had a lovely young bride and an infant that he might never see again if he went to war.
It also would be impossible for her to care for the crops and farm. This was a great problem for Wyatt. He could not find an easy answer. He would have to go to war or face prison. For him, there seemed to be no other rational choice.
Not long after the draft notice, an old friend of Wyatt's, by the name of Richard Pratt, dropped by. Pratt was a hunter and had been an outdoors man all of his life. He had cut out a small piece of land in Montana and returned home to find a bride, get married, and raise his family in that beautiful wilderness.
When Pratt arrived at the Wyatt's home, he found a family broken in spirit. After hours of talking, shouting, pacing, crying, there was a deep silence. Pratt broke the utter stillness and said, 'I'll take your place! I'll go, and you can stay.' Wyatt said, 'That's impossible! My name is on the draft notice, I have to go. There is no way to get off that list.' Wyatt thanked Pratt for the suggestion and asked him to forget it and spend the night in their home and use the daylight hours to do his business.
They finally went to bed. However, sleep failed them all. The night was short. In a few hours, Wyatt got up without a word and went out into the morning moonlight to cut stove wood for cooking and warming the cold morning hours. His young bride began tending to their restless infant while their friend, Pratt, was alone in the living room, immersed in thought.
Suddenly, a knock came at the door. Startled, Pratt said, 'I'll get it!' When he opened the door, the men asked, 'George Wyatt?' 'Yes! What can I do for you?' Pratt pretended to be Wyatt, for he knew who they were. They explained their mission of taking every man on the list to the court house to sign in and get suited up for the Confederacy. With his hand on the door, blocking their entrance to the home, Pratt looked back and said, 'Bye, honey!' He closed the door before she could answer, and Pratt left the farm house, with the men thinking he was Wyatt.
At the court house, Pratt signed the usual papers under the name of George Wyatt and took Wyatt's gun, clothes, and horse. After a briefing and bit of training, he went into battle and was killed at the siege of Vicksburg. He was buried on the battlefield. After the battles of Shiloh and Gettysburg, the conflict had grown more hopeless. The frantic draftsmen were going to every house and demanding that every man prepare to go to war. For it looked like Richmond might fall soon. They came to the farm house of George Wyatt. Wyatt met them at the door and asked,'What do you want?' They said they were drafting every man that was alive. Wyatt smiled and told them, 'I have died.' They asked what he meant. Wyatt paused for a moment and told them the story of what happened on the day of his draft. He told them that his friend, Pratt, had gone to the Court House and signed in as George Wyatt.
Wyatt told them to go to the courthouse and check out their own records. He said, 'You'll find that the Judge recorded my death and added to the record that I was buried on the field of battle, near Vicksburg.' Wyatt took a big breath and said in a strong voice, 'You can not draft me because your judicial records say that I am dead.' George Wyatt was never drafted and could not be sent to war.
Wyatt was dead to the Confederacy just as you are dead to sin. The Confederacy had no authority over a dead man. Likewise, Christ went to the cross in your place, signed your name and died as your substitute. It is written in the document of the Heavenly Court that you died on a cross in the service of God to satisfy the unalterable draft of the law of sin and death.
Just as George Wyatt was freed from the Confederacy draft, the cross of Christ has freed us from the law of sin and death.
Romans 6:4 (NKJV) Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
The astounding statement that Paul makes is that "as" that is true of Christ, "even so" it is true of us. "Even so we also should walk in newness of life" - Christ walks in newness of life as the result of the resurrection, and so do we. The "newness of life"here does not refer to a new quality of experience or conduct, but to a new quality of life imparted to the individual. Verses 1-11 of Romans 6 do not deal with the Christian's experience or behavior but with his position before God. "Newness of life" is the newness which consists of life. The literal Greek here reads: "So also, we in newness of life might walk."
2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.
This is not dealing with my walk, but with my position before God. We died with Christ and were buried with Him, but it doesn't stop there.
Romans 6:5 (NKJV) For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,
What has happened to Christ, literally and physically, has happened to us spiritually. Physically, we didn't die when Christ died, but judicially in the reckoning of God we did. This is identification.
Verse 5 is the key verse in this section, teaching our union with Christ. Verses 6 &7 are an exposition of the first half of verse 5, "For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death"...
Romans 6:6-7 (NKJV) knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. 7 For he who has died has been freed from sin.
"Knowing this" - how do we know this? We only know it because the Scripture teaches it. The "old man" is the man that I used to be in Adam. The word "crucified" is a compound verb meaning: "was crucified with" - Christ. That man that was joined to Adam was crucified together with Christ.
Because of our union with Christ in his crucifixion, we are dead to sin; we have been set free from its power. We are no longer slaves of sin.
Verses 8-10 explain the last half of verse 5, "certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection."
Romans 6:8-10 (NKJV) Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
Christ temporally came under the power of sin, and it killed him. By rising from the dead, He broke its power, and when he came out of the grave, we came out with him. Remember, what is true of Christ is true of us.
All that Jesus Christ is and has, we are and have; we are one with him - union. Let me give you an example: I take this bulletin. It has an identity of its own, quite separate from this book. Let's say I put it in the book. Now I do something with the book, say I mail it to Pennsylvania. I do not mail the bulletin, but the bulletin is "in" the book, so where is the bulletin? It is in Pennsylvania! Why? Because it is in the book. Where the book goes, the bulletin goes. If I drop the book in the water, the bulletin gets wet also. If I recover the book, I recover the bulletin also. Whatever experience the book goes through, the bulletin goes through also, because it is "in" the book. Where this illustration breaks down is that I can take the bulletin out of the book, but we can never be taken out of Christ. Our union with Christ is everlasting.
The Lord God has put believers "in" Christ. Our destiny is bound up with His. What He has gone through, we have gone through. Where He is, we are.
Now, notice carefully what we are to do with this knowledge:
Romans 6:11 (NKJV) Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The believer is to look upon himself in the light of this truth. He is to remind himself that he is freed from the penalty and dominion of sin. He is also to count upon the fact that he receives his spiritual life from Christ daily.
The word "reckon" means: "to calculate, to take into account, to figure, to count on, consider the fact." Let your mind focus on these truths. Meditate upon them, keep saying them to yourselves, remind yourself of who you are in Christ. Be constantly counting upon the fact that you are dead to sin, and alive to God in Christ Jesus. The secret to holy living is in a mind centered on our position in Christ.
I can hear someone saying: "Yeah but I don't feel dead to sin!" Feelings don't have anything to do with it. It is a judicial fact. You need to count it so, because it is so. It is a faith fact.
Now let's go back to Colossians. First, Paul declared that they were circumcised with him. Then he says that they were baptized with Him:
Colossians 2:12 (NKJV) 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.
One commentator writes, "In the context of the letter in which this verse occurs, we should realize that Paul's intention in mentioning water baptism is not to teach them of the necessity of such a rite, and neither is it to emphasize the symbolism inherent within it but, rather, he's aiming continually at showing the Colossians that in Christ is everything that's sufficient for their need."
Paul does not mention "water baptism" in this verse! This verse has NOTHING to do with water baptism - it speaks of identification. This is the exact same thing we saw in Romans 6.
Another commentator writes, "The evidence of this spiritual circumcision is baptism. When the believer stands before the congregation and is baptized, he is telling them that he has left behind his old ways and is living as a follower of Jesus Christ. He bears witness to the saving power of God that lives in him."
Water baptism is no more in view in 2:12 than physical circumcision was in 2:11. Both verses speak of spiritual realities.
The words "buried with" mean: "to bury together, join in burying or to be buried with". The word "with" indicates a "co" relationship with Jesus Christ. This is a co-burial. It is saying, "When Jesus was buried, we were buried". God buried us along with Jesus Christ! This obviously does not mean that God put us into the same tomb as Jesus and laid down beside him! This is our union with Christ.
Many scholars use this verse to equate circumcision with baptism, holding that Christian baptism has taken the place of the Old Testament rite of circumcision. But if you look carefully at this verse, it is clear that this is not true. "If we are Christians", says Paul, "we have been both circumcised and baptized in Christ." Thus, they are not the same thing. And neither one of them is physical!
When Jesus died, we died together with Him. When Christ rose from the dead, we rose with Him. When Christ ascended to heaven, we ascended with Him and are now seated with Him in the heavenlies. Our identification with Christ includes the crucifixion with Him, burial with Him; and our resurrection, ascension and glorification with Christ. Our identification with Christ is so complete that God reckons us as having experienced co-crucifixion, co-burial, co-resurrection, co-ascension, and co-glorification. This is the way God sees us. Shouldn't we see ourselves in the same manner?
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