True Circumcision (Colossians 2:11) ~ A Devotion for October 14, 2014

“In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ….” ~ Colossians 2:11

Explanation of the Text: Here it is that we continue with ‘in Him.’ Paul continues to write and dwell on the concept of being in Christ, something that is important to his writings and theology. Specifically, Paul discusses the circumcision of one who is in Him. If we look back to the Old Testament, God institutes circumcision in Genesis 17:1-4 as a sign of the covenant. Recognizing the connection to cleanliness, it is thought that the Hebrews picked up on this concept and as they spiritualized things began to teach that those who were circumcised were holy and clean, while the uncircumcised were not.[1] Over time, the teaching morphed into what Paul was often face with (cf. Acts 15:1–16:1; 21:17-32; Galatians 2:1-10; 5:1-12) a teaching that dictated in order to be part of God’s people, individuals had to be physically circumcised. To the circumcised Jews, the idea of uncircumcised Gentiles having the opportunity to participate in the promises God made to them was against everything they understood. “If we remember what circumcision meant to the Jews as the distinguishing mark of God’s covenant people, we can understand their pique over uncircumcised Gentile Christians claiming the same hope of glory that had been promised to Israel.”[2] It was appalling to think that these outsiders could now be on the inside.

The verb ‘were circumcised’ being in the passive form, indicates that the one who did this action was God. This is further emphasized when Paul notes that it was not done with hands. This circumcision that is being discussed is therefore not simply a physical circumcision, otherwise it would have been completed with human hands. Since it was not, we know that something more significant is being discussed, something far greater than what mere humans can do on their own. This was something that only God Himself could do.

Paul then indicates that this circumcision in Christ took place by putting off the body of the flesh. It is known that in Paul’s writings, the body, the flesh, are meant to represent the unregenerate man who has not found life in Christ. The body of the flesh is the unspiritual man who is full of sin and has not found the mercy and grace of God given through His own Son. John Calvin notes that “He employs the term ‘body’ by an eloquent metaphor to denote a mass, made up of all vices.”[3] The body is one that is full of all kinds of viles of sin. It is full of selfishness, pride, and arrogance. It is full of lusts, desires, and godlessness. “The body, while identified with this flesh, is the body of sin. Sin inhabits it, clothes itself with it, and presents itself to us in its form; and this being the normal condition of unregenerate human nature, the sinful principle is naturally called ‘the flesh.’”[4] That is to say that sin is the flesh of a human body because it covers or clothes the entirety of the body. With that said, the body of flesh then, is the opposite of one who is in Him.

With this understanding then, Paul notes finally that the circumcision that believers take part in is the circumcision of Christ. Again pointing to a spiritual, not physical circumcision that many would have taught during Paul’s time. This circumcision of Christ is one that transforms, or changes the heart, grafting a believer into the family of God. “What God really desired was not the external sign for its own sake, but the circumcision of the heart, an inward purification, which to Paul was the true circumcision.”[5]

Examination & Application of the Text: Like a newborn baby who undergoes physical circumcision into a new life, so to a newborn believer should undergo a spiritual circumcision into a new life with Christ. However, this circumcision of the heart, which only can be accomplished by Christ indicates a life transformation. Therefore, it is reasonable to understand that a transformation of the heart should indicate a transformation in a lifestyle. Lives should reflect a circumcised heart. This all implies that one has a solid relationship with Christ as well, because all things can only be accomplished through Him.

A circumcised heart by Christ should mean an identification with Him as well. As we will see in the next text. As we become, ‘in Him,’ we are saying, “My life is identified with that of Christ alone. No longer is it I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.” It becomes a lifestyle of self-sacrifice in order to serve the one who gave the ultimate sacrifice.

As we go into a discussion of the next verse, more of the application will come out there, and I want to look forward to that next devotional time to examine this more in detail.

[1] Merrill C. Tenney and Moises Silva, Editors, The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, Volume 1 A-C (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 904.

[2] David E. Garland, Colossians/Philemon, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 156.

[3] John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (Bellingham: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 184.

[4] HDM Spence-Jones, Colossians, The Pulpit Commentary (New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 87.

[5] F.F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), 103.

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