11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
(Colossians 2:11-12 NIV)
Paul continues his teaching on the sufficiency of Christ alone for salvation and eternal life. In verses 9 – 10, Paul reminded us that Christ is fully God and as such, is the ultimate power and authority in the universe. It is not “Christ and…”, it is “Christ alone.”
In verse 10, Paul also tells us that we are brought into Christ’s fullness. There is nothing we can do to earn grace or pay our way into heaven – it is by Christ alone.
Paul moves on in today’s passage to remind the Colossian church (and us) of the benefits of being a follower of Christ and His teachings. Admittedly, today’s passage is a little tough to read and understand, as Paul jams four separate thoughts into one regular sentence and (by our English language standards, anyway) one run-on sentence.
Just as the rest of this letter to the Colossian church is positive, Paul stays with the same demeanor during this section. He silences the heretics and their teaching, not by bashing them, but by teaching God’s truth. Let’s look at each of these thoughts separately, then pull them together again at the end.
- “In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands.” (v. 11a)
In addition to the heretics in the Colossian church that were trying to add elements of eastern mysticism and spiritual rites to Christ’s teachings, there were also Jewish believers who were teaching that men had to be circumcised in order to follow Christ. Paul is saying, “yes, you were circumcised, but it’s not what you think.” Paul reminds us that the physical circumcision was given as an outward sign of association with God and had nothing to do with a person’s salvation. Even in the Old Testament, circumcision was an outward sign of an inward change. Listen to the words of Moses to the Israelites:
“The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6 NIV)
- “Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ”
When our hearts are circumcised by Christ, what happens? Our old sin nature was removed. Our old sin nature no longer controls us. Yes, we still sin but sin is no longer our master. Christ is over all.
- “having been buried with him in baptism”
Paul now jumps from circumcision, which was an Old Testament sign of association with God, to baptism, which is a New Testament sign of association with Christ. Baptism does not save us – it is only an outward sign (like circumcision) of our association with Christ. Paul was referring to baptism by full immersion, as was practiced in his day. Full immersion symbolically showed Christ’s death (going into the water), burial (full immersion under the water), and resurrection (coming out of the water).
- “in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.”
Paul reminds us that Christ’s death was not the end. The miracle that all our hope in Christ relies upon is that Christ was physically and bodily raised from the dead. He is the object of our faith. Because Christ lives after having been dead, we have hope in eternal life as well.
As we tie these thoughts together, Paul is telling us that Christ alone is sufficient for our salvation and for eternal life. Neither circumcision (the Old Testament sign of association with God) nor baptism (the New Testament sign of association with Christ) will save us. Christ alone is sufficient to provide salvation and eternal life. In Him alone we have our hope and joy and peace.