The Circumcision of Christ
1. In this verse and the following verse, Paul uses two religious rituals (circumcision and baptism) as illustrations of what was accomplished for us on Calvary.
2. He told us in vs. 10 that we are complete in Christ.
3. Next he tells us HOW that happened… what God DID to make us complete: circumcision and baptism.
4. The Gnostic like cult in Colossae had evidently been teaching that circumcision was necessary in order to enter their ranks of the “enlightened ones.”
a. Their teachings were a strange mixture of Jewish legalism and pagan asceticism.
b. Col. 2:16 – Paul addresses other issues such as meat; holydays; Sabbath days; etc.
c. Reading Colossians is a bit like hearing one side of a phone conversation. We have Paul’s ANSWER to the Colossians, but we don’t have a copy of their questions.
d. It seems evident that circumcision arose as an issue in Colossae as it did in Galatia.
e. Perhaps the false teachers were implying that if they were circumcised, ate the right foods, and kept the proper feast days, they would be more “spiritual.”
f. Paul answers that heresy by stating that as Christians we are COMPLETE in Christ. We don’t need to submit to physical circumcision. No ritual will help us walk with God.
g. We have a BETTER circumcision… a spiritual circumcision of the heart.
5. But to understand the New Testament usages of circumcision, we need to understand the Old Testament.
The Origin and Meaning of Physical Circumcision
1. Gen. 17:9-14 – God institutes circumcision with Abraham and his seed. But consider the CONTEXT of the institution of this rite.
2. Gen. 12:1-4, 7 – God makes a covenant with Abraham.
a. God promises to make Abraham great; a great nation; land; and a blessing for all families of the earth.
3. Gen. 15:4 – God reiterates the promises He made to Abraham. Abraham had no son yet, and hoped that perhaps his servant could fulfill the promise. God promised Abraham a son of his own seed.
4. Gen. 16 – in this chapter, Abraham and Sarah were now old and grew tired of waiting for the son of promise and decided to help God out. So he leaned on Egypt… and went in unto his Egyptian handmaiden, Hagar and had a son. Ishmael. That which is born of the flesh is flesh.
5. Gen. 17 – God appeared once again to Abraham.
a. After going in unto Hagar, God didn’t speak to Abraham (as far as the record goes) for 13 years!
b. But now God appears and reiterates His original covenant.
c. God rejects Ishmael as the son of promise and assures Abraham that he will have a son.
d. At this point, circumcision was instituted…
e. Gen. 17:24-25 – Abraham was circumcised as an old man. In that day his son, Isaac and all males in his household.
6. The spiritual meaning of Circumcision.
a. Circumcision was a minor surgery administered to Jewish boys on the 8th day after his birth according to Leviticus.
b. The flesh of the foreskin on their male organ was cut off… separated from the rest of the body.
c. The reproductive organ was a symbol of life, vitality, productivity, and strength… and symbolized LIFE which was passed on from generation to generation.
d. Circumcision was God’s stamp of DEATH (separation) on the symbol of LIFE – man’s highest physical power… the power to reproduce after his kind… after his sinful self.
e. It was a symbolic stamp of death on the flesh… not on one sin in particular… not sexual sin, but the sin nature in general.
f. Circumcision highlighted man’s inability to produce the kind of life that is acceptable to God.
g. In this surgical procedure, the flesh was cut off and separated from man.
h. CONTEXT of its institution:
• Abraham had grown weary of waiting upon the Lord for the son of promise, so he went in unto Hagar.
• God didn’t speak to him for 13 years… and then God appeared and instituted circumcision, a painful reminder of the failure of the flesh…
• God didn’t need or want Abraham’s help in fulfilling His promise of a son.
• God wanted Abraham to wait and trust. Instead, Abraham acted in the flesh… fleshly thinking… lack of confidence and faith in God’s Word… the desire to DO rather than TRUST.
• That nature of man was given a stamp of death by God… and it was to be a reminder for all future generations of Jews.
7. Physical circumcision did not save.
a. It was simply a sign of the covenant relationship to God… first the Abrahamic and then the Mosaic Covenant.
b. It had nothing to do with salvation.
c. It was a Jewish symbolic ritual that is also rich in meaning for the Christian.
d. It is a shadow… a type… a picture of what God does to deliver the believer from sin… a picture of new life… a life separated from the dominion of the flesh… salvation… regeneration…
8. Physical Circumcision Described
a. It was “made by hands”—physical—the work of man.
b. It was the identifying mark of a physical son of Abraham.
c. This was the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant and later became the sign of the Old Covenant Mosaic Law.
d. It was external.
e. It was partial (cut off only a portion of flesh).
f. It was merely a symbol… a shadow of the reality.
g. It did nothing to deal with the issue of sin.
h. Not every circumcised person under the Old Covenant was rightly related to God. Most were not saved.
• It was possible to be rightly related to God through the Old Covenant and still unsaved!
• It was possible to keep all the rituals; sacrifices; etc… and still be lost… like Saul of Tarsus… who, concerning the Law, was blameless!
Overview: Circumcision Is an Old Testament Illustration of Salvation
1. Physical circumcision is a cutting away of the flesh.
2. This was an Old Testament ritual designed to teach a spiritual lesson.
a. It was but a shadow… not the substance.
b. Obviously the physical ritual could not save anyone from sin or condemnation.
c. But it did POINT ahead to salvation, a true circumcision.
3. In the Old Testament, during the age of Law, the doctrine of salvation was not revealed nearly as clearly as we have it revealed in the New Testament.
a. Almost always the word “saved” or “delivered” in the Old Testament referred to being saved or rescued physically.
b. But that does not mean that salvation was not available for Old Testament saints! Abraham was justified by faith and is our example of saving faith in Romans.
c. But not much is said in the Old Testament in answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?”
4. But in spite of the relatively sparse revelation of the doctrine of salvation, there is one clear illustration used by Moses in the Old Testament: spiritual circumcision.
a. Deut. 10:16 – the command to circumcise the foreskin of your heart!
• Obviously this is not to be understood as a physical circumcision. This was a spiritual circumcision.
• 10:11 – God told Moses to go lead the people into the Promised Land.
• 10:12-13 – God told the people that He expected them to love Him and walk in His ways, to serve Him, and to keep His commandments.
• God was well aware of the fact that the people (regardless of their good intentions) were completely UNABLE to walk with God and UNABLE to obey His commandments!
• The commandments were never given to save, but to condemn! They were given to reveal our sinfulness and our utter need of salvation! By the commandment is the knowledge of sin.
• 10:16 – After giving the Israelites some impossible commands, which should have caused them to squirm… God then says, “THEREFORE circumcise your hearts!”
• The point: God knows human nature. The flesh can NEVER please God. It can NEVER walk in His ways. It can NEVER be obedient to His law.
• THEREFORE, what they needed was heart surgery… a cutting off of the flesh from the heart.
• They needed to submit to God’s knife… and not be stiff-necked… stubborn… rebellious… trying to produce righteousness on their own.
• The Old Testament saints had a clear revelation of both physical and spiritual circumcision.
b. Deut. 30:6a
• This is a promise to the nation of Israel in a unique context.
• Deut. 28 dealt with the blessings for obedience to the Mosaic Law and the cursings for disobedience to the Law.
• 28:64 – If Israel did not obey the Law, they would be scattered among the gentiles as judgment.
• 30:1 – Moses recognizes that his people WILL disobey the Law and WILL be scattered.
• 30:2 – But if they shall “return” unto the Lord (if they repent)….
• 30:3-5 – THEN God will turn their captivity around and bring them back to the Promised Land.
• 30:3 – Note that God Himself RETURNS –
» This refers to the Second Coming when Christ gathers them back to their land…
» In that day He will fulfill all His promises to them… including the NEW COVENANT!
• 30:6 – AND, one of the blessings God will perform on the nation is He will circumcise their hearts and the hearts of their seed.
» The whole nation is converted at the Second Coming.
» The nation sees the One they pierced and mourns for Him… and when the kingdom begins, all Israel is saved!
» The whole nation receives this spiritual circumcision of the heart.
• Ezek. 36:24-26 – The New Covenant promised to Israel provided for them a new heart.
» God promised heart surgery… cutting out the old stony heart and replacing it with a new heart.
» And when they receive this new heart, they will be ABLE to walk in God’s statues and obey Him!
» The Old Covenant made all of these demands of them… but it provided no power. The Law highlighted the NEED for an internal change, but could not produce that change.
» Thus, it could only condemn.
» The New Covenant PRODUCES that internal change… and it provides the POWER to obey via a new heart… the indwelling Holy Spirit…
• Deut. 30:6 – God promised this in Moses’ day. He promised to circumcise their hearts.
» TO love the Lord thy God. This is the purpose of the heart surgery. To “cut off” the old stony heart that was incapable of loving or obeying God and replacing it with a new heart.
» 30:8 – and when their hearts are circumcised they SHALL OBEY the voice of the Lord.
» They will have a new heart and will WANT to obey… and will have the POWER to obey!
» This spiritual circumcision of the heart is a RADICAL transformation of the person!
» The Old Covenant Mosaic Law (symbolized by physical circumcision) demanded obedience and judged all disobedience, but provided no power to obey!
» The New Covenant (symbolized as a spiritual circumcision) DOES provide power to obey.
» In fact it provides ASSURANCE of obedience. (thou shalt obey the voice… implied: or else!)
» The Old Covenant demonstrated the utter inability, sinfulness, and failure of human flesh. It is incorrigible. The Law CANNOT produce good fruit.
» The New Covenant guarantees good fruit. Every believer shall have some praise from God at the Bema.
c. The circumcised heart that Moses spoke of is an illustration of salvation.
• It is a cutting away of the flesh… heart surgery… a radical transformation of the entire person.
• It affects the ENTIRE person.
1. It is “made without hands” – spiritual.
a. Physical circumcision was made with hands—the hands of a human being.
b. Spiritual circumcision was made WITHOUT the hands of a human being.
c. Spiritual circumcision is the work of God.
d. Salvation is of the Lord.
2. It is a blessing associated with the New Covenant.
a. Physical circumcision was associated with the Old Covenant.
b. Spiritual circumcision is associated with the New Covenant.
c. Spiritual circumcision speaks of salvation. Hence, it required much more than the blood of bulls and goats. That could NEVER take away sin.
d. But the blood of the New Covenant… the blood shed by Christ THE Lamb of God on the cross DID take away sin!
e. Hence, Christ was able to provide salvation to all those who through faith are related to God through the blood of the New Covenant.
f. Jer. 31:33-34 – Under the new covenant a radical transformation of the heart occurs.
• God’s law is written on the heart. That changes the heart completely! A new heart.
• Everyone related to God under the New Covenant KNOWS God in a saving way.
• And each one under the New Covenant has forgiveness of sins… salvation… something the Old Covenant could never produce.
• The Old Testament illustration of this salvation was “circumcision of the heart.”
• Paul picks up on this illustration in Col.2
3. It was the identifying mark of a spiritual son of God.
a. Physical circumcision was the identifying mark of a son of Abraham… the physical seed.
b. Spiritual circumcision was the identifying mark of a true son of God… the spiritual seed of Abraham…
c. In this sense, spiritual circumcision was an illustration of salvation (in general) and of regeneration (in particular).
• Regeneration strips the flesh of its dominance.
• Regeneration; the old man is crucified and a new man is created… a new creature…
d. Col. 2:13 – note the use of spiritual uncircumcision of the flesh.
• They were spiritually DEAD – unregenerate.
• This is likened to the uncircumcision of the flesh.
• It is seen in contrast to being “quickened”… made alive… regenerated… born again.
• If uncircumcision of the flesh refers to being spiritually dead, then circumcision refers to being made spiritually alive or regenerated… born again.
• Thus, Paul uses an Old Testament illustration, and gives a theological explanation of it in his epistles.
e. Spiritual circumcision was the identifying mark of a true son of God… one born into God’s family… spiritually ALIVE from the dead.
4. It is internal.
a. Rom.2:28-29 – description of a TRUE Jew.
• Vs. 28 – A true Jew is not merely one who is Jewish on the outside. (A physical son of Abraham who has received physical circumcision.)
• Vs. 29 – A true Jew is one who is Jewish on the outside… AND inwardly. His circumcision is of the heart… internal… in the spirit… not the letter.
• The true Jew is one who is BOTH of the physical AND spiritual seed of Abraham… saved… justified… born again… alive unto God!
• Paul’s point here is that ceremonies and religious rituals matter not. They were merely shadows. What matters is the spiritual reality: the new birth!
b. Physical circumcision was external… dealt only with the body.
c. Spiritual circumcision is internal and deals with the heart.
d. It provides the believer with a NEW heart… a new nature… new life… new capacities to love and obey God.
5. It is complete (It puts off the body of the flesh)
a. Putting off the flesh obviously does not refer to the human body. We do not put away our physical body of flesh when we get saved. It refers to the fleshly sinful SELF life… the old man… who was empowered by the sinful flesh.
b. Spiritual circumcision “cuts off the flesh.”
c. Physical circumcision was incomplete. It only cut away a small portion of the flesh.
d. But spiritual circumcision is complete. It cuts off the flesh COMPLETELY!
e. It provides for a COMPLETE separation of the flesh.
f. Spiritual circumcision cuts away the flesh so completely that it renders the fleshly nature inoperative.
6. It is not a shadow, but the substance… reality
a. Odd, isn’t it? The physical is the shadow, but the spiritual is the substance!
b. Physical circumcision was a shadow that pointed to the reality: Spiritual circumcision.
c. Spiritual circumcision of the heart is the TRUE circumcision.
d. Phil.3:2-3 – Paul warns the Philippians about the “concision” –
• These were the false teachers who relied upon religious ceremonies such as circumcision.
• He then states that we (Christians) are THE circumcision (the true circumcision).
• Those who have been circumcised with the true circumcision of the heart are characterized in the following way:
» Worship God in the spirit; (flesh is cut off)
» Rejoice in Christ Jesus; (not in self)
» And have no confidence in the flesh. (Our old man is dead!)
7. Spiritual circumcision DOES deal with the issue of sin.
a. Physical circumcision did NOTHING to provide power over sin in the daily life.
b. Spiritual circumcision provides all we need to have victory over the sin nature in our daily lives!
c. It provides all we need to walk in newness of life.
d. It provides the theological BASIS for his very practical exhortations found in chapter three (3:8-9).
e. Spiritual circumcision REMOVES bondage to the flesh… to sin… renders the sin nature inoperative and makes possible a walk in newness of life.
8. Putting off the body of the sins of the flesh.
a. This is difficult expression to interpret… so you need to follow closely.
b. First of all, the expression of the sins is not found in most manuscripts.
• It doesn’t essentially change the meaning of the passage either way…
• In context, Paul is not talking about putting off individual “sins”… but something much broader and deeper: putting off the FLESH… bondage to sinful inclinations.
c. Spiritual circumcision “puts off the body of the flesh.”
• The flesh = the old, sinful self-life.
» It is the equivalent of the old man seen as being under the dominion of his flesh… his sinful human nature… a slave to sin.
• The body = two possible meanings.
» Either: the body in the sense of the WHOLE… meaning, circumcision puts off the ENTIRE fleshly self life… the old man is entirely put off… completely dead.
» OR: (the view I prefer) the physical body. Hence, Paul is saying that spiritual circumcision cuts off or severs or separates the physical body from the bondage to the fleshly nature that previously dominated it.
d. “The body of flesh” = the physical body controlled by the fleshly nature… the sin nature.
e. This expression is similar an expression found in Romans 6:6. – the body of sin.
• The body of sin = the human body as seen as a slave to sin… a body controlled by the sinful nature… also known as the flesh.
• When a person is born again, he is identified with Christ in His death… and as a result, his old man DIED with Christ.
• The old man is the “unregenerate person”… the man we were “in Adam”—the person under bondage to sin.
• A radical transformation of the person occurs.
• The body of sin is destroyed = rendered inoperative.
• Death separated the person from bondage to his sin nature.
• The flesh, also known as the sin nature, is still present, but it has been rendered inoperative.
• The power it once held over our body has been broken. Chains have been torn asunder, setting the prisoner free!
• We have been FREED from slavery to sin. (Rom. 6:7) Hence, we don’t HAVE to sin.
• In Romans 6, co-crucifixion separates us from our old master: sin… the flesh.
• In Col. 2, circumcision separates us from the flesh… it cuts off… or puts off the flesh. (A different illustration of the same truth.)
• Spiritual circumcision separates us from bondage to the flesh and renders sin (the fleshly nature) inoperative.
• The old man who was characterized by absolute bondage to the flesh is DEAD!
• He has been cut off… we don’t have to live that way any more! Thank you Lord!
9. It is called the circumcision of Christ. Why?
a. This does not refer to the literal physical circumcision of Christ as an eight-day-old baby.
b. Christ’s circumcision is SPIRITUAL circumcision which is ours because of the blood of the New Covenant… as opposed to the circumcision of Abraham or Moses.
c. It speaks of a kind of circumcision that Christ brought in that is related to the New Covenant and not the Covenants of the Old Testament.
d. Christ’s circumcision… is related to His crucifixion…
• Circumcision and crucifixion were two different terms for His death… Christ being “cut off.”
• Isa. 53:8 – He was “cut off” out of the land of the living.
• In Col. 2:13, Paul develops the truth that His death becomes OUR death… a theme taken from Romans 6
10. The spiritual circumcision of Christ is for those IN Christ.
a. “In whom ye are circumcised.”
b. Spiritual circumcision is for ALL those in Christ… this includes women too… physical circumcision was for males only. Spiritual circumcision is for everyone!
c. Every true believer has been cut off from Adam and placed IN Christ
d. Thus, because we are IN Christ, we have been separated from Adam and separated from bondage to the sin nature we inherited from him.
e. In Christ we have provision not only of salvation and forgiveness of sins… but also provision for the power LIVE a resurrected life…
1. When God saved you, He “cut off” the flesh and thus freed you from the bondage of sin.
a. Do you BELIEVE that? If so, then ACT upon it.
b. Remember Paul’s command in 2:6 – WALK ye in Him… and walk in the same way you received Christ: BY FAITH!
c. WALK in faith…
• Believing what God said about your freedom from bondage to sin… IN CHRIST, the old man, the former slave to sin was crucified… that old relationship to the flesh was circumcised… we have been cut off from bondage to the sinful, fleshly nature.
• Believing that IN CHRIST you really ARE a new creature…
• Trusting God that IN CHRIST you ARE able to walk in newness of life.
d. Upon BELIEVING all this, then take that step of faith… and as you do, God will hold you up. It will be GOD working in you both to will and to DO of His good will!
• There is no need for a believer to live as if he were still a slave to sin.
• The circumcision of Christ has set us FREE from bondage to the flesh…
e. We have been severed from the flesh… and by faith we can experience that victory in our daily lives.
• Having a problem getting along with your boss? Your teacher? Your sister? Your neighbor?
• Do you have a problem with your temper? Do you constantly snap at people?
• Do you have a problem with your tongue… constantly spewing out things you wish you never said?
• Do you have a problem with lust, greed, covetousness, bitterness, jealousy, selfishness, pride, self righteousness, resentment?
• The flesh can manifest itself in 1001 ugly ways.
f. But we don’t HAVE to submit to the flesh any more. We have been set free… whether it FEELS like it or not.
g. BELIEVE what God said, and step out on faith… resting your foot on the solid foundation of God’s promise.
• Believe and walk. How simple!
• Faith will enable us to experience the victory Christ purchased for us… freedom from bondage to the flesh… because we have received the circumcision of Christ.