10. BAPTISM AND SPIRITUAL CIRCUMCISION
And in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. When you were dead in your transgressions and uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions. (Colossians 2:11-13)
Before we discuss Colossians 2:11-13, a passage about baptism, we should consider Paul’s purpose in writing the book of Colossians. His main emphasis in Colossians was the greatness of Jesus. He portrayed Jesus as the answer to man’s deepest needs and stressed that in Jesus we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins (Colossians 1:14). Our awareness of Jesus’ great attributes (Colossians 1:15- 18) should give us confidence in Him.
Paul declared that Christians are delivered from darkness and transferred into the kingdom of God’ Son (Colossians 1:13). This implies that at the time of the writing of this letter (1) Jesus had already become King, (2) His kingdom existed, (3) forgiveness was available, and (4) people were entering His kingdom. When Jesus appeared to Paul (Saul), He told him that He was sending him to the Gentiles “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:18). Those who are transferred from darkness to light are those whose sins are forgiven and who are in Jesus’ kingdom.
In Jesus we have redemption, the forgiveness of our sins (Colossians 1:14). The blood of Jesus can make right our broken relationship with God (Colossians 1:20-22).
Further, Jesus is great because He is the image of God (Colossians 1:15); the firstborn of all creation (Colossians 1:15);the creator of all things (Colossians 1:16); before all things (Colossians 1:17); the head of the body, the church (Colossians 1:18); the first-born from the dead (Colossians 1:18); and has first place in everything (Colossians 1:18).
Paul presented these foundational facts concerning Jesus in order to show that we must not let anyone lead us away from Him as our Lord (Colossians 2:4, 8). In HIm are found the following: all treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3), all the fullness of Deity in bodily form (Colossians 2:9), the ability to make us complete (Colossians 2:10), and the circumcision of Jesus which removes our sins when we are baptized (Colossians 2:11-13). These realities should give us reasons to have a confidence in Jesus that will cause us to reject the teachings of men and practices commanded in the Law (Colossians 2:8, 14-17).
If we do not have Jesus, we are without hope and without God; but if we are in Him, we are brought near by His blood. Ephesians 2:13 says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”
Our hope of glory is our being in Christ and His being in us (Colossians 1:27). In Him we are freed from domination of bodily passions, made spiritually alive, and forgiven of all our trespasses (Colossians 2:11-13).
In Colossians 2 Paul continued to urge the Christians at Colossae to be faithful to Christ. He told them that they belonged to Him, for they had received a spiritual circumcision from Him. What is this spiritual circumcision?
BAPTISM IS LIKE CIRCUMCISION
And in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ (Colossians 2:11).
God made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants that He would be their God if they would be circumcised as a seal of the covenant (Genesis 17:7-11). Any male child who was not circumcised was to be cut off from his people (Genesis 17:14).
Paul compared circumcision to baptism in a spiritual sense: As the foreskin was removed from the child in circumcision, sinful passions are to be removed from the Christian’s heart. By comparing baptism to circumcision, Paul taught that spiritual circumcision takes place in baptism. This takes place because in baptism, one is spiritually circumcised by putting off his fleshly passions and practices (Colossians 2:11).
The phrase “putting off” (Gk.: apekdusis) “suggests a clean break with a past life, though the metaphor is one of disrobing and stripping off an unwelcome set of garments.” Ralph P. Martin, Colossians and Philemon, The New Century Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Matthew Black (England: Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1973. Reprint. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1985), 81. (Emphasis his).
The circumcision described here is one “made without hands, i.e. one which is wholly the work of God, experienced in baptism.” Ibid., 82.
(Similar phrases appear in Mark 14:58 and 2 Corinthians 5:1).
The connection between circumcision (Colossians 2:11) and baptism (Colossians 2:12) is evident. Paul’s progression of thought is that the circumcision of Christ is accomplished in baptism.
Murray Harris said, “THis heart-circumcision took place at the time of your baptism, when you were spiritually raised with him though your faith in the powerful activity of God, the God who demonstrated that power by raising Jesus from the dead.” Murray J. Harris, Colossians and Philemon (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991). 112.
THE MEANING OF BAPTISM
Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead (Colossians 2:12).
What is meant by “baptism” in Colossians has been viewed in various ways:
(1) Some have thought that Paul was alluding to Spirit (not water) baptism, but this cannot be the case. Concerning references to baptism, Albrecht Oepke observed, “New Testament references to baptism should be thought of as water baptism unless the context indicates otherwise. Baptism means technically ‘to baptize in water.’ Hence it is unnecessary to specify a medium.” Albrecht Oepke, “baptizo,” Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 1, ed. Gerhard Kittel, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1964), 539.
The spiritual part of our salvation is God’s work of removing the body of sin and forgiving sin while in baptism we are responding by faith in what God is doing.
(2) Others have said that Paul was referring to symbolic instead of literal baptism, but this cannot be true either. If other Bible passages only considered baptism as symbolical, than such a conclusion might have some validity; however, other statements indicate that baptism is a physical act involving water (Matthew 3:13-17; Acts 8:35-39).
(3) According to another line of thinking, Paul was teaching that God puts saving faith in the heart, resulting in baptism. THe statement is made, “Faith in God’s mighty operation in raising again Jesus, is saving faith (Rom. 4:24; 10:9); and it is wrought in the soul by His same ‘mighty working’ whereby He ‘raised Jesus from the dead’ (Eph. 1:19, 20).” Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1961), 1321.
However, God’s putting faith in the heart of the lost is a concept from denominational creeds, not from the Scriptures. The Bible teaches that faith comes through hearing God’s Word (John 17:20; 20:30, 31; Acts 17:11, 12; Romans 10:17).
(4) Another view is that the faith of the one being baptized is placed in the resurrection of Jesus instead of any wok God is doing in the life of the one being baptized.
“Who hath raised him from the dead” stands in apposition (i.e., explains) to “the faith of the operation of God.” In other words, it is man’s belief in God’s having operated or worked to raise Jesus from the dead that gives baptism its significance. … “The faith” does not refer to one’s faith in God’s forgiving sins when he is immersed. Jimmy Allen, Re-baptism, (West Monroe, La.: Howard Pub., 1991), 156.
The participial phrase (egeirantos auto ek nekron) [aorist participle, active, genitive, masculine, single]) “who raised Him from the dead,” modifies God. Admittedly we must have faith in the resurrection of Jesus to be saved (Romans 10:9), but this is not the meaning of this verse. Our faith is to be in the “working of God,” the one who raised Jesus from the dead.” When we are baptized, our faith is not to be just in God or the resurrection, but in the working of God – in the work His is doing to spiritually circumcise us, make us alive with Christ, and forgive our transgressions.
The participial phrase in this verse is not an apposition. An apposition is “1a: a grammatical construction in which two usu. adjacent nouns having the same referent stand in the same syntactical relation to the rest of the sentence (as the poet and Burns in ‘a biography of the poet Burns’) b: the relation of one of such a pair of nouns or noun equivalents to the other.” Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, Mass.: Merriam-Webster, 1983), 97.
Instead of an apposition, this participial phrase modifies “God” so as to explain that the God who is referred to is the God who raised Jesus from the dead.
(5) The most accurate view is that Paul was referring to water baptism in which the one being baptized is placing his faith in the working of God – the same working that raised Jesus from the dead – to apply the saving benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection to his life. This is consistent with the context, basic rules of interpretation, and numerous commentaries.
Ralph P. Martin commented,
So Christian baptism which answers to the spiritual circumcision which Christ’s redemption achieved requires personal acknowledgment and acceptance on the part of those who are baptized. THis means the indispensability of faith directed not to the rite itself but to God who works in the “sacrament,” applies the saving efficacy of the death and resurrection of Christ in which believers died an were raised, and places them in that sphere of divine life in which sin is conquered (Romans 6:7, 9-11). Ralph P. Martin, Colossians: The Church’s Lord and the Christian’s Liberty (Exerter: The Paternoster Press, 1972), 87.
Herbert M. Carson correctly observed:
The mighty working of god as already demonstrated in the resurrection of Christ is thus the object of the believer’s confidence. THe argument would then be as follows: They had accepted the fact of Christ’s resurrection. This was the signal demonstration of the power of God, and in reliance upon that power they had known a spiritual resurrection in union with Christ. Herbert M. Carson, Stand Perfect in Wisdom (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1981), 110.8G.
G.R. Beasley-Murray wrote,
It is wrong to represent the function of faith as merely that of asking for baptism in which God works irrespective of man’s attitude, or of understanding what God does in baptism, or of evidencing an intention of making the appropriate response after baptism. G.R…. Beasley-Murray, Baptism in the new Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), 273.
Beasley-Murray saw the necessity for one who is being baptized to have an active faith. The faith being referred to here is not in the fact hat Jesus was raised, but in the action of God that is taking place in his own life even as he is being baptized. Notice in the following quotation that Beasley-Murray affirmed concerning the one being baptized. Notice in the following quotation that Beasley-Murray affirmed concerning the one being baptized,k that God raised him from death because of the active faith of the object of his action – evidently the action of raising him from spiritual death in baptism.
… faith itself has not power to raise the believer form the dead – it can only look to God to do that; but according to this statement, God acts in his almighty power t raise the dead in baptism in response to the faith of the baptized. A baptism wherein God raises from death apart from the active faith of the object of his action is not contemplated. Ibid.,364.
Based on the above statements it becomes apparent that the same view is also taught by Beasley-Murray in the following statement:
Not that faith effects its own resurrection; faith rejoices in the grace revealed in Christ and directs itself wholly to the God whose almighty power raised Christ from the dead and raises helpless sinners. Ibid., 154.
In Commentary of the Holy Scriptures: Colossians, Karl Braune stated,
God is then characterized: who has raised him from the dead, because the syllogism runs: Has God raised Christ, then can He also bring me to new life (comp. Ephesians 1:19,20)? It is precisely through faith in such an “operation of God,” that this is experienced. Karl Braune, Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Colossians, Vol. 3, new ed., ed. Peter Lange, trans. M.B. Riddle (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1969), 46.
William Barclay wrote,
It could only happen when a man believed in the effective working of God, that power of god which raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Only then could he be convinced that the power which ad brought Jesus Christ through the Cross and which had raised Him in the Resurrection could do the same for him. William Barclay, The Letters to the Philippians, Colossians and Thessalonians, rev. ed., The Daily Study Bible Series (Philadelphia, Pa.: Westminster Press, 1959), 168.
Marvin R. Vincent emphasized that such change occurs “’through the faith of the operation of God,’ that is, ‘not the faith which God works, but your faith in God’s working… as displayed in Christ’s resurrection.’” Marvin R. Vincent, Word Studies in the New Testament, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1946), 489.
A good summary was provided by Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene A. Nida:
… central section of [Colossians 2:12] may be rendered as “when you were baptized, God caused you also to live again, as it were, by his power. He raised you up, as it were, along with Christ. THis happened as a result of your confidence in God’s power.” Robert G. Bratcher and Eugene A. Nida, A Translator’s Handbook of Paul’s Letters to the Colossians and to Philemon (New York: United Bible Societies, 1977), 58.
We are benefited in baptism if we have faith that the same power of God which gave life to Jesus’ dead body can take us who are dead in sin and give us spiritual life. Our faith is not faith in the preacher, in the water, in the act itself, or even in the resurrection of Jesus – but is faith in the working of God, who demonstrated His power to give life (physical to Jesus but spiritual to us) by raising Jesus. If we can have faith that God put new life in Jesus’ dead body, surely we can have a solid basis for faith that God can give us spiritual life and forgiveness when we are baptized.
The validity of the act of baptism is dependent on faith in what God is doing. Without such faith the act is simply an empty, valueless ritual. Baptism by itself – without faith make one alive with Jesus. In order to have faith in the working of God, we must understand what God is doing when we are being baptized. God is removing our sinful passions, making us spiritually alive, and forgiving our sins because of our faith in what He can and will do. This can happen only when we from the hart associate with Jesus in His burial and resurrection. We do this – both physically and spiritually – in baptism.
We must conclude (1) that Paul viewed faith in God’s working while we are being baptized as the basis for God’s acting to remove our sinful passions and to give life and forgiveness and (2) that baptism has no innate ability to bring about such effects. Baptism is the moment in which God acts because we find in Jesus’ resurrection adequate form His work in our lives to resurrect us to a new spiritual life and forgive our sins when we are being buried and resurrected with Jesus in baptism.
MADE ALIVE AND FORGIVEN
When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions (Colossians 2:13).
Those who believe in what the power of God can do when they are being baptized are made alive. Paul used tow figures to show that such a change takes place (Colossians 2:11-13).
Before baptism, Paul said, the Colossians were “uncircumcised,” controlled by fleshly passions. He also described them as “dead in sin” – than is, spiritually dead and still contaminated with sin. In baptism, a change took place: They became (1) spiritually circumcised by the removal of their fleshly passions and also became (2) spiritually alive by sharing Jesus’ burial and resurrection in a spiritual sense. Because of their faith in what God could do, God with their cooperation caused them to cease to be their former condition was removed in baptism, making them spiritually circumcised and spiritually alive. Paul stated concerning the Colossians, “When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions” (Colossians 2:13).
A.T Robertson gave this apt summary of Paul’s message:
“God gave life, and he can bestow life to both soul and body. Paul offers the power of God to those who doubt.” A.T. Robertson, Paul and the Intellectuals: The Epistle to the Colossians, rev. and ed. W.C. Strickland (New York: Doubleday, Doran and Co., 1928. Reprint. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman Press, 1959), 84.
Later, Paul taught what should follow the experience of being buried and raised with Jesus in baptism. “Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, were Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1, 2).
SPIRITUAL INVOLVEMENT IN BAPTISM
Baptism is related to salvation. It is an act of faith which is rewarded because of the faith that motivates that act (Galatians 3:26, 27; Colossians 2:12). In order for baptism to be valid, the one submitting to the physical act must also be spiritually involved. He must understand that he is being forgiven of past sins. He must understand that his burial and resurrection ends an old life – that he is entering into a new relationship with Jesus and is accepting His lordship. Jesus’ death for the forgiveness of our sins was brought about by what others did to Him in His death, burial and resurrection. In the same way, our salvation is brought about by what another does to us by burying and resurrecting us in baptism. While this is happening to us bodily, our hearts are to be spiritually involved and trusting in Jesus’ blood to cleanse us of our sins (Romans 3:25).
Faith without baptism is incomplete, and baptism without faith in God’s working is invalid. Salvation is dependent on a faith that rests on what God can do for us if we, in baptism, are willing to share Jesus’ burial and resurrection. This is a faith that says that if God’s power raised Jesus from death, that same power can also raise us to a new life. If we have experienced this transformation with Jesus, we are to change the direction of our life from earthly goals to heavenly goals.