The Circumcision Of Christ In The Act Of Baptism

It is written:

“In Christ you had a different kind of circumcision, one that was not done by human hands. That is, you were made free from the power of your sinful self. That is the kind of circumcision Christ does. 12  When you were baptized, you were buried with Christ, and you were raised up with him because of your faith in God’s power. God’s power was shown when he raised Christ from death. 13  You were spiritually dead because of your sins and because you were not free from the power of your sinful self. But God gave you new life together with Christ. He forgave all our sins.” (Colossians 2:11-13 ERV)

This is one of the most powerful passages in the New Testament regarding baptism.

As two authors have noted:

“The “circumcision done by Christ” (2: 11) in this context refers, not to a removal of a small portion of the flesh, but to the stripping off of the whole sinful nature. The Colossian Christians had stripped off their “sinful nature,” had been buried with Christ in baptism and, by the power of God, they had been raised with Christ. By baptism they had related both to the death and to the resurrection of Christ. In Romans the baptized died to sin (6: 11) and began to live a “new life” (6: 4). In Colossians the baptized were circumcised of their “sinful nature” (2: 11) and God had made them “alive with Christ” (2: 13). As Beasley-Murray recalled, The structure of Rom. 6.3-4 was thought to be dependent on the primary elements of the primitive kerygma: ‘Christ died . . . was buried, and has been raised’ (I Cor. 15.3 f). These elements are even more clearly discernable in our passage . . . Christ’s body was stripped off in his death, He was buried, He was raised; in Him the Colossian Christians stripped off their body of flesh, were buried with Him in baptism and were raised with him therein (1962: 152-153). Although in one sense baptism is physical, in a deeper sense, baptism is a spiritual act, a spiritual burial and a spiritual resurrection. Likewise, the circumcision the Colossians underwent was not “done by the hands of men” (2: 11). Rather, it was a spiritual circumcision which occurred in baptism when the “sinful” nature was put off.” (George Beasley-Murray, Dean S. Gilliland, Baptism Why Wait?: Faith’s Response in Conversion, 2088-2099 (Kindle Edition))

Several things about this passage are worthy of notice.

First, we are reminded that baptism is an individual response. The passage automatically excludes any thought of “infant baptism” with the assertion that the one being baptized was doing so with “faith” in the working of God. Infants cannot have faith; therefore, they are unable to undergo this act of baptism. This is in harmony with the rest of the teaching of the New Testament, which affirms that a person must be taught God’s Word before he may come to the Lord (Mark 16:15-16; John 6:44-45; Acts 2:41; 18:8).

Second, the passage is clear that baptism is an immersion in water. Baptism is not sprinkling and pouring of water; it is a burial in water (cf. Romans 6:3-4). It is an act where the baptized goes down into the water and comes back out (Acts 8:38-39). Baptism is likened to a planting (Romans 6:5-7). John baptized where there was “much water” (John 3:23). All of these are clear indicators and reminders of the nature of baptism being immersion in water.

Third, the text makes it clear that baptism is essential for salvation. It is in this act of baptism that our sins are removed or “cut off” by the power of the Lord.

As another student has noted:

“Verse 11 says we have been circumcised in a non-physical sense (“ without hands”), that is, we have experienced a spiritual circumcision. This is called a “removal of the body of the flesh.” This is similar to physical circumcision, which is the removal of a piece of the physical body. But in spiritual circumcision “the body of the flesh” refers to our old way of life or our old sinful nature, not the physical body as such or any part of it. In baptism this old sinful aspect of our being is circumcised away; it dies and is disposed of. Herein lies the identification with Romans 6, where dying with Christ to sin means “that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with” (6: 6). The “old self” (literally, “old man”) and the “body of sin” in Romans are the same as “the body of the flesh” in Colossians. In baptism, by the power of the death of Christ with which we are thus united, this old self is put to death and put off (removed) in a spiritual act analogous to physical circumcision, then left buried in the waters of baptism. (See also Colossians 2: 13, which refers to the sinner’s condition as a state of “the uncircumcision of your flesh.” 2) When Colossians 2: 12 says this takes place “in baptism,” it is affirming what the whole New Testament assumes and teaches, namely, that baptism is an act of salvation. It does not say this happens “before baptism” or “after baptism,” but specifically and clearly in baptism. This shows that we must at least say that baptism is the time or occasion during which God bestows salvation upon the sinner. The fact that “having been buried” is an aorist participle shows that this act (of baptism) precedes or is at least simultaneous with the act of spiritual circumcision in verse 11. Though baptism is thus accorded a very high place in the plan of salvation, we must emphasize that it does not take the place of Christ and His saving blood. Indeed the focus of this passage, like all other Biblical teaching about baptism, is upon Jesus Christ. Baptism brings about this spiritual circumcision only because in it we are buried with Christ. It is still His power, the power of His death, that accomplishes this saving deed. Indeed, verse 11 calls it “the circumcision of Christ.” This means it is a circumcision accomplished by Christ and His divine power, not a circumcision accomplished upon Christ, as some want to interpret it. More importantly, it is something He does to us and for us, not something we do for ourselves.” (Jack Cottrell, Baptism: A Biblical Study by Jack Cottrell, 1797-1814 (Kindle Edition); Joplin, Missouri; College Press Publishing Company)

Have you received the circumcision of Christ in baptism?

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