In whom also you are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands…
Errors in religion, when taught sincerely, are intended to secure spiritual blessings (e.g. purity by austerities; peace of conscience and assurance of pardon by confession and priestly absolution). But the truth of our completeness in Christ strikes at the root of all such errors, for it assures us that all the blessings we can need may be gained direct from him. In ver. 10 we learn that the headship of Christ is our guarantee that we are not dependent upon any intermediate superhuman power. In vers. 11-15 we are reminded that the personal blessings which external rites were designed to secure are ours if we are Christ's.
I. PURITY. Judaizing teachers taught the necessity of circumcision even by Gentile converts as a means of purification and salvation. St. Paul teaches the Colossians that they have no need of this, because, by union with Christ, they receive that inward purity of which circumcision was a type (ver. 11; Romans 2:28, 29). Moses and the prophets had seen through the type (Deuteronomy 10:16; Deuteronomy 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4). The believer's circumcision is distinguished from that which was typical of it in these particulars:
1. In its character; spiritual, not external, wrought not by bands but by the Spirit himself.
2. In its extent; it puts off, not a mere morsel of the flesh, but "the body of the flesh," the whole body of carnal affections.
3. Its Author; it is the circumcision, not of Moses (John 7:22) for a nation, but of Christ for all believers (Philippians 3:3). And as Paul speaks here of spiritual circumcision, so does he also of spiritual baptism. His argument is not, "You need not be circumcised because you have been baptized." Here he speaks highly of some baptism "wherein ye were also raised," etc. Elsewhere he clearly denies the doctrine of regeneration by baptism (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 with 1 Corinthians 4:15). It would be strange if here he spoke disparagingly of "hand-wrought" circumcision, and then passed on immediately to speak of the spiritual efficacy of "hand-wrought" baptism. This would be to introduce the very element of ceremonialism and ritualism which he is here denouncing. Many, never baptized with water, are now "in Christ," in glory. It is the spiritual baptism alone in which we are buried and raised with Christ (Romans 6:3-5). The one great baptism of the New Testament is that of the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:8; Acts 1:5). Of that, baptism by water is a beautiful emblem. But in Paul's Epistles he generally speaks of that "one baptism" rather than of baptism with water. Here he speaks of a spiritual circumcision, a spiritual death and burial and resurrection, and a spiritual baptism. The baptism by the Holy Spirit is that purification of the soul from the love and dominion of sin by which we are set apart, consecrated to a course like Christ's, to a spiritual history of which our Lord's earthly history was typical as well as causal. By union with him we are "crucified with Christ," "dead to the Law," dead with Christ," "buried with him," "risen with him," "sitting with him in the heavenly places." If the apostle here makes an allusion to water baptism, which was symbolic of the higher baptism, his argument does not rest on, but is opposed to, the supposition that" it is in that font, and when we are in it, that the first breath of [the new] life is drawn." Nor can we see that the lowering of a body into a bath and the lifting it up again is a significant and striking symbol of the burial and resurrection of Christ, especially when we remember how different the customs of burial among Jews and Romans were from our own. However, the main truth of these verses is clearly that in Christ we have purity. "He is made unto us of God sanctification." Every pure motive, every good resolution, every holy impulse is from him. Our entire renunciation of sin ("the putting off of the body of the flesh") is through the power of his purifying Spirit (Galatians 2:19, 20; Galatians 6:14, 15). By faith in God, who by his Divine power raised the dead body of our Saviour from the tomb (Ephesians 1:19, 20), we too are "raised with him," etc. (ver. 12). Whatever he who has raised us prescribes as means of attaining greater purity, we will revere and observe; but we reject new fangled methods of holiness "after the tradition of men" (Psalm 119:128).
II. "JUSTIFICATION OF LIFE." This Pauline phrase (Romans 5:18) sums up the blessings described in vers. 13, 14. We regard Christ as the Subject of the whole sentence. He is one with his Father in the work of quickening (John 5:21; Ephesians 2:1-5), and of pardoning (Colossians 3:13; Ephesians 4:32). But in order to accomplish this Divine work of giving life, there needed the no less Divine work of providing justification. For there was what Paul describes as a document in existence, which was a barrier to our pardon. It was God's Law, not merely for the Jews (Romans 3:19), but for the Gentiles (Romans 2:14, 15), which "worketh wrath" (Romans 4:15). But Jesus Christ, in whom "dwelleth," etc. (ver. 9), has removed the barrier, he had power to forgive sins "on earth" (Mark 2:10), and has it still (Acts 5:31). The value of Christ's obedience unto death as an atonement for sin is constantly taken for granted by the apostle. He was not sent to prove it, but to "deliver" it and testify to it (1 Corinthians 15:3; 1 Timothy 2:6). By Christ's vicarious sacrifice the ransom is given, the bond is cancelled, the document is annulled, and our sins may be blotted out (Isaiah 43:25; Matthew 18:21-35; Matthew 20:28). We are redeemed from the curse of the Law. As the instrument of our condemnation, it is taken out of the way; it is crucified with Christ, nailed to his cross. According to Paul's allegory in Romans 2:1-4, the Law, a holy but inexorable husband, is dead, and we are joined to a no less holy but a loving Lord and Saviour. The conditions of acceptance with God and final salvation are no longer "The man that doeth these things shall live by them," but "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" (Hebrews 3:14; 1 Peter 1:9). What need have we of other means of forgiveness? of angelic intercessors or absolving priests or eucharistic sacrifices? "In him ye are made full."
III. DELIVERANCE FROM OUR INFERNAL FOES. Christ in his fleshly nature was exposed to the assaults of sin and of the evil one throughout his life (Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:13) till the last day of it (Luke 22:53; John 14:30). But on the cross his life of humiliation and strife came to an end (Romans 6:10). His cry, "It is finished!" declared that his work of conflict, as well as his work of atonement, was ended. He put off from himself once for all and forever the hostile principalities and powers (cf. John 12:31; Hebrews 2:14; 1 John 3:8). The entrance of Christ into Jerusalem, commonly called his triumphal entry, is nowhere called his triumph in the New Testament. His triumph was on the cross. The powers of darkness plotted his death, and by his death they received their deadly blow. The malefactor's cross became the victor's car (Romans 14:9; Philippians 2:7-11; Revelation 1:18). This victory is for us who are "in Christ." Satan and all his allies (Ephesians 6:11, 12) who work through the world and the flesh are conquered foes; they know it, and we do too (Romans 6:14; Romans 8:37-39; Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:14). We need no other allies in this conflict, no mystic methods of exploring the secrets or annulling the power of our spiritual foes (Philippians 4:13). - E.S.P.
Parallel VersesKJV: In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: