Meditations in Colossians 2: 13: Circumcised?
Col 2:11 In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ,
There are times when Paul is very Jewish and uses Jewish pictures, ideas and concepts. Now is one such time. Those of us who have been Christians a long time may well have got so used to this that we no longer even notice it, but I have wondered if, when Paul wrote, he realised his writings were going to be read across the world and down through the centuries whether he would have used such language.
Let’s be blunt and not appear coy about this: circumcision was the cutting off of the male foreskin when the baby was only a few days old. It was a practice called on by God of Abraham (Gen 17:11,12) as “the sign of the covenant between me and you.” (v.11). There could be no more intimate ‘sign’ and the Jewish male would be reminded of this covenant every day. In one sense perhaps, it could be said the Jewish male lost a piece of himself to God and its absence was the reminder of the covenant on a daily basis.
But note how Paul starts this verse: “In him”. A little earlier he had written, “just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him,” (Col 2:6,7) This phrase, or the phrase, “in Christ”, is a familiar one in the New Testament writings. When we become a Christian and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we become part of ‘the body of Christ’, the church, and so he is in us and we are ‘in him’. This concept should act as a reminder to us of who we are and what is expected of us: “you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God.” (1 Pet 2:9,10)
So he now speaks to us as God’s people, indwelt by the Spirit and part of the body of Christ, but uses this Jewish experience language to emphasise what has happened to us when we came to Christ and explains it: “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature.” Again this concept of “the old nature” or “the flesh” as some older versions put it is a familiar one in the New Testament.
Paul used it when writing to the Romans: “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin — because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” (Rom 6:6,7) and to the Ephesians, “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Eph 4:22-24) and to the Colossians, “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Col 3:9,10)
Sometimes Paul simply referred to it as the “sinful nature” as to the Ephesians: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” (Eph 2:1-3) and the Romans, “For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death.” (Rom 7:5 also Rom 8:3,4,5,8,9. etc.). In each case, as we noted above, the translators put in a page note that alternatively this could be, as in older versions, ‘the flesh’, simply meaning life lived that is utterly self-focused. I have often defined Sin as ‘self-centred godlessness resulting in unrighteousness’ and that’s how our ‘old’ lives, our lives before we met Christ, were characterized, self-centred and godless.
The question has to be asked of many modern so-called Christians, is your life still characterized by self-centredness (pleasing self, esteeming self and honouring self) and godlessness (lacking awareness of God or interaction with Him)? The alternative question is, is your life now characterised by the fruit of the Spirit who indwells you and are you God-focussed in all; you do?
To make sure we understand what he is getting at, Paul concludes the verse, “not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ,” i.e. I am not talking about a physical circumcision but by the work of cutting you free from your old life that Christ HAS DONE in you by forgiving and cleansing you (to separate you off from the guilt of the past), putting his Holy Spirit within you to empower you to live a new life, and adopting you into his family, to give you a new identity. Christ has done this; all it requires is for us to live it. We’ll see more of this in the next verse in the next meditation.