13. Circumcised?

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.

27. Conflicting Lives

Meditations in Romans : 27:  Conflicting Lives

Rom 7:15     I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

Paul is a thorough teacher. He has been driving home this point that we cannot be saved by keeping the Law  and so now he gives what are almost personal examples of the struggles that he finds going on in himself. There are those who consider these verses describe Paul’s past life, what went on before he was saved, but I suggest that he is dealing with the whole of life – before and after salvation. We still, as Christians, have these struggles and it is still Jesus and his Holy Spirit who helps us overcome – and that is a daily battle. Yes, it does become less when we have surrendered to God but the old nature is still lurking there in the background and so dying to sin and dying to the law and being alive to God is both something that happens at a one off crisis point of life AND an ongoing process.  Do you remember when Paul said to Timothy, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.” (1 Tim 1:15)?  Note the tense – I AM the worst. Yes, he is redeemed but he knows what he is and he knows that on a daily basis he needs the saving work of Jesus Christ.

So let’s see what he now says. He starts this new paragraph concluding what he has just been saying: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” (v.14) It’s not that the Law is wrong because it originates with God and it is God’s design for human beings – Israel. No, the Law is spiritual; the problem is in me, because it makes me realise that I am unspiritual and I am a salve to sin. There is no way I can get free from this slavery. Wherever I turn I am made aware of it! Indeed, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (v.15) I don’t know about this life of mine.

On one hand I want to be good but all the time I realise I fall short and even the best of my intentions are self-centred. I want to do good, but I can’t. But it gets worse for I know things about myself that I hate. I can be utterly selfish and utterly unconcerned for God and for others. It’s not what I want to be, but I realise that’s what I am like. I desperately need help because I can’t change this on my own.

I don’t know if you have ever come to this point of realization about yourself; it’s a humbling thing and it’s the one thing that drives us into the arms of Jesus. If you think you are a good person at heart, you really don’t know yourself. If you really want to risk your peace of mind, ask the Lord to show you yourself as you really are. It’s not a pretty sight!  But it does make us realise why we need Jesus.

He goes on, And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.” (v.16). It’s like he says, there is this conflict within me, for I know I do things I don’t want to do but at the same time I’ve been brought up to know that the Law from God is good –yet I still can’t keep it perfectly and nothing less than perfection in keeping it makes me a righteous rule-keeper (implied).  He realises the truth of his state: “As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.” (v.17) If my mind says this is how you ought to behave, but I find myself acting contrary to that, I realise that it is this predisposition within me, this thing called Sin, this commitment to self that I have been born with, that makes me act as I do. The truth is that, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” (v.18a) There is this inner me that is in conflict with the rational me, an inner me that wants to do its own thing, the inner me that is godless and self-centred, the inner me that leads me to think, say and do wrong things.

You want to know the reality of these things – even in you as a Christian today? So somebody in church starts malicious rumours about you and everyone in the church believes them. How do you react? Yes, it is unjust and unfair. Do you approach the elders calmly or do you find a defensive hostility rising within you against that person? Have you labelled them as your enemy and, if so, have you failed to pray for them? (Mt 5:44) Less than a perfect Christ-like response indicates the presence of ‘the old nature’, and we need the grace of Christ to overcome.  Yes, Paul speaks for us when he says, “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (v.18b) I would love to always be loving, caring, accepting, compassionate and full of grace, but there are times when I feel far from that.

He reiterates what he has already said, to drive home the point: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing.” (v.19) If I could live by pure will power it might be all right, yet my will says one thing but my actions are something else. This is the dilemma of the human race. We struggle with it and we try to reject it by one means or another, but this IS the truth about us – every one of us – and so every one of us need Christ’s deliverance.

His conclusion? “Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (v.20)  There is a power within me that needs breaking, that needs overcoming by a greater power. This ‘Sin’ within me seems so powerful there seems no way that I can overcome it because as much as I would like to be different, I cannot be that. He keeps on reiterating this in the next few verses: “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members.” (v.21-23) His mind, his reason, his logic, his desired will, says one thing but it is like there is another him at odds with all that, that does its own thing, so although in his mind he delights in God’s law, when it comes to obeying it, that’s something completely different.

He feels in desperation: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (v.24) He can’t do it; he needs outside help. Who is there? Of course the Gospel answer comes back: “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v.25) God has done through Jesus what I can’t do. Hallelujah!

You may think that these meditations – and indeed Paul in chapter 7 – have laboured these things but until we see the reality of them. We will never fully appreciate our need and the work of Christ on our behalf. If you still don’t fully see it, pray and ask the Lord to open the eyes of your heart and understanding.