This week we’ve been studying Colossians 2:8-15, starting here, and Paul has commanded the Christians not to be held captive by empty philosophy based on the traditions of humankind. I suggested in part 3 of this week’s series of posts that a couple of those empty philosophies impacting contemporary evangelical Christians in America are Trumpism and White Christian Nationalism. You can read that post here, a post in which I claim that Christians should place those ideologies in the category of heresy. Heresy is false teaching. It is by definition that which is not true. So what is the truth? Take a look at what Paul says next in Colossians 2, verses 9-15. Paul is writing the truth. Gospel truth.
First, in verse 9, Paul writes that Christ is head over all. Christ is supreme. In Christ all the fullness of deity lives, meaning that Paul is saying that Jesus was not just some guy. He is God. Fully God. But what is amazing is that we, too, have been given fullness in Christ. Our sustenance, our hope, our promise, our life, everything we are, is in Christ.
I will admit that in the daily busyness and business of life, it can be hard to know what to do with a statement like that. We can be so focused on the normal stuff of life that it can be hard to understand how we are in Christ. Or that we have fullness in Christ. Hold that thought, as Paul continues explaining this truth.
Look at verse 10 as he continues to describe what it means that we are in Christ. Get ready, because verse 10 is…weird. Paul says, “In him you were circumcised.” Circumcised? What in the world, Paul? What is he talking about here? Don’t you think that circumcision is really strange to mention? As if it is maybe the last thing you’d be thinking of? Actually, circumcision gets mentioned a lot in the Bible. I don’t know about you, but circumcision is not a common topic in my life. Paul mentions it, however, in a bunch of his letters.
Why? Because circumcision was the mark that set the Jewish people apart from the rest of the people groups around them, starting with their ancestor Abraham. Much of what Paul is doing in his letters is making the case that Christians do not need to follow the ethnic regulations of Jewish law. There were in Paul’s day Jewish Christians who believed that non-Jewish Christians DID need to follow the Jewish Law. In other words, those Jewish Christians believed that new Christians should not only become followers of Jesus, those new Christians should also convert to Judaism. How will they show that they have converted to Judaism? They would get circumcised. We’re talking about literal surgery here, in the flesh, as Paul puts it.
But Paul says, “No!” There is a different kind of circumcision that happens in Christians. It is a symbolic circumcision, and it is in Christ. Paul explains in verse 12 that in this symbolic circumcision there is a thematic connection to baptism, which is also figuratively related to the death and resurrection of Jesus. In baptism, we go under the water, which depicts to Jesus’ death and burial. When we rise up out of the water, we depict Jesus’ resurrection. Paul says that underlying all this is the act of placing our faith in God who raised Jesus from the dead.
See how Paul summarizes this in verse 13: we were dead in our sins, which he also calls the uncircumcision of our flesh, but God made us alive in Christ. From death to life. Dead in sin, alive in Christ. There is a death that takes place, and there is a new life.
Do you see how this is connected to circumcision? There is a cutting off of a fleshly part of us. By that, Paul is equating “flesh” with the idea of “sinful nature.” When we place our faith in Jesus, of course we are not dying in our actual physical bodies, like Jesus did. There is not an actual, physical surgery of circumcision that takes place. Instead, when we place our faith in Jesus, what is cut off, or cut out, of our lives, is an enslavement to the sinful nature, making us alive in Christ, free to pursue his nature, to become like him.
Check back in to the final post in this series on Colossians 2:8-15, as we’ll talk further about the ramifications of this truth for our lives.