IVB1: In Christ You Have a Circumcision Made Without Hands - Page 1 (series: Lessons on Colossians)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

When Jesus Christ died and rose again, He won a complete and final victory over sin.

When Jesus Christ died and rose again, He won a complete and final victory over sin.

Tom Lowe

IVB1: In Christ You Have a Circumcision Made Without Hands (Col. 2:11-12)
• “Special Notes” and “Scripture” follow associated verses.
• NIV Bible is used throughout unless noted otherwise.

Colossians 2:11-12 (NIV)

(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, (12) having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raise him from the dead.


There were two principal errors lying at the root of the heresy that was doing so much damage at Colossae.
1. They made the theological error of substituting inferior and created angelic mediators for the divine Head Himself.
2. They made a practical error, in insisting upon ritual and harsh observances as the foundation of moral teaching.

Thus their theological speculations and ethical code alike were at fault. Both errors flowed from a common source―the false conception that evil resides in matter, a fruitful source of many fatal heresies. Some contend the Colossians could not be complete in Christ without submitting to the Jewish rite of circumcision; but the apostle showed that they were the subjects of a superior circumcision.


All through the history of Israel there had been two views of circumcision. There was the view of those who said that in itself it was enough to put a man right with God. It didn’t matter whether an Israelite was a good man or a bad man; all that mattered was that he was an Israelite and that he had been circumcised. But the great spiritual leaders of Israel and the great prophets took a very different view. They insisted that circumcision was only the outward mark of a man who was inwardly dedicated to God. They used the very word in an adventurous sense. They talked of uncircumcised lips (Exodus 6:12), of a heart that was circumcised or uncircumcised (Leviticus 26:41; Ezekiel 44:7, 9; Deut. 30:6), of the uncircumcised ear (Jer. 6:10). To them being circumcised did not mean having a certain operation carried out on a man’s flesh but having a change take place in his life.

Remember that the false teaching that threatened the Colossian church was made up of several different elements; Oriental mysticism, astrology, philosophy, and Jewish legalism. It is the latter element that Paul dealt with in this section of his letter. Apparently, the false teachers insisted that their converts submit to circumcision and obey the Old Testament Law.

Paul made it clear that the Christian is not subject in any way to the Old Testament legal system, nor can it do him any good spiritually. Jesus Christ alone is sufficient for our every spiritual need, for all of God’s fullness is in Him. We are identified with Jesus Christ because He is the Head of the body (Colossians 1:18) and we are members of the body (1 Cor. 12:12-13). It is not necessary for the believer to submit to Circumcision, because he has already experienced a spiritual circumcision through his identification with Jesus Christ.

Christ is more than adequate in His ministry as Savior. After Paul emphatically states, “ye are complete in Him” (2:10), he unfolds the glories of God’s saving work. Verses 11-15 of chapter 2 serve as the theological high point of this letter. God saves us through Christ through spiritual circumcision, for Christ’s death proved to be death for the flesh of those who trust Him. God also saves us by raising us to new life with Christ.


(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,

It was because the Colossians were in Christ through the miracle of faith in His finished work that they possessed and enjoyed the privileges that were the results of SPIRITUAL CIRCUMCISION, one “not made with hands”―that is, a nonphysical one. But surely someone may say Paul spent most of the letter to the Galatians in proving that the Christian has no need for Circumcision? Yes, but Paul here is thinking not of the Jewish rite but of its Christian equivalent, baptism. He says that the Colossian Christians “were . . . circumcised, by putting off . . . the sinful nature . . . with the circumcision done by Christ.” Why then should such privileged sons of God return to the things of the flesh and to the ordinances of men?

The allusion in the last phrase―“the circumcision done by Christ”―is to Christ’s own parting with His flesh, His death, which He had called a “baptism.” When Christ stripped off His physical body, He was inaugurating that death to self and the old nature in which the Christian is united with Him through baptism. For when at baptism a man is joined with Christ, he shares in the virtue of all that Christ did for him by His dying and rising.

The circumcision made without hands is clearly opposed to that which is made with man’s hands. Paul, when he wrote his epistle to the Ephesians, made this comment: “Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called uncircumcised by those who call themselves ‘the circumcision’ (that done in the body by the hands of men)” (Ephesians 2:11). Jewish males were circumcised as a sign of the Jews covenant with God (Genesis 17:9-14; Deut. 10:16). With the death of Christ circumcision was no longer necessary. Now our commitment to God is written on our souls, not our bodies. In baptism we let God operate on our souls to put off the old nature and to make room for the new nature. True spiritual circumcision consists in putting off, renouncing, and casting away with disgust the whole body of our corrupt nature―the entire fleshly system. The whole bulk of sin is fitly compared to a body, because of the weight of guilt there is in it (Romans 7:24), and the soul is completely controlled by it, as it is with our natural body (Genesis 6:5{2]). When the heart is circumcised, the total mass of sin is put off, as the serpent puts off its skin, the deliveryman puts off his packages, the beggar his rags, and the master his dishonest servant. Old things pass away; all things become new.

The doctrine of spiritual circumcision as declared by Paul was not a new doctrine; it occurs many times in the Old Testament in different forms. When Israel was still in the wilderness the divine command from Almighty God was given: “Circumcise the foreskin of your heart”; and at the same time, the divine promise was given: “And the Lord thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the Lord thy God with all of thine heart and with all of thy soul, that thou may live.”

To God’s chosen people, Jeremiah gave the command, “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem . . .” (Jeremiah 4:4). Jeremiah describes the hard-hearted people this way: “Behold their ear is uncircumcised.” Speaking of the whole house of Israel, he cried out that they were “uncircumcised in the heart.” Ezekiel, Stephen, and Paul used the same or similar words―Read Acts 7:51, Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4, 6:10, 9:26; Ezekiel 44:7.

The circumcision not made with hands but “by Christ” brings about “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh.” Flesh here denotes corrupted humanity (Romans 7:23{3; Galatians 5:16; Ephesians2:2.] Man is totally depraved and the body of flesh is hopelessly incurable. Paul contrasts here the circumcision of the flesh with the circumcision of Christ: Circumcision as having to do with the Law of Moses was limited, whereas circumcision in Christ puts away the entire body of the flesh and we are no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit: “but ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any

Spiritual circumcision is not separate from regeneration . . . it is one and the same. Spiritual Circumcision is neither a second work of grace nor an added work of grace . . . it occurs when we are made new through the miracle of the new birth. Spiritual circumcision is a singular blessing which can be given only by the Christ in whom dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily, and in whom abide all the wells of salvation with their blessings. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Circumcision as having to do with the Law of Moses declared that the Hebrew manchild, at the age of eight days, was to be circumcised―thus identifying him with God’s chosen people; but the circumcision in Christ is the privilege of all―there is no distinction, there is no age limit, sex or nation. It belongs to “whosoever will.” Everyone is included, not one is excluded.

When Jesus Christ died and rose again, He won a complete and final victory over sin. He not only died for our sins (salvation), but He died unto sin (sanctification; Romans 6:10). What the Law could not do, Jesus Christ accomplished for us. The old nature (“the body of the sins of the flesh”) was put off― rendered inoperative―so that we need no longer be enslaved to its desires. The old sinful nature is not eradicated, for we can still sin (1 John 1:5-2:6). But the power has been broken as we yield to Christ and walk in the power of the Spirit.

Scripture and Special Notes
[2} “The LORD saw that human evil was growing more and more throughout the earth, with every inclination of people’s thoughts becoming only evil on a continuous basis.” (Genesis 6:5)
[3} “but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” (Romans 7:23) Another law.―A different law. "In my members," i.e., that has its chief seat of activity in my members. This is the law of sin, which is ready to take advantage of every fleshly impulse.

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