This sermon was preached at Christ Covenant Church, Nov. 7, 2010
Our text this morning is taken from the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, the 10th through the 12th verse. Later today we will be baptizing one from our own fellowship, and so I want to take this occasion to present to us all a few of the many aspects of this practice of baptism, some background to its significance, and what it is to represent to every Christian that has ever submitted themselves to Jesus’ command to be baptized.
“And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: 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: buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.” – Col. 2:10-12
Notice with me first from this passage the comfort Paul offers the believer; you are complete in Christ. He is your all in all. His life, His death, and His resurrection are sufficient for our salvation. In theological terms, Jesus has justified you, He is sanctifying you through the power of the Holy Spirit, and Jesus is the firstfruits of those who will one day be glorified in the Resurrection. So, as we consider our text today, know first, if you are a disciple of Christ, you are complete in Him, He is your Alpha and Omega, your beginning and your end, your all in all.
Now, notice with me though, before Paul leads us in a discussion about baptism, he first takes us through a few comments about the matter of circumcision. As so, I want to consider the issue before us because, as Paul lays it out here, a right understanding of circumcision will lead us into a right understanding of the significance of baptism. Paul here appears to contrast two different kinds or types of circumcision; he says we, as believers, are circumcised, but in contrast to a circumcision made with hands, as would be normally understood, he here states that we are of a circumcision ‘made without hands’. What then is the meaning of Paul’s words here?
First consider the circumcision made with hands. God instituted this rite with the patriarch Abraham to be a physical covenant sign between Himself, Abraham and Abraham’s posterity. We read of the institution of this practice in the 17th chapter of Genesis, “10 This is my covenant, which ye shall keep, between me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised. 11 And ye shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you.”
Circumcision then was to be this national badge, this mark of consecration, setting apart a people, a nation, covenanted together with God, and who was distinguished by this sign showing their status as members of the covenant. Even physical circumcision held some rich significance – the cutting that was required demonstrated God’s carving out for Himself a people. It was painful, reminding the man of the cost of being in covenant with God and his need to forsake the carnal nature and serve the Lord. It was permanent; once circumcised, you might apostatize, and you might forsake God, but with you is the constant token that would you would always carry, reminding you of your duty to the one true God. So this circumcision, made WITH hands, served for a season that that emblem which denoted the people of God.
But Paul goes on to speak of another circumcision, one made, not by physical hands. not wrought upon our physical body, but of a circumcision ‘made without hands’. To what is he speaking of here? First of all, even under the administration of the old circumcision, the one made with hands, we find hints and clues that it was not sufficient, that it didn’t go far enough in marking out who does and who does not truly belong to the Lord. It was an approximation, it gave a general view of the covenant, but it was not refined, it was not concise, and therefore it was not sufficient. We find evidence of the need for a more refined circumcision, a more clearly defined line of demarcation even in the pages of the Old Testament. For example, in Deut. 30:6, Moses states that God is not satisfied with only a physical circumcision but that as we read, “the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” You see? The covenant cuts much deeper than that originally thought. It is more than skin deep. Even under the old administration we begin to see the need for a much deeper significance, and a fuller purpose behind the pratice of circumcision. In fact, we read of a circumcision, made without hands upon the heart of man.
Again in Jeremiah 4:4, we read the command for men, not to surrender to circumcision of the flesh, but to surrender their hearts, their souls to God. Listen; “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, and take away the foreskins of your heart, ye men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: lest my fury come forth like fire, and burn that none can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.” Now listen beloved, the only truly circumcised persons; and they are such who have been pricked to the heart, and thoroughly convinced of sin; who have had the hardness of their hearts removed, and the impurity of it laid open to them; which they have beheld with shame and loathing, and have felt an inward pain on account of it; and who have been enabled to deny themselves, to renounce their own righteousness, and put off the body of the sins of the flesh have truly been circumcised.
Paul, in the New Testament even clearly states for us that the physical circumcision of the Old Covenant, that instituted by God with Abraham and to his posterity finds its ultimate fulfillment in the circumcision of the heart of the faithful. Turn with me to Romans chapter 2, read verses 28-29. Circumcision as found in the former covenant finds fulfillment in the New Covenant as God circumcises our hearts unto Himself. This is the circumcision made not with hands, it is made by the Spirit in our heart, and in Christ. What was Stephens’s accusation against those who circumcised Jews, including Saul, who were persecuting him? What rebuke did he have for them? In Acts 7:51 we read Stephens words saying, “Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye.” It is not circumcision of the flesh that mattered. It had been replaced. It had been fulfilled by the circumcision that is of the heart.
This is what Paul is getting at in our passage in Colossians. “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“. This is imperative to understand for a couple of reasons. First, there are those who would have us believe that it is baptism in the New Testament that replaces circumcision of the Old. But nowhere in the pages of sacred Writ is that analogy ever written. As both Testaments bear witness to, physical circumcision points us towards the greater need, the desperate need every person has to be circumcised of the heard by almighty God. What God accepted at one time outwardly, He now requires inwardly. What once marked His people outwardly, now marks them as His covenant people inwardly. The cutting off is no longer of flesh, but works of the flesh, sin, iniquity, a rebellion against God. As Paul says elsewhere, the old things have passed away, behold now all things are made new.
Now what does this have to do with baptism? Since this was to be a sermon about baptism, I ought to at least mention it in a few closing comments. Paul concludes our passage today saying those circumcised of the heart have been “buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead”. You know, and this is why baptism is significant, circumcision can be messy. In the Old Testament it was bloody. But it’s really no less bloody today. Because we come to God by the blood of Christ. As He was cut off from the Father for our sakes, we now are commanded to cut off our old self and live in the regeneration of the Spirit. And baptism points us towards the cleansing that comes AFTER cutting has been made. After we have been circumcised of the heart and the old self is cast off, we surrender to Christ, and He commands us to be baptized to show the regenerating power of the Spirit, to cleanse us, purify us, and wash our sin stained hearts. You don’t take a bath before you get dirty, you get a bath after you make the mess. Likewise, as we approach baptism, may it be with the attitude that we have been cut to quick, circumcised in our heart, leaving us in need to cleansing; and that baptism symbolizes the washing Jesus gave us to make us clean, to make us holy unto Himself.
So as we consider the significance of baptism, may it be with a view towards the purifying work of the Holy Spirit upon our circumcised hearts. Physical circumcision pointed God’s people towards the need, not only to be set apart outwardly, but that the more pressing need, the most vital aspects of circumcision take place when God cuts us out for Himself and replaces that heart of stone with a heart of flesh. First we’re cut, then were cleaned. First we’re circumcised, not of the flesh, but of the Spirit, and them we’re to be baptized, burying our sin and our guilt in the grave, and we rise in newness of life, that cleanness being represented by the waters of our baptism.
But as Paul says, we are raised through faith. Faith is the key. It was by faith that Abraham was justified, and it is by faith we are justified. It isn’t circumcision that saved the Jew, and it isn’t baptism that saves you or me. It is in and by faith in Christ Jesus. Have you been circumcised in your heart? Have you been rendered unto God’s service by the cutting off of the old man, and raised in newness of life? Then come, be baptized, and live as one who have been cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. I want to close with one last verse. Philippians 3:3, “For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.” Amen.