According to Christ
I. According to Christ (Vs. 9-10)
Last week we had a detailed look at verse eight. Paul warns the church to be watchful of the philosophy, empty deceit, human traditions, and elementary principles. Each of these are not according to Christ. Paul, in the following verses, speaks what is according to Christ. The first word in verse nine shows this connection. They are not according to Christ because they are empty and hollow. However, in Christ, the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily. Paul echoes his previous statement from Colossians 1:19, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Jesus Christ, the second person of the trinity, took on flesh and dwelt among man in the body of a man. The two whole, perfect and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person (Cf. WCF 8.2). The Nicaean Creed (325 AD) and Constantinopolitan Creed (381 AD) explain this that Christ is “very God of very God.” Why would you turn to empty and hollow teachings? The Colossian church acted like Christ was not sufficient and turned to elementary principles and angel worship (Col 2:18).
Paul then continues showing that the saints in Colossae have been filled with him (Col 2:10a). Union with Christ is again an important factor. If you have been filled with Christ, why would you turn to anything else? Paul uses the verb form of ‘fullness’ (Col 2:9) when he writes ‘filled in him’ (Col 2:10). The verbal form used in verse ten is found in the perfect tense, which often carries ‘past action with present consequences.’ Paul is not saying as Christ is fully God, then we are now deity. Because Christ is supreme and sufficient, we are complete in Him. John 1:16 says, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” Paul repeats that Christ is the head of all rulers and authorities (Col 2:10b). One commentator says that verses 9-10 are a summary of Colossians 1:15-20. Why would you worship and pray to angels if you have access to Christ, who is supreme over all rulers and authorities? These two verses lay the foundation for what Paul will discuss in the following verses; Verse 9 will be explained in verse 14. Verse 10a will be illustrated in 11-13, and verse 10b will be presented in verse 15.
a) Circumcision without hands (Vs. 11-13)
We have found many verses in Colossians that have caused a lot of ink to be spilled. Colossians 2:11-12 is no exception, mainly what is meant by the circumcision of Christ (Col 2:11b). First, we need to understand what circumcision means and represents in the Scriptures. We need to turn back to Genesis 17:1-14. Genesis 12 God called Abram and told him he would make of him a great nation. Genesis 15 God makes a covenant with Abram, Abram was caused to go into a great sleep, and God himself walked through the two halves of the heifer, goat, and ram. God established the covenant of Grace with Abraham and his offspring. The sign of the covenant was given to Abram in Genesis 17. Circumcision was a bloody rite of admission into the covenant community (Cf. Ex 4:24-26; Heb 9:22). However, Abraham was not saved by circumcision, as Paul explains in Romans 4:11-12. The mystery that was somewhat concealed in the Old Testament is now revealed in the New Testament. Circumcision was never a sign of Salvation; but, a sign and seal of the covenant promises. Physically circumcision was simply the external sign of being a part of the team. However, physical circumcision and physical descendants of Abraham are not automatically saved, but if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring (Gal 3:29).
Circumcision was a seal of Abraham’s righteousness (Rom 4:11). Circumcision is not merely outward or physical but was always about the heart. Deuteronomy 30:6 says, “And the Lord, your God, will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Cf. Deut 10:16; Jer 4:4, 9:26). Everyone has always been saved through faith and grace alone. This is why you can find women in the hall of faith in Hebrews 11. They had a circumcised heart (Cf. Heb 11: 11, 31). This is the point that Paul makes in Romans 2:28-29, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but God.” Paul in Colossians 2:11 can then say to the mostly gentile church that they are ‘circumcised with a circumcision made without hands’ (Cf. Col 2:11, 3:11, 4:11). They are circumcised because they are putting off the body of the flesh. Paul often uses the word flesh to refer to our sinful nature. We will look at the putting off the old self in Colossians chapter three.
Now we come to the ‘circumcision of Christ.’ There can be three main thoughts of what this circumcision can mean. First, this could be a reference to Christian conversation as the removal of the ‘flesh’ (sinful nature/inclinations). Second, a physical circumcision as the Old Testament rite of admission to the covenant, those united to Christ, has Christ’s circumcision (Luke 2:21). Thirdly, a reference to Christ’s death, refereeing to the death of the flesh. Many commentators explain these various views and would be hard to explain in a short amount of time. There does not seem to be a majority stance in commentators, and each view is not heretical or impact the translation in an enormous manner. I tend to lean towards the Circumcision of Christ as the reference to Christian conversion, but I am sympathetic to the Christ is the surgeon, whom performs the circumcision.
We are only at verse 11. Verse 12 also causes a lot of ink and paper for the scholars. Paul makes the connection from circumcision to baptism. I agree with John Calvin when he speaks of this verse in ‘The Institutes of Christian Religion,’ “What do these words mean, except that the fulfillment and truth of baptism are also the truth and fulfillment of circumcision since they signify one and the same thing? For he is striving to demonstrate that baptism is for the Christians what circumcision previously was for the Jews.”
As Reformed Presbyterians, we see the continuity between the old covenant and the new covenant as one covenant, the covenant of grace, under various dispensations (This is not dispensational theology, but revealed throughout history). That we are Abraham’s offspring and the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant is the death of the testator, Jesus Christ. The Old Testament pointed to Christ as the one to come, and the New Testament points to Christ as the one who has fulfilled the promises of the covenant of grace as God promised to Abraham by walking through the halves of the animals himself. The Old Testament rite of admission of the covenant was one of the blood given to the male children. The New Testament rite of admission of the covenant is no longer one of blood because Christ’s blood has been shed, but now the rite of baptism is given to believers, both male and female (better), and their children, as a sign of washing. Peter shows this continuity between baptism and the children of believers in Acts after he preaches his first sermon.
Acts 2:37–39 (ESV)
37Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”
Notice what Luke writes about the hearers that they were cut to the heart, as a reference to the circumcision of the heart. The promise is for you and your children. This is an echo of the words given to Abraham in Genesis 17:7, “I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” Paul makes the connection between circumcision and baptism, and Peter uses a similar promise in Acts, which the hearers, as Jews, would go back to Genesis 17. Baptism, like circumcision, is a sign and a seal of the promises of God, but it is only through faith that either are effectual. The Spirit must work within the heart of the person to cleanse them. We have been buried with Christ in baptism and raised with him. God overcame the pangs of death because death was conquered by Christ (Acts 2:24). We must walk in the newness of life by cutting off the body of the flesh (Rom 6:4-7). We were dead in our trespasses and were uncircumcised in the flesh, but God made us alive in Christ. No one is saved through baptism, but baptism is only a physical sign and seal which points to the spiritual seal which is given by the Holy Spirit.
A quick note on the mode of baptism. Many Baptists might point to this verse as an explanation for immersion as the only correct way to baptize someone. Firstly, Paul is explaining the spiritual nature of baptism, pointing to our spiritual death to sin. To make a connection to the physical mode of baptism is quite a leap. Secondly, even if it was an explanation of the mode of baptism, we need to consider the burial that Christ had. We think of burial as a six-foot hole in the ground. However, Christ’s burial was horizontal into a side of a hill, into a tomb. Paul often uses metaphors to speak of baptism; putting on clothing (Gal 3:27); being one body (1 Cor 12:13); or passing through the sea (1 Cor 10:1-2). Paul does use the metaphor of burial with baptism (Rom 6:1-5; Col 2:12). We should not base a doctrine of mode of baptism when is speaking of the spiritual nature of baptism.
b) Canceled our debt (Vs. 14)
To understand how verse 9 and 14 connect, we must turn back to Colossians 1:19-20, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.” The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). We have amounted to an enormous debt that stood against us. When we consider the debt that one person could amount in a moment with one credit card, now multiply this over a lifetime against a holy God with a wicked and sinful heart. We would not be able to read the statement because it would be too long. We owe a debt to God, one that can only be paid in blood. Christ became man to die in man’s place. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Rom 5:9). The ESV translates the end of Colossians 2:14, “This he set aside…” This translation seems mild. Other translations have a more forceful word such as ‘taken.’ The legal document containing our debt to God has been canceled. The word used for ‘legal’ is used for the ‘decree’ given by Caesar (Luke 2:1). The decree is nailed to the cross, signed in Christ’s blood. When you have paid your debt off, you get a legal letter stating the fact, paying off a mortgage or car payment lifts a tremendous burden off someone’s shoulders. However, imagine having the burden of sin that is PAID IN FULL!
c) Conquered death. (Vs. 15)
The end of verse 10 explains Christ is the head of all rule and authority. Colossians 2:15 explains three things that Christ has done that explains how he is the head of all rule and authority. He disarmed them, shamed them, and triumphed over them. Paul is still explaining the dangers of the false teaching that are not according to Christ. Be watchful over the elementary principles of the word (Col 2:8b). Christ has conquered the rulers and authorities; they have no more offensive moves because they have been disarmed. Not only have they been disarmed, but they have also been put to the public spectacle of them by triumphing over them. Death has lost its sting, and death has lost its victory (1 Cor 15:54). The signed decree with Jesus’ blood is the statement of this defeat.
The message of Colossians is simple, but we need to hear it frequently. Christ is sufficient and supreme. Christ is referenced eleven times in these seven verses, in him, with him and he. Our union with Christ is foundation of the Christian walk. We are united to him in baptism the sign and the seal of the forgiveness of our insurmountable debts paid in his blood. We have died with him and have been raised again to walk in the newness of life (Rom 6:4). We have the circumcision not made with hands. We have been made alive together with him. Christ has disarmed all the rulers and authorities concurring them. Why then would we turn to the world’s wisdom, which is empty and hollow? Why would we turn to human traditions? Each of these are not according to Christ. Let us hold fast to Christ as the one whom baptism points and whom the Holy Spirit seals us for the day of redemption.
 Heidelberg Catechism Question 72: Is then the outward washing with water itself the washing away of sins? No; for only the blood of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit cleanse us from all sin.