Monday, August 18, 2008

Colossians 2:9-15

9For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 11In Him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature [or flesh], not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 12having been buried with Him in baptism and raised with Him through your faith in the power of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature [or flesh], God made you [or us] alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Paul again says that Christ is sufficient. In Him are fullness, fellowship, forgiveness, and freedom, and these themes will be noticed throughout v9-15, which is a continuation of the thoughts of v6-7. We need to remember who Jesus is and who we are in Him. Calvin comments on v9, “God has manifested Himself to us fully and perfectly in Christ.” Just as Christ is the fullness of God, so we are made full in Him. He has authority over all. And on v10, Calvin says, “As to God’s dwelling wholly in Christ, it is in order that we, having obtained Him, may posses in Him an entire perfection. Those, therefore, who do not rest satisfied with Christ alone, do injury to God in two ways, for besides detracting from the glory of God, by desiring something above His perfection, they are also ungrateful, inasmuch as they seek elsewhere what they already have in Christ. Paul, however, does not mean that the perfection of Christ is transfused into us, but that there are in Him resources from which we may be filled, that nothing may be wanting to us.”

In v11, Paul introduces circumcision to the conversation. While the Galatian Judaizers were demanding circumcision, that was not necessarily true of the Colossian false teachers. He is showing that power over the flesh – something the false teachers offered – was already theirs in Christ. He is also showing that physical circumcision by the hands of men is unnecessary, because spiritual circumcision by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ is what matters. Calvin says, “Circumcision was given to the Fathers that it might be the figure of a thing that was absent: those, therefore, who retain that figure after Christ’s advent, deny the accomplishment of what it prefigures. Let us, therefore, bear in mind that outward circumcision is here compared with spiritual, just as a figure with the reality. The figure is of a thing that is absent: hence it puts away the presence of the reality.” Paul says that we who have been circumcised by Christ have put off the sinful nature (Romans 6:13).

In v12, Paul clarifies the concept of spiritual circumcision with the image of baptism. Someone might argue with Paul, asking, “Since Abraham received both inward and outward circumcision, why shouldn’t we?” Paul answers that Christ accomplishes in us spiritual circumcision, not through means of that ancient sign, which was in force under Moses, but by baptism. Baptism, therefore, is the sign of the circumcision of Christ, the reality presented to us, which, while absent, was prefigured by circumcision. Gentiles did not need the sign of the old covenant to be Abraham’s offspring. So God essentially replaced circumcision with baptism. As in Romans 6:4, Paul declares, according to Calvin, “By baptism, therefore, we are buried with Christ…that the reality (His efficacious death and burial) may be conjoined with the sign (our death and burial in baptism).” And Paul does not leave us buried in baptism; he magnifies the grace that we obtain in Christ, as being greatly superior to circumcision, by declaring that we are raised to newness of life through faith in the power of God (the message of the cross, the gospel – 1 Corinthians 1:18), who raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 6:4, 8:11). Ligon Duncan, a PCA Minister, can’t help but point out here that infant baptism makes perfect sense according to Paul. Baptism comes before faith in Paul’s language here. So Paul, according to Duncan, is saying that baptism is “a sign of God reaching out to us when we could not reach out to Him… God reaches out and sets a sign on us so that when we grow and once embrace Christ personally through faith, we can look back and see that before we loved Him, He loved us in Christ.”

Vincent Cheung makes the connection: “No doctrine of physical circumcision can add anything to the believer. Christians have experienced spiritual resurrection (v12-13). All unbelievers are dead in sin, but we have been made alive in Christ. A person is either spiritually dead or alive. Nothing could be done to make us more resurrected. The idea itself is senseless. Christians have received complete forgiveness. God has forgiven all our sins, canceled our debt, and nailed the note to the cross (v13-14). The language is final, and there is no room for improvement or for more forgiveness. Christians have attained complete victory. Christ has triumphed over all powers and authorities, and by our union with Him, we share in His triumph (v15). We should stand firm in this, but there is nothing that needs to be done or that could be done to gain additional victory. Christ’s work is complete, and we are complete in Him.”

V13 and the surrounding context corresponds to Ephesians 2:1-18. See also Ezekiel 37 (The Dry Bones). Paul’s point here is that sin is the cause of death and that uncircumcision, while not the cause of death, is the outward sign that the sinner is indeed dead. Thus the remedy is the righteousness of Christ and forgiveness of sins, bringing life, bringing freedom, and circumcision of the heart (regeneration) as the sign of life and freedom. Paul usually speaks of justification, rather than forgiveness, so it is thought that he is emphasizing Christ’s overcoming sin not merely as a general power but as the removal of guilt from particular sins – forgiveness and freedom.

Ligon Duncan offers an explanation of Christ’s “public spectacle” of the powers and authorities: “If you had been in the Roman world in the times that the generals were going out and conquering the far-flung nations, you wouldn’t have had CNN to tell you about the great victories that were being won on the frontiers. So the only way a Roman general could show you that he had really won a great battle was to parade all the captives, all the prisoners, in front of your eyes. He would put them in shackles and march them back into the hometown. The great soldiers would come first, the conquering king would then come, and behind him all of the captives, imprisoned. Paul is saying that is what Christ has done to the spiritual forces arrayed against you. He has led a triumphant procession in which they are brought along behind Him in the train as slaves. Now Paul asks, if Christ has done that, what are these teachers doing telling you that they can give you authority over these people? Christ has already exercised this authority over everything that is arrayed against you and your freedom is assured because of His victory. You are not a victim in this world of demonic forces. You are not a victim in this world of the alignment of the stars and planets. You are not a victim in this world of fate and the outrageous claims of fortune, because Christ rules the world for the sake of His people. Because Christ is Lord, you are free.”

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