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Colossians 2:12-13 by Robert Dean
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:50 mins 59 secs

Discovering Your Wealth. Colossians 2:12-13

The moment that we are saved, the instant that we are identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection, we are given all the blessings of heaven, everything pertaining to life and godliness; we are given what Paul calls "the unsearchable riches of Christ." It's ours, but very few Christians know what those riches are or how to access them. And if we were asked what we think they are or ought to be and where we would start it is doubtful that any of us would start where Paul started—which tells us that we don't think right; we don't think at the right starting point. We want to start with application rather than start with an understanding of what we actually have in Christ and what God did for us not only at the cross but also in terms of our own personal salvation.

Paul writes to the Colossian church while he is in prison in Rome. The prison epistles he wrote—Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians—are written to churches, and it is interesting to study the themes of these three epistles as Paul wrote them as he is under house arrest in Rome awaiting trial before Caesar. The epistle that he wrote to the Philippians was to express his gratitude for their gift to him, and he emphasizes the joy that we should all have in the Lord unrelated to whatever is going on in our life. In the Ephesians epistle he begins the first two chapters talking about understanding all of the aspects of the plan of the Father, the provision of the Son, and the promise of the Holy Spirit, providing us with a free grace gift, a not-by-works salvation, and the impact that this has in breaking down the barrier between Jew and Gentiles: now we are united in Christ. In the second half of Ephesians, starting in chapter four, he emphasizes how that transforms our day-today life, what is covered under the metaphor of walking in the Scriptures. So Ephesians in a real sense is about understanding our riches in Christ. That is the same theme as Colossians but there are little differences. They are not just repetitions of each other, they are two sides of the same coin, so it is helpful to study how they complement each other and how they build off of each other.

Colossians also focuses on our riches in Christ but the focus is more on Christ. As we studied in the introduction in the first chapter down to chapter two verse three Paul wants to make sure we understand who Jesus Christ is, all that He is and all that He has provided for us, so that when he gets into the main body of the epistle we understand that Christ really can be sufficient because He is fully God. And because Jesus Christ is fully God He is not some lower entity, not just an emanation from God. Because He is fully God He is sufficient and that means that we don't need anything but the Bible to face and handle the issues of life. Throughout the history of the church there has always been an attack on that doctrine of sufficiency. There is always something else that can be added in order to make sure feel more saved, feel more spiritual.

There are Christians today who are easily tempted to thinking that somehow by combining elements from these human viewpoint, worldly ideas with the Bible and can even have a better, more stable Christian life. But what it has done is destroy the Christian life because just as salvation is by Christ alone living the Christian life is by Christ alone. That is what sufficiency means. Paul is really punching this and the way to understand sufficiency is to explore what it means to be in Christ and the riches that we have in Christ.

We have seen that back in verses 6 & 7 the main command in the main body of this epistle is: "as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord [by faith alone in Christ alone], {so} walk in Him," which means by faith alone in Christ alone. That is the command; now we are being told how to implement that. There is a warning in verse 8 to beware of the seduction of false teachers who seek to plunder the riches that we have in Christ, the piracy of the false teachers. Then in verse 9 we get into this profound development, rich doctrine that lays the foundation for understanding how we are to live. People today say, "Give me the practical stuff; don't give me the theory." In the Bible practical stuff without theory is legalism. Always remember that. Telling people how to do the right thing without telling them the grace basis for doing the right thing is Pharisaism, legalism to the core.  Anybody can go out and have a moral, superficial life but only a Christian who understands grace and what we have in Christ can really experience the blessings that are ours in Christ.

Notice that three times there is this phrase "in Him" repeated. "…in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form… in Him you have been made complete … in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ."

The next thing to notice in terms of the repetition of words is the word "circumcision."  Colossians 2:11 NASB "and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ." Then in verse 13 we have the word "uncircumcision."

When Paul starts to help us to understand what it means that Jesus is sufficient he starts with spiritual circumcision. If we don't start with understanding what spiritual circumcision is—which is basically the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit—then our starting point is not biblical. We have to learn to think as the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to think because this is where the starting point is. This isn't some theoretical doctrine, this is as Paul puts it the foundation to understand our riches in Christ and all that we have in Him; because that is the foundation for our walk in Him and to experience all of the joy that we have. 

To understand what Paul is about to say we need to go back to verse 2 where he expresses what he wants them to know: "that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and {attaining} to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, {resulting} in a true knowledge of God's mystery, {that is,} Christ {Himself.}" The word translated "knowledge" here is the Greek word epignosis [e)pignwsij]. The normal word for just knowledge—academic knowledge or superficial knowledge, or an awareness of something—is the word gnosis [gnwsij]. When the prefix epi is added to it, it intensifies the meaning of the word.

Definition quote: "epignosis expresses a more thorough participation in the acquiring of knowledge on the part of the learner…" You are not just learning it academically; you are learning it and applying it. "… in the New Testament is often refers to knowledge which very powerfully influences the form of religious life, a knowledge laying claim to personal involvement." It is not something out there that you know but it is becoming part of your experiential reality. Understanding starts off with the academic process of coming to know something, and then it moves to epignosis as we believe it and, under the ministry of God the Holy Spirit, it is transforming it into useable knowledge, and as we use it the Holy Spirit produces fruit in our life to bring about character and life transformation.

But here it is specified as the related to the mystery of God. Now some people are going to stop there and say: You know God is ineffable, we just can't really know Him. But that is heresy; that is blasphemy. God has revealed Himself to us so that we can know Him truly. We may not know Him exhaustively but we can know Him truly. So when Paul talks about the mystery of God he is not talking about the idea that God is mysterious and we can't know Him. The word "mystery" as it is used in the New Testament has to do with previously un-revealed truth. It is a mystery because prior to the New Testament this truth, this doctrine wasn't fully understood or comprehended, but through revelation it has now been given through Christ and through the apostles so that we can have a greater understanding of God. The Bible says God is understandable but only in terms of what He has revealed to us. So we are moving towards this knowledge, this real experiential life-transforming knowledge of this previously un-revealed truth about God. And what is that? It relates to the Father and Christ; it relates to that work of the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

This is why Paul comes back to this and develops it in vv. 9, 10 when he says that in Him (Christ) dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. That is part of that mystery that relates to God and Christ. We now understand more of the unity of Jesus and the Father, and that in Jesus all of the nature of God dwells in Him. Verse 10 says that we are "complete in Him." That means we are sufficient, there is nothing else that needs to be added. We don't need to add baptism, circumcision, giving, a prayer life in order to have anything more in Christ. All of those are important in our spiritual life but they don't give you anything more. Scripture says we have already been blessed with all the blessings in heavenly places, what we have to do is access it and apply it, not get more.

Ephesians 3:10 NASB "so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly {places.}" Notice the parallel where it uses the phrase that God's wisdom might be made known through the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places. That means that part of our spiritual growth is to be a witness to both the fallen angels as well as the elect angels of the grace of God. In verse 13 Paul challenges them not to give up because he is going through tribulations and that leads him into the tremendous prayer starting in verse 14. "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith …" Then verse 18, "may be able to comprehend with all the saints…"  The word translated "comprehend" there doesn't mean comprehend, it means to attain to something—katalambano [katalambanw]; it means to reach a goal, to attain to a certain level of maturity.

The starting point is Colossians 2:11 NASB "and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ." One of the reasons Paul starts with this concept and phrases it this way is because this is part of a heresy package that Colossian believers are struggling with. Judaizers were coming into their midst and saying, You might have salvation but of you really want the higher spiritual life, the victorious spiritual life, everything God has for you, you have to be circumcised because "that is where you get the blessing of Abraham." That was false teaching and so Paul has to really focus on this. Now he is going to explain what real circumcision was all about. The physical circumcision of Abraham, the circumcision that the Jewish people included within their ritual as obedience to God's command, was not an end; it was simply a training aid, a visual teaching tool that God was using to teach something different. He was telling them it wasn't a physical act that was significant but that it stands for a spiritual act.

Deuteronomy 10:16 NASB "So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer." That physical act even within the Mosaic Law was taught as a representation of something spiritual, something that was to happen internally in the spiritual life of the person. The physical act didn't do anything spiritually but it was designed to teach that something needed to be separated from you in order to be able to truly live in light of the blessings of God. So the issue spiritually had to do with the removal of something related to the heart. The removal of the flesh of the heart—the term "flesh" is often used in Scripture to mean the sin nature—means that something has to be done to remove the power of the sin nature. Otherwise we are just going to keep doing the same thing we have always done and live in the power of the flesh, the sin nature.

Deuteronomy 30:6 NASB "Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live." In other words, what Paul says in terms of spiritual circumcision in Romans, Colossians and Galatians isn't new. He is just unpacking what was already there in the Old Testament.  In Colossians 2:11 Paul says, "In Him (in Christ)," so it has to be related to being identified with Christ and being in union with Christ … "you were [past tense] also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands." That means it is not physical, it is spiritual. And it was accomplished by means of something—using the Greek preposition en plus the dative, which indicates the way in which an act is accomplished—"in the removal of the body of the flesh [sin nature]…" Spiritual circumcision has something to do with putting off the body of the sins of the flesh. The word for putting off is apekdusis [a)pekdusij] which has the idea of putting off or removing something.

So how is this removed? Does it mean that after we are saved we are sinless? No, it doesn't mean that because it doesn't change the internal power of the sin nature, it just changes our relationship to it. As Paul develops in Romans 6, before we are saved we can only do one thing: operate on the basis of the sin nature. The sin nature can produce relative good, morality (but not spirituality), a lot of good things; it does a lot of evil; but it is still the work of the flesh and has no value before God. After we are saved, at the point of salvation, the power of the sin nature is broken. Now we have choice. Before we were saved all we could do was say yes to the sin nature; after we are saved we can say yes to obedience to God, and as Paul develops in Romans six, we have freedom to serve Christ and are supposed to because the power of the sin nature has been broken.

How did that happen? The next verse tells us how this took place, and we have to understand this because even though this is not experiential—when we were saved we didn't experience anything—and the only way we come to know this is by reading the Word. When we read the epistles of the New Testament Paul tells us. The instant we trusted in Jesus we were justified, we received a new nature, we didn't feel a thing but it was there. We received the imputation of Christ's righteousness, and we didn't feel a thing. The Holy Spirit took up residence inside of us making a temple for the indwelling of Jesus Christ, and we didn't feel a thing.

Now that we understand these realities we have an obligation. That is, because we are a new creature in Christ we are to live like a new creature in Christ. Part of the dynamic that happened at salvation, referred to as the baptism of the Holy Spirit, always uses the same phraseology in the Greek with the en preposition: "baptized by means of God the Holy Spirit." So in Colossians 2:12 Paul begins by telling us what this spiritual circumcision is. It is being buried with Him in baptism, "in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead."

What does it mean to be buried with Him in baptism? This has nothing to do with ritual baptism. The word "baptism" means literally to immerse, plunge or dip but it had a symbolic significance which said something was identified with something else. Believer's baptism, when the believer is plunged in water, is a picture, a physical training aid to teach us about a spiritual baptism that took place the instant we trusted in Christ as our savior. In Scripture there are seven different baptisms, two are wet and five are dry. The baptism our passage is talking about is the baptism of the Holy Spirit, identified in Matthew 3:11, 12 and in 1 Corinthians 12:13. The word "buried" is the Greek sunthapto [sunqaptw] which means to bury. Here it is an aorist passive participle. How does this word "bury" relate to the main verb? It doesn't have an article with it in the Greek which means it is adverbial. An adverb modifies a verb, so we have to find the main verb. It is back in verse 11, "you were circumcised." So what is the relationship of this participle to that verb? First of all there is a time issue—aorist participles usually precede the action of the main verb, but sometimes when the main verb is an aorist it is happening at the same time—which this one is. The main verb is "you were circumcised," this statement answers the question of how they were circumcised; they were circumcised by being buried with Him in baptism. This is very simple in the Greek but is left ambiguous in English: "you were circumcised with the circumcision made without hands by being buried with Him in baptism." This is spiritual baptism, not water baptism.

Then we have that phrase "having been buried with Him in [by means of, en to baptismatai/ e)n tw baptismatai] baptism" in verse 12. It is an instrumental dative in the Greek, it shows the means by which you were buried. To understand this we have to go back to Romans 6.

Romans 6:1 NASB "What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? [2] May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" That is that death and burial; we died to sin at the instant of faith in Christ. How can we who died to sin live in it anymore? [3] "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized [identified] into Christ Jesus have been baptized [identified] into His death? [4] Therefore we have been buried—sunthapto [sunqaptw]—with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." It is that being raised, being identified with Christ in resurrection which means that because that happened we have to live differently; we live in a new life. [5] "For if we have become united with {Him} [and we have] in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be {in the likeness} of His resurrection, [6] knowing this, that our old self [sin nature] was crucified with {Him,} in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; [7] for he who has died [baptism of the Holy Spirit] is freed from sin." When we sin we are saying we want to voluntarily become a slave to our sin nature again.

Paul uses this is a similar way on Galatians 5:24 NASB "Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh [sin nature] with its passions and desires." So this baptism means we were baptized simply into Christ. That is what circumcision means.

When we trusted in Christ as savior there are two things that happened simultaneously. One has to do with eternal realities, the other has to do with day-to-day experience. We are now children of light positionally and this is referred to as being "in Christ." How do we get there? We get there because the Holy Spirit at the instant we believe in Christ as savior identifies us, unites us, with Christ's death burial and resurrection. So we are placed "in Him." And that is where all the riches are. They are not on the experiential side; that is where we learn to appropriate them. The "in Him" is this is where at the instant of trust in Christ we are give an unlimited spiritual bank account. Most Christians live as if that doesn't exist.

To understand our riches we have to start by understanding what happened at salvation. We have to understand this spiritual circumcision that surgically removed the tyranny of the sin nature from our life. Understanding that means that now we don't have to live as slaves to the sin nature, but we need to live as those who have been freed from the sin nature.