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Colossians 2:12-14 by Robert Dean
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:51 mins 15 secs

Forgiveness: Wiped Clean, Forgotten. Colossians 2:12-14


We are looking at the passage from verse 11 to 15 as Paul is beginning to lay this foundation for his listeners. They were no different from us or any of the other people that we know who are fighting all of the paganism in the culture that surrounds us and trying to keep that from influencing our ideas. When Paul begins to deal with the issues that are threatening them he goes back to the foundation of our position in Christ. That position and the whole teaching that we find in spiritual circumcision is directly related to what he covers in vv. 13-15 which grounded in understanding the doctrine of forgiveness. Forgiveness seems to be the very focal point of understanding what took place at the cross in terms of the character of God and His work for us.

We have seen that the point of understanding circumcision is not the physical ritual but what it stood for spiritually. It signified the separation, the breaking of the power of the sin nature as we see it in the New Testament.

In Ephesians chapter one there are a number of different things that Paul points out that are parallel and which elucidate some of these same ideas that he has in Colossians, especially in terms of this verse. Ephesians 1:3 NASB "Blessed {be} the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly {places} in Christ"—every spiritual blessing. Nothing is left out. And it is stated clearly that this is in Christ. That phrase "in Christ" is the essence of the problem the Colossian believers are facing because there are all manner of philosophical systems and world views, ideas and opinions on how to live life, solve problems, to be fulfilled in life and reach a full potential, etc. but they are not according to Christ. But in Christ we have everything and we don't need anything else. Anything else actually takes away from being in Christ, from what we have in Christ, and eventually wipes out our spiritual life. We have everything in Christ, and since Christ is fully God and God has everything "in Him" by definition, then we have access to all that God is by virtue of our position in Christ. That is part of what it means to be blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.

Paul states in Colossians 2:11 NASB "and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands …" He is distinguishing the physical act of circumcision, a physical rite which stands for a spiritual reality. It is important to understand that. It is a physical rite that is designed to teach certain things that are true in the spiritual realm. And to capture fully what that physical rite represents is to understand what it also foreshadows, which is our position in Christ.

In the Old Testament the two passages we have looked at about being circumcised in the heart, that that was the real issue that God was looking for among the Israelites, were Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6. But there are also other verses in the prophets. For example, Jeremiah 4:4 NASB "Circumcise yourselves to the LORD And remove the foreskins of your heart …" This isn't physical circumcision. He is addressing the nation. Jeremiah was one of the last prophets in the first temple period. He is sometimes referred to as the weeping prophet because he wept over the destruction of Jerusalem. He is bringing a message that God is bringing judgment upon the southern kingdom of Judah and is going to destroy them through the Babylonians. "…Men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, Or else My wrath will go forth like fire And burn with none to quench it, Because of the evil of your deeds." Jeremiah is constantly challenging the nation with their spiritual failure, and so the command is to circumcise themselves to the Lord.   

If we look at the context in that chapter, in verse 1 Jeremiah says, quoting the Lord, NASB "If you will return, O Israel," declares the LORD, "{Then} you should return to Me." That word "return" is the Hebrew word shub. In Deuteronomy there is the promise of curses and blessings at its end, and the promise and the prophecy that at one point Israel will become so rebellious and the Israelites so reject the God of the covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the God of the covenant with Moses, that God will remove them completely from the land that He promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. But God hasn't broken the promise, for that promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was an eternal promise. And the sign of that was circumcision. But the promise in Deuteronomy 30 is, "When you return to me then I will bring you back from where I have scattered you throughout the entire world, and I will restore you to the land." And the language there is the language of the establishment of the New covenant promise in Jeremiah and Ezekiel, an everlasting covenant, and the establishment of the eternal messianic Jewish kingdom. The condition though is this spiritual circumcision. This isn't a Pauline doctrine it was actually a Mosaic doctrine that is being reaffirmed by Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 6:10 NASB "To whom shall I speak and give warning That they may hear? ..." Their ear is uncircumcised; it is not set apart to God. "…Behold, their ears are closed And they cannot listen. Behold, the word of the LORD has become a reproach to them; They have no delight in it." They are not listening to God; they are listening to the empty, deceitful philosophies and idolatrous religions of the world.

Jeremiah 9:26 NASB "Egypt and Judah, and Edom and the sons of Ammon, and Moab and all those inhabiting the desert who clip the hair on their temples; for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart." What was their problem? The problem surface-wise was idolatry, but this was merely the surface problem. The problem was an internal problem, a failure to be oriented to God spiritually and to trust in Him. Idolatry was simply a symptom of a deeper spiritual problem: they were not circumcised in the heart; they were not set apart to God positionally.

Ezekiel uses similar terminology speaking of the future messianic kingdom when a new temple will be established in Jerusalem. There he says that none will enter into that temple who are uncircumcised in the heart and in the flesh—44:7, 9.

Circumcision was the sign of the Old Testament eternal unconditional covenant that God made with Abraham. Three aspects of that covenant need to be remembered. It is an eternal covenant, as true today as it was then. That means that whether the Jewish people are in obedience or disobedience to God they were still God's people under the Abrahamic covenant. 

There are those today who think that it is great to have a foreign policy in this country where we treat every nation the same: we give every nation money or we don't give any nation money. The flaw with that is that the Abrahamic covenant is as true today as it was in Abraham's time. That means that the Jewish people are still God's chosen people. That means that you never ever for any reason, no matter what you may think of their spiritual condition, treat Israel like they are any other nation. Because Israel never has been like any other nation and Israel never will be like any other nation. Israel and Israel alone is called by God is called by God as the apple of His eye, and they are in a personal, national, eternal, national unconditional covenant with God that will never ever change.

There are three aspects to the Abrahamic covenant. God promised Israel a land, descendants or a seed which has its ultimate fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ who is the one who will provide that ultimate worldwide blessing—through the blessing of Abraham there would be blessing of other kinds to all of the world, and we see that today. Circumcision is the sign of that covenant.

Is circumcision phase one or phase two of the plan of God? Can it ever be phase two and relate to the spiritual life of the nation? No. How many times can you be circumcised? Once. It's like salvation; you are only saved once. So circumcision spiritually always stands for that initial point in time in an individual's spiritual life when they are saved, justified, and they enter into a personal relationship with God that never changes. However, because we sin we constantly have to go back to the basis for our salvation and we confess our sins—not to regain salvation but just to gain forgiveness. We see that specifically in the events in Joshua.

In the book of Joshua we see a physical battle taking place where there is a positional reality for the Israelites: the land is theirs. But they have to take it experientially. That is very much the theme of Ephesians and also part of the theme of Colossians. We have everything in Christ, it is positionally ours just as the land of the Canaanites was given by God en toto to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but they had to take it experientially in battle. We have to exploit what we have positionally in Christ in a spiritual battle so that we can then take control of all of the areas of human viewpoints and sin that dominate our own thinking. So in Joshua the historical events of the conquest illustrate for us numerous spiritual principles in terms of exploiting what we have in Christ so that we can experientially grow.

What was the role of circumcision in Israel? Joshua 3 relates Israel's entry into the land where they cross the river Jordan. As the priests lead the nation into the promised land they come to the Jordan. The river is full, a wide flowing spring-flood torrent, and as the priests carrying the ark of the covenant as they approach the water they have to trust God and just walk into the flood level river. As they lower their feet to the water the water recedes underneath their feet so that their feet don't get wet. They have to trust God though and the reality of God's promise has to be more real to them than their perception.

Joshua 4:1 NASB "Now when all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD spoke to Joshua, saying, [2] 'Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, [3] and command them, saying, 'Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests' feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight.' [4] So Joshua called the twelve men whom he had appointed from the sons of Israel, one man from each tribe; [5] and Joshua said to them, 'Cross again to the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan, and each of you take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Israel." They are going to build a memorial statue that will remind them through the generations of what God did that day. It is a benchmark in time, that no matter what happens in the future when doubts may arise, when their children need to be told who God is and what He did for them, they can go to this physical memorial and point to it, and they can tell what it means. [6] "Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, 'What do these stones mean to you?' [7] then you shall say to them, 'Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD; when it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off.' So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever." It was a teaching point, a point that they could go back to and remind people in the future that this actually happened.

After they had camped at Gilgal. Joshua 5:2 NASB "At that time the LORD said to Joshua, 'Make for yourself flint knives and circumcise again the sons of Israel the second time.'" There had been an earlier time in a previous generation that came out of Egypt, the exodus generation, when there had been a mass circumcision. Flint knives that have been discovered through archaeology were incredibly sharp, razor sharp. [3] "So Joshua made himself flint knives and circumcised the sons of Israel at Gibeath-haaraloth [the hill of foreskins]. [4] This is the reason why Joshua circumcised them: all the people who came out of Egypt who were males, all the men of war, died in the wilderness along the way after they came out of Egypt. [5] For all the people who came out were circumcised, but all the people who were born in the wilderness along the way as they came out of Egypt had not been circumcised." So this generation needed to be circumcised. Why? Because this identified them with the Abrahamic covenant; they were God's chosen people.

So when they come to Gilgal they established this rock memorial to the fact that God has given them this land, and the circumcision which happened one time identifies them positionally with the Abrahamic covenant and the promise of God to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants this land. Under the Israeli covenants of the Old Testament it is positional truth; it is being identified with Abraham and his covenant as an analogy and foreshadowing of our identification positionally with Jesus Christ at the instant of our salvation.

What is interesting about Gilgal is that its name comes from this event. Joshua 5:9 NASB "Then the LORD said to Joshua, 'Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.' So the name of that place is called Gilgal to this day."  Then what happens? [10] "While the sons of Israel camped at Gilgal they observed the Passover on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month on the desert plains of Jericho." So there is this sanctification, this positional setting apart to God, an identification with the Abrahamic covenant, that all that they are promised in Abraham is theirs positionally—they have been identified with him. But now they have to go into battle and they have to exploit their position so that they can have in reality what they have been given positionally.

What we see throughout the rest of Joshua and in subsequent times in the Old Testament is that the Israelites come back to Gilgal again and again. In fact this was the original place where they set up the tabernacle. Again and again they will come back and will renew their covenant with God. It is like going back to the cross when we confess our sins so that we can move forward and have victory in the battle.

Another thing that we need to recognize that is going on here because if its application in the New Testament is that there is a physical rite (circumcision) that is a sign of their position in Abraham. There is a physical rite for the Christian: baptism. That is why in the early church believers' baptism was something that took place almost immediately after salvation. Why? When we trust Christ as saviour that is an event that happens in the mental realm. If believers are baptized immediately after salvation that is a physical memorial they can go to and say: "I got baptized at that time. Baptism didn't save me but I was taught that baptism depicted my identification with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. And that physical act of baptism taught me that I am in Christ and a new creature in Christ, and I have died to sin and raised to new life in Christ"—Romans chapter six. That tells us that for the Christian, in a metaphorical sense, the cross is our memorial. The cross is what we look to as where our sin was paid for by Jesus Christ, where the debt of sin was cancelled, and that the physical rite of believers' baptism is just a memorial marker that teaches something about our identification with Christ. So we can go back to that in times of doubt and times of teaching. It didn't save us but it helped to understand in a physical sense, through a physical training aid, what happened in the spiritual realm—that we were identified with Jesus in His death, burial and resurrection so that we are freed from the tyranny of the sin nature and can now live for God.

Believers' baptism signifies the baptism of the Holy Spirit. This becomes the foundation of what we have in Christ in terms of our forgiveness. Colossians 2:12, 13 NASB "having been 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. When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions." That is coming our of the water in the picture of baptism and that is the significance of Spirit baptism—we are alive together with Him. Why? Because He has forgiven us all of our sins. It is all about forgiveness.