Vol.XVII No.XI Pg.5
January 1981

Vital Circumcision

Robert F. Turner

In their effort to justify "infant baptism" it was once common to hear people say, "baptism comes in the room of circumcision." In reply, our preachers were sometimes content to point out that circumcision was only for the male — and ask if "baptism" should be limited to the male. But Col. 2:11-f. has a more complete reply than that. While on the surface it seems to relate circumcision and baptism, it actually makes literal circumcision the type of something far more important than the physical act of baptism, essential though it is.

"In (Christ) ye were also circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, in the putting off of the body of the flesh, in the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with him in baptism, wherein ye were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead." There is something here "not made with hands" (i.e., not an outward, man-wrought happening). Paul referred to it in another letter (Rom. 2:29) as circumcision "of the heart, in the spirit not in the letter." He was applying scriptures given long ago. In Deut. 10:16 we read, "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked." (See Deut. 30:6, etc.)

Just as Israel was circumcised outwardly, yet uncircumcised (of heart-Jer. 9:25-26) we today may be buried in water (as though dead to sin, Rom. 6:2) when we have not, in fact, put away the "old man" of sin. The Jews were mistaken in thinking that the outward act of circumcision, per se, made them acceptable to God; and we are just as mistaken if we base our hopes for heaven on the physical act of baptism. We surely know that the literal "washing" in and of itself does not cleanse us of sin. There must, in our hearts, be the genuine "turning" from our old life that Paul likens unto dying to sin, or "crucifying" the old man (Rom. 6:4-11). Then and only then, the "burial and resurrection" of baptism has its true significance.

The "circumcision of Christ" (Col. 2:11) poses a tough problem in exegesis, but I am inclined to believe it simply means a circumcision (cutting off of the old man of sin) that looks to Christ for meaning or validity. We can not believe, repent, or baptize our way out of sin apart from Christ. Salvation is by grace — expressed in God's gift of His Son upon the cross. Christ died upon the cross, for me. Even the circumcision of my heart is meaningless without His sacrifice.

And then, one last thought. "This Christian transformation is set forth in its ideal conception, irrespective of its imperfect realization in our experience." (Meyer) Paul says, "Reckon ye also yourselves to be dead unto sin, but alive unto God in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 6:11). Being genuinely dead to sin in intent and purpose does not mean sin is physically impossible. We must continue to come to Christ with penitent hearts, asking forgiveness.

Literal fleshly circumcision was not a type of baptism in water; it typified the "cutting away" of sin from the thoughts and intents of our hearts, preparing us for baptism.