“In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ”
At this verse, Paul turns from the error of Gnosticism to the error of legalism. The Colossians did not need physical circumcision since they stood circumcised in Christ’s death. We have all that we need in Christ (verse 10). This is the second result of the work of Christ for us.
“In Him” refers to our position in the Lord Jesus Christ as of the moment of our salvation. This is not talking about literal but spiritual circumcision. Without this understanding, we lose the context of Paul’s argument.
“you were also circumcised”
Circumcision is the cutting off the foreskin of the penis. Literally, “circumcision” means a cutting around. It was the external sign of incorporation into the Abrahamic covenant (Genesis 17; Acts 7:8; Romans 4:11).
The circumcision here is not a physical circumcision but spiritual circumcision, the circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29; Ephesians 2:11). This is a contrast to the physical circumcision of the Old Testament.
The tense of “were” is past tense. God circumcised us at the point of our salvation. At that moment, we entered into union with Christ. Another part of speech indicates that God placed us into union with Christ (passive voice). We did not earn or deserve that privilege. It is an act of God’s unadulterated grace.
“with the circumcision made without hands”
“Made without hands” means circumcision in this passage was no human activity. It is an action of the Holy Spirit. This circumcision is spiritual.
Upon preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, a sect of Jewish believers arose who argued that circumcision is a necessary aspect of salvation (Acts10:45; 11:2; 15:1; Galatians 2:12; Colossians 4:11; Titus 1:10). This is legalism.
Ray C. Stedman, the former pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, Ca., relates the story of a young man who came to him with the Bible in hand and earnestly asked Ray to circumcise him! After Stedman picked himself up off the floor, he explained the meaning of circumcision from a Christian standpoint. The foreskin is a symbol of our fallen nature. When Christ died, he removed judgment on that sinful nature.
Jesus spiritually circumcised our sin capacity upon the cross.
We are not free to glorify the Lord as long as we are under the yoke of legalism. Our capacity to love and honor the Lord does not depend upon our effort and morality. It depends on our recognition of what he has done. Positional truth gives us freedom toward God.
The basis of our freedom is not what we do but what Christ did. We need to be free to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. A girl has no security if her boyfriend dates other girls. She does not have the freedom to express her love to him. We do not have the freedom to love and honor the Lord Jesus Christ if we do not understand what he has done for us.