New Life in Christ
Topic: Expository Passage: Colossians 2:11-12
Since today is Mother’s Day, I want to begin with a parenting illustration. We have a 2-year-old boy and a 4-year-old boy, and it’s incredible how conveniently helpless they can become when they don’t want to do something. For example, it’s time to clean up the playroom, and they suddenly feel tired and overwhelmed. They look at us with helpless stare and, “I can’t do it.”
But at other times they are dead set on being independent. This is typically when you are in a hurry. We need to go somewhere, and the boys need to change clothes. All the sudden they don’t want any help, and when mom reaches out to help put on their pants, they pull away, and now they say, “I want to do it.”
And while they can eventually get their pants on, there are times when the boys want to do something that’s not possible or wise. For example, at this stage of the game they aren’t ready to cut up an apple. If they tried, we would end up in the emergency room, but they don’t see that, and they really think they can do it.
And this urge to be independent doesn’t go away with childhood. For example, have you ever refused to look at the directions because you are determined to do it yourself? We all have a prideful drive to be independent. And sadly, this drive to be independent is often one of the greatest hindrances to people receiving the gospel and then going on to thrive in the Christian life.
Last Sunday we saw in 2:10 that the Christian is “complete in Christ.” He gives perfect righteousness and more than enough power to live the Christian life, but so often people push away God’s hand of grace and firmly declare, “I want to do it myself.” And this is a problem because the Christian life begins by humbly acknowledging that I can’t get to heaven by myself and receiving the gift of salvation.
But even after we get saved, we sometimes continue to have a fiercely independent spirit. We trusted in Christ for salvation, but when it comes to becoming holy we turn our back on God and say, “I want to do it.” We practically ignore God and the means of grace he has provided for our sanctification, and we come up with our own system based on our own standards rather than on God’s standards for becoming holy.
But if I am going to please God, I have to let go of my independence, because I will never be holy on my own. And so our passage raises a very important aspect of the gospel that we often overlook. Just as I depend on God for my salvation, I must continue to depend on him for my spiritual growth (Read). Both verses use common biblical pictures to illustrate how Christ has changed our hearts. First, v. 11 uses…
The Picture Circumcision: Christ broke the power of sin (v. 11).
The OT Picture of Heart Circumcision: To appreciate this verse you have to see it in light of Paul’s OT, Jewish way of thinking. God first instituted circumcision in Genesis 17 as a means of distinguishing Abraham and ultimately the nation of Israel from every other nation in the world. Circumcision set Israel apart as God’s chosen, special people.
But God emphasized from the very beginning that this physical marker was ultimately worthless if it didn’t reflect a genuine heart for God. Therefore, just 40 years after Israel left Egypt, God commanded them through Moses in Deuteronomy 10:16, “Circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and be stiff-necked no longer.” Moses tells us that removing a piece of skin does not automatically remove the darkness of the human heart. What Israel needed more than an outward sign was changed hearts that were committed to God.
But Israel always struggled to have a heart for God. Even though they faithfully circumcised their children, their hearts remained dark and rebellious. As a result, some 800 years later just before Judah was destroyed by Babylon, God said to them through Jeremiah, “Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns. Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of your heart” (Jer 4:3–4).
Sadly Israel was never able to obey Jeremiah’s command on a large scale. Cutting away the darkness of the human heart and its rebellion against God is always far more difficult than cutting away a piece of skin.
And we can see illustrations of this around us all the time. I’ve met many people who are very proud of their outward form of spirituality. They wear the right clothes, they go to the right church, they carry the right Bible, or they stand for the right social cause. But it’s all just a cover for a dark heart that is filled with anger, bitterness, and an utter lack of affection for God. What they need far more than their outward symbol of spirituality is to have the darkness of their hearts removed. And Paul boldly declares in v. 11 that Christ has done this for his children.
Christ has circumcised our hearts. Notice that v. 11 begins with the all-important phrase in Colossians “in Him.” I said last week that this phrase describes how we are united with Christ at the very beginning of our Christian experience.
Specifically, Paul says that because we are “in Him,” we were “circumcised with the circumcision made without hands.” The fact that this circumcision is not done with hands tells us that it is a spiritual work. And notice also that this is not something that we do to ourselves.
It is something that Christ does to us. Verse 11 concludes by saying that it is “the circumcision of Christ.” But what exactly has he done? The end of the verse tells us that…
Christ has broken sin’s power. The text states that this circumcision involves “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh.” And so Paul pictures the sin nature as being a cover of sorts over the heart of man that dominates all of life. The Bible teaches that we are not born into this world as an innocent, blank slate. We are born rebelling against God and unwilling to worship or serve the true God.
This is why Israel always struggled to obey God’s will, and it’s why all of the rules and regulations of the Law couldn’t make them love God or truly love their neighbor. It’s also why every manmade religion is filled with outward rituals and regulations intended to make us feel righteous while merely hiding the darkness of our hearts. In our Christianity Explored study on Wednesday the author compared man’s religious rituals to Band-Aids that might hide the darkness of our hearts, but they can never cure them.
We are powerless to strip away the stranglehold of the sin nature. Therefore, Christ did for us at conversion what we could never do for ourselves. He pulled back the shroud of sin so that we could pursue genuine holiness (3:8–10). You can see in v. 8 that God commands the Christian to put off several of the kinds of sins that go deep into our hearts. And why can we do this? We have “put off the old man…and have put on the new man.”
Now it’s important to emphasize that Paul does not say that Christ has made us perfect. After all he is commanding Christians to put these things off, implying that we struggle with them. And the literal idea of v. 10 is that we “are being renewed,” meaning it’s not done yet. We have a long ways to go, but we can actually start moving in that direction because of what Christ has done in our hearts.
It’s also important to emphasize that we don’t pursue this kind of change to earn acceptance with God. 2:10 said that we are already “complete in Christ,” meaning that we are fully accepted because of Christ’s righteousness.
Rather, we pursue holiness because we are already accepted and because why would any sane person want to live as a slave to sin and darkness when I can pursue the will of a loving, good God? It is a gift of God that we have been freed to pursue real holiness.
And if you are a Christian, then you ought to rejoice today that Christ has circumcised your heart. Before you were saved, sin dominated your life. You may not have looked that bad to the people around you, but you didn’t love God, and the spiritual fruits of love, joy, peace, and patience did not mark you.
But then you were united with Christ, and he changed you. You still have a long ways to go, but you are not what you once were. And Christ is continuing to build in you real holiness that springs from the heart. You are becoming like your Savior. Praise the Lord!
And then stay encouraged in the pursuit of holiness. Maybe you came into church today feeling beat up by your struggle against sin this week. It was struggle, and you lost more than you would like to admit. The sin nature is strong, and we will fail. So don’t despair.
Confess your sin to the Lord, and by the grace of God get up and keep fighting because Christ has changed your heart, and you can push forward in the pursuit of holiness.
And so v. 11 uses the picture of circumcision to describe how Christ has broken the power of sin. Verse 12 follows by using a second picture.
The Picture of Baptism: Christ has raised me to a new way of life (v. 12).
We need to begin our discussion of this verse by asking…
What kind of baptism is Paul describing? I say that because this verse often comes up in debates about baptism and even conversion. First, proponents of infant baptism will often use this verse to support their position. They believe that infant baptism has replaced circumcision as the sign of the covenant. And they will say that vv. 11–12 are an example of circumcision being placed alongside baptism.
But v. 12 is clearly not talking about sprinkling infants because it compares baptism to burial, and sprinkling doesn’t fit the picture. As well, whatever this baptism is, the end of v. 12 states clearly that it is made effective “through faith in the working of God.” Of course, an infant cannot exercise faith. Therefore, it is a big stretch to fit infant baptism into this text.
Another option is that Paul is describing water baptism for believers. Among those who take this view the Church of Christ would go so far as to say that the atonement is applied through baptism. They would say that we are saved by grace, but they would add that we are not really saved until we receive baptism. But the problem with this view is that the NT consistently teaches that the atonement is applied by faith, not baptism, and v. 12 says explicitly that the work of Christ is applied “through faith.” Baptism does not save; it is merely a symbol of what God has done.
I believe the best way to understand the baptism in this verse is that it is describing what we commonly call Spirit baptism, which is illustrated through water baptism. I say that because v. 12 in context is clearly describing a work of God through, not merely a physical symbol. But this work of God is pictured for us in the ordinance of baptism. And folks, what Paul describes for us in this verse about what happens in conversion and about what water baptism illustrates is so important for us to grasp. There are 3 truths in this verse about my conversion that we must understand. First…
My old life is in the past. Verse 12 begins by saying that when I was united with Christ at conversion, I was “buried with Him.” Have you ever wondered why the NT places such an emphasis on the burial of Christ after he was crucified? The simple answer is that burial is the seal of death. Burial proves that someone is dead, and there is no hope of resuscitation. Life is over.
And when someone gets saved, and they are joined to the death of Christ, their old life that is dominated the sin nature is dead, and it is buried with Christ. Paul expands on this idea for us in Romans 6:1–3.
The point of the question in v. 1 is that if I am saved by grace alone, then why do I need to worry about living a holy life? Paul responds in vv. 2–3 by saying that when I got saved, Christ did so much more than forgive me of my sin. I was also joined to his death. I “died to sin.” In other words, sin’s power over my life was broken, and returning to our text, you could say that the old life was buried in the ground. It’s dead.
And water baptism illustrates this fact. When we put someone down in the water, it pictures the fact that the old way of life is over. Again it’s not that we don’t continue to struggle with sin. We are all far from perfect. But that person is saying that I am done with the old way of life dominated by sin.
And if you are a Christian, you ought to praise God that Christ buried your old way of life, and you no longer live in darkness, enslaved to sin and deceit. But you also ought to be challenged to remember what God did and not go back. We need this challenge because even after we are saved, we still have a sin nature, and sin can look so appealing. Like Lot’s wife we look back on Sodom, or the life of sin, and we long for the pleasure it offers.
But we have to see clearly that the pleasure is just a mirage, that we were actually in slavery. And we especially must see that at the heart of conversion is the fact that we buried that way of life. As the old song says, “The world is behind me, the cross before me,” and there is “no turning back.” And so my old life is in the past. But it’s not just that I left something behind. I gained so much more. The second truth in v. 12 is that…
My new life is found in Christ. Verse 12 simply goes on to say that I was also “raised with Him.” Romans 6:4 expands on this idea. Because we have been joined to the resurrection life of Christ we “should walk in newness of life.” Because Christ has changed my heart, I can do so much more than put Band-Aids on my sin. I can pursue genuine holiness that works from the inside out. I can be filled with “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control and bear fruit in keeping with such a transformed heart. Again water baptism illustrates this point. When we raise someone out of the water, it symbolizes that Christ has raised me out of the grave and given me new life.
Folks, this is a wonderful gift. And it’s something that the Colossians really needed to appreciate. We’re going to see in vv. 16–23 that the false teachers were pressuring them to take on a heavy weight of legalistic works that the false teachers claimed would bring them a superior righteousness. But Paul is telling them here in vv. 11–12 that you have something so much better an exterior Band-Aid. You have new life in Christ!
And as we think about our own spiritual growth, it is essential that we clearly see the engine that must drive our pursuit of holiness. We all have certain sin struggles that are especially difficult, and we all go through periods of spiritual dryness. It’s very easy in those times especially to begin searching for manmade answers to our struggles.
I want to be clear that we should follow good strategies, and we should work hard. God commands us to do these things, and he never tells us to just sit back and wait for God to change us. But when we are discontent with our spiritual condition, we sometimes start to buy the kind of lies the false teachers at Colossae were selling.
We think that if I recite Jabez’s prayer, God will pay more attention to my prayers. Or we feel that there’s no hope to change my heart, so I just cover it up with some work that I think will impress people. Or I try to bear the whole load of my sin in myself. I think that I just have to try harder.
And again, the point is not that we don’t take wise steps or work hard, but fundamentally, I must remember that I have been raised with Christ. I can change through him, and fundamentally, I must run to him for help. And so Christian, remember who you are and what you will ultimately be through Christ. Live in the gospel and in the promises of the gospel.
And cry out to Christ for help and for faith to believe what is already true. Pursue genuine change in the only power that can actually produce real change. And then notice the 3rd truth in v. 12 is that…
I received new life through faith. The conclusion to v. 12 is vital to understanding vv. 11–12.
We’ve talked a lot today about the power the Christian has to live a changed life. But Paul is clear that we do not live a changed life in order to earn salvation or acceptance with God.
He’s also clear that it’s not fundamentally my effort that makes me a different person. I am not who I am by my own strength.
Rather, I receive all of the benefits of the gospel “through faith in the working of God.” I simply trust that God is who he claims to be, that Jesus really died on the cross, that God really raised him from the dead, and that Christ is sufficient to save. And I put my trust in these truths.
And the Bible is clear over and over that when I believe on the Lord this way, he will save me.
I am united with Christ, I am forgiven of all my sin, and my heart is changed.
And maybe there is someone here who has been trying to put Band-Aids over the sinfulness of your heart. You are trying so desperately to be good enough to earn God’s favor. I hope that you will see today that your heart is wicked, and there is nothing you can do to change that. And I pray that you will see that there is forgiveness and life in Christ. Today, put your faith in Christ alone for salvation and be saved. If you have questions about what that means and how to do it, I want to talk with you today.
For those who are saved, I pray that our faith will be renewed that Jesus is enough to do battle with sin, and we will go out from here determined to fight sin in the strength he provides.