A Circumcision Made Without Hands

by Mike Ratliff

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. 9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11 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; 12 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. Colossians 2:8-12 (NASB) 

I have been working on a manuscript for a book that is an exegetical study of Paul’s Epistle to the Colossians. Stuart and I are in the editing phase now. I still have to exegete Chapter 4 and work on the Introduction some, but it is coming together. The passage above takes place in a critical point in Paul’s Epistle. He has been working through a section that I titled The Preeminence of Christ and now just before he addresses the theological issues going on there he gives them more depth of the reality of who they are in Christ and just one verse earlier he warns them not to let anyone take them captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ (v8). There is a great deal of false teaching in our time that claims that people can be saved without repentance and surrender to the Lordship of Christ. However, both repentance and surrender to the Lordship of Christ comes through regeneration and, therefore, are not “works,” but those who say the opposite are guilty of the very deceit Paul is talking about in v8.

4 But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, 5 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, 6 whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. Titus 3:4-7 (NASB) 

Please read the passage I placed at the top of this post (Colossians 2:8-12). God circumcised all genuine believers at salvation not with a  circumcision performed by human hands, but by the removal of the fleshly body, that is, through the circumcision done by Christ. What does this mean? The Greek word used in Colossians 2:11 for circumcision  is περιτομή (peritomē) It literally means “to cut around” and refers to circumcision or cutting off the foreskin. However, Paul gave it a spiritual connotation here and in Romans 3:30, 4:12, and Galatians 2:7-9. In this context it is speaking of the spiritual circumcision of the heart and affections by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh (Romans 2:29; Colossians 2:11). This word is also used by Paul to refer to those who have been spiritually circumcised (Philippians 3:3).

In the Old Covenant period circumcision symbolized man’s need for cleansing of the heart.

12 “Now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, 13 and to keep the LORD’S commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good? 14 Behold, to the LORD your God belong heaven and the highest heavens, the earth and all that is in it. 15 Yet on your fathers did the LORD set His affection to love them, and He chose their descendants after them, even you above all peoples, as it is this day. 16 So circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer. 17 For the LORD your God is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God who does not show partiality nor take a bribe. Deuteronomy 10:12-17 (NASB) 

Circumcision was also the outward sign of the cleansing of sin that comes by faith in God.

9 Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.” 10 How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised; 11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them, 12 and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised. Romans 4:9-12 (NASB) 

2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision; 3 for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, Philippians 3:2-3 (NASB) 

This spiritual circumcision takes place at salvation “by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh” (Romans 6:6; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Philippians 3:3; Titus 3:5). Christians are new creations and that wonderful work of God takes place when they are regenerated. In the Old Covenant this was outwardly symbolized by circumcision, but in the New Covenant, it is now baptism by water (Acts 2:38).

Some may question why this is all necessary. They may believe what they have been told by their religious leaders that repentance is not necessarily part of salvation. However, we must remember that salvation by God accomplishes much more than just the bestowing of eternal life on the believer. It is also a salvation or deliverance from sin itself.

7 In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace 8 which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight 9 He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him 10 with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him 11 also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, 12 to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. Ephesians 1:7-12 (NASB) 

Christ went to the cross to take the sins of His people upon Himself in order to incur the wrath of God against them. He was the sinless sacrifice, the Lamb of God, and the propitiation for the elect. This bloody sacrifice was necessary because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Hebrews 9:22 (NASB) 

Therefore, all whom God saves must become separate from the body of sin, which is the works of the flesh. Why? God is Holy and all who will spend eternity with Him must be holy as well. Right now, all living Christians are both holy and separate before God and fleshly and sinful in the temporal. In this horrid condition we are commanded by God to work out our salvation with fear and trembling. Peter tells us in 1 Peter 4:18 that “IT IS WITH DIFFICULTY THAT THE RIGHTEOUS IS SAVED.”


What does this mean? The Greek word translated as “DIFFICULTY” in this passage is μόλις (molis) and means “with difficulty.” Paul was quoting from the Septuagint version of Proverbs 11:31. What Paul is telling us, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is that justification comes only with great difficulty, suffering, pain, and loss. This is why we are standing firm against all the false teaching in the world that says the opposite. The genuine Gospel is clear that no one is saved without repentance and only the regenerate can repent. When a believer is marvelously saved by God, that is the starting place on the narrow, difficult path that leads to God and eternity with Him. This path is the one that few take because it is hard and difficult. What is so amazing is that this path runs right through the world. The temptations and persecutions and tribulations that come upon those separate and radically saved saints (Matthew 5:11-12) are actually used by God for His glory and the saints’ sanctification.

Time is short my brethren. It appears that the Compromised Church is replacing the genuine Church. Islamic advocates are working hard all over the world to make the practice of any other religion except Islam into a capital crime. Solid Bible teachers and preachers who preach expository sermons using sound Biblical exegesis are by far the minority in the 21st Century Church. Why? Unregenerate men are in control of very public ministries that are geared to please men rather than glorify God. Those who stand firm and contend for the faith against all who oppose the truth will be persecuted. This is already happening and it is going to get worse. Therefore, my brethren we must draw near unto God, commune with Him, stay grounded in the Word, and pray continually. Some are blessed with solid local churches who have not yet apostatized, but there are growing numbers of genuine believers who have been forced out of their churches and there are none left in their area that have not compromised. To these brethren I say, “Worship Him, pray, and stay in the Word the best you can. God is good and all who belong to Him are held in His hands. He will not lose one.“

Soli Deo Gloria!

6 thoughts on “A Circumcision Made Without Hands

  1. Reblogged this on Rainbow Trout and commented:
    Looking forward to the book. Mike has a good message about false teachers, repentance, narrow paths and persecution. Not the seeker friendly gospel. The Old Westminster Confession has some good words about the process of coming to faith which will lead to good works. It’s rarely taught but still quite useful. A good copy is found on the OPC.ORG website. Some relevant sections are here:

    Of Free Will
    Of Effectual Calling
    Of Justification
    Of Adoption
    Of Sanctification
    Of Saving Faith
    Of Repentance unto Life
    Of Good Works

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I was thinking along those lines last night as I wrote that. However, after I put together this post then started working on the last part of Colossians I was beat. I will work in integrating this into the manuscript. Thank you for verifying what the Holy Spirit was telling me brother.

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  3. Pingback: Weekly Reader – October 4, 2021 – Rainbow Trout

  4. I like your description of the differences circumcision held in the old and new testaments. I also would like to point out one more aspect of physical circumcision in the old testament which is generally overlooked. A careful analysis of Exodus 4:24-26 where Zipporah, Moses’ wife, quickly circumcises their son to save Moses and his son from death, Zipporah declares that Moses is “a bridegroom of blood.” The shedding of blood during physical circumcision also pointed forward to the shedding of the blood of Messiah. Jesus was to be the final blood sacrifice.

    Christians understood that so well, that no physical circumcisions were done for almost 1,800 years until quack doctors and theologians, such as John Harvey Kellogg, inventor of Corn Flakes began to teach that circumcision was a cure for masturbation. Jesus said the truth “sets us free.” God bless!

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