- Romans 6:1-11
- Colossians 2:8-15
Dear friends in the Lord,
Some 24 years ago we migrated from South Africa. Heila and I had to meet the requirements of the Government at the time. All along, our children, then under the age of sixteen, had nothing to do to meet any regulation. We can say they walked off the plane in-parent. We were their legal requirements to live in Australia.
They qualified for Child Allowance and Medicare, they could attend school, and like us, they could rely on police protection. They did not need to prove anything other than to say they belong to us, because they were still in-parent.
Some years later Heila and I became citizens. When we became citizens, them still being still in-parent, became citizens too as if they themselves met all the requirements, although they contributed and did nothing above what we as parents had done on their behalf.
In some sense those who are in-Christ receive all the rights and privileges as children of our heavenly Father purely based on what Christ has done on their behalf, because He satisfied God’s righteousness; what He has done is all we need to receive the same righteousness as the passport to enter the Kingdom of the Father.
The Bible records that the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26). Nowhere else in the Scripture do we find this term. It seems that the world who looked down on the followers of Christ gave them the derogatory nickname of “Christians” to mock them in the same way as they mocked Christ. But followers of Jesus Christ were known among themselves as “in-Christ’s”. The expression “in Christ” appears 87 times in the New Testament, depending on the translation one uses. This was most probably because it more correctly describes the Biblical position of those who are children of God.
We are called children of God purely because of our relationship with Him through of Christ.
The message of today, “Jesus Christ only—no if’s, no but’s” rests on this understanding from the Bible. Two verses from Colossians 2 underscores this truth:
…and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. 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… (Colossians 2:10–11, NKJV)
Add to this the related expression with Him. Let’s read verses 12-13
[you were] buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, (Colossians 2:12–13, NKJV)
Gnostics, Jews and ceremonies
Under those who joined the church in Colossae were people with a Jewish and Gnostic background. They did not hold to the principle of Jesus “Christ only, no if’s, no but’s”. Both of these groups wanted to bring something along of what they believed prior to becoming members of the congregation in Colossae as ceremonies which they demanded to make their salvation complete.
The Gnostics had some initiation rituals which they demanded. Judaism still dictated the theological thinking of Jews who became Christians. To become part of the people of God they taught that men had to be circumcised.
For these people, the act of circumcision was the thing, and not as much as what it signified. Right through the Old Testament God held the charge against Israel that they were uncircumcised in heart. Moses warned the people:
Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. (Deuteronomy 10:16, NIV)
The prophet Jeremiah delivered the Word of the Lord to the people:
Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, or my wrath will flare up and burn like fire because of the evil you have done— burn with no one to quench it. (Jeremiah 4:4, NIV)
Outwardly (ceremonially and sacramentally) they held to the practice but inwardly there was no sign of trust in God. Paul writes about this:
A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. (Romans 2:28, NIV)
This is what Paul refers to in verse 8: “these things depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ”.
Why was this wrong? And, so by the way, some Christians argue that baptism and other sacraments save. When Paul addressed this problem in Colossae he pointed them to Christ:
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. (Colossians 2:9–10, NIV)
When we look at sacraments, not as signs, but as instruments, we add something to the work of Christ and his perfect work of salvation. Further, we think we need to do or show something in addition to faith before our salvation will be complete. This is not what the Bible teaches.
Paul refutes the argument of both the Christian Jews and the Gnostics that something more than faith in Jesus Christ is needed.
Open the Bible with me at Colossians 2:9-10
For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:9–10, NKJV)
The in-Christ principle.
1. Christ’s righteousness is our righteousness
If Christ is the fulness of the Godhead, when we are in-Christ, in the eyes of God we are declared righteous because Christ is righteous. This is the first truth we need to grasp. Now let’s move on.
2. In Christ, we were initiated into the family of God
2.a He is our circumcision
God demanded that Abraham and his descendants must be circumcised. Circumcision did not make them the people of God, but it was a sign that God received them by grace into his family. Romans 4 states very clearly:
And he [Abraham] received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while still uncircumcised, that he might be the father of all those who believe, though they are uncircumcised, that righteousness might be imputed to them also, (Romans 4:11, NKJV)
For God’s people of the New Testament, the same principle stands. They too need to be grafted into the family of God. Just as God gave his Old Testament the righteousness they needed, He now gives the New Testament people the righteousness they needed. How? In-Christ!
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, (Colossians 2:11, NKJV)
In Him you were circumcised; this is passive tense. We do not perform the circumcision; we did not do it with our hands. It was done for us and on our behalf. Who did the work? Christ! What did Christ do? He gave us now clothes—this is what “putting off the body of sins” refers to. He died on our behalf in his flesh, on the cross, for our sins, and as such, He is our circumcision. In Him and through Him we may be counted as part of the family of God.
2.b We died in-Christ, we were buried in-Christ and we rose in-Christ
We hang on to the in-Christ principle. In-Christ we receive the full redemption. So, we don’t need to die for our sin and we, therefore, can’t be buried or raised from the dead as if we contributed anything to our righteousness. But Jesus died, He was buried, and He rose again. By faith we are in-Christ, which means—like my children who became citizens because I met the requirements on their behalf—so in-Christ we spiritually died and were buried; in-Christ we were raised to become new creations. Verse 13 spells it out in no uncertain terms:
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him [Christ], having forgiven you all trespasses, (Colossians 2:13, NKJV)
Paul argues that what was spiritually required to become part of the covenant people still remains: the act of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.
However, the sign and seal which visibly initiated sinners into the Old Testament people of God, circumcision, is replaced by something else. How did that happen? God’s saving grace is seen only in Jesus Christ:
… having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11–12, NIV)
Been buried. Passive tense. We are not doing the burying; by faith, God in Christ buried us and made us alive again.
Listen carefully to this text. What does it say? Let’s take it apart, step by step.
- We need a circumcision of the heart to become part of God’s family.
- The circumcision we get is through the saving grace of God in Christ. He circumcises us spiritually.
- The salvation we need is in Him and is our gift because of his death and resurrection. He was buried and He was raised from the dead.
- Through our union with Him we are not buried or brought to life through the sacrament of baptism; we plainly receive what He accomplished for us by faith.
- What makes salvation a reality in our life is a living faith and trust in Him who was buried and was made alive.
- Baptism, therefore, does not require of us to ceremonially be buried in the water to be spiritually made alive. This is to add to what the verse says.
- Baptism is nothing less and nothing more than a sign and symbol of what Christ has done in his death and resurrection in our place.
- By faith what He has done, is now mine. Baptism means, therefore, nothing more and nothing less than the sign and seal of circumcision in the Old Testament.
- Nothing changed as far as the substance of our salvation is concerned (it God’s work of grace!), but what has changed is the sign and seal.
That’s exactly what Paul states in the next verse:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins… (Colossians 2:13, NIV)
When were we buried with Him? When He died. When were we raised to life? When He was raised to life. Did it happen when we were baptised? No. Baptism is the sign and seal that Christ surely accomplished full salvation, but it is grace which united us with Him.
Those who demand that all babies should be baptised as soon as possible after their birth lest they die outside Christ has no Biblical warrant. The Roman Church teaches that the sacraments act as a funnel through which grace is poured out on the soul. It is therefore not uncommon to attend a funeral in that church and then to hear over and over again that the deceased person was baptised, and therefore saved. It is plainly not true. We’re saved by Christ’s full demotion, nothing else.
It is equally unbiblical to teach that if a person is not immersed into water through baptism he/she will not enter the kingdom of heaven. What saves us is not the water and the quantity of it; what saves is God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Baptism is a sign and seal of grace, and receiving it is setting one apart from the world as being owned by God, being-in-Christ.
Do we need to do something to show that we received Christ? Some argue that baptism is the public declaration that we have died and they we raise from the water to a new life in Him. I strongly argue this is not what the Bible teaches. Sacraments are not what we must do, it’s a sign of what God has done. So what do we need to do?
Chapter 3:1-2 helps us:
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. (Colossians 3:1–2, NKJV)
Let’s thank God for the fulness of his Son who has become our Saviour.