Study

a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

2. Freedom Through Life in Christ

For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; 2That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; 3In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. 5For though I be absent in the flesh, yet am I with you in the spirit, joying and beholding your order, and the stedfastness of your faith in Christ.

6As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him: 7Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving. 8Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. 9For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. 10And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: 11In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ: 12Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead. 13And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; 14Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; 15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. 16Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. 18Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, 19And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.

20Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, 21(Touch not; taste not; handle not; 22Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men? 23Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

12. Buried with him, in baptism. He explains still more clearly the manner of spiritual circumcision — because, being buried with Christ, we are partakers of his death. He expressly declares that we obtain this by means of baptism, that it may be the more clearly apparent that there is no advantage from circumcision under the reign of Christ. For some one might otherwise object: “Why do you abolish circumcision on this pretext — that its accomplishment is in Christ? Was not Abraham, also, circumcised spiritually, and yet this did not hinder the adding of the sign to the reality? Outward circumcision, therefore, is not superfluous, although that which is inward is conferred by Christ.” Paul anticipates an objection of this kind, by making mention of baptism. Christ, says he, accomplishes in us spiritual circumcision, not through means of that ancient sign, which was in force under Moses, but by baptism. Baptism, therefore, is a sign of the thing that is presented to us, which while absent was prefigured by circumcision. The argument is taken from the economy 374374     “Du gouuernement et dispensation que Dieu a ordonné en son Eglise;” — “From the government and dispensation which God has appointed in his Church.” which God has appointed; for those who retain circumcision contrive a mode of dispensation different from that which God has appointed.

When he says that we are buried with Christ, this means more than that we are crucified with him; for burial expresses a continued process of mortification. When he says, that this is done through means of baptism, as he says also in Romans 6:4, he speaks in his usual manner, ascribing efficacy to the sacrament, that it may not fruitlessly signify what does not exist. 375375     “Afin que la, signification ne soit vaine, comme d’vne chose qui n’est point;” — “That the signification may not be vain, as of a thing that is not.” By baptism, therefore, we are buried with Christ, because Christ does at the same time accomplish efficaciously that mortification, which he there represents, that the reality may be conjoined with the sign.

In which also ye are risen. He magnifies the grace which we obtain in Christ, as being greatly superior to circumcision. “We are not only,” says he, “ingrafted into Christ’s death, but we also rise to newness of life:” hence the more injury is done to Christ by those who endeavor to bring us back to circumcision. He adds, by faith, for unquestionably it is by it that we receive what is presented to us in baptism. But what faith? That of his efficacy or operation, by which he means, that faith is founded upon the power of God. As, however, faith does not wander in a confused and undefined contemplation, as they speak, of divine power, he intimates what efficacy it ought to have in view — that by which God raised Christ from the dead. He takes this, however, for granted, that, inasmuch as it is impossible that believers should be severed from their head, the same power of God, which shewed itself in Christ, is diffused among them all in common.

13. And you, when ye were dead. He admonishes the Colossians to recognize, what he had treated of in a general way, as applicable to themselves, which is by far the most effectual way of teaching. Farther, as they were Gentiles when they were converted to Christ, he takes occasion from this to shew them how absurd it is to pass over from Christ to the ceremonies of Moses. Ye were, says he, dead in Uncircumcision. This term, however, may be understood either in its proper signification, or figuratively. If you understand it in its proper sense, the meaning will be, “Uncircumcision is the badge of alienation from God; for where the covenant of grace is not, there is pollution, 376376     “Là il n’y a que souillure et ordure;” — “There, there is nothing but filth and pollution.” and, consequently, curse and ruin. But God has called you to himself from uncircumcision, and, therefore, from death.” 377377     “Il vous a donc retirez de la mort;” — “He has, therefore, drawn you back from death.” In this way he would not represent uncircumcision as the cause of death, but as a token that they were estranged from God. We know, however, that men cannot live otherwise than by cleaving to their God, who alone is their life. Hence it follows, that all wicked persons, however they may seem to themselves to be in the highest degree lively and flourishing, are, nevertheless, spiritually dead. In this manner this passage will correspond with Ephesians 2:11, where it is said,

Remember that, in time past, when ye were Gentiles, and called uncircumcision, by that circumcision which is made with hands in the flesh, ye were at that time without Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the promises.

Taking it metaphorically, there would, indeed, be an allusion to natural uncircumcision, but at the same time Paul would here be speaking of the obstinacy of the human heart, in opposition to God, and of a nature that is defiled by corrupt affections. I rather prefer the former exposition, because it corresponds better with the context; for Paul declares that uncircumcision was no hinderance in the way of their becoming partakers of Christ’s life. Hence it follows, that circumcision derogated from the grace of God, which they had already obtained.

As to his ascribing death to uncircumcision, this is not as though it were the cause of it, but as being the badge of it, as also in that other passage in the Epistle to the Ephesians, which we have quoted. It is also customary in Scripture to denote deprivation of the reality by deprivation of the sign, as in Genesis 3:22, —

Lest peradventure Adam eat of the fruit of life, and live.

For the tree did not confer life, but its being taken away was a sign of death. 378378     See Calvin on Genesis, vol. 1, p. 184. Paul has in this place briefly expressed both. He says that these were dead in sins: this is the cause, for our sins alienate us from God. He adds, in the uncircumcision of your flesh. This was outward pollution, an evidence of spiritual death.

By forgiving you. God does not quicken us by the mere remission of sins, but he makes mention here of this particularly, because that free reconciliation with God, which overthrows the righteousness of works, is especially connected with the point in hand, where he treats of abrogated ceremonies, as he discourses of more at large in the Epistle to the Galatians. For the false apostles, by establishing ceremonies, bound them with a halter, from which Christ has set them free.


VIEWNAME is study