A SIGN OF OWNERSHIP
In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self – ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by 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. (Col. 2:11-12).
What was the purpose of circumcision in God’s covenant with Abraham?
Then God said to Abraham, ‘This is my covenant with you and with your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you. For the generations to come every male among you who is eight days old must be circumcised . . . My covenant in your flesh is to be an everlasting covenant. (Gen. 17: 9-11a; 13b).
Circumcision was a sign of ownership. It set God’s people apart from every other male in every other nation. No doubt, when Joseph finally revealed himself to his brothers, how would he have convinced them that he was indeed Joseph? By his mark of ownership as a Hebrew!
The Jews were God’s people by right of birth and ownership. Every Jewish parent would ensure that their sons carry their mark of ownership in their flesh. This was to be symbolic of a greater spiritual reality which would be revealed through Christ. Believers carry a mark of ownership, not in the flesh, but in the spirit, which sets us apart as belonging to God.
Paul spoke of a principle which applies in many areas of our lives – revealed in 1 Cor. 15: 46: The spiritual did not come first, but the natural, and after that the spiritual. It applies here as well. Circumcision was to be a physical (or natural) sign which would be followed by the spiritual when the truth was revealed in Christ.
Many streams in the church have seen baptism as the counterpart of circumcision and have developed the doctrine of paedo-baptism as the sign of God’s covenant. Just as boys were circumcised eight days after birth to show that they were included in the Abrahamic covenant, so infants are ‘baptised’ to include them in the New Covenant.
However, this idea conflicts with the teaching of Scripture, clearly indicated here, as in many other places (through your faith in the working of God), that it is faith in Christ, of which infants are incapable, that brings people into the New Covenant, not infant baptism.
What is the sign of the New Covenant, the sign of ownership? Paul was in no way teaching that baptism is the sign of the New Covenant which would contradict the principle of ‘first the natural, then the spiritual’.
And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of His glory (Eph. 1: 13-14).
Paul could not have stated this truth more clearly. God marked us with His seal of ownership, the Holy Spirit who is in us, when we confessed that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and that God raised Him from the dead (Rom. 10: 9-10).
What, then, is the purpose of baptism? Baptism was both initiation into and identification with a person, an office or a teaching to indicate publicly that the one being baptised had a new status. Baptism – or ritual washing was a common practice in Jesus’s day. John the Baptist initiated people who identified with him into his teaching about the Messiah, calling them to repent and identify with the One he was introducing to them. Baptism is, therefore the public, visible witness to our identity with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection.
Through baptism we are telling the world that we have died to ourselves and have a new owner, the Lord Jesus Christ, whose Spirit in us sets us apart as God’s possession. We have left the old life of sin and the flesh and are now living in union with Jesus and in submission and obedience to Him.
As the covenant people of God, set apart to Him and marked by circumcision, the Jews were to live in obedience to His commands, which they did not because they were without the Holy Spirit. We who have the Spirit are able to put to death the deeds of the flesh through His power and live a new life In Christ because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.
We must become who we are.
Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.