The New Mark of the Covenant
Study #16 Colossians 2:11-15
by Bob Burridge ©2022
I remember when our babies were born, the hospitals immediately foot printed them and issued a birth certificate. Then they put little name bracelets on them to identify who they belonged to. Our hospital used little beads strung on a string. The main part was made up of blue beads for boys and pink ones for the girls. The last name was spelled out with lettered white beads. When the babies came home the bracelets were clipped off and stored away as a treasured memory. Sometimes those old bracelets were put out as decorations or mounted with baby pictures.
The bracelet served an important purpose until the baby was taken home to start its life in its own family. It said to the nurses and people staring into the window of the nursery, “I belong to the family whose name is on this bracelet. Their home will be mine. And I will grow up there.”
Once brought home the tag wasn’t needed any more. They slept in their own crib in their own little room answerable to their mom and dad who watched over them.
Of course it wasn’t the bracelet that made the baby ours. The name was tagged onto the baby to show that it was going to be raised as ours.
In a very similar way, but far more powerfully, God marks out his children too. In the early days, when he first started to gather his people together into a nation, God told Abraham to circumcise every male member of his family and every newborn male baby. It was to mark the male’s family out as God’s covenant children.
When the covenant promises were fulfilled in the coming of Jesus as the Messiah, the old bloody symbol was no longer appropriate. What it foreshadowed was now a reality. When the Messiah came his blood was shed for his people. The old bloody symbol and seal passed into the realm of fulfilled hopes. A new way of marking out the covenant nation of God was instituted, baptism.
The covenant promises didn’t become less. God’s work of adoption was made more clear, and the privileges in this life far better understood.
We have the great privilege of living in this time of history. Those marked out by the new sign of the Covenant belong to God as his people. It didn’t mean they were forgiven for their sins and restored to fellowship with God. It meant they were in the Covenant family and responsible for all it’s content.
The evil kings of ancient Israel were all circumcised. But their unrepentance and lack of true faith in God’s promises and instructions earned them its Curse. Those who came humbly to God looking to him for forgiveness and trusting in his promises were made right with God by the future work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
The same is true of all those baptized. It marks them outwardly part of the family of God and responsible to live for him. Those believers who by grace truly trusted his promises will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Those who are just outwardly baptized members of Christ’s church remain in their fallen condition.
After the resurrection of Jesus the New Testament gives several examples where directly says that when an adult believed and was baptized, all in the “household” of that person were baptized too. (Acts 16:15, 18:8, 1 Corinthians 1:16). It doesn’t tell us that all had to be adults who could understand the promises of the Gospel. If children were now to be excluded from the sign of the covenant, why is there no record in the New Testament that any parents asked why they are now excluded since they had always been given the covenant sign at birth since circumcision was instituted.
Paul’s next line of reasoning to give encouragement to the Colossian believers. The legalists there were insisting that circumcision was still required. This implied that God’s promise hadn’t yet been fulfilled. They saw the old ritual itself as what determined of our eternal hope. The Rabbis had distorted God’s Covenant and it’s sign placed on his people.
The last verses we studied explained
about the work of Jesus Christ.
9. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,
10. and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
Jesus was fully God who had taken on a full human nature. As the perfect human and infinite God, he alone could pay the infinite price of sin for his people. Now in him we better understand how we’re restored to fellowship with God. Our sin-debt was paid removing the offense that kept us alienated from God’s family. We are enabled spiritually to grow to be more and more thankful and obedient. This completeness was the reason a whole new sign and seal of God’s covenant was given.
The old sign and seal of God’s covenant was
circumcision. But that had become outdated.
11. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,
12. having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
The legalists were missing the inward meaning of the outward ritual. Moses and the prophets had told the people more. They need to be circumcised in their hearts. Deuteronomy 10:16, “Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn.” Deuteronomy 30:6, “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” Jeremiah 4:4, “Circumcise yourselves to the LORD; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem …”
Circumcision was never to be just an outward act, but a sign and seal of God’s work on the heart. This is what the physical act represented from the beginning. Circumcision represented the cutting away of the corruption passed on from generation to generation from Adam. It was that corruption that so offended God that it makes us as aliens from his family.
Jesus removed the actual corruption itself. The circumcision of Jesus mentioned here in 2:11 was not what he received as an infant. It was his putting off of the whole corruption of his people by his crucifixion.
The new sign and seal of God’s covenant is baptism. God’s people are now to be marked out by this sign which seals them as God’s promised family. It represents Christ’s finished work of cleansing away the contamination of sin.
In baptism we become participants in his burial and resurrection as it says in verse 12. Some miss this key point here in Colossians, as they do a similar comment in Romans 6:3-4.
The five words used for baptizing in original Greek text do not mean immersion under water as some say. One is the verb “baptizo” (βαπτιζω) usually simply transliterated as “baptize“. It’s used about 80 times in the New Testament.
Another is the noun baptismos (βαπτισμος) referring to the ritual washings of cups and pots practiced in Israel (Matthew 7:4, Mark 7:8, Hebrews 6:2, and 9:10). It’s usually translated by the word “washing“.
The third word “baptisma” (βαπτισμα) is a noun related to the previous one. It’s the act of baptizing and is used 22 times. It’s usually translated as “baptism“.
The fourth word is also a noun, “baptistaes” (βαπτιστης) which is used 14 times. It’s always used in reference to John describing him as “the baptist” or more accurately “the baptizer“.
The fifth word is another verb “bapto” (βαπτω). It’s used only four times in the New Testament. It’s usually translated by the word “dip“: dipping a finger in water, of Jesus dipping the sop at the last supper, and of clothing dipped in blood (Revelation 19:13).
These words in the New Testament and used when it quoted the Old Testament represented a ritual cleansing usually by sprinkling or pouring water over something or someone.
The immersionists say they lay a person down under the water to represent Christ’s burial, then bring him up out of the water to represent his resurrection.
However, here Paul is telling us what baptism represents, not how to do it. Besides, Jesus was entombed not buried under the ground. Laying a person under the water then lifting them back out doesn’t even fit that. The Jews had been using these words for ritual cleansings for a very long time before the birth of Christ.
God gave us a new sign for an age-old truth. In Genesis 17:7 God promised to Abraham, “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.”
On the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was sent to certify Christ’s church, Peter quoted that same promise and applied it to the church in Acts 2:38-39, “And Peter said to them, ‘Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.’ ”
This is why Paul could confidently write that all believers, not only the physical Jews, were partakers of the covenant promises in Christ: Romans 2:28-29, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” Philippians 3:3, “For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh”
This new sign of baptism declared that a new order had been set in place. As a sign, baptism demonstrates the washing of the grimy soul. It shows that the one baptized not only needs to have his sins washed away, but also that we trust that God’s promise in Christ is the only way to do so. However only when there is evidence that the heart is changed can we know the person is redeemed. The evidence is sincere repentance and a living faith in Christ’s finished work.
As a seal, baptism certifies that the one baptized is a member of the Covenant Community. As part of the body of Christ, the church, he will be watched over by God. Though he may wander far from him, the mark of God’s promise is there as a testimony of the promises. It condemns those as frauds who bear the mark but show no change in their soul. It assures and blesses those actually regenerated and changed by God’s grace.
All that circumcision signified and sealed is found in Christian baptism. Neither was just a physical ritual. Both represent and seal the inner union true believers have with God’s Messiah.
The legalists in Colossae denied that Christ fulfilled the promises. This is what Paul meant when he dealt with the same problem in Galatians 5:2, “… if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.”
Christians already have a true circumcision by their identity with Jesus Christ in baptism. As Messiah he removed the corruption of our hearts on his cross. He completed what circumcision represented! The bloody rituals were fulfilled in him.
Paul then reviews and clarifies
the results of Christ’s work.
13. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,
14. by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.
True believers in Christ are made alive spiritually and are totally forgiven. The debt of sin is death as a result of Adam’s sin. It includes the physical separation of body and soul at the end of our earthly lives. and the eternal spiritual separation of our souls from God.
But Jesus, fully God and a real human, paid the debt of sin and its guilt for all his people. The debt is so immense we could never settle its obligations even by a whole eternity of punishment. Those who come to him are therefore made alive! Their spirit is restored to fellowship with God! We baptize them to represent this and to set God’s seal of promise upon them.
Another great result is that
believers in Christ are triumphant.
15. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
There are ungodly human powers around us, and evil spiritual beings we can’t see. They’re in rebellion against the ways and glory of the Creator. Things can look pretty overwhelming against us and against the ways of the One True God. But they’re no match for God, or for the people he redeems. The Bible says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
Jesus fulfilled the promise made in Eden right after the fall in Genesis 3:15. As the promised seed of the woman, he crushed the head of the Serpent. The enemies of God are defeated! His resurrection was open proof that the enemies of God had been defeated. It showed that death, the penalty of sin, had been overcome at the cross. No wicked spirit being or human being, can triumph over the people of God.
So Paul wrote in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
This means that we can be confident in our standing before God in Christ. He completed all he promised he would accomplish. He gave us a proof of the success of his work in his resurrection. He gave us an outward sign and certificate of its truth toward us in baptism, the sign and seal of his Covenant promises.
Though the old signs are now obsolete
we still treasure their old message.
In circumcision we see a bloody cutting of the organ of our body that passes on our sinful Adamic nature. It foreshadowed the shedding of our Savior’s blood to deliver his people from inherited depravity. It marked out God’s people as those called to live by his promises.
Now, the water of baptism represent the cleansing of our hearts secured by our Savior. His blood was shed in the place of our blood being shed for what we deserve. Nothing beyond a true faith in God’s gracious promise is needed.
Grace is the undeserved work of God alone. It should not be imagined as earned by us. Very humbly we ought to rest in that promise and live in obedient gratitude for all that our Savior accomplished.
Today some still believe they need to add our own actions and efforts to the work of Christ. We don’t need fancy entertainment to make worship feel good. We just need a focus on God’s glory. We don’t need visions to learn things from God. We have his complete and all-sufficient written word. We don’t need medicines or psycho-analysis to replace our depressions and fears. The Holy Spirit was sent to minister to all the needs of our heart and mind. We don’t need a little vice in our lives to give our souls pleasure. God’s moral law must be truly loved by us. The only real pleasure is found as we submit to God’s revealed instructions when done for his glory. We don’t need superstitious rituals to control the course of events. We trust in God’s omnipotent providence and care for his people.
The only circumcision we need is that of the heart. We need the work of our Savior applied to us by grace. That paid the debt of our sins and gives life to our dead souls. With that we have all we need.
We who truly trust in that alone need to live in thankful obedience to all of God’s moral principles. That’s how we confirm that our trust in Christ is not just an empty claim.
We have the privilege of living in this era where the promise of God is so completely and clearly explained. Instead of unfulfilled symbols, God’s word assures us of a completed work of Salvation. We should live as those who are confident in their membership in the covenant family. Others can see that confidence at work in us when we give all the glory to the grace of God made ours by Jesus Christ.
Note: Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.