“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.” Colossians 2:11
“Circumcision not performed by human hands” – are we talking robot laser surgery? No, this taps into the metaphorical use of “circumcision” in the Old Testament. To grasp the concept, let’s take a quick look back at the history…
Physical circumcision was a sign (for Israelite males) that they belonged to God’s people, and it implied a commitment to live by God’s law. Most of the time, Israel failed to live up to the obligations of their circumcision, so God promised one day to act on their behalf and circumcise their hearts, so that they would be able to obey him. This would be an action of God, rather than human striving. And from later prophets like Ezekiel, it became clear that it would happen when he brought in his kingdom: something else which would happen “not by human hands” (per Daniel 2:44-45)
Paul is affirming that this longed for act of God – in which he enabled his people to obey him – has now already happened through Jesus. It’s as if our hearts have been circumcised, meaning we are free from being ruled by “the flesh.”
But how did that happen? Welllllll….
“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 2:12
Just as physical circumcision was the sign of being included into God’s old covenant, so baptism is the sign of being made a part of God’s people under the new covenant. Baptism does this – as an outward sign of our inward “faith in the working of God” – because it unites us in Christ; specifically, in his death and in his resurrection. The transforming power of Jesus’ resurrection is what gives us that new life and circumcised heart, and the right to be part of his people.