11 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,
12 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.
The “circumcision made without hands” is obviously intended to contrast the Christian’s circumcision with the circumcision required by the Mosaic law (and preached also by the errorists of Colossae). That circumcision, which represented the cutting away of man’s uncleanness and was the outward sign of one’s participation in Israel’s covenant with God, was made with hands (i.e, was physical) and affected an external organ of the body. The circumcision which the believer experiences in Christ is spiritual, not physical, and relates not to an external organ but to one’s inward being. In short, it is what elsewhere in Scripture is designated circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:28f; cf. Philippians 3:3). The tense of the verb (“were … circumcised”) is aorist, pointing to the time of conversion. — Colossians and Philemon, by Curtis Vaughan, page 74.
putting off (v.11) = stripping off and casting away — as in getting rid of filthy clothing
of the sins (v.11) — not in the best manuscripts
body of the flesh (v.11) — the sinful, depraved nature
circumcision of Christ (v.11) — spiritual circumcision performed on the believer at salvation
The fleshly circumcision removed only a portion of the body. In spiritual circumcision, through Christ, the whole corrupt, carnal nature is put away like a garment which is taken off and laid aside. We must be careful to note here that the evil nature is not eradicated. That remains in the believer until death (1 John 1:8). Its power is broken, and it has no more power over the believer than he allows it to have. It is the physical body as dominated by the evil nature that is put away in favor of a physical body now dominated by the divine nature. — Ephesians and Colossians in the Greek New Tesament, by Kenneth S. Wuest, pages 205-206.
working (v.12) = active power, energy
To understand this verse we must go back to Romans 6:3-4, where Paul says: “Do you not know that so many of us as were placed in Jesus Christ, were introduced into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him by this aforementioned introduction into His death in order that just as Christ was raised up from among the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also may be able to order our behavior in the energy of a new life imparted.” The believing sinner’s identification with Christ in His death, broke the power of indwelling sin. His identification with Him in His resurrection, resulted in the impartation of the divine nature. The baptism (placing, introduction into) is that effected by the Holy Spirit. The baptism in our Colossian passage is the same. Thus, “risen with Him” does not refer to our future physical resurrection, but to that spiritual resurrection from a sinful state into divine life. this was in answer to our faith in the operation of God who raised Christ from the dead. — Wuest, page 206.
Paul goes farther within the preaching of the cross to show how Christ, by an act of His own will, died not only for us, but as us. He identified Himself with mankind in yet another act — the cross, in order that He might represent us by bearing the penalty for our sins and so setting us gloriously free.
Now then, the next great truth we must learn about the Mystery is that the believer, by an act of his will, is baptized into Christ, and is eternally, and inseparably, identified with Him in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. How and when does this take place?
Buried 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 (Colossians 2:12).
Or as 1 Corinthians 12:13 says, “For by one Spirit are we all bapatized into one Body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles.”
It is by the operation of God, but then we must learn that it is when we believe.
When I go to Calvary by faith, see Christ dying there on that cross, and I say, How is this? Why is He dying? He had no death to die. “The wages of sin is death.” “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” “Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.” But Christ did not sin. Why then is He dying?
The only conclusion for the death of Christ, the conclusion of faith must be, that He is dying my death — and he was. As He was baptized into humanity at His birth, so He was baptized into our death at Calvary. That is what He meant when He said to the apostles in Luke 12:50: “But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished.”
He had already been baptized at Jordan, but He said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened. What a strait, what a spot I’m in until that is accomplished.” Thank God He met death, He did accomplish it. He died our death, and that is why Romans 6:3 says, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into His death.”
That happened at Calvary. The cross is the only meeting place between God and the sinner. It is only as we come to Calvary and see that it is our death He is dying and acknowledge it and accept it as the gift, as the wonderful expression of His grace. It is then that we are made one with Christ, baptized into Christ, and baptized into the Body of Christ. Ah, what a wonderful truth is this great revelation of the Mystery! — Commentary on Colossians, by C.R. Stam, pages 143-145.
A lot of commentaries see water baptism in verse 12. As an example of just how awkward and complicated this gets, I thought I’d include what Vine has to say:
In the act of being baptized the believer sets forth in symbol what took place when he first trusted Christ. For, ideally, spiritual life in Christ, imparted on the ground of faith, and death to the former state, are simultaneous, but in baptism it is one who already has life in Christ who symbolically expresses his identification with Him in the way mentioned.
The “in which” refers to baptism, by which the believer sets forth, in the symbolic act of being raised from the water, that he has been raised with Christ, the actual spiritual experience (which was antecedent to the figurative act) being by faith in the operation of the power of God in raising Him from among the dead. Faith was the means by which the experience of spiritual identification with Christ in His resurrection was accomplished, the testimony being given in baptism. The ordinance of baptism does not bring about the change; that is effected by faith. The ordinance is the necessary outward symbol of this; it is an essential testimony to the death of the old self in the death of Christ and to resurrection life in participation in His risen life. Nothing less than this makes a true Christian. — Colossians, by W.E. Vine, page 352.
Huh? First of all, that’s not even close to what the verse actually says. It says nothing of baptism being a symbol of something that already happened by faith. It says we are buried with Him in baptism.
Second, verse 12 is a continuation of the sentence in verse 11 which clearly points out that true circumcision takes place inside and isn’t just an outward show, so verse 12 can’t be talking about the outward show of baptism.
And lastly, Vine makes great effort to point out that salvation is by faith and that baptism isn’t salvation but is just a symbol of what has already taken place — then he goes on to say that without the symbolic baptism, we can’t be a true Christian. If that’s true, it must be a requirement, not just a symbol.
There’s no water in Colossians 2:12.