Forthright Magazine

Christ the means. God the doer.

“Jesus saves!” This exclamation is absolutely true. I have also come to realize that merely affirming “Jesus saves” is ambiguous and could promote misunderstanding.

In my reading of scripture, it is Jesus who has made our salvation possible while God is responsible for causing us to enter salvation. Such an understanding aids in interpreting at least one ambiguous text.

But first things first. Is this dichotomy of roles accurate?

A sample of scripture reveals a unified voice. God’s transformative power takes us from death to spiritual life.

  • “The immeasurable greatness of his (God’s) power toward us who believe. ….you were  dead in the trespasses and sins …. But God …made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved” Ephesians 1:19;2:1,4,5
  • And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him (Christ), having forgiven us all our trespasses” Colossians 2:13.
  • “The Lord added to their number day by day those who  were being saved” Acts 2:47. In verse 39 the Lord is identified as being “the Lord our God.”
  • He (God) has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to  the kingdom of  his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” Colossians 1:13-14.
  • “When  the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us,   according to his own mercy” Titus 3:4,5.
  • He (God) is the one who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not based on our works but on his own purpose and grace, granted to us in Christ Jesus” 2 Timothy 1:9.

While it is God who makes us alive with Christ, salvation is possible because of Jesus. It is through Christ’s blood and death that salvation exists (Matthew 26:28; Ephesians 1:7; Romans 3:24-25; 1 Peter 1:18-19). It is in Christ that we have redemption and so forth (Ephesians 1:7). In other words, Jesus’ sacrificial death created atonement, forgiveness, adoption, being right with God, etc. 

In view of the above, I would suggest that texts like John 3:17; 12:47 and 1 Timothy 1:15 teach us Jesus is the means making salvation possible, not that he will personally transform us from being dead in sin into becoming spiritually alive with himself.

If all of the foregoing reasoning is accurate, then we have a tool for understanding the ambiguous phrase, “the circumcision of Christ” in Colossians 2:11. What was Paul trying to communicate?

What is clear is Paul associates a spiritual circumcision that is somehow related to Christ and the moment of baptism. But how? Who performs(ed) this surgery?

Some commentators and translations propose Christ is the surgeon who performs a spiritual surgery upon us. Others assert God performs the surgery. Which is it?

If this surgery is upon us, then because scripture repeatedly touts God as being the one responsible for causing us to enter salvation this would identify God as the surgeon. This understanding is confirmed two verses later. Colossians 3:13 describes God as taking us from being dead in our trespasses and the uncircumcision of the flesh to making us alive together with Christ and forgiven. God is the surgeon who works on us.

This still doesn’t fully explain the phrase “circumcision of Christ.” How is Christ related to the surgery? The function of the Greek genitive phrase “of Christ” serves to describe this circumcision as somehow being limited to Christ. For example, it is not a circumcision of the flesh, nor what Abraham experienced, etc. Rather, it is a surgery “of Christ.” But how is Christ related to it? Did Christ receive it? Does Christ perform it? Did Christ make it possible?

Based on the context of scripture, it would appear Paul is teaching that it is Christ who has made this spiritual circumcision possible. Hence it is the circumcision of Christ. Accordingly the apostle was reminding his readers that at baptism God performs a spiritual surgery upon us made possible by Christ.






Barry Newton
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