Imputation Without Hands, Into the Death which is the Death of Death

Colossians 2:11 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. 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….

Even though it was ordained by God, the death of Christ was done by human hands. In my view, the “circumcision of Christ” is not a reference to Christ’s literal circumcision as a child. Nor is the “circumcision of Christ” a metaphor for regeneration and the work of the Spirit in the elect. It’s one circumcision, both for Christ, and for the elect. Colossians 2 is about the elect’s legal identification with Christ’s one death. Our death is His death, NOT some other death done IN us.

Even though God used human hands in the state murder of Christ, imputation by God into Christ’s death is made without hands. Human sinners do not make the imputation.

The imputation is something you can’t see. But that legal “you also were circumcised” is the basis for God’s forgiveness of the sins of the elect.

Some “Calvinists” stress God’s sovereignty but not God’s justice, and so for them, God can and does forgive without any legal identification of the elect with Christ’s death. Many Calvinists are against “easy believism”, and so their response is to not deny that what I have said is theologically true, but to still assume that the three Bible texts are talking about “something more” than merely justification and the forgiveness of sins.

When these Calvinists say Romans 6 must also be about regeneration and not only about not being under the law and the guilt of sin, in just what way are they affirming that legal identification (without hands) with the death of Christ is the death of death for the elect?

Isn’t the result of legal union with Christ glorious good news? Isn’t the result of “circumcised with Christ” an immunity from death for sin?

Romans 1 shows the irony of sin as a punishment for sin. God sovereignly “hands over” sinners to more sin. Sinners are not only punished by being sinned against by other sinners, but also punished by God by being “given over” to more sinning. But there is irony in the good news as well. God’s solution for death is death. The death of another (the last Adam) is the death of death for the elect. There is nothing more gracious (and yet just) than the legal transfer of the death of Christ to the elect, so that there is legal solidarity of the justified elect with Christ’s death.

Sin has no power over the justified elect to kill them, because in Christ’s death they already died. This is grand. This is hope. This clears the way for a future. While most folks want something else, or something more that they can see, let us rejoice in what God does without hands: God counts the death of Christ as also the death of the justified elect.

Hebrews 10:28-29, “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by the One who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which He was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace.”

Hebrews 10 has been often used to teach that the new covenant is bigger than election, and that grace is for more than the elect. The idea of “common grace” is that God has some grace for everybody, more grace for those in the covenant, and even more grace for the elect. This idea of common grace is not biblical.

The Hebrews 10 warning is not saying that an apostate was in the new covenant. I do not think it is even saying that the apostate appeared to be in the new covenant, although this is a possible interpretation if you want to work out a visible and invisible church contrast.

The “Son of God” is the closest antecedent of the pronoun “he” in the phrase “the covenant by which he was sanctified”. Of course we need to remember that “sanctify” does not mean to get better and to go in the right direction, as most common theology would have it.

“Sanctify” is to set apart before God, both in the Old Testament context of Hebrews 10, (blood of the covenant, Zechariah 9:11, Ex 24:8) and in John 17. “And for their sake I sanctify myself, that they shall also be sanctified.”

Those who profane the death of Christ teach that Christ sanctified Himself for some sinners in “the covenant” who will nevertheless perish. They teach that, elect or not, some are set apart in “the covenant” who will not be justified by Christ’s blood.

Those who profane the death of Christ tell us that the glory of Christ involves dying for many sinners who will never be glorified. They dishonor Christ by telling us that Christ died also for those who are not and who will never be children of God.

When we baptize with water, we baptize with hands and we cannot know for sure if the subjects know the Lord. But this does not eliminate our duty to judge by the gospel. Baptism with hands is NOT about putting folks into a conditional covenant.

Submission to the righteousness brought in by Christ’s death means that we confess our personal bankruptcy, and this rules out past and future covenant keeping as a basis for blessing. Our only hope that we will be raised to immortality is that we died when Christ died. And if that legal identification with Christ’s death has happened, it was an imputation made without hands that nobody could see.

Circumcision in Colossians 2 is not a reference to “regeneration” or to “vital union” but to the bloody death of Christ. Don’t assume that Colossians 2 is saying the same thing as Romans 2, Colossians 2 is talking the justified elect being legally identified with Christ’s death, and thus cut off from Adam’s body, from Adam’s guilt. Water is done by hands, so water can’t be the antitype. Water does not replace physical circumcision in Colossians 2. That’s an assumption read into the text. Many commentaries (Bruce, Dunn, Garland, O’Brien) takes the “body of flesh” as Christ’s flesh and the “stripping off of the body of flesh” as the same as the “circumcision of Christ” as metaphor for Christ’s crucifixion. Two different circumcisions doesn’t work in the context of Colossians. It’s the same circumcision, both for Christ and for the elect, Christ’s one death. Our death is His death, not some other death done in us. It’s not Christ died and then we died. It’s we died when Christ died.

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One Comment on “Imputation Without Hands, Into the Death which is the Death of Death”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    we cannot assume water in every baptism. But there is a baptism which saves.

    The water does not save anybody in I Peter 3, but the baptism does save in I Peter 3 , which means that baptism in I Peter 3 is not water. And this means that baptism in I Peter 3 is not water and the Spirit, because water does not save anybody. . And this means that baptism in I Peter 3 is not in the Spirit, but by context in reference to death (water judgment, ark, Noah)

    j- Osiander argued that justification cannot occur unless Christ unites us to, infuses us with His divine nature (similar to theosis [2] Calvin rebuts that justification is forensic, and that Osiander’s version of union robs Christ’s human nature of its significance by attributing justification to the divine.

    mcmark—–The “placed into his death” of Romans 6 cannot be confused with the “Christ in you” and “the Spirit in you” by use of the word “union”. But Jeff you have done this very thing. It is one thing to say that every justified person is a regenerate person. We agree about that (although I do not use “sanctified” as a synonym for “regenerate” and it looks like you (sometimes) do. But it another thing to say that regeneration has legal or temporal priority to God’s placing the elect into Christ’s death.

    j- Calvin rebuts that Osiander fails to perceive the distinction between justification and sanctification, so that while the two are forever inseparable, they are nonetheless distinguishable.

    mcmark—being something of a “deconstructionist” myself, I tend to mistrust “difference” where definitions are missing. Most people who say that “justification is not sanctification” don’t define “sanctification” in the various ways the Bible defines that word. Most of them think they have defined something by saying “and sanctification is not justification”.

    We profit from reading Calvin against Osiander. Even though I agree with Bruce McCormack that Calvin is not consistently opposing Osiander, for purposes of our discussion, I would focus on Calvin’s comments about the forensic agency of the Father. Instead of the Holy Spirit giving us Christ, it is God the Father who places the elect into Christ’s death.

    Calvin—-Osiander holds in regard to the mode of receiving Christ,that by the ministry of the external word the internal word is received; that he may thus lead us away from the priesthood of Christ, and his office of Mediator, to his eternal divinity…..It would be incongruous to say that that which existed naturally from eternity was made ours. But granting that God was made unto us righteousness, what are we to make of Paul’s interposed statement, that he was so made by God? This certainly is peculiar to the office of MEDIATOR, for although Christ contains in himself the divine nature, yet Christ receives his own proper title, that Christ may be distinguished from the Father and the Spirit. Jehovah, when made of the seed of David, was indeed to be the righteousness of believers, but in what sense Isaiah declares, “By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many,” (Isaiah 53: 11.) Let us observe that it is the Father who speaks.

    I would commend to you in particular the Edward Boehl’s The Reformed Doctrine of Justification . That book continues the fight against Osiander. Even though it has not been that influential, Boehl’s book has been a great incentive for me to continue to ask for definitions whenever theologians use the word “union” in slippery ways.

    p 110, “What’s At Stake in Current Debates Over Justification?”,

    Bruce McCormac—“Nowadays, we are suffering from ‘creeping perichoresis’, that is, the overly expansive use of terms which have their homes in purely spiritual relations between humans who do NOT participate in a common ‘substance’ and who therefore remain distinct individuals. This surely has to be the relation of the human believer to the human Jesus as well.

    McCormack—“The early church thought of an ontological union of a ‘person” in whom being is mixed with non-being (that’s us) with a ‘person’ in whom being is pure from non-being (Jesus). Where that occurs, the life communicated from the vine to the branches flows organically…But the difference between the relation between a vine and a branch and the relation between Christ and the believer is that the first relation is impersonal and the second is personal. The flow of nutrients from the vine to the branches take place automatically. But in the case of Christ and the individual believer,the ‘bearing of fruit’ takes place on the foundation of justification.”

    McCormack—That Paul in Romans 11 would preface his use of the horticultural image with the affirmation that the adoption belonged to the Israelites before the Gentiles suggests that the image of ‘ingrafting’ is used as a synonym for adoption. The horticultural image is subordinated to the legal.”

    I fear that more people still read Romans 6 the way Gaffin does than those who read it in context of Romans 5. And I would agree that it’s not our views of water or baptism which determine this reading. But I would also argue that if we read Romans 6 (and Colossians 2 and Galatains 3) less traditionally, we would likely have more to think about when it comes to water and baptism.

    Gaffin: “Typically in the Reformation tradition the hope of salvation is expressed in terms of Christ’s righteousness, especially as imputed to the believer…however, I have to wonder if ‘Christ in you’ is not more prominent as an expression of evangelical hope…”

    Gaffin—”Despite the exegesis of some Reformed commentators, this death to sin is almost certainly not to the guilt that sin incurs and justification. In view, rather, is a definitive deliverance from sin’s over-mastering power to being enslaved instead to God and righteousness. That Spirit-worked (7:6) deliverance, NOT JUSTIFICATION, grounds and provides the dynamic for the believer’s beginning to “walk in newness of life” (6:4), their being enslaved in their conduct to God and righteousness….This is the crucial soteriological truth that in the inception of the application of redemption, at the moment sinners are united to Christ by faith, they are delivered from sin’s enslaving power, from bondage to sin as master

    David Garner—“ The vital and intimate union between the sons and the Son remains unyieldingly robust….In Christ the forensic and the transformative are ONE. Justification, sanctification, and glorification are ONE. Declaratory, transformatory and consummatory COALESCE in this resurrection.”

    Even Moo has now gone over to Gaffin’s “future stage of justification” side.

    Moo, “Justification in Galatians”, p 172, (essay in the Carson f , Understanding the Times)—”Nor is there any need to set Paul’s “juridicial” and “participationist” categories in opposition to one another (see Gaffin, By Faith Not By Sight). The problem of positing a union with Christ that precedes the erasure of our legal condemnation before God CAN BE ANSWERED IF WE POSIT, WITHIN THE SINGLE WORK OF CHRIST, TWO STAGES OF “JUSTIFICATION”, one involving Christ’s payment of our legal debt–the basis for our regeneration–and second our actual justification=stemming from our union with Christ.”

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