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.