Yesterday a Germany's cabinet ruled that religious exceptions can be made to a law outlawing circumcisions. Earlier this year a court outlawed the practice, stating that it amounted to bodily harm to a person who cannot give consent. An immediate outcry from Jews and Muslims from around the world brought about a second look at the ruling. If the new law is approved, parents will be instructed on the risks of the procedure, and the circumcision must be performed by a trained professional.
American parents are divided on the issue of circumcision. A measure almost made it onto the San Francisco ballot last year that proposed a ban. Many are militantly against the practice, and many are fervently for allowing it - especially as a religious event in a boy's life. It is interesting that this surgery prescribed by God to Abraham thousands of years ago is still causing a stir today.
Many scholars speculate that one of the problems in the Colossian church was legalism. Perhaps some formerly Jewish believers were teaching that circumcision was necessary for the Gentile converts. We certainly know that this was the case in other cities in Asia Minor during the time of Paul's ministry. These verses seem to indicate that some proposed that faith in Jesus plus circumcision led to true faith and salvation.
We can easily shake our heads at this until we consider that for 1600 years the nation of Israel existed as God's chosen people, and circumcision was the sign of their covenant with God. This mark of the flesh indicated a man's security with God. It was an outward physical sign of an inward spirituality. It is a poor comparison, but the closest thing I have to an outward symbol of an inward truth is my wedding ring. I would be extremely reluctant to give up this symbol of my marriage, even though in truth the piece of metal has nothing to do with my relationship with my husband.
With the death of Christ there was no longer a need for physical circumcision. His atoning death surgically removed our souls from our sinful nature ("the body of the flesh"). When we walk with him we daily allow Him to remove the layers of sin that continue to be attached to our lives. The fruit we bear through our words, actions, and deeds are a symbol of our "circumcsed hearts".
Baptism is not required for salvation, but it is a powerful symbol which mirrors the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. As Christ was raised from the dead, so we are raised to new life through the power of God. We must be careful to not be legalistic in teaching that baptism or any other action beyond faith in Jesus is required for salvation. Otherwise we fall into the same trap as the Colossians.
Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live. - Deuteronomy 30:6