“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” This line from William Shakespeare’s As You Like It has staying power because of the strength of metaphor. Metaphor is one of the most potent ways to communicate an idea. As one writer explains, a “metaphor consists in bringing two sets of ideas close together, close enough for a spark to jump, but not too close so that the spark, in jumping, illuminates . . . the whole area around.”
Paul uses five different metaphors to describe what happens when a person comes to faith in Christ. His description is so detailed because he is countering false teachers who claimed that to grow as a Christian and subdue your sinful nature, you had to practice all kinds of strict rules and regulations. They emphasized not what Christ had done, but what we should do.
To refute these false teachers, Paul says, “your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ” (v. 11). The first metaphor is circumcision, a removal of flesh. Paul applies this idea to the work Christ has accomplished in us. Our old nature is removed when we come to faith in Christ.
In verse 12, Paul shifts to the second metaphor of baptism. Just as in baptism one goes under the water and comes back out, so also in Christ we die to our sinful nature and raised to a new life. In other words, the Christian life is not about following strict rules to attain salvation but about our identification with Christ. He has won the victory for us! Tomorrow we will continue our study of these powerful metaphors.
It can be easy to believe that spirituality consists in following a long list of rules: read the Bible, pray, volunteer in church, give generously, fast, or attend Christian events. While these are all good things, Paul reminds us that we have victory over our sinful nature because of what Christ has done for us. Our faith is in Him, not in our good works.