The Power of the Cross: 47th Edition, September 2, 2018

Mike Cleveland

Hello friend,

Welcome to the new subscribers just joining our newsletter. We publish once per week on Sunday. The newsletter alternates a gospel teaching on one week with testimonies from Setting Captives Free students on the following week. We hope you will find the newsletter helpful and encouraging. 


Just as a reminder, you are invited to join us this coming Tuesday, the 4th of September for a live, interactive learning course called “Set Free”. This is a 4-part live study series on how to be set free. To join simply click on this link on Tuesday the 4th at 6:00 PM Pacific/9:00 PM Eastern:

Or Telephone:
Dial(for higher quality, dial a number based on your current location):
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This week’s teaching is the seventh lesson of our new group study, which will hopefully be available within the next year. The following is designed to be done over the course of one week, in preparation for meeting with your group to discuss and pray together. 

We have made each lesson contain 7 questions, so the study is done answering 1 question per day.

Setting Captives Free - Lesson 7: Circumcised at the Cross of Jesus

We are studying through Colossians 2:9-15, and have completed verses 9 and 10 in the previous lesson. Please read through the passage again in preparation for our study this week:

Colossians 2:9-15 (NIV) For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

I don’t know about you, but I’m my own worst enemy. Forget about “the devil made me do it”, I made myself do it. Seems like every problem I’ve had in life comes from following not only the ways of the world and the devil but from my own selfish desires, making my own sinful choices, just being my natural self.

But just as Jesus’ death on the cross takes care of the human problem of emptiness, Jesus’ death on the cross also takes care of the problem of “the selfish me.” Notice the next verse in Colossians chapter 2:

Colossians 2:11-13 (NIV) In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,

Question 1. What do you think it means in Colossians 2:11 when it says our circumcision was “not performed by human hands”?

Colossians 2:11-12 teaches us that all believers were “circumcised” at the cross by God. This means that the “self” that was captive to sin was “cut off” and discarded and we’ve been set free from it. This is what “circumcision” by Christ is, and it is absolutely wonderful news, as we will see below.

The fact that our old selves were circumcised at the cross “not by human hands” means that this is a supernatural circumcision (spiritual in nature), a “cutting off” done by God and not man. But how exactly were we circumcised?

Notice this passage:

Isaiah 53:7-8 (NIV) He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished.

Isaiah 53 was written 700 years before Jesus Christ was born, but it was written to show in detail all that Jesus would go through on the cross for us (see Acts 8:35).

God put all our sin on His only Son, and Jesus Christ literally became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). He was “led like a lamb to the slaughter”; that is, He was taken to the cross and crucified. And then it says that Jesus Christ was “cut off from the land of the living” (verse 8).

Question 2. According to Isaiah 53:8, why was Jesus Christ “cut off” (circumcised) from the land of the living?

Because He was covered with our sin, and God hates sin, Jesus was “circumcised” from the earth, cut off and discarded. This happened because Jesus Christ was being punished for our transgressions. That is, we sinned against God, and God punished His Son in our place.

Oh just think of it, friend, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ your sins have already been punished at the cross, therefore you will never be punished for them. You did the sinning, Jesus did the paying; you did the crime, Jesus did the time. Jesus Christ literally became your substitute and my substitute, making amends for sins He did not commit (see Psalm 69:4).

But not only did Jesus have our sins on Him when He went to the cross, He actually had our “whole self ruled by the flesh” (Colossians 2:11) on Him; meaning, our natural selves that loved to sin, our old sin nature was placed on Jesus, and then cut off with Him. This circumcision that happened on the cross was an amazing supernatural event, where God not only cut His Son off from the earth but He also cut off our old self-serving nature too.

And here is the wonderful thing about this truth: as we “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2), the Holy Spirit applies this truth of circumcision to our own hearts.

Romans 2:29 (NIV) No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person's praise is not from other people, but from God.

This means that the circumcision that Jesus endured on the cross is applied to our hearts by the Holy Spirit so that our hearts are circumcised by the Spirit. At the cross, God cut off our old self, our “old man” (Romans 6:6), our “whole self ruled by the flesh.” And then, as He always does, the Holy Spirit applies the truth to our hearts, and we find by looking at the cross our hearts change, our passions change, our very desires change. This is what it means to have our hearts circumcised. Oh, how wonderful this truth is!

Friend, can you see how having your heart circumcised is what sets you free? It’s not turning over a new leaf, trying harder, working the program or doing the steps. No, it’s having our hearts circumcised at the cross that sets captives free. This is where you actually experience losing the desire for alcohol, actually becoming nauseated at the thought of pornography, where you begin to hate the thought of overeating, using drugs or being greedy, bitter or malicious. Instead, you find your heart strangely but powerfully drawn to the person of Jesus Christ. Your heart is warmed toward Him, and you begin to love Him because He first loved you at the cross (see 1 John 4:19).

Question 3. Are you seeing that having your heart circumcised is what sets captives free? How does it work? Please share:

Now let’s begin to apply this truth, and then we will finish our study with an illustration of it.


Think about this: at the cross God “circumcised” (cut off) the old you, the selfish you, the you with all the worldly labels, the you with the sinful bondage and selfish living, the complaining you, the unthankful you, the bitter you, the mean you, the loud you, the angry you, the demanding you, etc. This is the “self ruled by the flesh”, and it was cut off at the cross. It might help to remember this truth by thinking of the cross as an upside down sword that God used to cut off your old self.

This is tremendously wonderful news for those of us who understand the problems we’ve caused for ourselves in our lives, for those of us who know that our “self ruled by the flesh” was only deceitful, corrupt and selfish to the core. That troublesome old self has been cut off, rolled away and discarded. This understanding means that just because “I’ve always been this way” I no longer have to stay that way. Jesus has made a new way for us through His death and resurrection.

Think for a moment of your previous “self” that was a captive to sin. That self that was deceitful, the self that was in bondage, the self that could not break free from certain behaviors: the drunk self, the impure self, the overeating self, the unforgiving self, the self-righteous self, the prideful self. Can you see it being circumcised with Jesus on the cross? Can you see your captive self cut off on the cross? That is exactly what happened! Let this truth liberate your heart and mind today.

The application of this truth gets even better. Think of the you that was labeled an “addict.” There was no hope because “once an addict always an addict”, right? But then we look to the cross of Christ and see that this is not true - the “addict” was circumcised, cut off from you, and now is discarded with the dead body of Jesus. Now there is all kinds of hope for your freedom, for you have lost your whole self ruled by the flesh. Your label has been cut off and discarded by Jesus. And this circumcision of labels isn’t limited to that of addiction; Jesus has liberated us from all destructive and limiting labels the world seeks to impose on us. Hallelujah!

Now when the thought strikes you to go self-comfort with food or porn, or to drown out your problems with alcohol, or relieve stress by smoking, or whatever your usual temptation is, remember that your old self has been cut off; you no longer have to respond to the temptations. Instead, look to Jesus and find in Him the escape, the comfort, the love, the thrill, the peace that you need.

In other words, let the understanding that your “old man”, your old nature, your selfish you has been circumcised provide you with a different response than you would have had in the past. Now that part of you has been cut off, it doesn’t respond anymore. And, in fact, as we will see in the next lesson, it is actually dead and buried!

Question 4. How can you see yourself responding differently to temptation than the “old you” would have done in the past?

Now, as God always does, He provides an illustration of this very truth; we will find it in the Old Testament. Let’s notice a fascinating story from Joshua 5:2-9.


Please read this passage and answer the questions below:

Joshua 5:2-9 (NIV) At that time the Lord said to Joshua, “Make flint knives and circumcise the Israelites again.” 3 So Joshua made flint knives and circumcised the Israelites at Gibeath Haaraloth. 4 Now this is why he did so: All those who came out of Egypt—all the men of military age—died in the wilderness on the way after leaving Egypt. 5 All the people that came out had been circumcised, but all the people born in the wilderness during the journey from Egypt had not. 6 The Israelites had moved about in the wilderness forty years until all the men who were of military age when they left Egypt had died, since they had not obeyed the Lord. For the Lord had sworn to them that they would not see the land he had solemnly promised their ancestors to give us, a land flowing with milk and honey. 7 So he raised up their sons in their place, and these were the ones Joshua circumcised. They were still uncircumcised because they had not been circumcised on the way. 8 And after the whole nation had been circumcised, they remained where they were in camp until they were healed. 9 Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal to this day.

The men of Israel that left Egypt had all been circumcised as God required. This physical circumcision set them apart as God’s people. It was their mark of belonging to God.

But the children born to the Israelites after they left Egypt were not circumcised, so before Joshua brought them into the promised land God told him to circumcise all the males and he did. This is what God said after Joshua circumcised all males:

Joshua 5:9 (NIV) Then the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the reproach of Egypt from you.” So the place has been called Gilgal to this day.

In their circumcision the Israelites lost their identity as slaves in Egypt, had their new marks of belonging to God and saw that in this act God had rolled away their reproach, the shame of their slavery in Egypt, indeed, their whole past identity. It was symbolically cut off and discarded (rolled away).

Question 5. What are some shame-filled labels (identities) you’ve had in your past?

Likewise, as a Christian, what happened at the cross means you lose all previous identities. Your past labels are gone. Your past shame is gone. Your slavery to self is gone! It has been circumcised from you; cut off and rolled away, discarded in the tomb of Jesus Christ! You are free!

The place where this circumcision happened for the Israelites was “Gilgal”. The word “Gilgal” means “to roll” or to "roll away". This one truth can open up a whole new vista of understanding.

You see, this Hebrew word “Gilgal” has a New Testament counterpart word, “Golgotha.” This is the name of the hill on which Jesus Christ died. This is no doubt why God had Joshua circumcise the Israelites at Gilgal as it pointed forward to what would happen at the cross. “Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle” (John 19:17-18).

When Jesus died on Golgotha’s hill, He circumcised all believers. He cut off your old nature, your sinful self, your selfish self. He rolled away all your shame and disgrace. He circumcised your entire past identity, cut off all labels, rolled it all away and buried it all in the tomb!

Think of this, friend! God has cut off your previous life of bondage to self, removed your past that is associated with slavery to sinful living. All drunkenness and drug usage, all bondage to sexual impurity, all slavery to cigarettes, all overeating and laziness, all greed and deception, all bitterness, indeed, your entire life of selfishness has been circumcised! He has circumcised your heart and life, rolled away your past and discarded your disgrace. It is absolutely so wonderful!

Those of us who have tried steps, rules, laws, and resolutions to stop doing things, and have failed repeatedly, can now rejoice that our “self ruled by the flesh” was cut off! One step by God! Freedom for us!

But maybe you are wondering: how does this actually happen? How does it apply practically? We’ll learn more about this in the “gospel application” section of this course which is coming up soon.

Question 6. Please write what happened at the cross, to all believers, according to the teaching today. Take your time, and apply it to yourself as you write:

Lesson 6 Testimony: Mark

Mark writes, "I was raised in a Christian home and accepted Christ at an early age – unfortunately, I didn’t fully understand what that meant.  I knew that I was a sinner and that I could never earn my way into heaven. I knew that God sent his only Son Jesus to be born of a virgin, live a perfect life as fully human and fully man, and to die on the cross to pay the price for my sins.  I also knew that three days after Jesus died for me, He was raised back to life and was seen by more than 500 people. It seemed I had lots of head knowledge but what Christ did for me on the cross hadn’t really made it to my heart.

Growing up, I would often worry that heaven would be boring because there was no way to get in trouble – in retrospect, I realize I was rebellious and holding on to being a monarch in my own small kingdom rather than surrendering fully to the one true King Jesus.  This condition is best seen in my captivity to pornography and impure thoughts.

I was first exposed to pornography when I was eight years old.  I knew it was wrong but I indulged my lusts for years. Finally, I had had enough and decided to stop.  The problem was, I couldn’t. I could go for weeks even months resisting the temptation to look or lust and then in a flash it was back.  This cycle repeated itself for more than twenty years each time driving me deeper and deeper into despair.

God should have turned His back on me, but He didn’t.  Instead, He used a circumstance at work to get my attention.  As a condition of employment, I am subject to sitting for polygraph tests.  At my last exam the polygrapher asked a simple question: “Have you ever lied about something important to someone you love?”  That question broke me because just the week before my wife had asked if I was looking at pornography and I had said no. Some would say my world began to unravel, I would say I began to live again.  

After not passing my exam, I came home and confessed to my wife.  Next, I contacted the men’s ministry at my church and asked for help.  This secret sin I had tried to deal with on my own for so many years was now out in the open.  I was vulnerable but instead of the condemnation I had expected from the church, I experienced nothing but love and support.  (I would come to appreciate this later as men being Christ’s hands and feet to me.) Our church was planning a small study for men on purity but in the meantime one leader told me of a course called Setting Captives Free that he had taken.

I enrolled in Setting Captives Free the next day and while skeptical at first kept with it.  As I studied the Gospel every day God showed me what I didn’t fully understand before. Jesus didn’t die on the cross for me to look to it once, be saved and return to life as I had been living it.  He died in my place to pay the penalty for my sin and also to break the power of sin in my life. I have experienced new depths of what Christ did for me and am finally living an abundant life. Pornography has no hold over me now, and I am living as a free man.

Two scenes from my life stand out above all others to me.  One is me with the shackles of sin around my ankles that allowed me to move so far from pornography until the chain went taut and I fell back into the pit.  The second is of Jesus on the cross looking down at me with love saying I am suffering so that you don’t have to, me responding in desperation asking for help, and Jesus reaching out a finger to touch the shackles and breaking them wide open.  You see, this is exactly what Jesus did for me. He took the punishment for my sins on the cross so that I could go to heaven AND he broke the power of sin in my life so that I could live a superb life now. Jesus said it himself in John 8:36: “So if the Son set you free, you will be free indeed.”

Question 7. Please share your thoughts on Mark’s testimony:


Mike Cleveland
Volunteer for Setting Captives Free