Colossians 2:6-15

© Rosemary Bardsley 2014

Colossians 2:6

‘So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord …’ Paul here refers back to the Colossians’ original response to the Gospel: they received Christ Jesus as Lord. This was no second step after receiving Jesus as Saviour; rather it was the initial step. The Bible knows nothing of first receiving Jesus as Saviour then subsequently receiving him as Lord. In fact, according to the Bible he can be our Saviour only if we recognize and acknowledge him as the Lord. [Check out Romans 10:9; John 1:12-14; 3:18; 8:24; 20:31; 1John 4:2,3,15;5:1,20, where the one criterion for salvation is acknowledging Jesus Christ is Lord (= God).]  

When these Colossians repented and believed in response to the gospel, what they did was receive Jesus Christ as their God.

‘… continue to live in him …’ – This follows on from Paul’s ‘So then, just as …’.

It was Christ, and Christ alone, in whom they believed at the beginning of their Christian faith.

The false teachers were enticing the Colossian believers away from this faith in Christ. With their add-on gospel they were teaching the necessity of

[1] additional knowledge or revelation of God from sources beyond and beside Christ.
[2] additional requirements for maintaining salvation - all to be provided by the believer.

The false teaching taught that simple faith in Christ was just a first step in knowing God and getting saved. But Paul confronts the Colossians with their original response to the Gospel and calls them back to it:
 
[1] Their original salvation occurred when they received Christ Jesus as Lord. Through this faith they were saved. Through this faith they were given new life in Christ. Through this faith they found forgiveness, reconciliation with God. Through this acknowledgement of Christ they then enjoyed all the blessings that were theirs in Christ.

[2] Now the false teachers are saying they must leave that initial step behind and progress to further revelation and to add their own efforts to Christ’s to secure and maintain their salvation. To this Paul says: just as ... continue. Just as in the beginning you received Christ Jesus as Lord continue to live in him. Don’t stop trusting in him and start trusting in your own efforts to maintain your life with God. Originally you depended on Christ for your life in the presence of God: don’t change now. Live in the presence of God always, ever, only, in him.

Colossians 2:7

Continuing to live in Christ will have the following expressions. He exhorts them, and us, to be –

‘rooted in him’ - he is the only sure foundation and ground of our acceptance with God.

‘built up in him’ – depending on anything else, anything we ourselves add, is worthless. There is building, but it is with the same stuff as the original foundation - Jesus Christ.

‘strengthened in the faith as you were taught’ - never depart from that original focus and content of faith. We were saved (restored to a right relationship with God) by faith alone in Christ alone on the day we were originally converted: the same is true today and every day of their lives: today and every day we relate to God only, always and ever by faith alone in Christ alone. As believers, we never again relate to God as isolated individuals standing in the presence of God on our own two feet with our own paltry little offering of righteousness in their hands. It is the truth of God revealed in Christ, that truth that saved us, that also strengthens us; not extra, additional truth.

‘overflowing with thankfulness’ – this is only possible when we trust not in ourselves but in Christ for our on-going relationship with God, for only when we trust in him alone for our moment by moment relationship with God can we have any assurance of salvation. As soon as we give significance to our own performance as maintaining or enhancing our relationship with God we end up in either pride or despair; neither of these allows us to overflow with thankfulness.

Colossians 2:8

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ’

Paul has reminded the Colossian believers that in Christ they have redemption [1:14]. He has told them that God has rescued them from the dominion of darkness [1:13]. Both of these images speak of release from bondage. In 2:8 Paul warns them against returning to a state of captivity. False teaching inevitably produces bondage: look at all the major world religions, look at all of the pseudo-Christian cults: invariably you will find that they do two things:

[1] Their concept of ‘god’ is different from the God who is the Father of Jesus Christ. In the case of pseudo-Christian cults the Jesus they present is less than the Jesus of the Gospels: he is robbed of his deity. In watering down the Biblical Jesus they also water down his authority as the final revelation of God and his power to give us complete salvation.

[2] Their concept of salvation is man-centred rather than Christ-centred. The religions of man - from the theism of Judaism to the ardent atheism of secular humanism and evolution – all tell me that I must do something, that I am responsible for my ultimate destiny, whether that destiny be heaven, or being right with God, or finding the god within, or achieving self-fulfilment, or whatever.  In making me responsible for my own destiny false teaching holds me captive. I must do this or that in order to be saved, whatever salvation might be.

Here in Colosse the false teachers reduced Jesus Christ.

This meant that the believers could no longer put their full confidence in him. If he did not fully reveal the Father, if there are further steps to knowing God, further revelations of God to which they must aspire, then they are trapped in a constant quest for more, they will never be satisfied, they will never be content. Yet Jesus himself said ‘he who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. [John 6:35].  Those who know Jesus Christ know the truth: the light of the knowledge of the glory of God has been revealed in him [2Corinthians 4:6], and those who follow him never walk in darkness but have the light of life [John 8:12].

Also here in Colosse the false teachers had reduced the salvation we have in Christ.

As do all false teachings, they placed the responsibility for securing and maintaining salvation [positive relationship with God] on the believer. Instead of teaching the believers to look to Christ and his righteousness and there find permanent joy and peace with God [Romans 5:1; 8:1; Philippians 3:1-11] the false teachers taught them to look at themselves on their own experience-based spirituality and their own supposed righteousness, and on those actions of obedience to various biblical and man-made rules, regulations  and expectations place their assurance of salvation. The false teachers held them captive in a constant obligation and need to perform in order to see themselves as right with God. They had to perform in order to be seen as spiritual. They had to perform in order to be accepted. They had to perform in order to be seen as Christian. They had to perform in order to maintain their salvation. It came to depend on them and not on Christ.

So Paul says: see to it that no one takes you captive. That is, ‘be on your guard’. This warning indicates that a real and imminent danger was threatening these Colossian believers.

Rather than having anything to do with the real Gospel, Paul exposes the false teaching that was threatening them as being based on and dependent on -

‘hollow and deceptive philosophy’ - Empty.  Untrue. Misleading. Deceiving.

‘according to human tradition’ - Not from God. Not God’s idea.

‘according to the basic principles of this world’ - Its source and its orientation was the world’s thinking: false teaching thinks the way the world thinks: it relates to God on a tit-for-tat basis -  ‘I have to do this for God so he’ll do that for me’.  The world operates on a merit basis. The Gospel of Christ operates on a grace basis.

‘rather than on Christ’ – while the true gospel is Christ-centred, and originates in Christ, all false teaching is man-centred and originates in the human mind.

Colossians 2:9

‘For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form’ – Paul here repeats the concept he taught in 1:19 where he stated that ‘God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Christ’. There was in the false teaching a perception of ‘flesh’ and ‘spirit’ that regarded the concept of a real incarnation offensive. John fought and taught against a similar perception when he wrote his first letter. In writing Colossians and 1John Paul and John saw it necessary to affirm both the true and real deity of Christ and the true and real humanity of Christ. So Paul, here is 2:9, adds ‘in bodily form’ to the formula he used in 1:19. This assures his readers that Christ was indeed not only God, but also a real human being, who, as he is about to teach, died a real human death on our behalf, as our substitute and representative. This is only possible if he is a real human being.

Colossians 2:10

‘and you have been given fullness in Christ’ [NIV] or ‘and ye are complete in him’ [KJV] or ‘in him you have been brought to completion’ – [NEB] The Greek reads and you are in him made complete. The ‘made complete’ is in the Passive voice – which means something done to us, not by us. It is in the Perfect tense, which means that this action was fully completed in the past and remains in that state in the present. In the passive voice the word – pleroo – means to make complete, to make perfect, to make full, to bring something to its goal or end. It is the same verb used by Paul in the Active Voice in 1:25, where he writes of proclaiming the fullness of the word of God. The related noun is used in verse 9 in reference to the complete Deity dwelling in Christ. It is not, however, the same word used in 1:28, where Paul speaks of presenting the Colossians ‘perfect’ in Christ [there he word is teleios].

In ourselves we are destitute - we have no goodness or righteousness with which to satisfy God’s holy requirements [Romans 3:10-20], and we have a great back-log of sin for which we must bear the guilt and the judgement. The parable of the unforgiving servant highlights our utter destitution and our inability to ever repay the debt incurred by our sin [Matthew 18:23-35]. We stand before God facing a million dollar debt, and we, like the first servant, have nothing with which to pay.

Into this situation of absolute spiritual destitution the Gospel comes and tells us: you have given fullness - completion - in Christ. In him all that God ever has and ever will require of you is yours: you are complete in him.

Whenever anyone says to us that we must add something of our own to what Jesus has done for us, this verse tells us: No. You are complete in him. If you add anything to that which is complete you wreck it. Just as the truth is diluted and distorted by both subtraction and addition, even so with our salvation: as soon as we add something of our own performance or piety to it, and base our relationship with God on that addition, we have effectively destroyed our salvation. As Paul told the Galatians who were being tortured by similar false teaching: Christ will be of no value to you all ... you have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. [Galatians 5:2-4].  These are very strong words, highlighting the foolishness and devastating impact of adding our imperfect work to the perfect work of Christ.

Another important point here is that state of completeness or fullness which is ours in Christ became effective when we first believed, and still is effective right now. That is the significance of the Perfect Tense of the verb in the Greek text: as mentioned above, it refers to an action completed in the past, the results of which are still effective in the present.

This concept - that we are complete in Christ - is one that I find extremely relevant in the present era of the church. There is so much reduction of the Gospel, there are so many who set themselves up as spiritually elite, there are so many within the evangelical churches who do not understand that our salvation is in Christ alone, so many various strands of teaching shouting out that I must strive for this or seek for that, whatever it is, to be truly spiritual - that I have to deliberately refuse to believe them or be unsettled by them, but rather to rest and rejoice in this simple but powerful truth: I am complete in my Saviour Jesus Christ.

‘who is the head over every power and authority’ – In these words Paul teaches that there is no power or authority that stands outside the authority of Jesus Christ. As Revelation 17:14 states, he is Lord of lords and King of kings. But we must not apply this authority of Christ only to physical or political powers but to spiritual powers as well; this is demonstrated in the work he did on the cross, which in turn is confirmed by the resurrection [see 2:15; Romans 1:4]. Those supposed powers or beings by which the false teachers assumed the world was created and through whom they supposed they found knowledge of God beside and beyond what is revealed in Christ, are insignificant and powerless. To give them honour, to worship them, is both ridiculous and blasphemous.

Here again Paul is hammering it home to these Colossians: Jesus Christ is absolute. When you’ve got him, you’ve got the One who is supreme over all that exists. When you have him, you have God himself. When you have him you have secure salvation. You have, in fact, everything of spiritual value. There isn’t any more – no more to know about God; no more needed to secure and maintain your salvation. False teaching tries to make people discontented with Jesus Christ, enticing them to the elusive more, playing on the common delusion that the grass in the next field is always greener. In 2:19 Paul states that the people who have gone off after something beyond Jesus have ‘lost connection with the Head’.
Colossians 2:11:

Paul now begins to explain the completeness/perfection we have in Christ, which is in stark contrast to the false teaching which held that it was necessary to add to the work of Christ.

Some preliminary notes:

[1] This verse seems problematic for translators. Read it in a number of different translations, you will notice quite a wide variation.

[2] Some commentators point out that the phrase translated ‘in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh’ in the KJV does not contain the words ‘of the sins’ in the older Greek manuscripts. It simply says ‘in the putting off of the body of the flesh’.

[3] The 1984 NIV reference to ‘putting off of the sinful nature’ is misleading. As its footnote indicates the word is flesh not sinful nature. (The 2011 NIV has ‘flesh’ in the text.) Paul’s contrast is not between holding on to our sinful nature and putting off the sinful nature; his contrast is between relating to God on the basis of what we ourselves do in our own flesh and relating to God in Christ. Let us remember that what we do in our own strength is often ‘goody-goody’ stuff for which we think God ought to reward us. When ‘the body of the flesh’ is put off, everything that we are and that we do as human beings is put off. [Note also: the NIV text makes this same interpretation of the word flesh in Romans 7 and 8, which is also corrected in the 2011 edition.]

[4] I would suggest that this verse can only be understood in relation to all that follows in verses 12 to 14.

[5] Paul does not specifically indicate that the false teachers in Colosse taught that physical circumcision was essential for salvation, but the fact that there were other elements of Judaism in the false teaching, would make this statement about the believers’ spiritual circumcision in Christ important. That he felt it necessary is supported by his statement in 3:11 that in Christ there is no ‘Greek nor Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised’.

[6] Romans 2:25-29 contains teaching on this spiritual circumcision, describing it as a circumcision of the heart by the Spirit.

[7] In the Old Testament circumcision was a physical sign that identified the Hebrews as the people of God. In ourselves we are not God’s people [1Peter 2:10]. In Christ, ‘circumcised’ by him, we are identified as God’s people.

Detailed comments:
Physical circumcision involves the cutting away of a very small portion of actual human flesh. This circumcision of which Paul speaks in verse 11 involves the ‘putting off’ the body of the flesh. Not just a small piece, but the whole ‘body’.

Paul’s statement ‘In him you were circumcised’ is the first of a series of statements in which Paul describes the work of Christ on behalf of those who believe in him, as the substitute/representative of those who believe in him.

In him you were circumcised [verse 11]                        Aorist Tense, Passive Voice
having been buried with him in baptism [verse 12,    Aorist Tense, Passive Voice
… and raised with him … [verse 12]                               Aorist Tense, Passive Voice
God made you alive with Christ [verse 13]                    Aorist Tense, Active Voice
… you died with Christ [verse 20]                                 Aorist Tense, Active Voice
You have been raised with Christ [3:1]                          Aorist Tense, Passive Voice
You died [3:3].                                                                Aorist Tense, Active Voice

All of the verbs are in the Aorist Tense, indicating a decisive, once-off, action. All of these actions are true of the believer only in union with Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ who died, was buried and rose again to life. Not us. But because he did all of this as our substitute, on our behalf, it is all credited to those who believe. His death is counted as our death. His burial is counted as our burial. His resurrection to life is counted as our resurrection to life.

The first of these ‘In him you were circumcised’, is explained by the second - having been buried with him, and further confirmed by the third - and raised with him. Our being circumcised in Christ consists in our have been buried with him and raised with him.

Unpacking the verse, as it reads in the Greek text:

In him also …’ This immediately informs us that what Paul is about to say refers to something that is true of the believer only because of his union and identification with Christ his substitute. It is not something that is true of us in ourselves. The ‘also’ indicates that Paul is adding to what he has already stated – that believers are complete ‘in Christ’.

‘you were circumcised with a circumcision not by hand’ –  he is not speaking of physical circumcision done by human hands. The Aorist indicates it was a decisive, once for all, action. The Passive Voice indicates it was done to us, not by us.

‘in the putting off of the body of the flesh’ – in contrast to physical circumcision where only a very small piece of flesh is put off, in this circumcision the whole ‘body of the flesh’ is put off. The ‘body of the flesh’ refers to all that we are in ourselves as individuals standing in the presence of God. [It is, for example, that list of perceived personal righteousness which Paul had formerly trusted in, but has now discarded as dung – Philippians 3:3-9.] The word ‘putting off’ is a noun, not a verb. It refers to the action of discarding, renouncing, unclothing, stripping. In this spiritual circumcision a disrobing, an unclothing, has taken place: all that we are in ourselves has been stripped off and discarded. [The related verb is used in 3:9]. Again, this is a decisive, once for all, action, done to us, not by us. Because of it God has ceased to look at what we are in ourselves [our sins, our perceived goodness] – because all of this has been taken off us and away from us. It is no longer taken into account. It has been discarded just as surely as the piece of human flesh cut off in physical circumcision is taken off and discarded.

‘in (or ‘by’) the circumcision of Christ’ – this disrobing, this dispensing of our ‘body of the flesh’, was accomplished in and by Christ. Not by human hands. Not by us. In and by Christ. Christ did something that resulted in the removal and discarding of all that we are in ourselves – in ‘the body of the flesh’.

The meaning of this is that what we actually are in ourselves has, by Christ, been taken away and discarded. If anyone is ‘in Christ’ he is no longer ‘clothed with’ what he himself is or has done or has achieved. That has been put off. That has been discarded. Like an old garment. This has happened not as an inner moral change, but by our identification with Christ our substitute.

The way this spiritual circumcision in and by Christ was achieved is explained in verses 12 to 14.

Colossians 2:12

‘having been buried with him’ – Paul used the same expression in Romans 6:4. Burial implies that a death has taken place. [Paul actually states this in 2:20 and 3:3 – ‘you died’.] What Paul is saying here is that those who are ‘in Christ’ died in the death of Christ. So real is this, that he can say ‘having been buried with him’. Physically, we are still alive; we are not buried. But, spiritually, Paul says, the death of Christ is counted to be ours. The burial of Christ is counted ours.

In this we find a clue to the meaning of the circumcision, the putting off of the body of the flesh, referred to in verse 11. If this ‘body of the flesh’ [all of our own personal credentials or lack of credentials] has been taken off and discarded, where is it. Where is that which Christ cut off? It is buried with him. We, as sinners, have been buried with Christ. Aorist Tense. Passive Voice.

‘in baptism’ – This, like the parallel statements in Romans 6, is a bit prickly. It raises questions: ‘What does Paul mean by ‘baptism’? When does this ‘baptism’ occur?

We can discard the idea that Paul is referring to the act of physical, water baptism as that which accomplishes this union with Christ in his death and burial. This teaches that unless you undergo water baptism this truth, and others, do not apply to you. You are not saved. [This belief is known as baptismal regeneration. Within the Christian church, it is applied by many who practise infant baptism, and by some who practise believers’ baptism. It is also taught by a number of pseudo-Christian cults.]

If Paul is referring to the act of physical, water baptism he is speaking of that baptism as a symbolic affirmation of a spiritual reality that exists apart from the physical symbol of baptism. The symbolism involved expresses two spiritual realities he mentions in the Colossians passage: (1) the truth that we die with Christ; and (2) the truth that we are raised with Christ to new life. These are not achieved by water baptism: they are symbolised by water baptism.

What precedes burial? Death. When Paul says to the Colossians ‘having been buried with him in baptism’ he is reminding them of what their baptism symbolised. Going down under the water in baptism symbolised their identification with Jesus Christ in his death and burial. Just as Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried, the believer is considered crucified [Galatians 2:20], dead [Romans 6:5; Colossians 2:20; 3:3] and buried. We, in Christ our substitute, died the death penalty for our sins. His death for sin is credited to us. Paul’s use of the word buried (Aorist Tense) indicated the finality of that death. As far as God’s law is concerned we have fulfilled its just penalty against our sin because Jesus Christ, our substitute, died in our place. He died our death so we are considered dead. The law can no longer condemn or accuse or exact punishment from someone who is dead (Rom 7:1-6).

It is also possible that Paul is referring here not to water baptism, but to the baptism of the believer into Christ by the Spirit. He speaks of this baptism in 1Corinthians 12:12,13, and, probably also in Galatians 3:26-28 where the context is similar, and, possibly, also Romans 6:3,4. This does not undo or deny the symbolic truth contained in water baptism. That symbolic truth detailed above remains true of water baptism, even if Paul is not speaking of water baptism in Colossians 2:12.

If Paul is referring to the believers’ baptism by the Spirit into Christ, this occurred at the moment the Colossians, and we also, first truly believed in Jesus Christ. When the Holy Spirit baptizes us into Christ at the point of our conversion, he unites us to and identifies us with the death of Christ. By this Holy Spirit baptism Christ’s death becomes our death. Without this baptism into Christ by the Spirit, which includes being baptized into Christ’s death, we would not and could not be saved; we would not possess any aspect of the salvation which Christ obtained for us. Without this baptism into Christ by the Spirit we would be standing before God still exposed in all of our sin and guilt, still exposed to his wrath. But, Paul teaches, what we are – the body of the flesh – has been stripped off us and taken away. How this happened Paul is about to explain.

‘and raised with him’ – The decisive discarding of  our ‘body of the flesh’ in the death of Christ is not the end of the story. God also did this other thing: he raised us with Christ. Our union and identification with Christ in his death is accompanied by our union and identification with Christ in his resurrection. Paul uses the verb sunegeiro – to raise together. It is Aorist Tense – a decisive, once-off, action. It is Passive Voice – done to us, not done by us. When Paul speaks of this truth in Ephesians 2:1-7 he also uses the parallel concept of being ‘made alive with Christ’.

[Note that while in terms of legal necessity the being buried with Christ in his death must precede the being raised together with him, such a sequence of events does not apply to how this truth becomes true for us. As it impacts us, both the being buried with Christ and being raised with Christ are simultaneously applied to us at the point of our genuine belief in Christ. There is no delay. The moment we receive Jesus Christ, at that precise moment, these two truths, and all other ‘in Christ’ truths, are applied to us.]

‘through your faith in the power of God who raised him from the dead’ – Paul here draws attention to the nature of the faith through which all that Christ has done as our substitute becomes ours. It is not anything and everything that calls itself ‘faith’. It is a faith that is somehow focused on the fact that God raised Jesus from the dead. Here Paul is stressing a very important truth: that the resurrection of Jesus Christ validates two things: the Deity of Christ, and the validity of his substitutionary, sin-bearing death. A denial of the resurrection is a denial of the Deity of Christ and a denial of his death as a death for us. Such a Jesus is not the Jesus of the Gospel. Such a Jesus is powerless to save.

This significance of the resurrection, and belief in the resurrection, is affirmed in other Scriptures:

Romans 1:4: ‘…who … was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead.’

Romans 10:9: ‘… if you confess with your mouth that “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’

1Corinthians 15:17: ‘if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.’

But we do not only believe in the fact of the resurrection. We also believe in the power of God that accomplished the resurrection. The word Paul uses here is energeia. This means something like ‘strong working’, ‘effective operation’. Paul refers to this mighty working of God elsewhere:

In Ephesians 1:18-23, Paul prays that God will open our eyes so that we will understand God’s ‘incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of his mighty strength which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms ….’ [‘working’ = energeia]

In Philippians 3:10, Paul states that he wants ‘to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.’

Paul’s point at the end of verse 12 is that if we believe that it was the mighty working of the power of God that raised Jesus Christ, we can also be assured of this: that that same mighty power of God, that same working of God, is what has united us, at the moment we believed, to Christ, and has raised us up with Christ, and has seated us at the right hand of God in the heavenly realm. We do not, as the false teaching would have us believe, have to do something more to reach that position of complete acceptance. Everything that God requires of us has already been accomplished – by the working of the mighty power of God. In this working we trust: not in our own works.

Colossians 2:13

‘When you were dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh’ – [1984 NIV has ‘sinful nature’ instead of ‘flesh’]. [Literally, ‘and you being dead …’] Here Paul is referring back to what he has said in verse 11, but he takes us behind God’s action of circumcising us in Christ to what made this extreme action necessary.

Before we were ‘circumcised’ in Christ, before our ‘body of the flesh’ was discarded, before we were buried with Christ and raised with Christ, this is what we were:

We were ‘dead in … sins’ [compare Ephesians 2:1,5]. That is, we were cut off from life with God by our sins; we had no spiritual connection to him, and therefore no spiritual life. Our spirits were dead. At the time when God stepped in that did something we ourselves were utterly incapable of doing anything to reverse our situation and get ourselves back into a right relationship with God. As Romans 5:6 states ‘we were still powerless’.

We were uncircumcised. That is, we were not God’s people and we could never qualify to be God’s people. [Note that their physical circumcision identified the Israelites as the people belonging to God; to be ‘uncircumcised’ meant to not be God’s people.]

All we had was ourselves, this reality that Paul refers to as ‘flesh’. As he teaches in Romans 8:7,8, this ‘flesh’ is hostile to God, does not submit to God’s law, cannot submit to God’s law, and cannot please God. As Jesus pointed out in John 3:6,7: ‘flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit. … You must be born again.’

‘God made you alive with Christ’ - Into this situation of disqualification, alienation, helplessness and powerlessness God came and made us alive with Christ. God came and undid the effects of our sin; he reversed the curse of Genesis 3. There he had placed the cherubim with flaming swords to bar the way to the tree of life least we, the sinners, should eat its fruit and live forever. Here, in the death of his Son, he rips away the ban (there were cherubim on the temple curtain that ripped in two when Jesus died) and gives us eternal life as a gift. That which was impossible for us was not impossible to God.

Note again the Aorist Tense, and note that this is something done by God to us. It is not something we have done ourselves. God is the active party. We are the objects and recipients of his action.

Colossians 2:13-14

Paul has now come to the point where he can explain how everything that he has being saying from verse 11 onwards has been achieved.

‘He forgave us all our sins’ – [literally – ‘Having forgiven you all sins’] Paul uses a different word here than in 1:14. The word here means to bestow a favour unconditionally.  It is related to the word for grace and free gift. We could paraphrase his meaning as God has unconditionally graced over all of our sins. All that disqualification, that inability to please God, that helplessness and powerlessness in which our sin held us dead, all of this God has freely, unconditionally, undeservedly, forgiven. God has graciously granted us a pardon for all our sins.

Note that Paul says all our sins. Note just some of them: not just our pre-conversion sins, not just the sins we recognize or remember, not just those we verbally list in prayer, not just our past sins. But all.

Note also that Paul has again used the Aorist Tense: God has forgiven us all our sins in a decisive, once-for-all action.

This pardon, this gracious forgiving of all of our sins, is the essential theological prerequisite for God making us alive in Christ. The Greek reads: God made you alive together with Christ, having forgiven you all sins…’. In terms of legal/theological necessity, the forgiving occurred prior to the making alive. In terms of our receiving this, every aspect of our salvation in Christ became ours simultaneously.

‘having cancelled the written code, with its regulations and that stood opposed to us’ – This is what makes forgiveness possible. This, and Paul’s next statement, is what was going on in the death of Christ. All of our sins have been forgiven because of this action of God that he wrought in the death of Christ.

How did God freely and unconditionally forgive all our sins? He cancelled (the word means to wipe off or away, to blot out, to obliterate) that handwriting that stood against us. Every accusation that the Law of God could hold against us God has wiped it off, obliterated it, just as surely as you can wipe a whiteboard clean. One could say: God has deleted everything off our file. No record exists of all the Law’s just accusations against us. God does not keep a debit file with our name on it, nor has he stored it in a back up file.

No matter what or how many our sins are God no longer takes them into account. He has obliterated the record of it. Decisively. Once for all. The verb ‘cancelled’ is in the Aorist Tense.

‘he took it away’ – How did God so decisively cancel the accusations and the condemnation of the Law that were opposed to us? God ‘took it away’. Here the verb is in the Perfect Tense: a completed action in the past that remains completed in the present. God took it away, and it remains taken away. It is no longer standing opposed to us.

‘nailing it to the cross’ – [Literally – ‘having nailed it to the cross’ – Aorist Tense.] This is the essential fact that makes everything that has gone before legally valid. This is how God took it away. This is where God dealt with it and disposed of it and destroyed it.

It is not that God suddenly decided to be nice to us, and say ‘never mind’. He has not acted contrary to his justice. The only way in which he could ‘grace over’ our sin, the only way he could delete the file that documented our long history of breaking God’s law, and at the same time remain just and maintain his justice [Romans 3:25,26], was for the punishment due to our sin to be paid. Either we had to bear the full penalty and condemnation for our sin, or someone else had to stand in our place and bear it for us. God deleted our file by taking all that was in it and putting it in the file of his only Son, Jesus Christ. So Paul says God took it away [from us], put it on Christ, and nailed it to the cross. Our sin – our failure to keep the Law - is nailed to the cross of Christ. He bore our sins in his body on the cross [1Peter 2:24].

It was customary that the crimes of the crucified person were written on a list and nailed to his cross. We know that Pilate commanded that on the cross of Jesus Christ a sign was to be placed reading: Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews [John 19:19]. That is what was done, and that is what people saw. But God was doing something different. God nailed to the cross of his Son my list, and your list. For those sins Jesus died. They are paid for. They are deleted from our files because Jesus Christ has been punished for them on our behalf. There is nothing in our file standing against us. Nothing to attract God’s wrath. Nothing to attract God’s accusation. Nothing to attract God’s condemnation. Nothing to separate us from God. Ever again.

It is in understanding this that we can now understand what Paul was talking about previously:

In verse 11, when he spoke of us being ‘circumcised’ in Christ. All of this what Christ bore to and on the cross – this was ‘the body of the flesh’ that was taken off us and discarded. It was taken off us and put on him.

In verse 12, when he spoke of our being ‘buried’ with Christ. Christ our substitute died for our sins. We have in him already paid the full penalty.

It is only because of this sin-bearing, guilt-bearing death of Christ that those other things Paul said can occur:

That we are ‘raised with him’ – verse 12.
That we are ‘made alive with Christ’ – verse 13.
That God forgave all our sins – verse 13.

And it is all of this amazing salvation that Paul summed up in his preliminary statement in verse 10: ‘you are complete in him.’

Colossians 2:15

Paul now adds an additional concept. A kind of corollary giving extra information that relates to what he has said.

‘And having disarmed the powers and authorities …’  
Paul has already told us in 1:13 that God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his Son. This informs us that prior to our rescue by Christ we were held captive under the power of darkness. It tells us that God, through the cross of Jesus, rescued us from that authority. It also tells us of the superior power and authority of Christ. But so that we don’t forget it, so that we don’t make the mistake of crediting to the devil and his evil powers a power, authority and ability that is not theirs, Paul here reminds us that the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom we have complete salvation and on whom our life with God depends entirely, has, by his cross, robbed the powers of evil of both their right and their ability to ever again hold us captive, to ever again accuse us, to ever again sever us from our God.

Paul’s statement is very minimal. We do well not to try to make it say more than the Scripture permits. We are not given any clear concept of what actually occurred in the confrontation that occurred between Christ and the powers of darkness. What we do know is:

[1] Christ came to disperse the darkness [Luke 1:78,79; John 3:18,19].

[2] Christ came to rescue us from the darkness [John 8:12; Colossians 1:13] and to reveal God to us.

[3] Christ in his incarnation was pressured by Satan to avoid the cross [Matthew 4:1-11; 16:22,23]

[4] Christ, during his incarnation, confronted and reversed the strangle-hold that Satan held on various people, whether by casting out demons, or by freeing people from physical conditions inflicted by Satan. In doing so, he was undoing and reversing the impact of the fall in the physical lives of humans.

[5] Christ referred to his crucifixion as the time when the prince of this world would be cast out [John 12:31]. He also referred to his imminent arrest etc as the prince of this world coming [John 14:30]. In the context of these Christ was troubled by what lay before him, indicating that it was not something to look forward to [John 12:27].

People make all sorts of suggestions as to what happened between Christ and Satan during his crucifixion. Some come up with totally ludicrous, and even blasphemous, statements about it.

Perhaps the key to understanding what happened is found in Genesis 3. There Satan’s deception resulted in our fall. Since then Satan has held us in separation from God. Since then Satan has justly accused us. Since then he has held us under the fear of death.

What Jesus did in his death as our substitute reverses all of that:

He frees us from the fear of death, having restored us to life with God.
He frees us from the accusations, having born all of those accusations on our behalf.
He reunites us to God, having taken away from us all of the sins that stood against us.

Having already by his incarnation made God known [John 1:18], he now, by his death does all that is necessary for our legal restoration into a right relationship with God. This flies right in the face of Satan’s agenda for us. It is this that Satan sought to avert by the temptations he put before Jesus both in the wilderness and in Peter’s thoughtless intervention. Satan did not want Jesus to go to the cross as our substitute.

But Jesus did go to the cross. He took our sins there and paid for them in full. By himself bearing our sins he totally disempowered Satan’s right to accuse us. He removed Satan’s right to any authority over us.

‘he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross’ – [literally – ‘… having triumphed over them …’].

Each of the verbs and participles and verbs in this verse are in the Aorist Tense:

… having disarmed …
… made a public spectacle …
… having triumphed over …

Satan has been disarmed, decisively. The victory has been won, decisively and openly. The decisive public demonstration of Christ’s victory and Satan and his evil minions’ defeat has occurred in and by the cross.

Before Christ rescued us we belonged to Satan. This was our default position. Deceived by him. Accused by him. Held captive by him. Reflecting his nature and his priorities. By the cross of Christ we are delivered from all of this. When Christ bore our sins in his body on the cross he was, in that action, disempowering, dethroning and demoting Satan.