STUDY TWO: PAUL’S TEACHING ABOUT WHAT THE BELIEVER HAS ‘IN CHRIST’

As well as giving his most extensive teaching on who Jesus Christ really is, Paul also in Colossians itemizes a massive list of what Jesus Christ really did for us when he died on the cross. He leaves no loop holes for the false teachers. He leaves no excuse for either the Colossian Christians or us to have a wishy-washy, watered-down, powerless salvation. What Jesus did for us he did completely. There’s nothing left to be done. He did it all. Nothing is the result of our performance: it is all in Christ. We who believe in Jesus Christ never again stand in the presence of God in and by ourselves on our own two feet, with our own puny and variable offering of ‘goodness’ in our hands; we stand always and only in Christ, depending not on ourselves but on him. In this letter to the Colossians Paul teaches us that:

1:12 IN CHRIST - GOD HAS QUALIFIED US

In ourselves we are disqualified. Not one of is able to qualify ourselves for entry into heaven, for acceptance in the presence of God.

What do these two passages teach about our disqualification before God?

Romans 3:19,20

 

Galatians 3:10

 

But here in Colossians Paul states: ‘giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light.’

Do we have to qualify ourselves? No.

Do we have to keep ourselves qualified? No.

Yet so many Christians live each day as though it is their performance that day qualifies them for, or disqualifies them from, God’s favour. To do so is to completely miss the point of this statement of the Good News: God has qualified us.

1:13 IN CHRIST - GOD RESCUED US FROM THE DOMINION OF DARKNESS

Dominion = authority, control, jurisdiction, power, supremacy; it also means the place where this power is exercised. The dominion of darkness is the kingdom where darkness is in control.

Darkness =

      • the darkness of ignorance of God
      • the darkness of separation from God
      • the darkness of sin
      • the darkness of condemnation/judgement
      • the darkness of death
      • the darkness of bondage to Satan

 

Identify the evidence of this darkness in contemporary society, including your own life before you knew Jesus Christ and his salvation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So deep is this darkness in which mankind is lost that most don’t realise they are in it. Yet into this dominion of darkness God came and rescued us out from under its authority.

1:13 IN CHRIST - GOD BROUGHT US INTO THE KINGDOM OF THE SON HE LOVES

The word ‘brought’ does not fully convey the meaning of the Greek text. The Greek word is made up of the preposition meta which speaks of change (as in metamorphosis), and the verb histemi, which means to stand. So, what has God done? He has relocated us: instead of lying powerless (Rom 5:6) in the dominion of darkness, he has made us to stand in the kingdom of his Son. We didn’t step over from one to the other. He has so rescued and transferred us that we now stand in his kingdom instead of the kingdom of darkness. Note well what Paul says: God did it!

1:14 IN CHRIST - WE HAVE REDEMPTION

Redemption is the opposite of slavery or bondage:

[1] Our spiritual redemption in Jesus Christ is foretold by the historical redemption of the Israelites out of Egypt . That whole event is a massive pre-view of what Jesus did for us on the cross. From that historical event onwards God is known as the Redeemer.

[2] Another image of redemption is that of a slave who was purchased, or bought himself, out of slavery.

[3] Another, modern, image is when a pawned object is bought back from the pawn shop by its owner.

In each of these images a price is paid. Redemption then = freedom at a price.

Our deliverance from slavery to the dominion of darkness is exactly that: freedom at a price, the price being something paid not by us, but by the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. In him, Paul says, we have redemption, that is, freedom. (So Jesus Christ is called our Redeemer. Boaz, in the story of Ruth, is Ruth’s kinsman redeemer; as such he is prophetic of Christ).

1:14 IN CHRIST - WE HAVE FORGIVENESS OF SINS

When God looks at us as individuals, he holds us accountable for our sins. They cut us off from him; they separate us from him; they prevent him from hearing our prayers; they stand against us.

In Christ that is all changed. The believer stands in the presence of God with the sin barrier taken out of the way. Because Jesus Christ took responsibility for our sins we are no longer held accountable. On the cross God held him accountable. The key thought of the Greek word is taken away. It is not that sin has been taken out of our hearts, but that sin as a barrier that separated us from God has been removed. The image is that of the barrier being lifted at the race track freeing the horses to race. In forgiveness the sin barrier is taken away, freeing up our access to God, re-establishing our relationship with God.

In Christ the believer lives is this state of perpetual forgiveness. It is not something that is on again off again as we sin or don’t sin. Rather, although in ourselves we still sin, and that sin would still cut us off from God if we stood in his presence on our own two feet, yet because we are in Christ our sin no longer stands in between. In Christ forgiveness rules.

1:20 IN CHRIST WE ARE RECONCILED TO GOD

What do these verses teach about our pre-Christian relationship with God?

Romans 5:10

Colossians 1:21

 

2 Corinthians 5:19 states that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. As long as our sin stood against us all the wrath and condemnation of God against our sin also stood against us. We were, in effect, his enemies ( Col 1:21 ; Rom 5:10 ). There could be no restoration of a right relationship. But when God counted all of our sin against his Son, Jesus Christ, when he poured out upon him all the judgement and condemnation, when Christ took it all as our substitute, he was in that action reconciling us to himself. ( Col 1:21,22a)

We must never minimize what God has done here. In this action of God he makes it clear that he is for us. We must never again think of him as our enemy, as someone who is standing waiting for us to slip up, waiting to come crashing down upon us in wrath and judgement. God is for us. He demonstrated this once and for all by the death of his Son. (Rom 5:10 -11; 8:31-39).

These two passages from Romans emphasise the assurance of permanent salvation that we have in Christ. In your own words, explain what Paul teaches is the foundation of this assurance.

Romans 5:10-11

 

 

Romans 8:31-39

 

 

 

1:20-22a IN CHRIST THERE IS PEACE BETWEEN US AND GOD

Peace is the result of God’s act of reconciliation. It is achieved through Christ’s blood shed on the cross.

This peace has a number of dimensions:

Identify the impact of this peace with God on your perception of your relationship with God.

Peace is the removal of God’s wrath and of our enmity against God (Rom 1:18 ; 5:9)

 

 

Peace is the removal of the constant need to be justified by our performance (Rom 5:1);

 

 

Peace is the removal of both the fear and the presence of condemnation (Rom 8:1; 1 John 4:17 ,18).

 

 

Peace is the removal of the alienation between us and God ( Col 1:21 ).

 

 

It is only when we grasp hold of this truth, or rather, when we let it grasp hold of us, that we will actually live at peace - with God, and within ourselves. This peace will in turn facilitate peace between us and others. We must remember that we will often look inside ourselves and see there much that would wreck the peace of our relationship with God if we stood in the presence of God on our own two feet; but God no longer looks at us as isolated individuals, he looks at us only in Christ.

1:22 IN CHRIST WE ARE HOLY IN GOD’S SIGHT, WITHOUT BLEMISH, AND FREE FROM ACCUSATION

When God looks at the believer, that is, the person who is in Christ, what does he see? He sees not the believer, but Christ. Not only has Christ taken our sin and its punishment, removing forever the barrier our sin caused between us and God, freeing us up to once again stand in God’s presence; God, in his act of reconciliation, also presents us to himself holy, without blemish, and free from accusation.

This is so awesome it is almost impossible to believe. How does God see the believer? This verse tells us: holy, without blemish, free from accusation.

We would accuse ourselves. God doesn’t, for Christ has already taken all the accusation.

We would look at our spiritual spots and stains. God doesn’t. He sees not us, but Christ.

We would feel so unholy. But God counts us holy: his precious treasure purchased at great price.

The false teachers at Colossae, as we will see later, were making the believers see themselves as individuals who had to perform in order to maintain their acceptance with God and with fellow believers. The same thing is happening today, wrecking the joy and peace of many believers.

Read these verses also and identify what they teach about how God sees us in Christ:

Ephesians 1:4

 

Hebrews 10:10

 

Hebrews 10:14

 

 

2:10 IN CHRIST WE ARE COMPLETE

‘You have been given fullness in Christ’ NIV.

‘In him you have been brought to completion’ NEB.

‘Ye are complete in him’ KJV.

In ourselves we are destitute - we have no goodness or righteousness with which to satisfy God’s holy requirements (Rom 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 (Mat 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. (Gal 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 fulness 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: 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 - that I have to constantly come back to this simple but powerful truth: I am complete in my Saviour Jesus Christ.

2:11 IN CHRIST WE ARE CIRCUMCISED

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 (1 Pet 2:10); in fact Jesus indicated that even the leaders of the Jews were children of the devil (John 8:44). In Christ we are identified as God’s people.

[Note: the NIV reference to ‘putting off of the sinful nature’ is misleading. As its footnote indicates the word is flesh not sinful nature. 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 we put off the flesh we are putting off anything we do in ourselves and clinging solely to Jesus Christ, in whom we are complete. Note also: the NIV text makes this same interpretation of the word flesh in Romans 7&8.]

2:12 WE HAVE BEEN BURIED WITH CHRIST

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. Just as Jesus was crucified, dead, and buried, the believer is considered crucified (Gal 2:20), dead (Rom 6:5) 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 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).

Look up the verses referred to in this section. Write out what they teach about the impact of our identification with our substitute, Jesus Christ, in his death.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2:12 WE ARE RAISED WITH CHRIST

The physical resurrection of Jesus Christ guarantees the spiritual life of the believer. Just as he lives in resurrection life, even so we, having been buried with him, have also been raised with him, not yet physically, but already spiritually. We no longer are under the reign of sin and death (Rom 5:14 ,17,21). We now possess eternal life (John 3:36 ; 5:24 ); indeed, we reign in life (Rom 5:17 ).

Look up the verses referred to in this section. Write out what they teach about the impact of our identification with our substitute, Jesus Christ, in his resurrection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2:13 GOD MADE US ALIVE WITH CHRIST

A superficial reading leaves us thinking that Paul is saying exactly the same thing as in verse 12, but the first half of this verse indicates this is not so. Paul is saying that God has stepped into our lives and has done something which we were utterly incapable of doing. He says that we were:

[1] dead: he refers here to the fact that we were cut off from God, the source of our spiritual life. We were spiritually dead (compare Eph 2:1,5); we could do nothing to make a move towards God. Indeed we were disqualified from living in his presence.

[2] uncircumcised, that is, not God’s people.

[3] relating to God in ourselves (in our flesh) [Note: NIV sinful nature]. As Romans 8:8 says he who is in the flesh cannot please God (KJV). Remember that Jesus said ‘flesh gives birth to flesh ...you must be born again’ (John 3:6,7).

Into this situation of disqualification, 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.

What is the relationship between John 3:1-7, Ephesians 2:1-7, and Colossians 2:13

 

 

 

 

 

 

2:13 IN CHRIST GOD FORGAVE US ALL OUR 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. Note that Paul says all our sins.

2:14 IN CHRIST - GOD CANCELLED THE WRITTEN CODE THAT WAS AGAINST US

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 word against us. God does not keep a debit file with our name on it.

2:14 IN CHRIST - GOD TOOK IT AWAY, NAILING IT TO THE CROSS

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 our file, and at the same time remain just and maintain his justice (Rom 3:25,26), was for the punishment due to our sin to be taken or paid. Either we had to take the rap for our sin, or someone else had to stand in our place and take the rap 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) and nailed it to the cross. Our sin is nailed to the cross of Christ.

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. There is nothing in our file standing against us.

To give yourself a physical demonstration of this amazing and incredible truth, write out a list of your sins then destroy it completely so that it ceases to exist. Maybe you will burn it or shred it; maybe you will create a computer file and delete it then empty the trash file; maybe you will make a list on a whiteboard then erase it. Whatever you do, remember, that is what God did to your list when he nailed it to the cross of Christ.

2:15 JESUS CHRIST DISARMED AND TRIUMPHED OVER THE POWERS OF EVIL

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. That in itself speaks of his superior power and authority. 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.

3:1 YOU HAVE BEEN RAISED WITH CHRIST

Paul has already told us this in 2:12 . In both instances he is emphasizing the complete, all-encompassing salvation which we have in Jesus Christ, a salvation which takes us out of one kingdom into another, out of one mode of existence into another mode of existence, out of one way of relating to God into another way of relating to God. His point here, as we shall see later, is to show the Colossian believers the absurdity of reverting to a performance based relationship with God, when, as believers in Jesus Christ, they are united to him in such a way that all that is his is now theirs, and all that was rightfully and legally theirs has been taken by him. To revert to a relationship with God in which we allow ourselves to be judged, condemned, made to feel inferior, etc etc, is to lose touch with this fact: you have been raised with Christ. This is because ...

3:3 IN CHRIST - YOU DIED

So important is it for us to grasp this fact that Paul repeats it. Every Christian believer is incorporated in and identified with the death of Jesus Christ for sin on the cross. His death is our death. God’s law, guilt, condemnation, accusation, judgement - none of these has any right to touch us. We have paid the just penalty, we have borne the just condemnation, in Jesus Christ our substitute: we have died. We are no longer legally responsible. We will never again be held responsible. God’s law has already been fully met by us in Christ, who himself took full responsibility for our sin. For this reason Paul says

3:3 YOUR LIFE IS NOW HIDDEN WITH CHRIST IN GOD

This statement contains the absolute in assurance and confidence and security. Nothing, not even the judgement of God, can touch us here. Our lives, with all of their sin, their lack of love, their imperfection, the ups and downs, ... everything ... are hidden with Christ in God. The believer is as safe in the presence of God as Jesus Christ is safe. Christ will never again have to bear the punishment for our sin: we will never again have to bear the punishment for our sin. Christ will never again be forsaken and rejected by God the Father: we will never again be forsaken and rejected by God. Our sin will never again separate Christ from the Father: our sin can never again separate us from the Father. The believer is just as accepted by God as Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is accepted by God the Father.

In this is peace. In this is joy. In this is contentment.

In this is the sheer perfection and absoluteness of our salvation.

In this is the finality and unconditionality of our salvation.

From Paul’s presentation of the salvation we have in Jesus Christ in Colossians, write the meaning of these aspects of salvation:

God ‘has qualified you’

 

God ‘rescued us form the dominion of darkness’

 

God ‘brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves’

 

‘we have redemption’

 

‘the forgiveness of sins’

 

‘he has reconciled you’

 

‘to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation’

 

‘you have been given fullness in Christ’

 

‘buried with him’

 

‘God made you alive with Christ’

 

‘cancelled the written code … that was against us … nailing it to the cross’

 

 

With a friend or in a small group discuss the impact of Paul’s presentation of our salvation in Christ on your understanding of the following

Your peace with God in your daily living

 

 

 

Your assurance of salvation

 

 

 

The effect of sin in your life on your relationship with God