8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He [Jesus] disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him [-self, on the cross]. Colossians 2:8-15 (ESV)
Today we will be looking at the means that God chose in order to bring about the salvation of this fallen world.
When we talk about our salvation, we are talking about an idea that encompasses other terms and ideas such as atonement, redemption, and reconciliation with God. The reality of salvation is a deeply theological one. What this means is that we are trying to get at the truth that supports what we see enacted in the world. This redemptive drama was played out on the stage of the Judean countryside and culminated at the cross of Calvary.
Last week we saw that one of the reasons that sin is applied to all, that all humanity is under the weight, burden, and condemnation of sin is because it reveals that we have made the same mistake as the Devil. We have robbed God of his glory and have taken for granted God’s kindness and grace. This is the offense. Now, it may not sound like much. However, when we consider that the one offended by our sin is perfect, pure, and incapable of sin we can begin to understand a little bit of why sin is such problem. Because of sin, a means for salvation had to be created and used to allow a fallen and sinful humanity to have a relationship with a holy God.
As I mentioned a moment ago, the subject that we will address this morning has to do with a theological topic that many times, in my mind, is vaguely understood. We will be talking about the means of salvation. Now, before we go any further, it is important to make sure that we understand what we are saying when we say that God has a means to salvation. The word “means,” in this context, is pointing to a method, manner, or process that is used to bring about the salvation of sinners. Because, in the end, that is what we need to know. We need to understand how God was able to accomplish what he says he has done for those who were destined for eternal separation and damnation from him and now are not.
When we talk about a means we should be trying to understand what has to be true about the parts in order for the result to make sense. In other words, we have to understand all, or at the very least, the primary elements of this thing we call salvation if we are going to respond to the Gospel’s call to repent and be saved. To begin with we have to come to a couple of important realizations. The first realization is that we do not and we cannot fathom what the true cost of salvation is. As hard as we may try, what it cost God to save just one sinner, let alone all sinners, is beyond any form of human communication to formulate.
And second, and this in my estimation is the more important realization, when we can begin to glimpse at the extent, breadth, and depth of our salvation we will be compelled to worship because of things that we never considered before. I hope to establish the first by pointing to several realities that Paul tucks into the scripture we read this morning and I pray that I might be able to get us to better see the reason for the second.
Among the writers of the New Testament, Paul is one of the best at packing in an incredible amount of information into a small space. In this paragraph of Colossians, he does that once again.
Because of our time limitations, I would like to point out four realities that we must grasp and do our best to understand if we are going to make sense of why God used the cross as the means of accomplishing his redemptive purpose.
If we are going to understand the means of salvation that God has used we have to take a short trip down theology lane. When we look at the scripture we will see that from beginning to end, redemptive history has been moving steadily toward a particular and specific climax. That point was found in the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus, from his birth to his death and resurrection, the purposes of God found their final and perfect expression. When Jesus walked upon the earth, he was, literally, the embodiment of everything God is. This is the first reality that I would like to draw your attention to.
Reality #1: In Jesus we see everything that God is.
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily (v. 9)
Allow me to summarize what I am about to say over the next few minutes. The mystery of the incarnation is what makes the whole of salvation possible.
I do not remember when it happened, but several years ago I was struck by the reality that Jesus is the complete and perfect expression of God in the flesh on the earth. In theological terms, we call this “incarnation”. When Jesus, the second person of the trinity stepped out of eternity and into the temporal reality of this world, he did so by joining spirit and flesh.
In the first Adam, God established the process by which a living spirit would be joined to a corporeal body. When we talk about the means of salvation, we must keep our focus on what it took for God to establish a way of accomplishing the redemption we enjoy. Therefore, the first incarnation was not Jesus. It was Adam. For the first time in the history of all things, a spirit had found expression in time and in a physical body. However, without the first, we would not be able to make sense of the second.
The second incarnation was not an act of creation like the first was. It was an act of submission. The first Adam was trying to become like God. But in the second Adam, God became like us. When we look at the Advent story of Jesus’ coming we must never lose sight of what it took Jesus to enter into the world.
In the book of Philippians, we find that early hymn of the church that tells us that Jesus, who is God, did not count equality with God something to be grasped but humbled himself and became like a servant. Have you ever heard of a humble God? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God of David. The God of Bible is the only God in the history of the world that has humbled himself for the sake of those who walk upon the earth.
When we want to understand what God is like, what God is thinking, what God wants for us to do, we have to look to Jesus. When we look at Jesus we are seeing God in the flesh. When we think about Jesus’ love we are contemplating the love of God. When we hear the words of Jesus as we read the scriptures we are hearing the very words of God on the lips the Nazarene carpenter.
Therefore, Paul’s declaration here in Colossians 2:9 is a stark and startling reminder that God has invested a great deal of himself in the salvation of sinners. God is not distant or dispassionate. God is intimately involved in the events and consequences of our salvation. That is reality #1. In Jesus, we see everything that God is.
Reality #2: With Jesus we become everything he is.
God made [us] alive together with him (v. 13b)
There are many in this world that talk about not being religious, but that they are spiritual. I would like to make a clarifying statement about this notion. To say that you are a spiritual person is like saying that you exist. That the ground is down or that the sky is up.
What tends to happen, what people are really saying, is that they no longer want to submit themselves to a structured way of organizing their lives. You see, we are not just spirits wrapped in bodies or bodies with spirits. We are an intentionally integrated whole. This is one of the primary reasons that a resurrection is needed. The union of the spirit with the flesh is an indivisible one. There is no separating the two once they are joined. This again reminds us and points to the true cost of Jesus’ incarnation, but it also points to the promise of what God is going to do to us because of what Jesus has done for us.
Jesus was raised from the grave and so too will we be. Paul tells us that God has made us alive with him. The structure of the statement reminds us that although we have not experienced this reality it is a completed and undeniable one. For those who have accepted the gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus, there is no need to fear or be dismayed. We have been made alive WITH Jesus. So, we must ask ourselves: Where is Jesus? Right now? Is he not seated at the Father’s right hand? Is he not waiting for the appointed time that he will return and bring to a final and conclusive end the tyranny of sin and suffering, of disease and death, of sadness and sorrow that plagues the whole of creation?
Yes, this is what we have to look forward to when we recognize that not only do we see the fullness of God in Jesus, we experience the fullness of Jesus’ life in our very lives when we surrender our assumptions and preoccupations to the will of God.
One of my favorite promises related to what we have to look forward to when Jesus returns is found in John’s first pastoral letter. In chapter 3 we find these remarkable words.
2 Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 3 And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. 1 John 3:2-3 (ESV)
This is the second reality that Paul points to in our text: With Jesus, we become everything he is.
Reality #3: The record of our sin has been canceled and transferred so that we no longer are responsible for paying it.
by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands (v. 14a)
The third reality that I would like to point out to you today is that our debt has been canceled. Now, what the text does not say is that it was canceled on our account, but it was still outstanding. That means that someone had to pay it. I could not, therefore, Jesus stepped in and paid it for me.
In other words, a substitution took place. Jesus for me. His righteousness for my sin. His death for my life. His perfection for my imperfection.
Now, there is a curious clause in this part of the verse. It is the “legal demands” part of the verse. When you are reading the bible, it is important to make a note of things like this. Paul is pointing out that there is a real and legitimate reason for the debt of sin to be paid. There is a legal demand. We have to ask ourselves, what transaction took place that placed a lien on my soul.
The legal definition of a lien, according to Merriam-Webster is:
a charge or encumbrance upon property for the satisfaction of a debt or other duty that is created by agreement of the parties or esp. by operation of law; specifically : a security interest created esp. by a mortgage
Let’s walk through this. When I bought my house I did not have the funds to buy the property outright. That means that I entered into a legal and binding agreement with a lender to put up the money for the house. And, I made a promise to pay back the loan with interest until I could finally take hold of the deed. That deed is the document that says that I am now the rightful owner of the property. That mortgage is a lien. It says that if I should default on my payments the property, which I do not own, would go back to the one who paid the complete price for it.
What does this mean for us? It means that when we were born into this world we were born with a mortgage debt of sin that we did not choose for ourselves. It means that when I became aware of my debt I could make one of three choices. I could acknowledge that I had a debt that I needed to pay and try to pay it. Or, I could ignore the problem and live like a wanted until the owner came to evict me. Or, I could find a benevolent benefactor who would pay the debt for me and let me live in the house for free because I do not have the means of paying the bills of my own accord.
This is the predicament that we find here. When Jesus stepped into this world his ability to pay the debt of sin was infinite. In theological terms, we say that Jesus was “rolling in it.” Let’s look at another passage where Paul gives us a glimpse into the treasure trove of God’s abounding mercy and grace. In Ephesians 2 we find these words:
1And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 4But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. Ephesians 2:1-7 (ESV)
The treasury of heaven is not filled with gold and silver, diamonds and diadems. What we consider to be precious and of great worth here on earth are the building materials of a far grander city. The vaults of God’s repository are filled with grace and mercy, peace and joy, truth and love. These are the treasures that fill the halls of the kingdom. These are the substances that we must walk in and walk through to get from our heavenly house to the throne of God.
When Paul proclaims that our debt has been canceled he is not saying that we are left bankrupt. No, a great transfer has taken place. The riches of God have been deposited into our accounts. The immeasurable riches of his grace are being poured out. This is why we worship. This is why we serve. This is why we sing. This is why we go into the world. This is why we give.
Annie Flint, a hymnist from a century ago, famously wrote these words.
1. He giveth more grace as our burdens grow greater,
He sendeth more strength as our labors increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy,
To multiplied trials He multiplies peace.
2. When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.
3. Fear not that thy need shall exceed His provision,
Our God ever yearns His resources to share;
Lean hard on the arm everlasting, availing;
The Father both thee and thy load will upbear.
4. His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.
But, we have one final reality to consider. Not only do we have the full expression of God in the person of Jesus; not only do we become everything that he is; not only do we have our debt canceled and receive the riches of God’s grace and love; we also have the confidence that what God has done will never fade and our sin will never come back to haunt us again.
The fourth reality is …
Reality #4: The debt of our sin was transferred to Jesus and he paid it in full with his own life on the cross.
Look at what Paul says at the end of verse 14.
This he set aside, nailing it to the cross (v. 14b)
The cross is the instrument that God used to accomplish his purpose of salvation. In order for the cross to serve as the tool of our redemption, God needed a man who could stand in the place of fallen humanity. He needed a sacrifice that would choose to die and not merely be dragged to its death. He needed a sacrifice that would satisfy the debt that had been incurred by sin.
Jesus is the Lamb of God. He is the perfect sacrifice because no one take his life. He lays it down of his own accord. And because Jesus is also God, because of the shedding of his innocent blood, that selfless and sacrificial act gives him the right to cover any and every debt that we as debtors bring to him.
This is the majesty of our savior. He has laid down his life for those who did not and do not deserve it. This is the very definition of grace. We did not deserve to be adopted into the family of the King of kings and yet we are. We do not deserve to be given the fruit or the gifts of the Holy Spirit and yet we are.
The reason we deserve to suffer under the weight of our sin is not because God doesn’t want to forgive. It’s because we do not want to be indebted to God. We have gotten so used to having our sin hang over our heads that we do not understand that God will never do that to us. He purchases our debt with the blood of his Son, and then he gifts our lives back to us.
Listen one final time to what Paul says in Galatians 5:
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Galatian 5:1 ESV
Jesus owns the deed on our lives and instead of demanding payment he tells us that we can enjoy the house he has bought. The proper response to this gift is gratefulness and worship. We should not feel restricted by the idea that we no longer belong to ourselves but to Christ. We should not feel that we have been cheated by the exchange of a life we did not own for a life that we know we have been given to enjoy.
In conclusion, I would offer you this question. When you think about your salvation do you want to worship God for making it possible? Or are you thinking about the next thing you have to do to keep God happy? Or just yourself happy?
If our thoughts about Jesus’ sacrifice do not pull our hearts and minds and spirits to worship, we may need to reconsider what we claim to have.