Consummated, Categorical, Completeness; Culminated In Christ
Scripture: Colossians 2:11–15
Consummated, Categorical, Completeness; Culminated In ChristColossians 2:11-15
Sunday, December 16, 2001
Pastor Randy Smith
John Piper • "So I am persuaded that the vision of a great God is the linchpin in the life of the church. Our people need to hear God-entranced preaching. They need someone, at least once a week, to lift up his voice and magnify the supremacy of God."
Michael Horton • "Ever present in an Evangelicalism dominated by piety is the tendency to concentrate on the act of faith rather than on the object of faith, our experience with Jesus Christ rather than the person and work of Jesus Christ Himself."
Charles Spurgeon • "Of all I would wish to say, this is the sum; my brethren, preach Christ, always and evermore. He is the whole gospel. His person, offices, and work must be our one great, all-comprehending theme. The world needs still to be told of its Savior, and of the way to reach Him…We are not called to proclaim philosophy and metaphysics, but the simple gospel…More and more am I jealous lest any views upon prophecy, church government, politics, or even systematic theology, should withdraw one of us from glorying in the cross of Christ."
My goal from this pulpit week-in and week-out is to magnify the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. I trust that God has been glorified in my humble attempt to achieve that goal, especially as we conclude the theological section of Colossians.
For the past 11 weeks our text has been primarily devoted specifically to such a pursuit. It is my prayer now (three months later) that you not only better understand the Person and work of Christ, but that you also love, cherish and obey Him all the more. A good Christology will lead to a good theology, and a good theology will lead to a good doxology, meaning we are unable to live our life for the glory of God until we understand the person and work of Jesus Christ. And the more we understand His person and work, the more we are not only directed, but motivated to live for His glory. Is it any wonder than that Paul spent the first 2 chapters in Colossians outlining theological doctrine before he outlined practical application in chapters 3-4?
One of those great theological doctrines regarding Christ is found scattered among the first two chapters of Colossians. "As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him ," (Col. 2:6). "Having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him …" (Col. 2:7). "And in Him you have been made complete…" (Col. 2:10). "And in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands…" (Col. 2:11). "Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God…" (Col. 2:12). "And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him " (Col. 2:13).
In a span of 8 verses, " in Him " or " with Him " is mentioned 7 times. These phrases, scattered throughout the New Testament and commonly used by Paul, speak of the believer's union with Jesus Christ. We are "in Christ" just as He is "in us". With this union comes the tremendous responsibilities of taking up His cross and following Him daily, but also come the wonderful blessings of predestination, redemption, reconciliation, assurance and complete salvation.
I believe this was Paul's heartbeat as we closed our message from last week. We are not to be taken captive by some philosophy (2:6), which is nothing more than "empty deception" according to the tradition of men, according to the demonic principles of the world. WHY? "For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete " (Col. 2:9-10). Christ is God in the flesh. We are " in Christ " by our union with Him enabling us to share in His fullness. Therefore we have been made complete. What can possibly improve upon that? Why follow after any false teaching despite its attractiveness? You are "in Christ", you are "complete", you are a Rembrandt! Don't let my little daughter come near you with finger paint!
In the 5 verses that follow (11-15), Paul gives further details and evidence of our completeness "in Christ." Those in Christ have complete salvation (2:11-12); complete forgiveness (2:13-14); and complete victory (2:15).
1. COMPLETE SALVATION (2:11-12)
Because of our union with Christ, we have complete salvation, and the foundation to our salvation, as well as our completeness, is ultimately found in Christ's death, burial and resurrection. Death. Let's first examine His death. "And in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ" (Col. 2:11).
We all know that it was a divine commandment from God under the old covenant for the Jews to circumcise their sons on the 8th day. The Gentiles saw this procedure as mutilation. Many of the Jews saw beyond God's purposes for circumcision and viewed the operation as a guaranteed sign of salvation. However, neither of these views were accurate.
From the beginning of the ordinance, circumcision was to provide an outward demonstration that man was sinful and in great need for cleansing of the heart. In Deuteronomy 10:16, Moses commanded the people of Israel saying, "Circumcise then your heart , and stiffen your neck no more." Deuteronomy 30:6 adds "Moreover the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, in order that you may live." Even during Jeremiah's time, God commanded Israel to circumcise themselves to the Lord and remove the foreskins of their heart (Jer. 4:4). For the Jews there was to be a physical circumcision, but the physical circumcision was only a sign that represented the heart circumcision. And God is always more concerned with the heart response than the physical rite.
Like many of the Jews, the Colossian false teachers also propagated an improper view of circumcision. The Colossian believers were falsely instructed to believe that physical circumcision brought greater spirituality. But Paul's point in verse 11 was that they were already circumcised! It was not a human circumcision of the foreskin, but a divine circumcision of Christ. Literally as the text reads, it was a circumcision made without hands. Imagine Paul saying, "Colossians what do you think will make you more spiritual, a circumcision of the body done by human hands or a circumcision of the heart done by Christ?"
How exactly did Christ circumcise us? Verse 11 says He removed "the body of the flesh". The NIV translators took further liberty to interpret this verse. That version reads, "putting off your sinful nature". Every individual is born with a sinful nature, a propensity for sin, being enticed by the world and Satan. But born-again Christians have been cleansed of their sinful nature and are given a new heart, which brings forth new desires and an ability to obey God. "Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (2 Cor. 5:17). A circumcision, a new heart was given that removed the heart of stone as promised in the New Covenant. We are the first fruits of God's new creation.
Paul contrasts the physical circumcision with the spiritual circumcision elsewhere. "For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit , not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God" (Rom. 2:28-29). "Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of the false circumcision ; for we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh" (Phil. 3:2-3). Christ circumcised us. Our sinful nature has been done away with. It was crucified on the cross with Christ. "Knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, that our body of sin might be done away with" (Rom. 6:6-7).
"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). "For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died" (2 Cor. 5:14). When Christ died on that cross, we died alongside with Him. We participated in His death as He abolished our sinful nature.Burial. We also participated in His burial. The beginning of verse 12 says, "having been buried with Him in baptism." Possibly nothing signifies death more than laying a body in the ground. Burial indicates a completion, a conclusion to death. The imagery here is that we went into the tomb with Christ, we were laid in His grave, and we were buried with Him in demonstrating death to our old self and sinful nature. And according to this verse, water baptism represents a figurative picture of this identification.
Behind me is a large baptistery used to fully immerse individuals during our time of baptism. Often people accustomed to sprinkling ask why we conduct the procedure as we do. The reason, among many others, is that full immersion most accurately represents the symbol baptism is attempting to communicate. Paul said in Romans, "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death ? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death , in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:3-4). Baptism in the Scriptures is most often not connected with a washing, but with a death. We saw it in Romans 6 and now we see it in verse 12.
We also see the connection between baptism and death in the account between Jesus and two of His greedy disciples who begged Him for seats of honor in Heaven. Remember His response in Mark 10? "'You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized ?' And they said to Him, 'We are able.' And Jesus said to them, 'The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized '" (Mk. 10:38-39). When the believer goes down into the water, he or she is figuratively demonstrating his or her burial with Christ.Resurrection. Fortunately we do not remain under the baptismal waters. The "old self" goes under signifying its burial, a completion to its death. But the symbolic act of coming out of the water demonstrates a rising of the "new self", a resurrection to new life. We participated in His death and burial, so that we may participate in His resurrection. Verse 12, "Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. " Because of our identification with Christ's death and burial , we are therefore identified with His resurrection. "For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death , certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection " (Rom. 6:5).
The element which makes the connection between Christ's resurrection and our resurrection is faith in God's power. That power is mentioned in 2:12, "the working of God who raised Him from the dead." The same resurrection power (energeia = energy), which allowed Christ to be victorious over death, will likewise raise our bodies from the grave.
In many ways our resurrection is still to be awaited in the future, but according to the grammar in this text and Scripture elsewhere, our spiritual resurrection has already taken place. "And raised us up with Him , and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus" (Eph. 2:6). "If then you have been raised up with Christ , keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory" (Col. 3:1-4). Phillips Brooks said, "The great Easter truth is not that we are to live newly after death-that is not the great thing-but that we are to be new here-not so much that we are to live forever, as that we are to, and may, live nobly now."
Beloved, so much rests on the resurrection of Christ. It is crucial to the Christian faith. Even Paul himself said that if Christ has not been resurrected from the dead, our faith is worthless, and we are still in our sins. If we are to ever experience the resurrection of the dead we must trust in God's power to raise the dead and believe the historical fact of Christ's resurrection. "That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved " (Rom. 10:9).
Because of our union with Christ we are complete. We have complete salvation because of our identification with His death , burial and resurrection.
2. COMPLETE FORGIVENESS (2:13-14)
In addition to complete salvation we naturally have complete forgiveness. Beginning in verse 13, "And when you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Col. 2:13-14). If verses 11-12 are complete salvation apart from any ritual (like physical circumcision), verses 13-14 are complete forgiveness apart from any work. The transition is now from Christ to God the Father, from our identification with His death, burial and resurrection to our former manner of life before Christ.
First, Paul, reminds the readers how they were made alive in Christ. He reminds them initially that they were dead in their transgressions. This speaks of their condition, as well as every human's condition, before Christ. Call it original sin, spiritual unresponsiveness, blinded to God or state of alienation. Whatever your definition, the Scriptures clearly state that all humans are guilty before God in a deliberate state of disobedience. I'm sure you remember 1:21, "And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds." Ephesians 2:1-3 is even more dramatic, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest."
Beloved, the Scriptures are clear that man does not choose God, because He cannot choose God. He is spiritually dead. His spiritual EKG is a flat line. God must initiate salvation; He must quicken the heart by His Spirit. If you are in Christ this morning, you did not choose God. God first chose you and in His mercy enabled you to respond. "We love, because He first loved us" (1 Jn. 4:19). "In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us" (Jn. 4:10). "For while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God" (Rom. 5:10). Don't rob God of His glory , His sovereignty or the validity of His Word by saying that you, being dead in your transgressions, were able to make a decision for Christ. "Spiritually dead corpses do not choose God. No one can (word of ability, not permission) come to Christ unless the Father draws him" (Jn. 6:44). Praise God that He draws some, and those whom He draws will come.
Verse 13 can't be any clearer. Once you were dead, but now He has made you alive.And in making us alive, He enables us to desire Him, receive Him and be forgiven for all our transgressions. "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)" (Eph. 2:4-5). Beloved, you have incurred a list of sinful transgressions before a holy God. It is a list so damaging and exhaustive against His nature that the verdict from your own lips would have been guilty as stated. But God, solely through His grace, has chosen to forgive you. He pardoned you of every sin (past, present and future). He made you right with Him. He removed the guilt. His act of forgiveness enables us to shout with the Psalmist, "How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit" (Ps. 32:1-2)!
If verse 13 was not descriptive enough regarding our forgiveness, Paul reiterates and further defines the point in verse 14. "Having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross" (Col. 2:14). A "certificate of debt" was used in antiquity to refer to a promise written by one's own hand, much like a note of indebtedness, or a modern day IOU. It was a promise that personally held the individual responsible for the actions and conduct promised; and if this IOU were violated, the individual stood guilty based upon their own agreement and was willingly forced to bear the consequences.
Think about this, every man and woman has signed an IOU to obey his or her Creator. Romans 1 calls it an intuitive awareness that every human creature possesses to honor Him, glorify Him and obey Him. But human beings, created in the image of God, have rejected their accountability to Him. Romans 1 says they "…became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures." In addition to the general revelation of nature that all humans possess, they also have a conscience that accuses them because they ignore a standard they know to be true. Even the Jews had the written law, which pronounced death to all who would not obey the standard perfectly. "Cursed is he who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them. And all the people shall say, 'Amen.'" (Deut. 27:26). All humans are unable to maintain their IOU and willingly increase their debt against God. With the passing of each day they increase their condemnation and guilt.
Colossians 2:14 says the debt consisted of decrees against us, meaning it was a document of condemnation. The verse also says the debt was hostile to us, meaning an eternity in hell would not be enough to satisfy the magnitude of our violation. To put it in perspective, you would have a better hope of paying off our national debt than paying off your spiritual debt before God. But verse 14 also says that He canceled it ; He took it out of the way ; He nailed it to the cross. It almost sounds too good to be true. God has removed the debt. He wiped the slate clean; He destroyed the document on which it was written.
How? How can a holy and just God simply remove the debt in which we created? He did it by placing our debt on the back of Christ. We were not a worthy sacrifice, but Jesus Christ was the spotless and sinless Lamb of God who died in our place as our substitute. He took our debt upon Himself, and in return we received His righteousness. The penalty was completely exacted; God can be completely just, and we can be completely forgiven.
Verse 14 says He "nailed it to the cross." It was customary to nail a crucified man's indictment to the cross above his head to inform onlookers as to the man's offense. We all know that above Jesus' head the inscription read, "King of the Jews." But in addition to that inscription was the list of every sin you and I have and will commit. Because Jesus Christ took our sins upon Himself and assumed full responsibility- all of your sins, all of my sins, are gone. Jesus paid the debt in full.
"Martin Luther experienced the reality of this truth in a dream in which he was visited at night by Satan, who brought him a record of his own life, written with his own hand. The Tempter said to him, 'Is that true, did you write it?' The poor terrified Luther had to confess it was all true. Scroll after scroll was unrolled, and the same confession was wrung from him again and again. At length, the Evil One prepared to take his departure, having brought Luther down to the lowest depths of abject misery. Suddenly the Reformer turned to the Tempter and said, 'It is true, every word of it, but write across it all: 'The blood of Jesus Christ, God's Son, cleanses us from all sin.'"
3. COMPLETE VICTORY (2:15)
God has given us complete salvation, complete forgiveness and in reaching a climax, complete victory. "When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him" (Col. 2:15). Though the previous verses bring us encouragement as to what was visibly seen by onlookers at the time, verse 15 provides further encouragement as to what happened "behind the scenes." On the cross, Christ not only died for our sin, but He also solidified His victory over the demonic powers. They have been reconciled against their will, they have been overcome, and though they have not been fully destroyed, they are defeated and are awaiting their eternal condemnation in the lake of fire.
The text says He disarmed them. Literally, He "stripped them". He showed that they should be counted as of no greater significance than a bunch of filthy rags.
The text says He also made a public display of them. He exposed them to pubic shame. You know, the only other time this Greek word is found in the New Testament is when Joseph attempted to put Mary away secretly when he found that she was pregnant because he did not want to expose her to open shame. Not Jesus. He exposed the demonic realm to public shame in the heavenly places. Though the dark forces thought they had defeated Christ on the cross, God made a mockery of their feeble attempts to usurp His power and wisdom.
Lastly, God also triumphed over them through Christ. The image here is of a triumphant procession, a military parade celebrating a victory. Like a victorious general leading his army with his defeated enemies bringing us the train, surrendering against their will.
This concept may be foreign to us in the 21st century, but we see this demonstrated in the ancient historical writings of Plutarch as he described the three-day Triumph given the Roman General Aemilius Paulus upon his return from capturing Macedonia. "Great scaffolds were erected in the forum and along the boulevards of Rome for spectator seating, and all of Rome turned out dressed in festival white. On the first day, 259 chariots displayed in procession the status, pictures and colossal images taken from the enemy. On the second day, innumerable wagons bore the armor of the Macedonians (according to Plutarch himself, 'all newly polished and glittering; the pieces of which were piled up and arranged purposely with the greatest art…all these arms were fastened together with just so much looseness that they struck against one another as they were drawn along, and made a harsh and alarming noise, so that, even as spoils of a conquering enemy they would not be held without dread.'). Following the wagons came 3,000 carrying the enemy's silver in 750 vessels, followed by more treasure. On the third day came the captives, the Macedonian gold and then the captured king's chariot, crown and armor. Then came the king's servants, with hands outstretched, begging the crowds for mercy. Then came the defeated king Perseus himself, clad entirely in black. Finally came the victorious general "seated on the chariot magnificently adorned, dressed in a robe of purple, interwoven with gold…(his army) followed the chariot of their commander; some singing verses, according to the usual custom songs of triumph and praise of Aemillius's deeds."
This is the image that would have come to the minds of Paul's readers in the first century. Christ, because of His work on the cross had disarmed, ridiculed and triumphed over Satan and his demonic army. As a Victorious general He has paraded through the heavenly realm with His defeated enemy. We already know the outcome. God has devised the end from the beginning. The battle is already won. Christ is the victor.
I remember a young man in my years of teaching who constantly wore a shirt with 666 plastered in the front and down each arm. I once asked him if he knew where 666 originated. He said "The Bible." I said, "Right, its Revelation 13. But if you believe the Bible for the number, why don't you believe the Bible for the outcome?" My friend, you are choosing to play on the losing team.
Beloved, why would any of us not commit our lives to this wonderful Savior? Why look elsewhere for completeness? The Colossians were tempted to look toward demonic forces, religious rituals, esoteric knowledge, and human philosophies. Today we look toward jobs, spouses, hobbies, money, sin, the psychic network and self. These potential idols will not add to your completeness. Completeness is only found in Jesus Christ and His work on the cross. In realizing this great truth Paul said in Galatians 6:14, "But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."
You know, in order for a Gentile to become a Jewish proselyte he needed to undergo circumcision , a ritual bath and offer a sacrifice at the temple if possible. I believe Paul picked up on these three elements and redefines them in our text this morning. We have a complete salvation because of Christ's circumcision of our heart as we identify in His death and burial through our baptism and thereby participate in His resurrection. We have complete forgiveness because of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ as He shed His blood on the cross to cleanse us from our sin; and we have complete victory because Christ subdued the demonic forces and made a public spectacle of them in triumph.
I'll allow John Bunyan from his classic, Pilgrim's Progress, to have the final words. "He ran this way until he came to a place on somewhat higher ground where there stood a Cross. A little way down from there was an open Grave. As I saw in my dream that just as Christian approached the Cross, the burden came loose from his shoulders, fell from his back, and began to roll downward until it tumbled into the open Grave to be seen no more. After this, Christian was glad and light. He exclaimed with a joyful heart, 'Through His sorrows He has given me rest, and through His death He has given me life.' Then he stood still for a while to examine and ponder the Cross; for it was very surprising to him that the sight of the Cross alone had brought him complete deliverance from His Burden. So he continued to look and watch until springs of tears welled up in his eyes and came pouring down his cheeks."