As you know I just got back from vacation on Friday night. And one of the interesting things you do when you come back from a trip like that is unpack your suitcases and unpack the car. It can be an interesting experience to relive the trip through what you find in your suitcase. Especially the smells. I’m not sure I should explain all that though this morning. But I’m talking about the things you find there which bring back memories of what you did while you were away. Some things are souvenirs, things you want to keep. Other things are things you want to throw away, or throw in the washer as soon as you can.
Well, that’s a bad analogy for this passage before us today. But the fact is that there is a lot to unpack in this passage. And I am happy to say that it is all good stuff. Nothing bad is in there. In fact, what Paul is presenting here are souvenirs of our salvation by which we can remember what Christ has accomplished in our salvation.
But first as a reminder of the general context of this epistle so far, Paul is continuing his letter to the Colossians in which he is attempting to turn them away from deceptive “wisdom” and philosophy which had infiltrated the church. And of particular note in chapter one he had given a liturgy of sorts of Christology, the doctrine of Christ. Now he does so because the pervasive false teaching was to indicate that Christ was not sufficient. That Christ was part of an order of angelic beings that they could learn about God from, but there were also other angelic beings, and other philosophies and wisdoms and mysteries that could give a person a higher knowledge.
But Paul is arguing that Christ alone is sufficient, and in Christ alone is our salvation, and from Christ alone is our source of knowledge and wisdom. So in vs 9 he reiterates that doctrine by saying, “For in Him (that is in Christ) all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” Now we should really thank God that Paul felt the need to restate that principle. Because if there is one constant source of demonic attack it is on the deity of Jesus Christ. If there is one common denominator of most of the cults and false religions of the world it is on this point of Christ’s deity.
Now this is not the only place in scripture that attests to Christ’s deity, of course, but it is a very solid one. But Christ also made the claim that He was God saying, “I and the Father are One.” And, “if you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.” Such claims were either the claim of a madman, or the God/man. No one can be a good man, and make such a claim, unless He was also God in the flesh.
There are a number of scriptures that make this claim of Christ’s deity, not the least of which is chapter one vs 19 of this epistle, which says, “For it was the [Father’s] good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him.” That statement is expounded for us in chp. 2 vs 9, “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” They both say virtually the same thing, chapter one just shortens it.
But I would also point out Hebrews 1:1-4 which says, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.” Now that statement at the end of vs4 answers the question of the Colossians about angels that possessed some sort of mystical insight about God, had the Colossians had access to that book at that time, which they did not.
But to go back to our text, Paul says that Jesus is fully God, or completely God. And Jesus Himself said that He was the manifestation of God, which is directly correlated by Hebrews 1 which says that He is the exact representation of God’s nature. Now that is a tremendously important doctrine. Because if Jesus is not God, then Jesus cannot save. The death of Jesus as just a man could never atone for the sins of the world. No matter how good of a man it is who dies, their goodness cannot possibly be enough to extend to save another person, much less the world. Only God could atone for the sins of the world.
Now to that doctrine of the sufficiency of Christ Paul adds a number of qualifying statements or illustrations. And all of these statements are designed to illustrate the sufficiency of our salvation in Christ. Paul uses another word though instead of sufficiency. He uses the word complete. He says, in vs 10, “and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority.”
So as Christ is the fullness of God in bodily form, we are made full, or complete in Him. Now what does that mean, “ in Him?” If you notice in our text, Paul uses that phrase “in Him” in vs 9, 10 and 11. Then notice that he changes the phase to “with Him” in vs 12 and 13, and then in vs 15 he changes it again to “through Him.” Now I hope to deal with each of these phrases in order.
But first, what does it mean to be “in Him?”. Let me give you a bad analogy, but perhaps a pertinent one since we are in an election season. It’s like saying you are in the Republican party, or the Democrat party, and you have a representative of that party which is the presidential candidate. You are in effect, represented in that candidate. You derive your benefits from that candidate. He is your representative, and what he does in that capacity directly benefits you.
Now thankfully, being “in Christ” is a lot more beneficial than we can expect from the elected candidate. Not the least of which is that our benefit of being in Christ is eternal, whereas the best we might get from our elected official is only temporary.
What Paul is saying here though is that by being in Him, we are made complete. We receive the fullness of salvation. There is nothing more that can be gained through any other person or entity. There is no need for a secondary experience where we can get more from God. There is no need or benefit to seeking another intermediary or from some other source of higher knowledge. He is above or the head of all rule and authority. That speaks of not only earthly dignitaries and government officials and so forth, but also, and maybe principally, that He is over angelic principalities. If we are in Christ, then He is superior to any other source, any other power, be it angelic or spiritual or of this world.
For those of you who have come out of Catholicism, there is no benefit to going through an intermediary, be it Mary, or the Pope, or a priest, or a dead saint. To use the analogy of politics again, if you have direct access to the office of the President, then what added benefit could there be to going to a lower ranked administration official? We have complete, full access to God through Christ because He is fully God.
The second benefit of being “in Him” comes in vs 11, “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.” Now what’s interesting is that Paul is speaking here to a predominately Gentile community. They did not practice circumcision. And yet he says that in Christ they are circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands.
So first of all, we must understand that he is not talking about physical circumcision, but spiritual circumcision. Even though physical circumcision was a rite performed under the law by the Jews, yet there are multiple references in the scriptures to a more necessary circumcision of the heart. That cut made in the flesh was but a symbol of the cutting away of the sin nature that has to occur in the heart. As Moses wrote in Deut. 30:6 “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, so that you may live.”
And also in the NT Paul wrote about spiritual circumcision in Rom 2:29 saying, “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.” So the benefit of circumcision was to be a sign of God’s covenant people. However, if we are in Christ, even though we are not physically circumcised, we are still circumcised in Christ’s circumcision. What He has done, has been done also in us as our representative man.
Paul speaks of this circumcision of Christ being applied on our behalf, so that there is “the removal of the body of the flesh.” In physical circumcision, the flesh was cut away from the foreskin which had significance in the sin nature which was passed on from generation to generation. But in spiritual circumcision, the sin nature is cut off so that we might live in the newness of flesh.
I was speaking to someone just the other day who was talking about their previous life of addiction. And they said when they gave it up to Christ, then they discovered that Christ had removed the old nature, the old desire for that sin. They had a new nature. But that didn’t mean that it was impossible to go back to that old life. It was still there, they just no longer were enslaved to it. Though you have a new nature, you still live in your old body. And as long as we are in the body there is still the possibility that we might go back to it. So it’s necessary to die daily, to consider it as dead. It’s necessary to constantly put off the old man, and put on the new man. To walk in the spirit, and not in the flesh. There has been a spiritual operation in which the old nature has been cut off, and we’re given a new nature. New desires. Old things have passed away, all things become new. That’s spiritual circumcision.
There is another benefit to our salvation, in how we have been made complete, and that is found in vs 12. And now Paul changes that phrase from “in Him” to “with Him.” So “in Him” being something that Christ does for us as our representative, “with Him” signifies something we do in conjunction with Him. He does it, and we do it as well. Let’s read what that benefit is in vs 12.
Vs 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.” This rite of baptism is something that we do with Christ. We that are saved are physically baptized in solidarity with Him.
But like the rite of circumcision, Paul is saying that there is a spiritual component which is more important than the physical aspect of being immersed in water. Being immersed and then raised out of the water signifies a spiritual death and resurrection with Christ. In baptism, we identify with the death of Christ by dying to sin, and being raised from the water we signify that we are raised with Him to walk in newness of life.
What baptism indicates then is that the power of God to raise the dead is employed on our behalf as we identify with Christ by faith, so that we have the power of God to walk in newness of life. We haven’t got the power to walk in this new life unless God gives it to us. We cannot walk in sanctification unless God gives us the power to do so. And as God had the power to raise the dead and give life to Christ so that same power is available to us as well. Our identification with Christ provides the power of God in our lives to live the life that He has given us. As Phil. 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”
Now Paul expands upon that principle in vs 12 and 13, explaining how that process happens. He says “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, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
The premise of our salvation is that before Christ we were spiritually dead. Paul echoes this passage in Ephesians, detailing the deadness due to our sin, and the means by which we received new life. He says in Eph 2:1-7 “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. 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), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly [places] in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”
Now Paul says that is illustrated in baptism which we participate in with Christ. Signifying that we were dead in sin, buried with Him indicating our old nature was done away with, and then raised up with Him, so that we are positionally already seated with Him in the heavenlies, and we live in the new life which God has given us, and empowered us to live. What tremendous benefits are given by our salvation, not the least of which that we have been forgiven. All the things that we have done, all the laws that we have broken, all the people we have wronged, all the sins that we have committed, God has forgiven us. Forgiven is a concept that we should contemplate more than we do. Quite a bit of our mental anguish in life comes as a result of guilt. But in Christ we are forgiven. God has punished Jesus Christ for our sins. So that we might be forgiven. He has cast them as far as the east from the west and they will not be remembered any more.
We may talk about forgiving someone, but we can’t ever forget, can we? We may want others to think we forgive and forget, but deep down we don’t forget. But the Bible says that God forgets our sin. Hebrews 8:12 says, “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” And Isaiah 43:25 says, “I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”
Paul says back in our text that He has cancelled out the certificate of debt against us. That also can mean that whatever crimes we have been charged with have been cancelled. Forgiven. Expunged. Forgotten. He says God nailed them to the cross, and Jesus paid for them. There is a legal term called double jeopardy, which means that you cannot be charged twice for the same crime. And that is true in the justice of God as well. If Jesus was charged for our crimes and paid the penalty for our sin, then it would be unjust for God to charge it to our account as well. And God is not unjust. His justice requires that the penalty for sin has to be paid, but His mercy caused His stripes to fall upon Jesus, so that we might be set free.
Then finally, let’s look at the last illustration of the benefits of our salvation and that is found in vs 15. “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.”
As I indicated earlier, when Paul speaks of the rulers and authorities, he is not talking here about earthly dignitaries, but he is talking about spiritual rulers and authorities. Now he just referenced that Jesus was nailed to the cross to pay the penalty of our sin, but what is amazing about His death that is that though it appeared at the time to be a defeat for Christ, it was actually a victory for the kingdom of heaven.
In Ephesians 4:9 Paul speaks of Jesus upon His death descending into the lower parts of the earth, that is Hades. Hades is the abode of the dead, which according to Jesus has an upper and lower compartment divided by a great chasm which no one can cross. Jesus Himself said in Matthew that the Son of Man must go into the lower part of the earth for three days even as Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days. He furthermore said to the thief on the cross that today you will be with Me in Paradise. Paradise being the upper chamber of Hades.
Peter elaborates on what Christ accomplished in Hades in 1 Peter 3:18-22 saying, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, [the] just for [the] unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits [now] in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through [the] water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you–not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience–through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.”
It’s interesting that Peter also alludes to the rite of baptism in this passage as an illustration of our salvation. But the main point I want to emphasize that is made in this passage is the last phrase; “after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.” Peter is speaking of those fallen angels and principalities and powers of the realm of darkness. Satan is called the accuser of the brethren. But our accuser and his satanic hosts have been defeated at the cross. Jesus broke the power of Satan. Because the power of Satan is death.
Hebrews 2:14 says “Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.”
This victory is the tremendous blessing of our salvation that Christ has accomplished for us, and Paul says that He did so through the cross. Through His death, He rendered powerless Satan, our enemy. Paul goes on to refer to the triumph that Christ has accomplished.
Vs 15, “When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” A triumph in Roman times was something akin to a victory parade in our country. But what was unique in those celebrations was that they also paraded their enemies as captives in their train. And so the conquering victors would parade into the city in triumph, In a parade of sorts, with their defeated enemies held captive in the rear, subject to the mocking jeers of the citizens who were the benefactors of that victory.
That imagery is what Paul alludes to in this passage, showing Jesus Christ as the victorious general leading His army in a victory parade, and those fallen angels and principalities who are our enemies, our accusers, who went about like a roaring lion seeking to devour us, those same foes are already defeated, their power being broken, awaiting their final day of punishment.
What tremendous benefits we see illustrated there of our salvation. And in all these examples, we see that Christ has fully completed our salvation. Wee participate, we benefit through faith in what He has done. But He is the One who has conquered sin and death and given us life. By faith we are the benefactors. We are His citizens. He is our King, our Victor, our Conqueror. And we as His citizens receive all the blessings of being in His kingdom through His salvation. In Him, with Him, and through Him. We have peace with God. We have the blessing of God. We have life in Him.
That concludes the exposition of this passage of scripture. But before we leave this morning I want to add one more prepositional phrase for us to consider. And that is receive Him. To receive Christ is illustrated by another rite. Not the rite of circumcision, not the rite of baptism, but the rite of communion. And I would like to invite you to participate in that rite this morning as an illustration of receiving Christ. We receive Him by faith, faith in who He is and what He has accomplished.
And we can participate in that through communion, or the Lord’s Supper. (begin Lord’s Supper)