We have come to the heart of Paul’s message. The theme of our study in these two chapters of Colossians is What Is So Great About Jesus. In Colossians 2:8-15 Paul is going to tell us the deep riches found in Jesus. Paul will explain to us why Jesus is so great and why Jesus is all we need.
You Are Complete In Christ (2:8-10)
Paul begins with a warning to not be swept away by other systems of teaching. Paul warns against philosophy. The word “philosophy” has a much broader meaning than how we use the word today. When Paul spoke of philosophy, he is referring to any system of thought. In particular, Paul is condemning any system of thought that does not depend on Christ. Paul will explain the nature of these false philosophy and empty deceit in verses 16-23. Therefore we will save our thoughts about the problem of philosophy when we come to that paragraph. It is enough for the moment to note that Paul is condemning anything that does not depend on Christ, whether it is Greek philosophy, Jewish traditions, or even the Law of Moses. Do not be taken captive by anything that is not “according to Christ.”
Verse 9 summarizes Paul’s teachings in chapter 1. Christ is fully God. “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells.” Jesus is divine. Further, Christ is fully human. “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” Jesus was human like us. Jesus is everything God is: in divine qualities, divine attributes, and divine essence.
The reason we are not to be swept away by philosophies and the wisdom of the world is because Christ is everything that we need. We are complete in Christ. Christ is fully God and “you have been filled in him” (2:10). You are filled in Christ. You are complete in Christ and need nothing that is offered by false teachers. There is nothing in philosophy or the wisdom of the world to make you complete. In Christ alone God has exhaustively revealed himself. Further, Christ is in charge of all things. He is the head of all rule and authority. There is nothing above Christ. There is no thinking or wisdom that is greater than him. We do not need what the world has to offer, especially when we understand what we have in Christ.
Sins Cut Off In Christ (2:11-12)
In Christ a circumcision has taken place. Paul immediately wants the readers to know that this is a symbol. It is a circumcision that is not made by human hands. A spiritual circumcision is taking place. Since it is a spiritual circumcision, we need to learn what is being cut off. Paul explains that this circumcision is the cutting off the body of the flesh. The body of the flesh represents our sinful life corrupted by our wicked ways. Paul used this idea of the body of the flesh a number of times. Notice the idea in Romans 6:6.
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. (Romans 6:6 ESV)
Sin is being cut off. The old life that was under the rule of sin is stripped away and thrown in the trash. The corruption of our sinful ways is taken away. Christ is casting away our filth, a life stained from sins. This cutting away of our sins is done by Christ. Christ is pictured as the surgeon who is treating our sinful disease. Christ is cutting off the sins that have corrupted our lives which lead to us being condemned by God. Our sins place us under condemnation. We have not loved God but have loved sin and have become enslaved to sin. We have submitted to the ways of the world and our sinful desires. Therefore, we are separated from God. Feel the weight and the meaning of Paul’s words. We cannot be in Christ until our sins are cut out! Only Christ can do this. No one else can. We cannot solve the problem of our sins. Only Jesus can remove the sins from our lives.
How does this circumcision take place? When does Jesus remove our sins from our lives? In verse 12 Paul continues his teaching. We were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands having been buried with him in baptism. Christ is cutting off the sins of our flesh when we are buried with Christ in baptism. Now, don’t shut down on Paul. Many people read this and decide that Paul cannot mean what he says here. Some think that baptism cannot be talking about water baptism, even though Paul declared that there is only one baptism and the baptism we read about in Acts is people being immersed in water. Don’t shut down on Paul and don’t change what he said. Listen to the rest of the sentence because Paul will clarify what he means by this. Notice that Paul explains what is happening in baptism. We are being “raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God.” Many come to these words about baptism and they have a problem because they know Paul cannot mean baptism alone saves. Baptism is not a sacrament. Baptism is not something you do to earn God’s grace. Baptism is not an act that forces God to forgive you regardless of your heart. We cannot suggest or teach that we need to go around the community baptizing people and they will be saved. Paul says that there is something going on in baptism. We are placing our faith in the powerful working of God. The act of baptism is a symbol for something greater. We are showing our faith in God. We are believing in Christ as our Savior who will cut off our sins when we submit to him in faith. We show that faith in the powerful working of God when we submit to baptism.
This is very important. Christ is doing the work, not us. There is nothing in us or great about us by being baptized. Christ is the surgeon. He is cutting off the sins of the flesh. We cannot take care of our own sins. We are enslaved to sin and corrupted by sin. When you recognize your condition of sin and recognize your need for a Savior, then you are ready to submit your life to Jesus. You are putting your faith in Jesus to deal with the problem of your sins. Baptism simply symbolizes that faith in Jesus. When we show that we are putting our trust in the powerful working of God by being baptized, Paul says that Jesus cuts off our sins. We cannot be saved until our sins are cut off. Our sins are not cut off until we submit in faith to the powerful working of God. We show our faith in the powerful working of God when we are buried with him in baptism. When we show our faith in the powerful working of God by being baptized, Jesus cuts off our sins.
This shows us that baptism is for people who have faith in Jesus. Baptism is not for children or infants. Baptism is not for people who do not have faith in Jesus. If you were baptized as a young child or an infant, you could not have had the faith required of you as Paul teaches. Baptism is not a mindless act. We must make sure that we emphasize baptism in the way the scriptures emphasize it. Unfortunately, there have been two extremes. One extreme follows the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that baptism can be performed without faith or love for Jesus. The other extreme says that baptism is not important or necessary and that only faith is required. Notice that Paul sits in the middle of these two extremes. Faith saves but our faith is shown in baptism. When we are buried with him in baptism, then the sins are cut off and we are raised with Christ.
From Death To Life (2:13-15)
Then Paul brings in the chilling words of our condition in verse 13. We were dead in our trespasses and uncircumcision of our flesh. The word “trespass” is not a word we use too much but you will read it quite a few times in the scriptures. It simply means, “a false step, a side-slip, an offense.” We were dead because of our false steps and offenses against God. Further, we were dead because of our enslavement to sin. We are living a life under the rule of Satan and sin and not for God. We were following our own desires. This leaves us in a condition of being spiritually dead, that is, completely cut off and separated from God.
God has made us alive together with Christ. Notice that being made alive in Christ relates back to verse 12 where we are raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God when we are buried with him in baptism. God has made us alive when we submit to powerful working of God in our lives. Being made alive involves the forgiveness of everything that once alienated us from God. Please underline this one little, but very important word in verse 13: ALL. “Having forgiven us all our trespasses.” God has forgiven every false step, every slip, and every offense we have committed. Every mistake is taken care of and every sin is removed.
We are a people who are looking for forgiveness in all the wrong places. When people of fame sin and are caught, they find some popular priest like Oprah to sit on the couch and confess their sins. They submit themselves to the court of public opinion and by acting sorry they think they are forgiven and can go on living life. We do the same thing on a smaller scale. We look for forgiveness from religious people, friends, or family members to make us feel better about what we have done. Forgiveness is not found in other humans. Forgiveness is only found in God through Jesus. Stop trying to rid your guilt by looking for forgiveness from others. Forgiveness comes from God. He will forgive all our trespasses.
Verse 14 tells us how our forgiveness has come about. Look at a few English translations will help us see the picture Paul is painting. Just a few of the various readings include, “record of debt” (ESV), “certificate of debt” (HCSB, NASB), and “handwriting of requirements” (NKJV). Douglas Moo states, “The standard meaning of the former word is ‘certificate of indebtedness,’ a document recording debts that one is obliged to pay, what we would call an ‘IOU'” (Moo, 209). Thus the TNIV reads, “legal indebtedness” and the NET reads, “certificate of indebtedness.”
We are lawbreakers. God’s law stands against us because we have not kept it. As verse 13 said, we are dead in our trespasses. We have submitted ourselves to be enslaved to sin. The legal demands of the law is our spiritual death because of our lack of obedience. Paul declared, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). However, Christ has taken care of our legal indebtedness. The debt is cancelled. What is so great about Jesus is that he has taken the large stack of debts and IOUs that we have against God and cancelled them by nailing them to the cross. The parables often describe God as the master who erases the debts of the servants, debts that could not be repaid. Can you imagine if you had a great benefactor who decided to cancel all your debts? Your house payment cancelled. Your car payments erased. Your credit card debts shredded. All of your debts erased! What a relief! How much greater to have the debts whose legal demands send us to an eternal punishment in hell completely cancelled! How much better to have erased our trespasses that blocked our relationship with God and separated us from God!
You don’t need anything else. You don’t need the wisdom of the world. You do not need special philosophy or other systems of thought not built on Christ. You have all you need in Christ. Your debts are erased when you were spiritually circumcised by Christ. This happens when you put your faith in the powerful working of God to cut away your sins, having been buried with him in baptism.