Series: The All-Satisfying Christ (Colossians)
Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD
Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson
The choir sang, “Listen to the hammer ring, for He’s taken everything that was against us, and nailed it to His cross.” That’s what we’re going to be reading about this morning in Colossians, chapter 2—one of the many benefits of the Christian’s union with Christ.
I invite you to take your Bibles and open to the passage that was read for us earlier in the Book of Colossians, chapter 2 (page 796; YouVersion).
I want to speak to you this morning on this topic, “Union Station.” Many of you have had the privilege of visiting a union station railroad terminal in a major city, such as Washington DC, or Chicago, or maybe you’ve shopped at the restored historic union station in Nashville.
Put simply, a union station is a railway station used jointly by two or more railroad companies. The two companies share the tracks as well as the facilities of the station. So union station is the place of connectivity where two parties join together in friendly, amicable union which results in a number of benefits.
Paul writes in Colossians 2 about the believer’s union or connection with Christ. This union is frequently expressed by the phrase, “in Him,” or “with Him.” With your Bibles open you can see this phrase occurring several times. Last week, for example, Paul said in Colossians 2:9-10, “For in Him (Christ) dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him…the head of all principality and power.”
Then the next verse, verse 11, Paul begins with the same phrase, “In Him you were also circumcised,” etc. Then again in here 12, “buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him.” Then verse 13, “And you, being dead in your trespasses,” and so on, “He has made alive “together with Him,” having forgiven you all trespasses.”
In Him. In Him. With Him. With Him. Together with Him.
The believer’s union with Christ is the greatest and most glorious reality of the Christian experience. What Christ accomplished for the Christian, a life and death work that culminated on a cross just outside the city of Jerusalem—Christ’s atoning work—that atonement was completed on that cross at Mount Calvary, the location of the “union station” that made possible the Christian’s uniting together with Christ in a friendly, amicable union that results in a number of wonderful benefits or blessings.
And we’re going to talk about those blessings this morning, the outworking of Paul’s grand statement in verse 10 of the Christian’s “completeness.” Before we do anything else, let’s go to God in prayer.
What are the blessings of the Christian’s completeness, a completeness, that comes as the result of the believer’s being “united with Christ?”
**Blessings of the Christian’s Union with Christ:
I. We have Eternal Fellowship with Christ (11-12)
Before we read verses 11 and 12 again, let me say that Paul does in verses 11 and 12 is to give us two pictures, or two metaphors, that illustrate the blessing of being united with Christ. Jesus did this, too. He described our being united with Him as His being the vine and our being the branches. Do you remember this?
In John 15:5 Jesus says, “I am the vine, you are the branches.” If you are a believer then you are united with Christ as a branch is united to a vine. You are connected to Him and have fellowship with Him. And Jesus says this is how you bear fruit. You are connected to the life-source. In fact, if you are not connected to the vine, you can’t produce fruit; just as an apple branch broken off an apple tree can no longer bear apples. It has to be connected in order to have “fruitful” fellowship.
What Jesus teaches about fellowship with Him is the same thing Paul stresses in verses 11 and 12. And where Jesus uses the metaphor of a branch connected to a vine, Paul uses the metaphors of circumcision and baptism to illustrate the Christian’s connection to Christ. The metaphor of circumcision is in verse 11 and the metaphor of baptism is in verse 12. So let’s look at these two pictures that illustrate to Christian’s union with Christ. First, circumcision in verse 11:
11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,
You can read more about the Old Testament rite of circumcision in the opening books of the Bible. Circumcision was a physical way of illustrating a spiritual reality. The removal of physical flesh, the cutting away of flesh, identified God’s people as His specially chosen people who had entered into fellowship with Him.
So what Paul does here in verse 11 is to use something that was very familiar to his initial audience—an audience largely of Jews who knew the Old Testament—and he uses this rite of circumcision to illustrate their new life in Christ.
And Paul describes their new life in Christ as a spiritual circumcision—not a physical—but spiritual kind of circumcision. And what He says is that when a believer comes to faith in Christ, it’s not as if one piece of flesh is removed, but rather the whole body of flesh is removed to illustrate the believer’s fellowship with Christ, the whole body of flesh is removed in a kind of “circumcision.” See that again in verse 11:
11 In Him (Christ) you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands (so it is not physical, but spiritual), by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh (this is better translated as simply, ‘body of the flesh’ as most translations have it) by the circumcision of Christ,
So Paul is teaching that when we place our faith in Christ, God “brands us as His own,” by spiritually circumcising us, removing the body of flesh away from us. He cuts away that which identified us before as a sinner who was previously united together with Adam, our first father.
Romans 5 teaches that every person is connected either to Adam or to Christ. We are born as those who are connected to Adam and when we come to faith in Christ, God unhinges us from Adam and hinges us to Christ, connects us to Jesus Christ. The Christian is transferred from the rule and reign of sin under Adam and is transferred to a new kingdom. The believer changes residence. The Christian changes his or her address. He or she no longer lives in the old neighborhood of life in Adam, but has moved across the tracks to the good side of town and is now living in Christ’s neighborhood, living under the rule and reign of Jesus Christ.
When the believer comes to faith in Christ, God conducts a spiritual kind of cutting away of the old you and gives you a new you. That’s what Paul is talking about in verse 11. God circumcises, or cuts away, the old you—the old you that was dominated by sin and fulfilling the desires of your flesh—and connects you to Christ to enjoy fellowship with Him as a new you, a new you who belongs to Him.
Your old you lived under the realm of sin and couldn’t help but be enslaved to sin. Your old you needed a spiritual operation because your old you was dominated by your flesh, your old sinful desires that held you captive. And through faith in Christ, God cuts away the old you and gives you a new you, a new nature, a nature that is empowered to live in a way that pleases God. You are dead to the old you.
That’s the first picture or metaphor of this spiritual work God does in the believer—verse 11; circumcision—the second picture is in verse 12 and that is the picture of baptism:
12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
Paul now uses baptism as a metaphor for fellowship with Christ. The believer identifies with Christ through the ordinance of baptism. Baptism, which is taught by Jesus in Matthew 28 as well as by Paul in Romans 6, is the means by which a Christian demonstrates that he or she is now identified with Christ as Lord.
Paul uses baptism as a metaphor because the Christians at Colosse had been baptized. So they were in a position to rightly understand what Paul is doing. The New Testament era was unlike our modern era where people say they are followers of Christ, but have not been baptized. In the Bible, however, baptism occurred very quickly once a person came to know Christ. It was the principal confession of one’s faith in Christ and one’s new identity as a follower of Jesus.
Baptism is not an option, but a command of our Lord Jesus found in Matthew 28where Jesus says new believers are to be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. If you are a follower of Christ, and have not yet been baptized then come at the end of the service and request baptism. Baptism is the Christian’s first step of obedience, obeying our Lord’s command to be baptized.
Baptism pictures the Christian’s union with Christ—connected to Christ through His death, burial, and resurrection. This is what Paul is teaching in verse 12. The Christian has died to the old self, that old body of flesh that had been cut away, “buried with Christ in baptism,” and then baptism also pictures new life in Christ, “you were also raised with Him.” Dying to the old way of life and raised to walk in a new way of life.
So Paul is simply saying that our fellowship with Christ is pictured in baptism. Salvation does not come through baptism. Salvation comes through faith in Christ, believing in Jesus, believing He lived for us and died for us and rose for us. That’s why Paul says verse 12, “You were raised with Him,”—how?— “through faith in the working of God.” That’s how one is saved, “through faith in the working of God,” that God “who raised Christ from the dead.”
Baptism does not save, but baptism is what the Christian does once he or see has been saved. Baptism is an outward expression of an inward transformation.
Baptism pictures death to the old you and life in the new you. That’s why when we baptize a new believer in Christ, we say—as they go down under the water—dying to the old way of life—and then when they come up out of the water—raised to walk in a new way of life. New life in Christ; fellowship with Christ means life in Christ. The Christian shares in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.
So we have eternal fellowship with Christ. The second blessing the Christian enjoys is eternal forgiveness through Christ.
II. We have Eternal Forgiveness through Christ (13-14)
This is perhaps my favorite blessing, to know that I have eternal forgiveness of sin—all sin past, present, and future—forgiven through Jesus Christ.
13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses,
We once were “dead in trespasses.” See that in verse 13? It’s much as Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians. You can note the similarities later by turning to Ephesians 2 and reading that chapter again. Paul says in Ephesians 2:1, “You were dead in trespasses and sins.” Same thing Paul says in chapter 2 of Colossians, verse 13: “And you, being dead in your trespasses,” before salvation you were spiritually dead, dead in your trespasses “and the uncircumcision of your flesh…” There’s that phrase again. Before the “old you” was cut away you were “uncircumcised.” You needed God to perform spiritual surgery to cut away “your flesh,” the old you.
So if you have, in fact, placed your faith in Christ and “faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead,” then—verse 13 again, second sentence—“He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you (some!?) of your trespasses.” Is that what it says? Some of your trespasses? No, “all,” having forgiven you all trespasses, all sins.
All. Forgiveness is eternal. All of your sin is forgiven reaching back and reaching forward into eternity. All sin is forgiven through Christ. You have to be connected to Christ in order to experience eternal forgiveness of sin. It does not come any other way. It does not come by virtue of your performance. Forgiveness does not come by your trying to live a good life. No. Forgiveness comes by your faith in the working of God, who raised Christ from the dead.”
What a tremendous benefit, eternal forgiveness through Christ!! And Paul is not finished describing it. He goes on to say in verse 14 what the choir sang earlier. Remember the refrain?
“Listen to the hammer ring,
for He’s taken everything
that was against us
and nailed it to His cross.”
That’s verse 14:
14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
Before we came to faith in Christ, it is very likely that many of us were trying to live a life we believed would please God and bring peace between ourselves and God and grant us entrance to heaven.
When we were young, maybe someone taught us to obey the Golden Rule, you know do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And maybe we believed that if we tried to live that kind of life we would please God and no longer feel guilty. Or someone suggested we keep the 10 Commandments or follow Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and we reasoned, “Well, I’ll give it my best shot. I’m not as bad as others. Surely God will know that I am trying.”
The problem with this kind of thinking is that our trying to be good does not save our soul from the penalty and power of sin. We are not saved by what we do. If we could be saved by what we do and by trying our very best, there would be no need for God to come to us, no need for Christ to have lived a perfect life and die a substitutionary death for us.
The standard for peace with God is the perfect keeping of His law, His requirements. Because heaven is a place of perfection where there is no more sin, the only way to gain entrance into heaven is to keep all of God’s requirements perfectly. We can’t do that. We may try, but we will fail. We are sinners.
Apart from faith in Christ, God looks at all of our best efforts and He says, “You have failed there and you have failed there, and you did this, and you did that,” and it is like there is this record of debt, the writing out of all the requirements of God that we tried to keep, but failed. And these requirements are against us.
The phrase used in verse 14, “the handwriting of requirements” is the record of our debt and thus the record of our guilt. We owe God a perfect life, but we have failed because we are imperfect. So we have this record of debt, a written record of everything against us. And it hangs above our heads much like the record of guilt that was hung above the head of a criminal who was being crucified in Roman times. Many of you know, that when the Romans crucified a man, they placed above his head on the cross the crimes that he had committed, the offenses that were “against him,” offenses for which he had been found guilty.
When Jesus was crucified, for example, you will remember that they hung a sign over His head that read about His having said He was King of the Jews. This was the crime that was against Him, the crime for which He had been condemned to die.
Of course, we know from a grander perspective, Jesus died not so much for His being King of the Jews, but for His willingness to take our penalty upon Himself.
Jesus died willingly as a sacrifice for our sins. He died so that we could live. His death was a substitutionary death, a death for us, a death we should have died as punishment for our sin. He took our punishment upon Himself.
What this means is that, in a very real sense, Jesus takes the accusation that rightly hangs over our heads and He places it over His own head on the cross. And Jesus dies there, not for His sin, but for ours.
“Listen to the hammer ring,
for He’s taken everything
that was against us
and nailed it to His cross.”
Jesus died as our substitute. He took upon Himself that which was ours—sin—and gave to us that which was His—righteousness. He lived a perfect life of righteousness, perfectly keeping the Golden Rule, perfectly keeping the 10 Commandments, perfectly keeping the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus did all of this for you. You receive credit for what He did and He cancels out the debt that you owed.
Another wonderful blessing of the Christian’s union with Christ! We have eternal fellowship with Christ, and eternal forgiveness through Christ. Thirdly, and finally:
III. We have Eternal Freedom in Christ (15)
We are free in Christ. We once were enslaved to sin and the power of sin. As Charles Wesley wrote:
Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Christians were once held captive to the forces of darkness. Paul describes the forces of darkness in verse 15 as “principalities and powers.” These are the demonic rulers and authorities that are at war with men and women and that work in opposition to Christ.
These principalities and powers are the demonic rulers and authorities who reign in that realm to which the Christian once belonged, the realm of Adam, the realm of sin, that old haunt, that old neighborhood where the old you used to live before the old you was “cut away,” before the old you died and was buried with Christ.
Back when the Christian was previously united with Adam instead of with Christ, back in the old life, these principalities and powers held sway over him. And maybe the non-Christian doesn’t even know it. The irony of being enslaved to sin is that we may boast that we are free, but we are not.
An unbeliever is not free to not sin. Just think that through. No unbeliever is free to not sin. It doesn’t matter who you are if you are an unbeliever, you are not as free as you may wish to think. Just try not sinning. No unbeliever is free to not sin. Every unbeliever is enslaved by sin. Sin is his or her master and lord. Sin reigns.
Now what did Christ do on the cross? He defeated all the demonic rulers who reigned over those connected to Adam. Christ defeated the work of the enemy. Paul describes it in verse 15 as:
15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He (Christ) made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.
Christ conquers all the principalities and powers, all the forces of darkness that held people captive to sin. Christ disarmed them and defeated them. Paul says in the second part of verse 15 that Christ “made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”
The picture is that of a conquering king like a Roman emperor who travels to a distant land and defeats the enemy. And the way he showed that he had defeated the enemy was by bringing back the enemy in chains. So a Roman general would march off to war and conquer the enemy and then return to Rome, parading all the defeated rulers throughout the streets so everyone could see the enemy in chains.
See, this was before CNN and the internet. People couldn’t turn on a screen and follow the war. Evidence of a war’s being won was by the conquering king’s bringing back the defeated enemy in chains. So there would be like a train of these enemies all chained to one another, ultimately chained to chariots and paraded through the streets as a public spectacle for all to see and for all to rejoice. It was like saying, “See this enemies in chains?! They can’t harm you. We have triumphed over them!”
So Paul says that the work of Jesus Christ on the cross is such that—verse 15—He has “disarmed principalities and powers,” the rulers and forces of darkness Jesus has defeated and, “he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them.”
It’s as though Jesus is saying, “If you are united with Me, these principalities and powers no longer enslave you! I have triumphed over them! You have eternal freedom!”
The old us once lived under the realm of sin and we couldn’t help but be enslaved to sin.
The old you needed a spiritual operation because the old you was dominated by the flesh, dominated by the old sinful desires that held you captive. Through faith in Christ, God cut away the old you and gave you a new you, a new nature, a nature empowered to live in a way that pleases God. You are dead to the old you and you have life in the new you.
One of the great challenges for the Christian, however, is the struggle with the sin that remains in this world. We say often that “while sin no longer reigns, it remains.” Sin’s power has been broken for the Christian, but it is still there and we can still fall into sin.
When we sin as a Christian we are not jeopardizing our salvation. We have eternal fellowship and forgiveness in Christ. We are connected to Him forever. We cannot be un-united to Christ. God keeps us connected in Him. Praise God for that! But we do still fall into sin in this world. And when we sin, our relationship with Christ is not as sweet as it once was. Like a husband who speaks an unkind word to his wife, the relationship is hurt. The two are still married, of course, but the relationship has soured until the one confesses to the other and asks for forgiveness.
So the Christian has eternal forgiveness in Christ, all sin is forgiven past, present, and future. The Christian is free and not longer enslaved to sin. However, the Christian can still fall into momentary sin, and when the Christian does sin, it is not his marriage to Christ that is at stake. The Christian is still part of the bride married to Christ, but the relationship has soured until the Christian confesses and says, “I’m sorry, Lord. Please forgive me,” and then sweet fellowship with Christ is felt and known again!
You are free in Christ, do don’t go back over to that old prison and—as Paul puts it in Romans 6:13—don’t present your body parts as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead.”
Remember what Paul says in Romans 6:11? He says, “Reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Remember to tell yourself that you are dead to the old you.
When tempted to cross the tracks and go over to the old haunt, the old you over there in that prison cell where you were once connected to Adam and enslaved to sin, when you are tempted by lust or pride or anger or bitterness, don’t cross the tracks and live in sin even for a moment. Rather, remember that God has “cut away” the old you. You are dead to that old way and you have freedom in Christ to not sin.
So you say to yourself, “I’m dead to that. I died to that old way of life. That’s been cut away and I now am free and enjoy fellowship with Christ.”
When someone says something that hurts you, rather than returning evil for evil, say to yourself, “I’m dead to that” and walk away.
When the conversation at the work turns to filth and lewdness, say to yourself, “I’m dead to that.”
When tempted to pick up that old habit—smoking, overeating, drinking—say, “I’m dead to that.”
When the old feelings of yesterday’s hurts resurface, rather than re-feeling the hurt and pain and rather than becoming bitter and resentful say, “I’m dead to that.”
When an image on a screen, whether on TV or a computer or a phone, catches your eye and lures you to cross the tracks and spend a little time indulging your flesh say, “I’m dead to that.”
Someone said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”
You are dead to the old you. God has cut it away through your faith in Christ. You are buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
You are free in Christ. Live in the joy of that freedom this week!
Stand for prayer.
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