Colossians 1:14 by Robert Dean

We Are Truly Forgiven. Colossians 1:14


Forgiveness today is a concept that is often misunderstood. Frequently the gospel that Christians believe focuses on the fact that we are forgiven of sin is often misrepresented, misunderstood. The comment has been made by unbelievers that Christians think that if they believe in Jesus they can do whatever they want to do, that everything is just cleared off and everything is fine. Of course we know that that is a misrepresentation of the gospel but it is one that is out there, and not only outside of the church in terms of what some unbelievers think about the Christian message but it is unfortunately inside the church. It is a manifestation of, on one sense, the general licentiousness or antinomianism that characterizes our culture and the drift of western civilization for the last 150 years or so, but especially in the post-World War II era. We have seen a move from the radical youth movements of the sixties on into the present which just do away with all traditional absolutes and all traditional norms and standards, and anything goes because once you remove an absolute authority from your thinking there is no God and you are not answerable to a God. And if you are just the product of an accidental electrical discharge on a piece of protoplasm then it really doesn't matter what we do. Values, norms and standards are great, nice, and are tradition but they really don't have anything to do with how we live on a normal basis. So we have a cultural orientation, a cultural trend to this kind of antinomianism, this kind of licentiousness that has impacted the way people think about right and wrong and about any kind of eventual accountability to a higher authority such as God.

There is this issue of forgiveness, that somehow you just get away free with whatever it is that you do. In Colossians chapter one Paul expresses his prayer for the Colossian believers that they might grow spiritually, that they may be "be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord." There is not an antinomianism there. Christianity isn't saying we get forgiven by Jesus and then we can just do whatever we want to; there is still an obligation and a standard for the behavior of Christians because there is still accountability even if we are forgiven by God. In verse 12 Paul says: "giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light." That focuses our attention on the future, that there is a future end game, a destiny the church has in which there will be an evaluation at the judgment seat of Christ to determine the role and responsibilities that we have when Jesus comes and establishes His kingdom and on into eternity.

From that Paul thinks of that future kingdom, and so he reminds his readers and us that what God is doing is preparing us for that future role and responsibility; He is calling out a key group of people that He is training and preparing for that future ministry in the kingdom: "He rescued [past tense] us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son." The past tense relates to the fact that he recognizes that both his audience and himself have trusted in Christ as savior and therefore they have been transitioned from the authority of the domain of Satan to this future role as members of His future kingdom. It is not that the kingdom is now but that is what we are being called out for, that ultimate role in the kingdom.

Having said that he comes back to make an important statement: Colossians 1:14 NASB "in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." There are some nuances here that are really important to understand. In reading "in whom we have redemption" immediately think back to the cross. That is true, but the word "redemption" used here is also a word that has a future orientation and fulfillment. Just as Paul talks about our future inheritance in verse 12 and our future role in the kingdom in verse 13 that is realized when redemption is realized as the second coming of Christ.

Redemption, blood and forgiveness of sins are all words that in everyday language today have been really perverted and diluted so that they no longer carry the punch and the power that they had in times past. For example, "redemption" is often thought of as just getting a new opportunity in life, the opportunity to recover from sort of failure. But the primary meaning of the word "redemption" in English reflects that of the Greek of the New Testament, i.e. to pay a price. It is fundamentally an economic term; it is a purchase concept. The next is the word "blood" which carries a lot of confusion for a lot of people. The shedding of blood in Scripture is a metaphor that is used for death. When we read about the blood of Christ it is simply a metaphor for His death. Then there is this next phrase, "the forgiveness of sins" which for all practical purposes in English looks like it explains what redemption is; it appears to be appositional. So people might ask the question: how do we understand redemption as paying a price with forgiveness? Forgiveness is usually thought of simply as letting someone off who has done something they shouldn't have done and letting them go without consequences, so how does this relate to paying a price? Forgiveness means to eradicate a debt. Redemption is the payment of a price that eradicates a debt, and that is what forgiveness is.

But the forgiveness spoken of here is not an economic forgiveness, it is forgiveness of sins. So we have to ask these questions in a little more detail. First of all, in what way does redemption equal forgiveness? To do that we have to answer the question: what exactly does redemption mean? Then what exactly does forgiveness mean? And then, does that mean that Christians get away with sin? 

There are a couple of misconceptions about redemption. For example, in the English dictionaries we have these kinds of ideas represented: redemption means reform, to change your life, to repair a situation, to have relationship restored, getting a new chance in life, to be free from distress or to make a change for the better. Those are more and more common ideas that people think of with the use of the word redemption. Throughout history Satan has really attacked biblical truth from the very beginning by attacking vocabulary. When he attacked Eve in the garden he said: "Did God really say? Did God really mean what He said?" He is attacking vocabulary, word meanings. So when we are communicating the gospel to people who do not know the gospel we need to make sure that when we use words that we know the meaning to that they understand the meaning. The English meanings that do apply relate to purchasing something back, freeing someone from captivity by the payment of a ransom price, to release someone from blame or debt, or to free them from the eternal consequences of sin.

Forgiveness means the eradication of the debt but it does not necessarily mean the removal of the consequences. Adam and Eve were both forgiven by God for their act of disobedience but the consequences remained. Forgiveness also has a subjective sense in terms of the mental attitude of a person and it means to give up any sort of mental attitude sin for the one who has offended us—to give up resentment, to give up any sort of revenge motivation or any other kind of mental attitude sin such as bitterness, anger, etc. But we have to understand that forgiveness does not necessarily include the removal of negative consequences; that is something completely distinct. We may or may not release a person from the consequences as well. God may or may not visit us with the consequences of our sin, but that doesn't mean that we just get off free or get away with it.

In the phrase "we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins," forgiveness of sins is appositional; it is explaining a nuance of redemption. That redemption is speaking of this eradication of debt against God. That brings up the idea of sin. We have the forgiveness of sins, and a lot of people today don't understand what sin is: it is something extremely heinous (e.g. social sins), but I am a good person. A person has murdered somebody, yet people say: Oh but he is a good person. He is not a good person, he has murdered somebody. We have to understand that sin has to do with something that is extremely profound; it is not just some narrow class of socially unacceptable things. Sin relates to anything that violates the character of God. This may be something relatively small and it may be something that is relatively large. If we act upon arrogance or pride or self-absorption then we are sinning. If we are boastful of our own abilities as opposed to God, then that is sin. If we engage in mental attitude sins such as jealously, envy, bitterness, anger, resentment, lust—sexual, materialism or power—these are all sins. We all sin. It is because there is sin and that sin is against God, not other people, there is a debt that we have against the character of God. That debt has to be paid before God then can have a relationship with us or we can have a relationship with God.

There are two basic words in the Greek that are translated to redeem, redemption, something of that order. There are eight different words in the Greek, six are based on the verb lutroo [lutrow] and two on the root agorazo [a)gorazw]. By adding various suffixes and prefixes Greek changes the meaning of a word ever so slightly, so different aspects of the idea of redemption are emphasized. lutroo comes from the root which has the idea of paying a price or freeing something. It is a cognate to luo [luw] which means to loose or release, and so the idea there is the payment of a price to release something. agorazo [a)gorazw] is from agora [a)gora] is the word for the market place, is the word for paying a price to buy something out of the market. So there are these two groups which are very descriptive words for understanding the transaction that occurs on the cross in relation to redemption for sin.

Having said that about these two different words and the ways that they look at redemption there is another way to organize them, and that is related to the meaning or usage of these words. The three words agorazo, lutron and antilutron are words that relate to the objective historical payment of a price. That basically just means this is what happened at the cross in 33 AD. This is the objective payment of a penalty by Christ on the cross for our sins. The three words lutrotes [lutrwthj], apolutrosis [a)polutrwsij], and exagorazo [e)cagorazw] are words that don't focus so much on the objective payment of the price but on the subjective or experiential application of that payment to the individual. For example, the objective historical payment might relate to the payment of a price to purchase of a slave in the slave market. The subjective application is when the slave is released from his captivity or ownership. The subjective application is that which takes place when a person believes. So there are these two different aspects and this is really important to understand in terms of what the Bible teaches about the forgiveness that God has given us for sin. There is a payment paid that is objective and real and actual and occurs at the cross, but then that payment has to be applied or experienced in the reality of each individual's life, and that occurs when a person believes. The two words lutroo and lutrosis can relate to either of the two categories, either the objective or the subjective side.

The word that we have in Colossians 1:14—"in whom we have redemption"—is apolutrosis. It is not the word that relates to the objective historical payment of a price, it is a word that relates to having received the application of that payment. When we look at the context verse 13 says: "For He rescued [past event] us"—a past reality, aorist indicative mood. This is the reality; we have been delivered from the power of darkness and we have all been conveyed into the kingdom of the kingdom of His beloved Son. Paul isn't talking here about the objective payment for sin on the cross; he is talking about the fact that we have all, by virtue of our faith in Jesus Christ, experienced the application of that payment in our own personal lives. He is reminding the Colossians that we have all received this payment. The objective payment is expressed a couple of times in the New Testament—Mark 10:45 NASB "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many." That is talking about the objective payment of the price. Jesus Christ paid for sin on the cross. That means that sin is not an issue anymore, the payment is made and it happened historically at the cross.

This relates to Old Testament teaching, very clear in passages like Isaiah 53, that there had to be a substitute payment made for our sin. We could not pay the debt ourselves so someone else had to pay it. Isaiah 53:10 NASB "But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting {Him} to grief; If He would render Himself {as} a guilt offering…" It will pay a price for sin. [11] "…He will bear their iniquities." There is a real transaction that occurred at the cross where sin is paid for objectively and historically. Whether you believe in Jesus or not your sin is paid for. That doesn't mean that you automatically go to heaven. No, there is an objective payment on the one hand but there has to be the subjective application on the other hand. The word apolutrosis is used this way numerous times, and by using the phrase "the application of" in front of translation of "redemption" in these verses helps bring out this important truth. Romans 3:24 NASB "being justified as a gift by His grace through the application of redemption which is in Christ Jesus." Justification occurs only when the redemption has been applied in each person's case. 1 Corinthians 1:30 NASB "But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and the application of redemption." He is talking about what the Corinthians Christians had experienced, not what they could experience if they trusted Christ but what they already had experienced in terms of that redemption, the realization that the price had been paid for their sin. Then the parallel verse, Colossians 1:14 NASB "in whom we have the application of redemption, the forgiveness of sins." When we realize we have truly been forgiven then that frees us from guilt, from worry, concern about what might happen. It doesn't mean that we are off Scot free because we know that there are still consequences for sin.

But apolutrosis not only has this orientation towards the past in terms of when the objective price was paid and its application in our life but it is also used in three places with reference to a future realization and fulfillment. Romans 8:23 NASB "And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit [at salvation], even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for {our} adoption as sons, the redemption of our body." There the focus is on the fact that we still live in a mortal corrupt body but we are looking forward to the fact that at some time we will have a resurrection body. It is looking forward to that which will come in  the future at the Rapture for church age believers. Ephesians 1:14 uses it in the same way. NASB "who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of {God's own} possession, to the praise of His glory." Also Ephesians 4:30. This word apolutrosis has the idea, according to The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, of setting free by a ransom, and it is used of prisoners of war, slaves, and criminals condemned to death. It is the payment of that price so that they are objectively set free.

Colossians 1:14 NASB "in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins." In Christ we have the application of redemption through His blood. The payment price was His death on the cross and that gives us forgiveness of sin. Peter uses it this way when he is giving the gospel to the Gentiles in Acts 10:43 NASB "Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins." This isn't a forgiveness that occurs objectively at the cross, it is the forgiveness that occurs at the instant of salvation when the application of redemption occurs. In Acts 26:18 the apostle Paul is talking to King Agrippa and is describing what Jesus said to him when he was saved and commissioned: NASB "to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me." Cf. Colossians 1:13, 14 where Paul says the same thing. It is the application of redemption.

We have to recognize that there are four sense of forgiveness. One is that objective forgiveness or cancellation of the debt that occurred at the cross—Colossians 2:12-14, forensic forgiveness. But the one we are talking about here is the second meaning, forgiveness that is directed toward individuals or realized in our lives at the moment we trust in Christ. It is related to the imputation of Christ's righteousness and justification and what we call positional forgiveness. After we are saved we still commit sin so there has to be experiential forgiveness—1 John 1:9. Then there is relational forgiveness when we are to forgive one another as God for Christ's sake has forgiven us. It is that second meaning of forgiveness directed to individuals realized when we trust in Christ as our savior that Colossians 1:14 is talking about. It means that the debt of sin, the guilt of sin, the burden of sin is truly removed.

But how do we communicate that in a licentious culture? In a licentious culture there is no sense of sin. Everything is good; everything is fine. It still has to be communicated, but they know that. The individual who is not a believer, who doesn't believe in God or any kind of absolutes, still says "These Christians just think they can get away with sin." So at some level in that person's soul there is a realization that there is something that is wrong and something that is right and it is not right to think you can just get away with it. Hebrews 12:5 NASB "and you have forgotten the exhortation which is addressed to you as sons, "MY SON, DO NOT REGARD LIGHTLY THE DISCIPLINE OF THE LORD…." God is going to discipline us for sin. We are not going to lose salvation, the sin has been forgiven and paid for by Christ on the cross but there are still consequences. The point is that forgiveness means ultimately the forgiveness at salvation is an eradication of the debt, spiritual death and the penalty of spiritual death, which ultimately culminates in eternal condemnation. That is eradicated so that we can have a relationship with God. However, the ongoing consequences that come from sin are often ameliorated by God's grace but that doesn't mean we get away Scot free. It doesn't mean that we don't have to pay attention to is; it is not a license to sin. 1 John 1:9 is not a license to sin but it is an opportunity to recover so that we can continue to have a relationship with God.