Colossians 2:12-14 by Robert Dean
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:1 hr 8 mins 33 secs

Forgiveness: God, Others, and Self. Colossians 2:12-14


People have difficulty with grace. People who are not believers have difficulty with understanding how God can save us and we don't have to do anything for it; it is a free gift. If somebody comes up to you and gives you a magnificent present you feel like you need to pay for it, do something for it. But all of that runs counter to what God teaches in terms of grace. People have trouble accepting something that is just freely given. That is part of our self-absorption, part of our arrogance; we want to do something for it. But the key to forgiveness is understanding grace. If we don't understand grace we don't understand forgiveness. And if we don't understand grace it will be extremely difficult for us to forgive others.

There is a clear connection in Scripture between the vertical forgiveness that we have from God in terms of the day to day experience in the Christian life and our forgiveness of others. Sometimes that is hard for people to understand. At the very root of forgiveness in the English etymology we have the word "give," because it is based on giving. One of the two key words that we will see that express forgiveness in the New Testament is the Greek word charizomai [xarizomai], which is from the noun charis [xarij] meaning grace, and it has to do with giving. Forgiving as an English word expresses that in the second syllable—something we don't always think about. The essence of forgiveness is grace, which means it is not earned or deserved. And it is so hard for us when someone has hurt us, offended us, betrayed us, done something to us, to deal with them not in terms of what they deserve but in terms of what they don't deserve. And yet the pattern that we see in Scripture on forgiveness is always the cross where we received forgiveness of sin positionally and experientially, and we didn't deserve it. That becomes the precise pattern for forgiving others: those in our lives that we know don't deserve it.

What are the principles? How do we practically apply what the Scripture teaches? To do that we have to understand what the Scripture teaches about that vertical forgiveness with God.  

This section in Colossians chapter two from verse four to the end of the chapter focuses on the riches that we have in Christ. One of most magnificent riches that we have in forgiveness. Sometimes we have a hard time understanding forgiveness because as products of our culture we have a culture that has watered down the concept of sin. So if we don't have a very profound concept of sin then we can't have a very profound concept of forgiveness because sin isn't that big a deal, and so forgiveness isn't that big a deal in terms of relationship with God. There is a correlation there with some people.

This passage, especially verses 11-15, first of all talks about our position in Christ where every believer at the instant of salvation is identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection. In that identification with Christ God the Holy Spirit positionally cleanses us from all sin and we are placed within the body of Christ. We are "in Christ" so that we have those riches, the focus of vv. 11, 12.

Then in Colossians 2:13 NASB "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." The phrase "having forgiven" is a participle that really has a causal sense there—because He has already graciously cancelled out all of our transgressions (amplification, picking up the sense of the grammar). When we trusted in Christ, at that instant we were regenerated but something had already happened; we had already been forgiven in one sense. There are four senses of forgiveness in the Scripture. [14] "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. [15] When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him."

In these verses we see the connection between the stages in our salvation. A lot of people don't understand this fully or comprehend this distinction. There are three distinct aspects to our Christian life, but they are connected. They are not so isolated that there is not a connection, but it is not a connection as some would say, that if you are justified you must necessarily grow and mature as a believer otherwise probably you weren't actually justified. That is the essential message of what is called "Lordship salvation." It shows that there is a flow here and a connection. Phase one is an instant in time when any one of us trust Jesus Christ, that He died on the cross for our sins and at that instant, Scripture says, we are identified with Him, set apart unto Him as a distinct, unique people of God. At that instant in terms of sin we are just freed from the penalty of sin, eternal condemnation. And that is it. But because as church age believers we understand all that happens at that instant, that there is an incredible, magnificent transaction that takes place wherein God the Father not only imputes to each of us the righteousness of Christ, but He, as it were, puts billions and billions of dollars into our account that we can never outspend. That is ours, and that is what Paul is talking about in this passage.

That is what we have been given at justification, phase one when we become a Christian, and the spiritual life is really coming to grips with all that the Scripture tells us that God did for us at that instant, and then learning to live on that basis—learning to live as if we are billionaires or trillionaires and not paupers. In the progress of our spiritual growth, which is also experiential sanctification, we grow and mature, and as we do so we realize the freedom that we have from the sin nature. We are freed from the penalty of the sin nature at phase one. The tyranny of the sin nature is broken but we are so used to obeying the sin nature—that is such a deeply ingrained, cellular orientation of our thinking—that it takes years of studying and application to learn to live as if we are no longer that slave to the sin nature. We have to let the Holy Spirit reprogram all of our thinking. That doesn't get it all done by the time we are finished but that is the goal of our spiritual life until we die physically. When we die physically, then and only then are we freed from the presence of sin and the sin nature, and this is referred to as ultimate sanctification or glorification.

The passage we are looking at here is addressed to believers. The focus here is what happened on the cross with a view to helping the reader understand its present time application in their spiritual growth. Paul doesn't just go back here to talk about the gospel so that they can get saved.

We live in a world that is ruled by the prince of the power of the air, the devil, who darkens the minds of unbelievers and seeks to distract and destroy believers. That is why when Paul ends this discourse in verse 15 the focus is on how those invisible powers within the angelic conflict (Satan and the fallen angels) are disarmed at the cross, and so there is no longer a need to fear those supernatural elements. So in terms of our positional truth that is all real, we just have to learn to apply it in terms of our temporal realities, in terms of walking by the Spirit.

The ritual of the believer's baptism is designed (like the ritual of the Lord's table) to teach an abstract doctrine. We have to learn to live in light of identification truths that are in Scripture. That does not negate the utilization of 1 John 1:9 for forgiveness. Identification with Christ tells us what we have in Him and 1 John 1:9 tells us how to recover fellowship where we can utilize what we do have in Him not matter what else has taken place.

Colossians 2:13 NASB "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." That would be indicating what goes on back at the cross again; that is when He forgave us all transgressions—the legal or forensic identification. He cancelled it when He nailed it to the cross. That was almost 2000 years ago, so therefore that can't be talking about the kind of forgiveness we experience when we confess our sins on the basis of 1 John 1:9. It can't be talking about the kind of forgiveness we experienced when we trusted Christ as our savior because that happened sometime of the 20th or 21st century. It can only tell us what happened at the cross in the first century, so it has to be a different vantage point on forgiveness than those other two that we usually talk about. The grammar here is important. Being "dead" really is a participle, it is a present tense. It is always important to understand the timing because a present tense participle happens at the same time that the action of the verb takes place. An aorist participle will come either before or possibly at the same time—usually before the action of the main verb—and then a future tense happens after the action of the main verb. So being "dead" happens at the same time as the main verb which is "He made you alive." So it is expressing our condition at the moment God made us alive together with Him. It expresses that status we had: we were dead spiritually, not physically. We have to understand that we were dead; there is a penalty. We were born spiritually dead, Ephesians 2:1.

Paul also brings in this phrase about circumcision: "the uncirumcision of your flesh." Why does he use "uncircumcision" here? In Ephesians 2 he says "You were dead in trespasses and sins." The reason he uses circumcision here is that in Colosse the challenge to false teaching was that you needed to be circumcised, so he has to address it to them. Circumcision didn't remove anything in terms of their spiritual condition or change their spiritual condition. He is talking here about spiritual circumcision, not physical circumcision and because they had not been spiritually circumcised—which in vv. 11, 12 was related to the baptism of the Holy Spirit—because they had not been baptized by the Holy Spirit so that the power of the old sin nature was broken (the idea of circumcision of the flesh). So they were not regenerate. He is directly tweaking the opposition by using that terminology. He is calling names, as it were, by doing that.

In Colossians 2:13 we have a mirror statement of Ephesians 2:5, 6. Colossians 2:13 NASB "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him…" This is a past tense verb of suzo poieo [suzw poiew] which simply means to make alive together with. So that is the main verb here. The aorist tense is past and just refers simply to the time in your past when you trusted Christ as savior. Your condition at that time was you were spiritually dead. Ephesians 2:5, 6 says the same thing: NASB "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." The "gift of God" (vv. 8, 9) is this entire transaction of being made alive together with Him. It is not the faith, it is not the grace; in context it is the whole process that is the gift of God in regenerating us and saving us.

This is followed by another clause in Colossians 2:13, "having forgiven us all our transgressions." In English it is even clear because "forgiven" is in a past tense form, which shows that it had to have taken place prior to the action of being made alive together. But we see in the Greek that the verb charizomai [xarizomai] here is an aorist active participle and it also has to precede the action of that main verb—"being made alive." So He forgave us all trespasses/transgressions, but that is before He makes us alive. What we learn when we skip down to verse 14 is that this happened is that this happened when He nailed that certificate of debt at the cross. What Paul is developing here is just the breadth of God's judicial action at the cross and what that means to us. This is an adverb and should be translated with a causal sense: "He is able to make us alive together with Him because He had already forgiven us of those sins." This word charizomai is really important here because it emphasizes something a little bit different than another word that could be used for forgiveness. It emphasizes the idea in its root meaning of giving freely or graciously without strings attached; it is done as a free gift. That is the core meaning of this word. It is applied to financial forgiveness or the eradication of a debt in one of Jesus' parables in Luke 7:42ff. Forgiveness is a complete, total transaction where the debt is no longer an issue; it is eradicated and removed. In that sense it also has the idea of forgiving or pardoning an action. When charizomai is used in the New Testament it always emphasizes the mental attitude and the foundation for forgiveness, which is having that grace mental attitude.

We can use the phrase "cancelling the debt" because at the beginning of verse 14 it begins, NASB "having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us." So this whole context here at the end of verse 13 and the beginning of verse 14 are all emphasizing the same principle of this cancellation, wiping out, eradicating this debt of sin. That is what forgiveness is. 

There are two words to communicate forgiveness in the New Testament. The first one is the one that is used most of the time, the word group related to aphiemi [a)fihmi]. The noun is aphesis [a)fesij]. It has the general idea of letting something go—let loose an animal that is tied up, or cancelling a debt, or forgiving in the sense of forgiving or pardoning an act or action. This is the verb that is used in 1 John 1:9, and it emphasizes the act of forgiveness itself. Whereas the second word charizomai, the one we have used in Colossians 2:13, is a word that focuses on showing favour or kindness. It is related to grace, being gracious to someone, which means to treat them in a manner which they haven't earned or deserved, and it emphasizes the attitude that under girds forgiveness—not their attitude but our attitude. When we apply this to our mental attitude, that is our focus. We are giving something to someone that they don't deserve.

This word is used for horizontal forgiveness for believers in passages like Ephesians 4:32 NASB "Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." It is grace toward others. The pattern is what happened when we were saved. In experiencing that complete and total forgiveness where the slate is wiped clean. Forgiveness is an expression of genuine love, that we will step around it. That is why when Paul talks about love in 1 Corinthians 13 he talks about love in the sense that love bears all things. It steps around them; it doesn't make an issue out of things that could be made an issue out of. The other word, aphiemi, is the word that is used in 1 John 1:9. That verse is emphasizing not the attitude that under girds forgiveness but it is the act of forgiveness that we have from God. 

We have said that God's forgiveness of us is related to our forgiveness of others, and this is clearly stated by Jesus in a couple of different passages. Mark 11, after the triumphal entry and right before the cross. Jesus has cleansed the temple in vv. 15-25 and He is teaching His disciples about prayer in vv. 20-24. Then in vv. 25 & 26 He is going to go on to say some other things about prayer. Mark 11:25 NASB "Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone [mental attitude sin], so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. [26] [But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions."] You are not going to get back in fellowship until you deal with the sin that is in your life at that particular time.

There is a parallel passage expressed in Matthew chapter six, vv. 14 & 15 NASB "For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions." Some people read this and think that if they are not forgiving everybody all the time then they are not going to get back in fellowship. The context in both passages is that none of us can go to the Lord in prayer while we are holding on to sin of any kind, but here specifically, resentment, bitterness, hostility related to failure to forgive. That raises the next question: How many times do I have to forgive this person anyway? What if it is somebody who is constantly creating the same problem, the same trauma that just goes on and on and on? Jesus answers this when Peter asked that exact question. In Matthew 18 the context is about forgiveness—the parable of the lost sheep, vv. 10-14, how to deal with another believer who has offended you, vv. 15-20, the parable of the unforgiving servant in vv. 21-35. This is when Peter says, Matthew 18:21 NASB "Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?" In v. 22 Jesus said to him, "I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven," an idiomatic way of saying forever.

There are two issues here in terms of forgiveness: consequences and forgiveness. The best illustration comes out of the Old Testament in 2 Samuel 8 & 9 following when David's committing his sin with Bathsheba. Nathan comes and gives the parable about a rich landowner who has hundreds of sheep and he goes and steals this little sheep from his poor neighbor. Nathan said to David: "You are that rich man." God was not going to take his life as the Mosaic Law required: God was going to forgive him. Psalms 51 and 32 express God's forgiveness for that sin. But there was a fourfold consequence that God brought into David's life. So forgiveness doesn't mean there aren't consequences. There are some offences against us where we need to forgive that person, but that doesn't mean we put ourself back in a position of danger where our life is threatened or other aspects of our life are threatened. There may be consequences for action that is separate from forgiveness. We can forgive somebody but the consequences are, "You are not going to be part of my life anymore." That may be so. It is going to differ from person to person, from situation to situation; it is not just a hard and fast rule.

In Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14 forgiveness is related to redemption. What is interesting is that the term "redemption" also has that idea of releasing someone from debt. These two verses tie redemption—the objective work of Christ on the cross paying for our sins—to forgiveness. So how are we to understand that? It is understanding the four different ways the Bible talks about forgiveness. The first is what is called forensic forgiveness which is directed toward God where the justice of God cancels the debt of sin. This happened at the cross—for everybody. Second, we are forgiven positionally in Christ at the instant of our salvation. This is where the verse talks about the fact that "in Him we have redemption." It has already occurred in terms of the objective of the cancellation of the penalty at the cross, but we realize it personally, positionally, in Christ at the instant of salvation. The third category of forgiveness is experiential forgiveness—1 John 1:9. And the last is the hard one: relational forgiveness—Ephesians 4:32.

The lack of forgiveness has a lot of consequences in our lives healthwise. It has consequences in terms of our mental attitude, because rather than focusing on God at those times we are focusing on somebody who is a problem, somebody who has hurt us. Sin has a number of unintended consequences. We can't trace it all out; everybody is different. But when we are out of fellowship and are sinning, this all has effects, not only spiritually but also physically. So forgiveness isn't just an abstract theological concept, it is understanding that reality that we are truly forgiven in Christ. No matter what has happened in our past, no matter how much we may feel a victim or guilty, it is wiped out at the cross so that we are truly free from whatever it is, and whoever did anything to us or our anger and resentment to them, so that we can go forward and experience genuine happiness and joy without that being the dark shadow that always hovers around the edge of our consciousness. We have true forgiveness in Christ.