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Complete Forgiveness. Colossians 2:13-15
The question we need to ask: What can somebody do to you that you won't forgive? Probably all of us have a line somewhere. God doesn't have a line. One of the most horrible things that can happen to any person, especially a woman, is to be raped. From the early fifties through the sixties Helen Rosevere served as a missionary to the Congo. In the early sixties as the Congo was going through a tremendous amount of unrest and rebellion there were some of the rebel soldiers who came to the hospital that she had founded. They took her out, raped her, and then they tied her to a tree. They took a book that she had been writing for eleven years about the growth of Christianity and the impact of missions in the Congo (she had one copy that was not complete) and put it on the ground in front of her and burned it. A few years later she returned to the Congo and as part of her ministry and some of these same men had been wounded and were brought to her. She realized and understood that it was her responsibility to minister to them, give them the gospel and forgive them just as God for Christ's sake had forgiven her.
This is a tremendous testimony and an example of the reality that whatever may happen to us it is not something that God hasn't foreseen and that His grace is sufficient to handle it. Whatever sins we may commit, whatever sins might be committed against us, God's grace is sufficient. There is no reason for more shame, no reason for guilt for anyone who is a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, because the core of the gospel is the fact that we have complete and total forgiveness because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross.
That is the focus of this section on Colossians that we are studying, that we have a complete forgiveness in Jesus Christ. This is the challenge that every human being faces, because at the very core of sin and the very core of our sin nature is the motivation to autonomy, to be independent from God, to retaining in our life and in our thinking some measure of our own sufficiency; that we have to help. And yet Scripture teaches is that it is one or the other. It is either all in relationship to trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ and the provision that God gives us—not only in salvation but also in the spiritual life—or we rely upon our own resources; there is no middle ground. It is one hundred per cent dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ for everything or we are depending on ourselves. Any addition of our own works dilutes and destroys the grace of God. One of the most significant, if not the most significant, passages in the Scriptures that relates to the sufficiency of the work of Christ on the cross is this passage that we are studying now in Colossians 2:11-15. It is in this section that Paul is helping us understand what Jesus Christ did on the cross.
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,  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.  When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him."
The English translators have made certain decisions and punctuations that are not necessarily reflected in the Greek text. But then if we look at the Greek text a couple of different editions of the Greek text punctuate things a little differently. There are two finite verbs in vv. 13-15 which should be formatted as one sentence. The reason is that the main independent clause is always going to be expressed through that subject and finite verb. And in vv. 13 and 14 there is only one finite verb in terms of the independent clause, i.e. the phrase "He made you alive together." That is what this is all about: how God can regenerate us, can solve that personal problem of being spiritually dead and how that is able to be changed because of what Jesus Christ did on the cross. The second finite verb is in a compound clause that expands on the first statement in v. 14: "He has taken it out of the way." It is an explanation of how everything he says about being made a live together with Him, how all of that transpires; how the forgiveness of sin takes place because He has taken it out of the way. This has tremendous impact, not just in terms of some important points of doctrine and theology but because it comes home to us not only in our own personal mental attitude when it comes to facing problems in our life related to shame, guilt, sin, but also in order for us to understand how we are to imitate God in forgiving one another as God for Christ's sake has forgiven us. Ephesians 4:32 gives that command. And in Ephesians 5:1 is the command to imitate God. We can't do this on our own; it can only be as a result of the ministry of God the Holy Spirit as we walk by the Spirit and study His Word.
Translations of the Bible do become impacted the theological frame of reference of the translator and that is true in this passage. This is a passage that proclaims a dimension of God's grace and forgiveness that really rubs in anyone who has the least bit of legalism in their thinking. Legalism says that somehow and in some way the individual has to do something about his own sin—feel sorry for it, repent of it, etc. In some literature some say that you have to believe in Jesus for the forgiveness or removal of your sin. That is right to a certain degree and there are biblical texts that support that language but in their gospel presentation the emphasis is put on "you need to deal with your sin, and the way you deal with your sin is at the cross." That is not what this passage is saying. This passage puts the emphasis on something else. It is the difference in some ways between looking at a glass and saying it is just half full—focussing on the sin issue. Not that the sin issue isn't relevant to the gospel or a gospel presentation but what this passage tells us is that the focus isn't on the sin, the focus is on the message of forgiveness. It is positive, it is optimistic, it is looking at the reality that Christ has dealt with the sin problem at the cross and that is not the issue or the focal point of the gospel message.
When we look at the breakdown of these verses, 13 and 14, the first phrase "He made you alive together with Him" is the main thought that Paul is expressing here. He is emphasizing the fact every one of his Gentile readers have been made alive in Christ. This is profound. This is different from any of the other religious views that they are being seduced by; they need to understand all of what is necessary in order to say that we have this new life in Christ. And that is based upon an understanding of what Christ did on the cross, the transaction that took place there in relation to sin, and it is expressed in many ways in terms that also have economic usage in everyday language. It is a transaction that took place on the cross. "He made us alive together with Him" and this is done because of the fact that He forgave us all of our transgressions.
Verses 13-15 starts off by talking about the condition that they were in. Paul doesn't ignore the consequences of sin in the unbelievers, they are spiritually dead. Sin is a reality, he is not ignoring it. We are saved from something; we are saved from the sin penalty, and there has got to be an understanding of that reality. But the focal point isn't on personal sin, it isn't there to rub the unbeliever's nose in the fact that he is this dirty, rotten, stinking sinner and he had better repent of all of his sins before he can experience God's grace. But he represents the fact that this is a problem, the unbeliever is spiritually dead. So he starts off with this phrase "being dead in your transgressions," which is a participle expressing their condition at the time in which they were saved. Note that the phrase "in your trespasses and sins" is a phrase that is often used by Paul as an idiom to express spiritual death. It doesn't mean for your trespasses and sins or because of your trespasses and sins. It says you are dead in your trespasses and sins. There is a similar phrase in John 8:21, 24 when Jesus is talking to the Pharisees and he says, "You will die in your sins." It is clear that Christ paid the penalty for those sins so He is not saying you will die for your sins; they are still going to be in a status of spiritual death, still in their sins. The clarity on this is given in 1 Corinthians 15:17 where in explaining the significance of the resurrection Paul said, "If Christ is not risen your faith is futile, you are still in your sins."
AS we have seen in Colossians 2:13 this participle is going to modify the main verb, which is to be "made alive." It is a present participle, so that means that the timing of that is at the same time as the action of the verb. So at the time that God makes us alive Paul is emphasizing the fact that it is necessary because of the fact that we are spiritually dead. It could be understood as a temporal sense, "when you were dead in your trespasses and sins," or it could be understood as concessive, "though you were dead in your trespasses and sins." They are very similar ideas, very close together, and either one conveys the idea that at the point of regeneration our condition at that time is spiritual death. We don't have a relationship with God and we are under condemnation.
The next key phrase here is the main verb, which means to be made alive together with Him, the same verb which is used in Ephesians 2:5, 6. This is the emphasis on regeneration; it is the main idea. All of the other things that have been said here are just background to this one glorious truth that we are made alive in Christ. Life only occurs in Christ. But how does He do that? What are the circumstances? How is God able to deal with this problem that caused us to be born in a spiritual death state from the beginning, from Adam's sin? How is He able to solve that problem? Paul expresses that through the use of a couple of different participles. charizomai [xarizomai] is the one used here because that emphasizes the basis for forgiveness, which is grace; understand ding not the fact of forgiveness here but the grace basis, that it is given freely to us and we are freely forgiven. And we are freely forgiven of all the trespasses. There is a cancellation. The word is used in finance to indicate cancelling a debt, erasing a debt, removing a debt. It means to remove something completely, it is not there anymore.
We have to understand, though, the relationship of this participle to that main verb. He made us alive together with Him. How? "Having forgiven" is a little nebulous. In the English we can't tell what the correlation is between that idea and being made alive together with Him, but it is very clear in the Greek. It is an aorist participle, it happens before the action of the verb. The action of the verb is when we trusted in Christ as savior. When any individual trusts Christ as savior at that instant he is made alive together with Him, but something had to happen before that in order for God to be able to make him alive together with Him. And that is a forgiveness that occurred at the cross, not when one trusted in Christ in the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s or last week. This forgiveness occurred, as we see at the end of the next verse, on the cross. So it has a causal relationship because Paul is explaining here the reason or cause or basis for God being able to regenerate us when we trust in Christ as savior. It has the sense of either He made you alive together with Him because He had already forgiven or cancelled or nullified or removed those sins, or after He had already forgiven or cancelled those sins. There is a clear temporal element there.
We have seen previously the two different words for forgiveness—aphiemi [a)fihmi] which indicates the act of forgiveness, and charizomai [xarizomai] which indicates the basis or the attitude underlying forgiveness, which is grace. The idea in aphiemi is the idea of cancelling something, just completely removing it. charizomai emphasizes the grace basis for that: that it is really done not on the basis of anything that we do.
Verse 14 is really an awkward place for a verse division because another participle begins that verse. So we have to ask the question: what is the relationship of that participle to the main verb? This helps us understand the dynamics of how God is able to regenerate us. In verse 13 He made us alive with Him because He had already forgiven or released us from those sins. Then v. 14 explains how He did that: by cancelling the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us—NKJV, which adds a lot of verbiage in there in order to communicate the idea. There is an indebtedness that we have as a sinner that is really the indictment against us as unbelievers, those who are unbelievers and unrighteous. There is an indictment against us from the Supreme Court of heaven that has to be dealt with or eradicated. How is He able to forgive us? By cancelling the debt. We see the close connection here between this grace idea (charizomai)—he could have used aphiemi, but aphiemi would bring in the idea of cancelling and Paul wants to just do a double emphasis here—and the cancelling out of the certificate. He wiped it out. The verb in the Greek is exaleipho [e)caleifw]—aleipho is a word meaning to anoint and has the idea of rubbing oil on something, and so when the preposition ek added to it at the beginning it means to rub out, completely remove. That is the essence of forgiveness. When Scripture says that we are to forgive one another as God for Christ's sake has forgiven us, that idea is to rub out, eradicate or erase something that has happened to us, some offence of someone else to us and we completely remove all evidence of it from our thinking. But here we are talking about what God does at the cross. It is that this certificate of debt or this indictment against us is completely eradicated, removed, destroyed at the cross. That is how He forgave us, by cancelling or removing this certificate of debt.
The word exaleipho is used a few times in the Old Testament to translate the Hebrew word which is used in various passages related to sin. For example, Psalm 51:9 NASB "Hide Your face from my sins And blot out all my iniquities." This passage is talking about the believer's experiential forgiveness from God, not the ultimate act of forgiveness that occurred at the cross. The same idea occurs. When we confess our sins and they are forgiven and we are cleansed this same blotting out occurs, there is an erasure, a removal of that sin. As Isaiah 43:25 says, NASB "I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, And I will not remember your sins." Part of the essence of forgiveness is that we are not going to constantly remember some offence that has come from someone else to us. We are going to forgive it objectively in our own thinking.
So we see this idea that He had already forgiven us or released us from sin at the cross by cancelling or eradicating the certificate of debt. There are two words only in the Greek text, whereas we see in the KJV six words which are basically translations of two in the Greek. The first word is cheirographos [xeirografoj]—cheir = hand; graphos = writing—which means handwriting, a handwritten document. A written document in this context is the idea of a legal document, one related to debt or to a criminal action. The second word is dogma [dogma] which comes down into English as the absolute principles within a certain religious belief. But the core meaning of the word is the idea of a formal set of rules, a conclusion, an ordinance, a proposition, a decision or a decree. So this is a written decree. It is the idea that this is a formal, legal document that indicts the sinner. This is what is eradicated or removed so that it is no longer the issue.
So verse 14 begins with the statement that He is able to forgive us because He had cancelled, eradicated or removed this certificate of debt. We will retranslate that to call it a written decree against us. The word "us" is important because that relates to Gentiles. Remember that the problem at Colosse isn't dealing with a Jew-Gentile issue like Ephesians is. That is important because most of the time when reading a commentary probably 90 per cent of the time this certificate of debt is going to be interpreted as the Mosaic Law. But the Mosaic Law isn't the basis of God's indictment of the human race. The things that violated God's character that are laid out in the Mosaic Law did not become sins because they were in the Mosaic Law; they were sins from the beginning. It is Adam's sin that plunged the human race into the condition of spiritual death. So the context here just really can't allow for this to be understood or interpreted in the sense of the Mosaic Law. The NIV, for example, translates this "the written code" and that seems to suggest that they are talking about the Mosaic Law. But nowhere in the context of Colossians to this point do we see any kind of specific reference to the Mosaic Law as an issue. What we do see is the problem of man's condition which is resolved by Jesus Christ's payment on the cross.
That takes us to the next clause. First Paul has been talking about the fact that God was able to make us alive together in Him because He had forgiven us by eradicating or blotting out or destroying the certificate of debt against us. Now he says how He did that: "and He has taken it out of the way …" The Greek verb here is eiro [e)irw] and what is significant about this (and this is why grammar is so important) is that it is a perfect tense verb. A perfect tense verb means that it is a completed action; it is over and done with. This is why Jesus said in His last statement on the cross tetelestai [tetelestai], "It is finished"—a perfect tense verb. It means it is complete, it is done, nothing more can be added to it. It is over with and the results will go on into the future. The perfect tense emphasis is that it is completed in the past and it is focusing on ongoing results. So what Paul is saying here is that He has already taken it out of the way. He has already done that; it has happened in the past, completed action. The only time that that could happen is at the cross. He then makes that clear in the next phrase which is participial and which explains how He did it—"… having nailed it to the cross." It is an aorist participle, and remember that the action of an aorist participle is either simultaneous with the action of the main verb or precedes it. Since this is a perfect tense verb it will be simultaneous. So the way He took it out of the way was by nailing it to the cross. So it happens at the cross; sin is dealt with at the cross. Sin is not dealt with ultimately when we trust Christ as our savior. That sin was already dealt with, paid for, completely eradicated for every human being at the cross. This helps resolve the understanding of unlimited atonement. But the payment of that doesn't apply it to the individual; it is not realized in the experience of each individual until they trust in Christ, and only at that point are they made alive together with Him.
1. Sin is not the issue at salvation. This means that the individual's sin is not the issue at salvation, and your sin isn't the issue at salvation. There are so many people who get wrapped up about some sin that they have committed that they just can't understand and grasp the grace of God.
2. This doesn't mean that sin or the sin penalty or the reality of a person's spiritual death is ignored. It needs to be part of the gospel presentation but it is not the focal point. There are horrible gospel presentations where the focal point is on "You are just a sinner and you have to repent of all that sin or you are never going to have salvation." That is legalism; that is not an understanding of the grace of God at the cross. Personal sin is not the issue in salvation and gospel presentation.
3. The focal point is grace, the sufficiency of Christ, that we have forgiveness and we need to realize that, first of all in terms of justification and salvation by trusting in Christ as our savior because He has already eradicated that certificate of debt at the cross.
4. The point of application, moving beyond the gospel, is that if Jesus paid it all at the cross and all of the sin is dealt with then He solved the greatest problem we'll ever face. No matter what problems you and I face on a day-to-day basis with failures, sin, or what other people have done to us, that pales in significance compared to what we did against the character of God, and that is resolved by His grace at the cross.
We have to understand these dimensions at the cross, because when Scripture says that we are forgive one another as God for Christ's sake forgave us, it then says be imitators of God. The more we understand and grasp the fullness of that forgiveness and the grace basis for that forgiveness the more then that we are going to be able to do what is impossible naturally, and that is to forgive people no matter how horrible that may be, recognizing that in God's plan it may be that very act of forgiveness on our part that gives them a tangible picture of the kind of forgiveness that they can have in Christ, and that God can use that in bringing unbelievers to the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.