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Colossians 2:11-15 by Robert Dean
Since Pastor Dean has been out of the country for a few weeks, this lesson takes the time to go back and review what we had learned so far on the profound significance Paul places on forgiveness in Colossians 2:11-15.

As we are reminded of when forgiveness takes place, we also learn of the four different types or areas of forgiveness. This lesson is important for a clear understanding of forgiveness all mankind has in Jesus' work on the cross, but also in how believers are to apply forgiveness in our personal walk.
Series:Colossians (2011)
Duration:47 mins 55 secs

The Gospel of Forgiveness. Colossians 2:11-15


This is one of the most important passages in all of the Scripture emphasizing what we have in Christ and all that God has provided for us in terms of the work of Christ on the cross, and how this then impacts our individual spiritual life. As we study this section there are different dimensions to what is said here and the sentence which is not uncommon is a rather lengthy one. In the Greek it begins in verse 11 and continues all the way down through verse 15 as Paul piles up one significant complex thought upon another. It challenges us to stop and really think about what he is saying here, how these different clauses and phrases relate to each other, because as that is developed and understood then we come to a greater understanding and appreciation of everything that God has provided for us.

The focus really in these verses and the ones that follow are on forgiveness, a key topic in this section of Colossians, and the implications of it. Paul says, "in Him." So right away when we read that phrase we know that he is talking about what we have in Christ. This phrase "in Him" is a typically Pauline expression, one that emphasizes what Christians have in Christ by virtue of our relationship with Him, our position in Him, which takes place when we are identified with Him in His death, burial and resurrection at the instant of our salvation. We know that what he is talking about here is the possession of Christians after salvation, after our faith in Christ as savior.    

Colossians 2:11 NASB "and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; [12] having been buried with Him in baptism [by means of the Holy Spirit], in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead." These two verses focus our attention on one aspect that occurs at the instant of salvation—what is referred to as the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit when we are identified with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection—and at that instant the power of the sin nature in our life is broken. Prior to our salvation we are under the tyranny or dominion of the sin nature, we are fallen, spiritually dead, there is only one option and that is to live like a spiritually dead person. But that is broken at the instant of salvation by virtue of our position in Christ.

Paul then goes on to explain what else goes on at the same time that this even called the baptism of the Holy Spirit takes place. It is expressed in verse 13. The NASB uses "when." It is not really "when," it is more of a concessive participle and translated "though you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh [ref. to the sin nature], He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions." That is the main focus, that this act of regeneration when we are made alive again in Christ, when we move from being spiritually dead to being spiritually alive. So what most of what Paul is talking about in these verses really helps us to understand the dynamic of what we realize in our experience at the instant that we trust in Christ as savior. He makes us alive with Christ. This aspect of regeneration is something that is distinct to the church age. That is not saying regeneration is unique to the church age, but this aspect of it. The regeneration that was experienced in the Old Testament does not have as many things that come with it as we experience in the church age. There is a greater association of reality that we have in Christ once that sin penalty was paid for at the cross.   

Colossians 2:14 NASB "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."

As we look at this passage (vv. 13-15) we see an emphasis on forgiveness, and there is the statement at the end of verse 13 that He makes us alive because He had already graciously cancelled all of our sins. That is the idea of forgiveness there. When did He do that? "He cancelled out the certificate of debt … having nailed it to the cross." That last phrase that tells us when this occurred. This is so important to understand. The implication of this is truly profound.

The word that is translated "redemption" here in these passages is apolutrosis [a)polutrwsij]. There is the root noun lutrosis [lutrwsij]; apo [a)po] is a preposition added to it as a prefix to give a different sense of meaning. It is important to understand that this is a significant shift in meaning. The focus on the verb lutroo [lutrow] is on the ransom payment. The word apolutrosis actually emphasizes the realization of that payment. It is critical for us to understand that when we talk about redemption and forgiveness that the Scriptures talk about them in two different senses. One is an objective sense that is directed toward God and the other is a subjective sense that relates to our personal realization of forgiveness. It is important for us to understand that because as we deal with people and we are expected to forgive them then both of these senses apply. There is an objective sense in which we forgive others and then there may not be a subjective sense, one that is realized in their experience in terms of a change that comes about because of the fact that they are forgiven. You can forgive someone and it doesn't mean that they come back into your life in the same way that you experienced it before.

When teaching on this concept of forgiving one another (Ephesians 4:32) there always people who have been severely wounded in life by other people who hear much more than you are saying because they are coming at this from a somewhat wounded position and they think that forgiving someone means eradicating all consequences in their life and letting them come back into your life to do whatever damage and wreak whatever havoc and damage they can numerous times and that forgiveness basically means that you give them the power to constantly control your life in some sort of destructive way. That is not true. Simple illustration: Let's say you own a business and you have an employee. You have a certain level of trust with that employee but one day you discover that that employee has been stealing money from you. You can objectively forgive that individual and then you can fire that individual, all of which never violates the principle of forgiveness. You have forgiven objectively from your mental attitude but there are consequences for their breech of trust and so you are not going to put yourself back into the kind of danger or vulnerability to their thievery that was there initially. That does not conflict with forgiveness. Scripture clearly recognizes these kinds of distinctions in the terminology that is used and in the demonstrations that are given. So the idea that forgiven means that everything goes back automatically to the way it may have been initially is not a part of the meaning of the word to forgive, it simply means to cancel or eradicate that debt, it does not in and of itself have anything to do necessarily with consequences.

We have seen that Scripture has four different categories of forgiveness. It is the first one that people have a difficult time articulating and distinguishing from the second category of forgiveness. The first category mentioned was a forgiveness that is directed toward God where the justice of God cancels out the debt of sin. It is objective in the sense that it is the work of Christ on the cross that is directed toward the justice of God. In this sense it is similar to what Paul speaks of in Romans chapter three as propitiation, i.e. the work of Christ on the cross that satisfies the righteous and just demands of God, the demands of the Supreme Court of heaven. Forgiveness overlaps in this sense with propitiation, it is God's directive. The justice of God cancels the debt of sin because Christ's payment for that debt on the cross. This is the idea that we have in Colossians 2:13, 14 when it talks about the fact that He cancelled the legal debt of our trespasses. That occurs prior to our personal regeneration or faith in Christ. It is further clarified in v. 14 that this was done when He nailed it to the cross. But that is only one of two aspects of forgiveness that are spoken of in the Scriptures. In fact there are passages that talk about the proclamation of the gospel as proclaiming the gospel of forgiveness. So the question becomes if the people are forgiven when Christ paid the penalty on the cross in what sense are we giving them the gospel to be forgiven? And to understand that is to understand this distinction between the Godward aspect related to the objective payment of the penalty and the personal application or realization of that in the life of the individual.

One of the first passages to look at about this is Acts 13. The context is Paul's first missionary journey. The church had been founded in Antioch of Syria. This congregation, primarily Gentile, has expanded and grown and now they are ready to send out a missionary. So one of the leaders of the Jewish church (Barnabas) is in Antioch and he realizes that the person that they need for this mission is Paul, so a message is sent to Paul to come to Antioch. They are commissioned by the church at Antioch to go out to the Gentiles and they leave on their first journey. They arrived at Antioch in Pisidia and it was typical of Paul's procedure to go to the synagogue. He explains the Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Messiah. He comes to a conclusion in Acts 13:38 NASB "Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through Him forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you." He doesn't use the term "brethren," he uses the term "male brethren" because he is speaking to the men. The women on the other side of the synagogue were just observers—typical of the synagogue at that time. [14] "and through Him everyone who believes is freed [justified] from all things, from which you could not be freed [justified] through the Law of Moses."

The Greek text divides where they divide the verses and actually splits this in a manner that is different from the English. The only thing that there is in verse 39 is the phrase "by this one [Jesus] all who believe are justified." The rest of the verse is really in verse 38. Translation: "Therefore let it be known to you male brothers that through this one [Jesus] forgiveness of sin is announced to you and from all things that you were not able to be declared righteous by the Law of Moses; by this one all who believe are declared righteous."

The declaration of righteousness or justification is something that does not occur until we believe in Jesus as savior. So basically three things have to be fixed or repaired in order for us to have eternal life and having guaranteed destiny in heaven. The first problem has to do with the legal penalty of sin. The legal penalty which is assessed to the entire human race from the instant that Adam sinned is the problem of the penalty of spiritual death. Second, Because we are all born in Adam's fall we are born with the application of that penalty, we are born spiritually dead. That is what Paul is emphasizing in Colossians 2:12. Then the third problem is that we lack righteousness. Isaiah 64:6. So we have three problems: the legal penalty of sin which has to be solved before the bar of God's justice. The second and third problems are part of our experience: we are spiritually dead and we are unrighteousness, and we cannot have eternal life, cannot come into the presence of God, cannot spend eternity with Him, unless we move from spiritual death to spiritual life and unless we are righteous.

The first problem, the problem of paying the legal penalty, is resolved at the cross. Jesus Christ paid that penalty for every single human being on the cross. His death on the cross is directed towards God's justice which is propitiated and so that payment is made. But even though that payment is made and we are in that sense forgiven (the penalty is wiped out) we are still spiritually dead. It doesn't change our experience, our status. We are still spiritually dead and we are still unrighteous. It is only when we believe in the gospel, when we trust in Christ as savior, that God imputes to us the perfect righteousness of Christ and He regenerates us and makes us a new creature in Christ. Then we have eternal life. So these are the two dimensions in relation to Christ's work on the cross: one in which He pays historically for our sin on the cross and the other in that which is directly applied to our experience. This is what Paul is announcing: "the forgiveness of sin." It has been paid for by Christ on the cross but they have to hear the message of forgiveness so that they can make that objective payment a reality in their own life.

The second passage that we go to where we have the use of this phrase "forgiveness of sin" in relation to the gospel is in Acts 26:18 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." The actual speaker being quoted is the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul is speaking but he is relating what Jesus Christ said to him when Paul was saved on the road to Damascus. The context of Acts 26 is when he is giving his legal defence before King Agrippa. He is giving a legal defence; that is what it means to give an answer for the hope that is in you. It is to provide an explanation why you are one who believes what we believe. Beginning in Acts 26:15 Paul gets to the point where he describes his conversion on the road to Damascus. He expresses here to Agrippa that when Jesus was speaking to him He described Paul's future mission as an apostle and that that mission was for the purpose of opening the eyes (preaching the gospel) of the Gentiles with the result that they would turn from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, with the further result "that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me."

We might read that and say: "Well I thought that I had forgiveness of sins because Christ paid the penalty for sin on the cross." And that is true; that is the objective payment which is the cancellation of the sin penalty. But it doesn't change the individual status of being spiritually dead or being unrighteous. That comes only when the gospel is understood and believed. So the apostle says that first of all his mission was to proclaim the gospel and that the desired result of that was that when people heard it they would respond in faith. As a result of that turning—the word "repent" [metanoeo] isn't used here, the word is epitstrepho [e)pistrefw] which means simply that aspect of turning from going in one direction mentally to going in another direction. And as a result of that they would receive forgiveness of sin—the application in their experience of the reality of the payment of the sin penalty. So this expresses the secondary aspect of forgiveness in relation to our experience.

To summarize: First of all, in Ephesians 1:7 and Colossians 1:14 we have the identical phraseology that it is in Christ that we have redemption, the forgiveness of sin. Both of these passages tell us that there is this close relationship or almost identification between redemption and forgiveness of sin. But the forgiveness of sin that is mentioned here is a forgiveness that is qualified by that opening phrase "in Him." This is really the second category of forgiveness that we have noted—the realization in our experience of the fact that we are fully forgiven in Christ. So the "in Him" tells us that this category of forgiveness that Paul speaks of in these two verses is related to those who are in Christ, those who have trusted in Christ as their savior. The second thing that reinforces that is the word apolutrosis, which basically means redemption or deliverance or a release, but it is a word that is only used in relation to the personal experience, not the objective payment of the redemption price. The basic idea in the word "redemption" is the payment of a price. Forgiveness also has that idea, it is used in places like Matthew 18:32 where it describes the cancellation of a monetary debt.

But when we look a little more into this passage and we realize that this word for redemption here isn't the more objective word group of lutroo or agorazo it makes it very clear for us. The word group lutroo or the noun form lutrosis refers to the objective payment of a ransom. Jesus used that word in 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 refers to the historical payment of the penalty for sin on the cross. In 1 Timothy 2:5, 6 NASB "For there is one God, {and} one mediator also between God and men, {the} man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony {given} at the proper time." Here another word is used based on lutroo. It is antilutron [a)ntilutron] which also has to do with the payment of a ransom, but that prefix anti is indicating substitution. It is paying the penalty or the ransom for someone else. "… who gave Himself a ransom," a substitutionary payment we might say. Those two words indicate that objective payment but the word that we have in Colossians 1:14 and Ephesians 1:7 is a word that should be translated "release." It is the application of that. So we have the picture of someone who is a captive or someone who is a slave in the slave market of sin and the objective payment for that sin releases them from their imprisonment. But they continue to stay there; they remain there as a slave. It is not until they realize that they are free and step away from the slave market that they have the personal experience of redemption—the actual release of the captive or the slave, the realization in our own experience that we are truly forgiven by God. It is the removal of all guilt because we have been redeemed by Jesus Christ.

This is similar to what we read in Scripture related to reconciliation. Reconciliation is another one of those words that describes the transaction that occurred on the cross. It is also a word that has economic implications. Romans 5:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:18 talk about reconciliation in this objective sense. Romans 5:10 NASB "For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son [historically at the cross], much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life." 2 Corinthians 5:18 NASB "Now all {these} things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation." So we have the objective side at the beginning of that verse but then as apostles and pastors and ambassadors for Christ we have the ministry of reconciliation as we proclaim and explain the gospel to others. [19] "namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself [historical], not counting their trespasses against them, and [application] He has committed to us the word of reconciliation."

Colossians 1:20 ties this together as well. NASB "and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself,"—the objective work of reconciliation at the cross. 2 Corinthians 5:20 NASB "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."

Then we have a forgiveness that is positional in Christ. This is what we have when we trust Christ as savior. It is ours, it is that realization that we are indeed free; the payment has been made and we are fully forgiven in Christ.

We have an experiential forgiveness every time we confess our sins and God forgives us of our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. Then we have the tough application which is relational forgiveness when we forgive one another. This is where we can forgive someone who has harmed or hurt us, or in some way violated us, and it is objective. We are not going to harbor mental attitude sins—bitterness, anger, resentment—toward that person; we forgive them. Their problem is now between them and the Lord, it is not a problem we are going to hold against them. Then there is a subjective realization of that forgiveness in terms of that individual. We may never see that person again. They may never come to any understanding of restoration of that relationship, that is a different aspect than the objective aspect. That is in terms of our own mental attitude releasing that person, not holding them accountable in terms of our own resentment, anger or bitterness, but letting them go and committing them to the justice of God to let God handle it and not for us to continue to bring that up again.

Forgiveness is foundational not only to understanding what we have in Christ but in terms of our application of that in every relationship that we have.