Teaching series from Colossians

The Cross: God's Radical Provision

Colossians 2:8-15

Teaching t23034


Remind of SETTING. Read 2:8. The false teachers were evidently telling the Colossians that there was a spiritual “fullness” (pleroma) that they lacked. In order to obtain this fullness, they needed to “graduate” beyond Jesus (whom they viewed as a lesser spirit) into devotion to other spiritual rulers (2:10b) and other spiritual practices (2:16-23).

Paul warns them against these false teachers, and gives very different counsel (read 2:9,10a).

“You don’t need to ‘graduate’ beyond Jesus, because Jesus is the fullness of deity in bodily form, and He is far above all other spiritual rulers. This ‘graduation’ is actually a trap that will hurt you spiritually.”

“You don’t need other spiritual practices because in Jesus you are already full.” “Full” doesn’t mean “fully developed” – 1:28 says Christians need to mature. Rather, “full” means “fully resourced” – having received through Jesus all the resources needed to mature. Jesus is like a mine full of treasures (2:3). Spiritual maturity isn’t moving on to a better mine (there isn’t one); it is becoming more familiar with these treasures and mining them so that you can enrich your life and others’ lives.

Specifically, we have been fully resourced by Jesus’ death on the cross. It is God's radical provision for our spiritual lives. I use the word “radical” because it derives from the word radix, which means “root.” We have many problems in our lives, but some are symptomatic problems, while others are root problems. 2:10b-15 reveals our root problems, and how the cross of Christ provides the solution to these problems. Let’s take a look at each of them – in a different order, starting with the one easiest to understand in 2:13,14...

The cross has canceled your “certificate of debt”

Read 2:13,14. The first provision we receive is God’s cancellation of our “certificate of debt.” Certificates of debt were legal statements of either personal financial debt (IOU) or criminal guilt. You get a certificate of debt when you receive a traffic ticket or a guilty verdict for a felony. It states your violation and the penalty for it.

We have a certificate of debt with God, and this is one of our root problems! Every time we violate His perfect moral character (not just “big sins” – but thoughts, omission, etc.), we accumulate true moral guilt before a righteous God. This guilt is “hostile” to us because it brings us under God’s righteous judgment.

Our culture has a huge blind-spot here. We recognize the reality and destructive power of guilt, but we tend to view guilt only in psychological or sociological terms. Although there is some truth to this, the Bible says that our root guilt is theological: We are convicted felons before God. And therefore, any real solution to our guilt must deal with His certificate of debt.

Here we find a similarity and dissimilarity between Christianity and the other religions of the world. They are similar in that they acknowledge the reality of true moral guilt before God. But they are dissimilar in their solution to this problem.

The other religions say: “You must pay your own debt." That’s why there is no assurance of God’s acceptance in any of them.

But Christianity says, “God has already paid your debt through Jesus death on the cross.”

Jesus had a Roman certificate of debt nailed to His cross (SLIDE). It was the Roman charge of sedition – that He claimed to be King of the Jews. But He was innocent of this crime since He was the rightful King. In fact, He was innocent of all sin before God; He was the only One who never got a certificate of debt! Instead, God took all our certificates of debt and “nailed them to the cross.” In other words, He applied all of our guilt to Jesus and judged Him in our place.

When a criminal had served his punishment, the authorities wrote the word tetelestai (“paid in full”) across his certificate, which he could then produce to prove he was no longer liable for judgment for that crime. Just before Jesus died, he cried out “It is finished!” (read Jn.19:30). This is the word tetelestai; Jesus is saying: “Your debt has been paid in full through My death!” That’s why Paul says (re-read 2:13,14) that through the cross God has “forgiven all your transgressions,” “canceled out” your certificate of debt and “taken it out of the way.”

How can you apply this radical provision? There are many ways to do this, but the first step is to simply to receive Jesus’ full payment for your sins. Imagine being hopelessly in debt with no bankruptcy provision. Then imagine a benefactor who cuts you a check that covers your entire debt. The issue is no longer your debt; it is your willingness to endorse the check and deposit it in your account. In the same way, it is no longer your sins, but your willingness to receive Jesus’ gift of forgiveness that is the crucial issue. Will you call out to God, acknowledge your certificate of debt to Him – and ask Him to cancel it through Jesus’ death? The moment you do this, God wipes out your sin-debt forever, and accepts you as if you had never sinned against Him!

The cross has given you a spiritually “circumcision”

Through the cross of Christ, God has made another radical provision for another root problem. Read 2:11 – It has given you a spiritual circumcision. (I trust we all know what circumcision is!) The Gnostics were apparently urging these folks to undergo physical circumcision as a step toward spiritual enlightenment. Paul says that’s ridiculous because they have already been spiritually circumcised by Jesus. What does this mean?

Circumcision was an Old Testament ritual which (among other things) drew attention to another root problem. It's not that we merely violate God’s standard and accumulate a certificate of debt; we are slaves to sin – in bondage to a sinful nature (“the body of the flesh” means “the sinful nature”). We commit sins because we are slaves to sin. Circumcision was a symbol of our need for radical spiritual surgery – deliverance from the power of sin and a new heart toward God (read Deut.10:16).

This is a problem that most of us do not really come to grips with until after we receive God’s forgiveness by receiving Christ. We have a new nature that wants to follow God’s will, but we discover that there is something deep within us that is still deeply self-centered and aversive to God. We discover that even though we have changed some of the obvious destructive behaviors, the roots of those behaviors are as strong as ever – and even “morphing” into spiritual shapes to remain in control (ME WITH COMPETITIVE PRIDE). What is this? This is slavery to a sin nature – something deeper than guilt from sinful deeds.

Unless we understand and apply God’s radical solution to this problem, we will either redefine spirituality as external, keepable rules (e.g., NEVER CUSS, BUT FULL OF BITTERNESS), or hide our sinfulness from others and ourselves, or live in honest fatalism (e.g., “THIS IS JUST THE WAY I AM”).

God knew we couldn’t solve this problem, so He predicted that the Messiah would do this when he came (read and explain Deut.30:6). Paul is saying that through Jesus’ death on the cross, He has supplied this radical surgery (re-read 2:11). Not only did His death pay for the guilt of your sins; it also “disarmed” (see 2:15 for this meaning for apekdusis) the authority of your sin-nature so that you can experience growing freedom from sin’s control.

So just as the cross of Christ is the key to dealing with your guilt before God, it is also the key to deep-seated, lasting moral change in your life! Because this is so abstract and important, we're going to take a closer look at how to apply this truth to our lives when we get to chapter 3. In the meantime, let me tell you the most basic way to apply this truth to your life. If you have received Christ, reject the lie that you are doomed to live in slavery to sin in this area of your life, and affirm God’s promise that His Spirit is able to liberate you in this area. Even though everything in your past experience and feelings tells you you’re a slave in this area, choose to affirm what God says instead. This is the necessary posture of faith that unleashes His guidance and power to liberate you in His way and timing.

The cross has disarmed the demonic forces that oppose you

The third radical provision God has made through the cross of Christ involves our relationship with supernatural evil – it has disarmed the demonic forces that oppose you (read 2:15). These “rulers and authorities” are demonic spirits, which Paul elsewhere calls “the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.”

I am not going to argue the existence of these demonic spirits. The Bible declares that they exist and exert a controlling influence on fallen humanity (read Eph.2:2), ranging from overt demonic control (in the case of those who get involved in occult practices) to insidious distraction from your need for God by deceiving you to pursue your own selfish lusts and pride (as in “The Matrix”).

Some of you personally experienced the destructive power of demons before you ever came to Christ, and still live in fear of them. For the rest of you, if you receive Christ and start following Him, you will run into the reality of demons before long. They will not only tempt you to disobey God’s will, and accuse you of being rejected by God, and cast doubt on God’s truth; he will also threaten you with disaster if you keep following Christ and oppress you in ways that are sometimes sickening.

What is God's provision for this root problem? You guessed it – Jesus and His death on the cross! Jesus is greater in authority and power than any demonic ruler (2:10b). And since humans’ sin brought us under demons’ dominion, Jesus’ death for our sins also breaks their authority over those who belong to Him (2:15) by transferring us from their domain into Christ's kingdom (1:13,14). Demonic rulers still exist and can still attack you and injure you if you listen to their lies and obey them, but if you have received Christ, they have been “disarmed”—they have no authority to rule you or prevent you from accomplishing God’s will for your life.

How do we go about applying this solution? There are several ways, but consider these:

Renounce all involvement with other spirits and commit your life to Christ. This includes not only Satan and demons – but also supposedly good spirits (e.g., spirit- guides, angels and saints) and supposedly harmless superstitions, by which people try to protect themselves and/or control things. Jesus is greater than any of these (2:10b), so you don’t need them. And this is dangerous, because you can deceived and “taken captive” by them.

Call out to God through Jesus when you are terrified by evil forces (read and explain Rom.8:15). Whether the terror comes from demonic nightmares or memories of past abuse or the threats of powerful people, you now have an Advocate because Jesus who is in you is greater than any evil ruler or authority (1Jn.4:4). Cry out to Him for help, and He Spirit will mediate His courage and peace as you do so.


SUMMARY: God has fully resourced us through the cross of Christ. We have everything we need to mature in Him. After receiving Christ, we need to focus on these resources, grow in our understanding and appreciation of them, and learn how they apply to the key areas of our lives. Paul will lead us into this in 3:1ff. – but first (2:16-23; NEXT WEEK), he will warn us against certain common religious practices that are hazardous to our spiritual health.

Moulton and Milligan, Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, p.630.

“In its biblical definition, sin cannot be limited to isolated instances or patterns of wrongdoing; it is something much more akin to the psychological term complex: an organic network of compulsive attitudes, beliefs, and behavior deeply rooted in alienation from God... Sinful thoughts, words and deeds flow forth from this darkened heart automatically and compulsively, as water from a polluted fountain.” Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Life (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1979), p.89.