My Debt Is Paid!
Topic: Expository Passage: Colossians 2:13-15
We often say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This statement is typically very accurate. For example, if you are trying to describe what someone looks like, a single picture probably can communicate far more than even a thousand words. The same goes for a scene in nature. A picture of a majestic mountaintop typically communicates far more than words ever could.
The reason pictures are so great is because they allow us to visualize scenes and ideas. Therefore, a common mark of a great writer or speaker is that he or she is able to paint pictures with words that communicate more than propositions. Having said that, you can expect me to make all sorts of cheesy (there you go) attempts at being picturesque today.
But in all seriousness, the text before us today does a masterful job of painting word pictures. There are only 55 Greek words in vv. 13–15, but with just a few words, Paul is able to paint several masterpieces.
And Paul doesn’t just paint pictures of mountaintops or people; he paints pictures of the most significant event in all of history—the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. And so I pray that we will leave today, not just knowing what Jesus accomplished but also seeing with new eyes the marvelous triumph of Christ and what it means for us.
In particular this text drives home three blessings we have received through the cross work of Christ. First…
I. I am alive (v. 13).
In each verse Paul sets up a contrast between what I am on my own, and what I am through Christ. And so notice in v. 13 the first picture Paul uses is that without Christ…
I was spiritually dead. Of course a dead man is unresponsive, lifeless, and powerless. Paul then proceeds to tells us what he means with the two descriptions that follow. First, without Christ we were dead in our trespasses, or transgressions. The Greek term is a common word for sin, that especially emphasizes the fact that sin is law breaking.
God is our authority because he is our creator. And he has revealed his law in the Scriptures. But Romans 2 adds that he has also written his law on the heart of every individual through our conscience. We are all born understanding that there is right and there is wrong, and we have at least some sense of what is right. But despite what we know, we consistently choose to disobey God’s law and to go our own way. Therefore, you are a lawbreaker, and so am I.
And ultimately this is because of the second description. We are lawbreakers because of “the uncircumcision of your flesh.” Paul is not talking about physical uncircumcision; rather, in light of v. 11, Paul is describing the sin nature.
We talked last Sunday about the fact that the heart of the unbeliever is “uncircumcised” meaning that it is dominated by sin. He cannot see who God is. He cannot love God as he really is. He doesn’t want to obey God, and he couldn’t obey God even if he wanted to. His sin nature is like a heavy ball and chain that he just can’t escape. In the words of this verse, he is dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of the flesh.”
And maybe you have never come to grips with this reality. You’ve always assumed that you are a Christian because you’ve always believed in God, and you’ve never done anything that bad.” In John 3, Jesus met a man just like you named Nicodemus. He assumed he was right with God because he believed in God and hadn’t done anything that bad. But he didn’t realize he was dead in sin. And Jesus told him, “you must be born again.” And so if you have always just assumed you are right with God, I hope you will see today that you are also dead in sin, and you need God to give you life that only he can give.
And if you are a Christian, remember again what you were apart from the grace of God. It might be that you have been saved for years, and you are doing relatively well. You’ve taken care of responsibility, and you don’t have any major sin struggles. But don’t forget it’s all by the grace of God because without him you were dead. But not anymore! Yes I was spiritually dead, but…
Now I am spiritually alive. It’s important that we see that if you are a Christian, God didn’t just zap you with life. Rather, as we saw last week, Jesus first joined us in our human condition, and he died as a payment for sin. But then he rose from the dead. And this verse states that I have been “made alive together with him.” I participate in his resurrection life!
This doesn’t just mean that I am going to heaven someday; rather, it means that God has changed my heart. I’d like to explicitly tease out what this means.
First, the fact that Christ has changed my heart means that I see God clearly as both my Sovereign, Holy Lord and as my loving Father. Only a real Christian understands both of these realities at the same time because it is only in the gospel that I can really appreciate God’s holy authority over me and not be lead into despair but into rest with a loving Father.
Second, I see God’s law as good and wise, and I love God’s love as my way of glorifying my Father and pursuing what is best for me. The unbeliever never grasps both of these. Either he doesn’t grasp the weight of God’s demands, or he hates God’s demands because they are impossibly difficult. But someone who has been born again can say of God’s law, in the words of Psalm 19:10, “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than the honey and the honeycomb.” Of course, we don’t always feel that way when God demands a lot, but we know his will is good.
Third, because I am alive, I can actually obey God’s law. Now, I will never do so perfectly in this life, but I can make real progress toward genuine holiness by the strength of God’s grace.
I believe that Jesus perfectly summarizes the heart of the person who has been made alive in Matthew 11:28–30. Do you see Jesus as “gentle and lowly”? Do you see his “yoke” or “law” as a light burden because you understood it is good and wise? Do you want to obey it, and do you know you can by his grace?
Christian, find rest for your soul today by remembering the wonderful new reality in which you live. Your God is good, and his law is good. It is a blessing to serve our Lord, and you can serve our Lord because you have been raised with Christ. You are alive.
And if you are “laboring and heavy laden” today because you have been trying to earn a relationship with God, Jesus invites you to come to him for rest. Won’t you be born again today and receive new life? The second great benefit we have received through the suffering of Christ is that…
II. I am forgiven (v. 14).
Again, Paul sets up a powerful contrast in this verse. Notice first that apart from Christ…
I was bankrupt. In v. 14 Paul begins to paint some stunning pictures of the gospel’s power. First he provides a powerful picture of my guilt as a sinner when he describes our guilt as “the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us.”
The word translated “handwriting” was a common Greek term for a handwritten, signed certificate of debt. It was an “IOU” of sorts that said I am in your debt, and I must repay it. Paul illustrates the idea in Philemon 18–19. “If he (Onesimus) has wronged you or owes you anything, put that on my account. I, Paul, am writing with my own hand. I will repay.” And so Paul pictures each of us as holding a piece of paper on which we have written out our sin debt before God, a debt that we are absolutely responsible to pay before a just God.
And Paul goes on to say that this debt is tied to “requirements,” or “ordinances.” The Greek word is “dogma,” and it refers to God’s law as revealed in Scripture. God has given us an absolute standard of righteousness that as his creations, we are obligated to obey.
And the picture in this phrase is that every time I fail to live up to God’s law, it’s as if another line is added to the ledger of my debt. It’s really incredible to imagine what my IOU would look like if it were actually written out on paper. After 36 years, it would be a mountain of paper filled with tiny print.
And as if I didn’t already get the fact that my debt is massive, Paul tells me twice how severe it is. He says this handwriting “was against us,” and it “was contrary to us.” The second phrase in particular pictures this debt as actively hostile. In Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan pictures it as a heavy burden on Christian’s back. At the beginning of the book Christian declares in despair, “I fear that this burden that is upon my back will sink me lower than the grave.” Our sin debt is immense.
And folks, we will never appreciate the gospel until we see that on our own we are spiritually bankrupt. And maybe there is someone here who has never come to grips with this fact. You need to see today that your sin debt is too great to even comprehend, and it is far too big for you to even dream of paying it myself. Therefore, Christ did for us what we could never do for ourselves. Yes, I was bankrupt, but through Christ…
Now I am debt-free. Verse 14 describes this incredible blessing with two more powerful pictures. First, v. 14 says that Jesus “wiped out…” The literal idea behind this verb is to wipe clean or erase a document. And so think again of every sin you ever have and ever will commit as a mountain of paper filled with detailed notes, which condemn you to eternal judgment in hell. And the picture is that Christ has come along and erased every detail.
Imagine what it would be like to trudge into the room where this mountain of debt is recorded, and you glance down at a piece of paper where once there were detailed notes of debt, but now the paper is blank. You can’t believe your eyes, and so you throw it aside and look at the next sheet, and it is blank too. You start to rapidly shuffle through sheets of paper that were once filled with unpaid expenses, and every sheet is blank. What an incredible relief!
And folks God tells us here in his Word that this is what Jesus has done for every Christian. He has “wiped out;” he has erased our entire debt. Verse 13 calls this “forgiveness.” It says that God has “forgiven you all your trespasses.” My debt is gone! I don’t owe a dime even after all that I have done.
And if you are a Christian, you ought to feel an incredible sense of relief in light of God’s forgiveness. I was bankrupt. I had a debt I could never pay, but it has been wiped clean. Now certainly I still grieve over my sin, and I strive to do better, but I can pursue holiness knowing that I am secure, and I will never be held liable for my debt.
And so Paul declares that I am debt-free because Jesus erased my ledger. I am forgiven. But Paul then goes on to remind us that while this forgiveness was free for us, it was not free for God. Notice the conclusion to v. 14.
With this statement Paul paints another masterpiece, this time of the substitutionary nature of Christ’s death. You may know that when the Romans crucified a criminal they would commonly nail the charges against the criminal to the cross above his head. Pilate did this when he crucified Jesus. Mark 15:26 states, “The inscription of His accusation was written above: THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Pilate wasn’t calling Jesus a king; rather he was saying that Christ was being crucified because he claimed to be a king. This was the charge for which Pilate crucified Jesus.
But here in Colossians, Paul says that Jesus did not ultimately hang on that cross based on some ludicrous, trumped up charges by Pilate. Rather, God the Father condemned Jesus to die on that cross by nailing to his cross my IOU and your IOU.
And the Gospels tell us that as Jesus hung on that cross it became as dark as midnight during the middle of the day as Christ bore in his body the punishment for our sin. He suffered my punishment in my place. And in so doing he paid my debt.
As a result, God says to us in this verse of our debt that God “has taken it out of the way.” John the Baptist used this same verb when he prophesied of Jesus in John 1:29, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John was introducing Jesus as the ultimate sacrificial lamb, whose mission was to remove our sin debt.
And if you have believed the gospel, and you are in Christ, how you ought to rejoice in the fact that God has taken away your sin by nailing it to the cross of Christ. He suffered for you. And so give thanks, and then continue to rest in his grace; rest in his love. Your debt is gone and don’t ever doubt that.
But maybe there is someone here today that is trying to pay your sin debt yourself. You hope that somehow, someday you can do enough good to pay your debt. I pray that you will see today that paying your own debt is impossible, but you don’t have to because Jesus already paid it. And all you must do to receive the salvation he offers is to come to him in faith. Verse 12 says that you can be “raised with Him (simply) through faith in the working of God who raised him from the dead.” Today, won’t you acknowledge the severity of your debt, repent of it before God, and receive the forgiveness that is available in Christ? And so the second incredible I enjoy through the cross work of Christ is that I am forgiven. The third blessing I enjoy is that…
III. I am free from fear and intimidation (v. 15).
Again there is a powerful contrast in this verse between what I am on my own and what I am in Christ though this time my previous condition is not stated explicitly because it was very much tied to the situation at Colossae.
We’ve talked several times about the fact that the Colossians were being told that there are all sorts of demonic powers out there that have power over us. And the false teachers were pushing the Colossians to perform various rituals that they claimed were necessary in order to keep them from harming us. Therefore, the assumed previous condition is that…
I was dominated by fear. Now today, we probably don’t worry nearly as much as ancient cultures about pacifying evil spirits. But Revelation 12:10 calls Satan the “accuser of the brethren.” He loves to stand before God and remind him of our sin and the judgment we deserve based ultimately on God’s justice.
And Satan also loves to fill our hearts with guilt and despair. He whispers in our ear, “You can’t serve God. You’re a loser.” And he tells all sorts of lies to deceive us away from God’s will. And before we were saved, he especially dominated our existence. Second Corinthians 4:4 states of unbelievers, “Whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…should shine on them.” Satan closes the eyes of unbelievers to the hope of the gospel.
He did this to you before you were saved. He dominated your life maybe more than you realized. He intimidated you through fear and deceit. But in the cross, Jesus destroyed Satan’s power over his people. Therefore, I am no longer dominated by fear; instead…
Now I am secure. Again there are two pictures in this verse. First, Paul says that God has “disarmed principalities and powers” speaking of demonic spirits. The literal idea of the verb is that God has “undressed” these powers.
And so Paul pictures the demons as an enemy army. As soldiers they are dressed in armor, and they are equipped with the weapons of war intent on doing harm to mankind and especially to Christians. But through the cross, God undressed them. He took their armor and their weapons, and he left them naked, ashamed, and helpless.
And after disarming them, Paul goes on to picture God as publicly shaming them. “He made a public spectacle of them…” Here Paul uses a common Roman picture that the Colossians would have understood well. When a Roman general won a great military victory, they would typically hold a celebratory parade.
The people would line the streets and cheer as the triumphant general rode his chariot through the city. And chained to his chariot would be the disgraced and defeated enemy. These men were utterly embarrassed. They were stripped of their armor and helplessly chained to the general. And typically at the end of the parade, they would be killed.
And Paul states in v. 15 that God also has publicly humiliated the demonic powers through the death but especially through the resurrection and ascension of Christ to the Father’s right hand.
F. F. Bruce does a masterful job capturing the picture here when he states, “The very instrument of disgrace and death by which the hostile forces thought they had him (Jesus) in their grasp and had conquered him forever was turned by him into the instrument of their defeat and disablement. As he was suspended there, bound hand and foot to the wood in apparent weakness, they imagined they had him at their mercy, and flung themselves on him with hostile intent. But, far from suffering their attack without resistance, he grappled with them and mastered them, stripping them of the armor in which they trusted, and held them aloft in his outstretched hands, displaying to the universe their helplessness and his own unvanquished strength. Had they but realized the truth… ‘They would not have crucified the Lord of glory’ (1 Cor 2:8). But now they are dethroned and incapacitated, and the shameful tree has become the victor’s triumphal chariot, before which his captives are driven in humiliating procession, the involuntary and impotent confessors of his superior might” (Bruce, pp. 110–111).
At this moment, Jesus is seated in glory at the right hand of the Father. He has utterly embarrassed Satan and his demons, and the day is coming when he will close the door of the lake of fire over them forever and ever.
God has won, and therefore those of us who are in Christ have much to rejoice in today. We are alive, we are forgiven, and we are free from fear and intimidation. We must give thanks, but we also must let these truths penetrate deeper and deeper into our hearts so that we rest in the grace we have received and we live out it through faithful service.