From Death to Life

8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:8-15)

Paul regularly reminds us of change that takes place in the Christian’s life. Sometimes he is talking about an ongoing, progressive change that is to happen in the believer’s life. This would be daily change. For instance, we read and understand a truth that we had not understood before, and God convicts us of a need to conform to this truth from the Word of God, so we pray and we move toward a change in behavior, and by God’s grace and in His strength we actually begin to change to do what is pleasing to God. This type of activity ought to be happening regularly in the Christian’s life. We do not come to Christ one day and all of the sudden we are living out all that is pleasing to God. No, we are to be constantly on a path of change in this life, always on this path. We can understand this process of progressive change from places like 2 Peter 3 and Ephesians 4.

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)

from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:16)

In both 2 Peter and Ephesians 4 the point is that we are to be growing. We are not to stay where we are spiritually, and in our relationship with Christ we are to be growing, getting to a better, richer place with Him. If you marry your husband or wife and never grow in your relationship with each other, you will severely hinder what your marriage ought to be.

In Christianity we are not only to have a sense of growing in relation to our Lord, but also growing to be more like Him. He is the standard that we are to look at, to become more as He is. As we enter a new year, I hope that you are thinking about spiritual growth. I hope you are identifying ways you need to change and grow and that you begin laying those ways before the Lord in prayer and then striving to make changes that will show your love for Him.

So this is one way that Christians change: progressive, ongoing growth to be more like Jesus Christ. But there is another type of change that we can read about and understand from the Bible. This other type of change precedes the progressive change we have been talking about. This other change is an instantaneous change. And it too is a change that happens in a Christian’s life. This change is what Paul is speaking of here in Colossians 2:13. Paul says, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him.”

When Paul says this he is talking to those who are Christians. We need to be clear on that. He has written this letter to the church, those who now belong to Christ. He says of those who are Christians that a dramatic change has taken place, and to describe it he uses most dramatic terms that we all understand. This change is described in terms of life and death. What is more clear in contrast than life and death? Physically we are clear on what life and death are. Living in this world we are exposed to both. Physically we have all experienced and are experiencing life. We move, feel, and respond to stimuli, we think, work, play, and relate to others, we breathe, eat, and sleep, as living beings we understand life.

On the other hand we understand death as well. None of us have experienced death personally. But living here, death is all around us. When sin entered the world in the Garden of Eden, death also entered the world. Living creatures die. And every time we see death – a pet, an insect, flowers in a field, a person that we dearly love – it is a picture of sin that has entered the world through Adam. So though we have not personally died, we see death and we understand death. Death is an extreme event that stands in great contrast to life.

Now I just said that none of us have personally experienced death, and yet Paul says to Christians, “And you, who were dead.” What is Paul talking about here? Paul is talking about a spiritual truth. Most often he is. He is using terms that we understand to help us grasp a spiritual truth. “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh.And you were dead in the trespasses and sins.”

In spiritual terms, Paul is describing to these Christians, reminding them of where they were, what they were like prior to being Christians. He describes them as having been dead in their trespasses, and in Ephesians he adds the word “sin.” This by the way is descriptive of all today who do not belong to Christ, who are not Christians; they are, we were, dead spiritually.

What this describes is living in a realm of spiritual death. This means that one cannot receive, accept, or respond to spiritual truth. What is spiritually true does not make sense to one who is dead to spiritual truth. Just like a dead man, a physically dead person cannot respond to people or events around him, the spiritually dead cannot respond to, positively respond to, spiritual, biblical truth, and nor would he want to because it does not make sense in his world, in his sphere of living.

A desire to live for Christ and to love Christ and to follow the precepts of God’s Word does not exist in this sphere of spiritual deadness that all non-believers live in. This is why so often when you share spiritual truth with a friend you get a puzzled response. It just does not quite make sense to them. It is like there are two different worlds in this one world in which we live. Those who are spiritually dead and those who are not. This helps us understand better all that goes on around us. You may share biblical truth with someone for years and walk away and think, “It is like they are blind.” And you would be correct. Spiritual blindness, spiritual death is all around.

If you are a Christian, this too was you – “was,” past tense! You were spiritually dead. We were dead in our trespasses and sin. We too were dominated by our fleshly desires, and caught up in philosophies of darkness and all that opposes God. This does not mean any of us were as bad or sinful as we could be, or that non-Christians are either. By God’s grace and by His power He restrains all to some degree, but non-Christians are nonetheless spiritually dead. They are living in a different realm than are Christians. But there is of course some good news. News that is greater than any other news.

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him (Colossians 2:13)

This is a miraculous event that takes place, an event of change that takes place in every Christian. God makes His children to be alive spiritually. Now what does this mean? It is a transformation that takes place, transformation from one realm of living to another. From a place where we could not grasp nor understand spiritual truth, and certainly not want to embrace it, to a new position of open eyes and open hearts to God’s ways and His will. 

I remember one year in college how I struggled with a concept regarding macroeconomics. I was reading at the beginning of our textbook and got to a paragraph that laid out the thesis of the book, and I remember it made no sense to me whatsoever. It was like reading a foreign language. It really frustrated me. I kept thinking, “This can’t be that difficult,” but it was like I was in a fog, I could not understand what the author was trying to communicate, but I also knew that it was important for me to grasp in order to move forward in the course. Out of desperation I decided I would go the the library (which was radical for me) and read the opening chapter again and again for as long as it took until this concept clicked in my brain. I followed my plan, and sometime during that afternoon it was like, “Yes, this finally makes sense to me!” I went from not having any idea about what was written, totally blind to the material included, to a really good understanding of it. It was like a switch was flipped and I got it!

Spiritually, it is God who opens our eyes to spiritual truth. “And you…God made alive together with Him.” Again, back in Ephesians 2:5, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” An awakening takes place at God’s command that makes us able to receive spiritual truth. This awakening is talked about by Jesus in John 3 when He tells Nicodemus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God…The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” The Spirit awakens the dead to spiritual truth! This is real change in the heart and mind that leads then to the ongoing, progressive change in which we participate until we leave this earth and enter into heaven.

How can this be? How can this happen? I mean we know, don’t we, that God is perfect and holy, and we are sinners. How then can we come to Him as sinners?

having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13b-14)

Those whom God calls to Himself to be His children are those He has chosen to forgive. Apart from forgiveness we could never be in His family. God has forgiven His children.

What does this mean? Sin has separated us from God. Something must give, must happen or change, because sin is a big deal to God. We have offended God by our sin, both our willful sin and the sin nature with which we were born. Mankind has a sin problem, and it is forgiveness of sin that resolves this problem. 

by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:14)

Our record of sin was so massive. And for the believer this massive record of sin was nailed to the cross, was laid upon Jesus who willingly died for our sin. He sacrificed Himself, taking our sin and paying the price, the debt that we owed so that we have nothing left to pay. We have been forgiven an insurmountable debt. All of this done on our behalf. Forgiveness is ours through Christ.

This can be a challenge for some of us, that is really understanding forgiveness, God’s forgiveness through Christ. Many, in fact, continue to try to appease God by doing good works, as if we can pay for our own sin. We want to pay something, right? But what we need to do is just accept what Christ done for us, to accept God’s forgiveness of our sins. Here is God’s forgiveness…

I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins. (Isaiah 43:25)

And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jeremiah 31:34)

This utter and complete forgiveness where God chooses to remember our sins no more, meaning He will not hold our sins over us, He will not dwell on our sins against Him, He will accept the sacrifice of His Son as payment for our sins and treat us as His loved children rather than as His enemy, this is what we have desperately needed, and this is what He freely gives: forgiveness.

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)

And so here is the picture. All people are dead spiritually coming into the world. And God chooses to, because of His grace, He chooses to change those who are His, to bring them to life spiritually so that they can now respond to Him and His truths. This is His sovereign choice.

4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will (Ephesians 1:4-5)

He does this through forgiveness of sin. Not ignoring sin, but through forgiveness of sin, canceling our debt owed because of our sin. It’s cancelled because it was paid by Christ on the cross and all the legal demands regarding our debt are then gone, set aside, having been nailed to the cross. From death to life. 

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:15)

This disarming of rulers and authorities and putting them to shame is stripping Satan and his demons of any ability to stop the redemptive work of Christ. Satan no longer has control over God’s children who have been brought to new life, who have been forgiven of their sins and who no longer owe a debt for sin.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:14)

Where does this leave us as Christians, as God’s adoptive children?

31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? 33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
From death to life from a slave of sin to freedom in Christ, from the weight of debt that we could never pay to forgiveness of debt leading to salvation. (Romans 8:31-39)

This is God’s redemptive plan, this is His grace at work. Change is possible through Christ. Radical change propelling us into a new realm of living, a new life for His glory. 

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:13-15)