2017 03 26 am Colossians 2:13-14 Westminster Confession Ch 20.1 & Ch. 19 The Believer’s Relationship to the Law – Part 1

We are “free from the law” is something we read in the NT. What does this mean? We explore what it does mean in this sermon and what it does not mean in the PM sermon.

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
The PHARISEES were a religious/political party in Jesus’ time that He often had run-ins with.
They faithfully attended every church service, they studied the Law of God, and they were very concerned with holiness and obedience. But Jesus called them hypocrites, white washed tombs, a brood of vipers, and the blind leading the blind.
And what He especially rebuked them for was the traditions or customs that they added to the law. You find an example of this in Mark 4 in relation to washing your hands before eating; this was a tradition of the Pharisees, not the law of God. And here in Colossians there are references to these human traditions: vv21-22 – “Why do you submit to regulations – ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ … according to human precepts and teaching?”
But the Pharisees were also very concerned about obedience to the law of God. I mean, the 10 Commandments are the 10 Commandments, right?! God’s commandments are not optional. And in v16, we see reference to food and festivals and new moons and Sabbaths; God also gave the Jews very specific ceremonial laws that they had to observe.

So a common problem in the NT churches was that Jews and non-Jews (who were called Gentiles) would come together in one congregation as professing Christians. But the Jews had a lifetime of commandment and tradition keeping that influenced pretty much every moment of every day, whereas the Gentiles simply had repent and believe in Jesus and you shall be saved. So it wasn’t long before the Jews were telling the Gentiles that they also had to do this and not do that if they were truly Christians. And this was causing massive problems because it went to the very heart of the Gospel – are we saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, or is it faith and things we must do or not do?

Well, we will consider that question this morning and this afternoon from two Epistles which have a lot to say about exactly this question – Colossians and Galatians. And we begin this morning with this passage in Colossians where we find a summary of what Christ accomplished on the Cross. And in this summary we see that BY THE CROSS OF CHRIST WE ARE FREED FROM THE CURSE OF THE LAW. That will be the theme of this morning’s sermon. And then, this afternoon, when we turn to Galatians 5, we will consider THE BOUNDARIES OF OUR CHRIST-GAINED FREEDOM. But this morning, from Colossians 2, we see that BY THE CROSS OF CHRIST WE ARE FREED FROM THE CURSE OF THE LAW.

Paul begins by saying, “And you who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh.” And the “you” here is the uncircumcised GENTILE Christians. It is they who Paul describes as having been dead in their trespasses before coming to faith in Christ.
TRESPASSES is another word for sin and guilt. So to be “dead in your trespasses means you are spiritually dead. And dead is dead; it is not sick or unwell or a little bit alive; it is dead!
But you spiritually dead Gentiles, Paul continues, “God made alive together with Him.” And the “HIM” here is the Lord Jesus who Paul has been talking about in the opening chapters.
Now, we have spoken about what it means to go from being spiritually dead to being made alive with Christ several times in recent weeks.
 We looked at a passage in EZEKIEL 36 where God talks about removing the heart of stone, which is obviously a dead heart, and replacing it with a heart of flesh.
 In our last 1 JOHN series sermon, we talked about the root and the fruit of the Christian life. Can you remember what the root of the Christian life is? It is being born again or regeneration. And being born again is the same thing as being made alive; it is just another way of describing the same event.
 And we see the same thing here in v13 that we saw in 1 John 5:1 and Ezekiel 36, God made alive, we are born of God, God gives the heart of flesh. Because a sinner is spiritually dead, God must first change the nature of the person before there can be the response of faith and repentance and love and obedience.

So now, with the rest of this passage, we are given an explanation of how God makes spiritually dead sinners alive together with Christ. And the two parts we want to consider are FORGIVENESS, at the end of v13, and a CANCELLING in v14. And we shall use the remainder of our time to consider both, but especially the second – the cancelling.

I. So first of all, from the end of v13, “having forgiven us all our trespasses.”

A. And notice, to begin with, that it is no longer “you,” as in you Gentiles, but “US,” as in all believers, Paul and the other Jews and you and me included. All believers must be made alive together with Christ.
B. And we are made alive together with Christ as all our TRESPASSES are forgiven.
1. A literal way of translating the Greek word used here is FALSE STEPS. God’s law is a very narrow pathway of perfect obedience. So every thought or word or act that breaks a command or does not keep it as perfectly as possible is a false step – a trespass. And when you read the sorts of things that Jesus said about the law of God in Matthew 5-9, for example, it soon becomes plain that every human being is guilty of many trespasses.
2. So what does God do with all these trespasses? Well, you would think the answer is obvious – you sin, you are punished by God. Simple. But that’s not what we read here, is it. We read that God forgives all our trespasses; He forgives all the things we do that make us deserving of eternal punishment. And as we think about this for a few moments, there are some very helpful illustrations of what forgiveness means in the Bible:
a. In MICAH 7:19 we read that God throws all our sins into the sea. You boys and girls will remember that the people of Israel went through the sea on dry land and that when the Egyptians tried to follow them, the sea crashed down on them and drowned them. So how many Egyptians climbed out of the sea to catch the Israelites and cause them trouble? None! Well, similarly, God drowns all our sins so they can no longer trouble us.
b. Also in MICAH 7:19, God treads all our sins underfoot. Think of a brave husband squishing a spider for his wife. And if that husband is like me, there is nothing left of that spider after my stomping! Well, similarly, God treads all our sins underfoot.
c. In ISAIAH 1:18 God said, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” You have heard me call this verse the Persil automatic verse because Persil makes dirty clothes whiter than white. Well, similarly, God washes away the stain of all our sin and guilt.
d. And in JOHN 1:29 we see another description of forgiveness but we also learn how this forgiveness is possible. For when John the Baptist saw the Lord Jesus approaching him, He said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” In the OT, lambs were killed as a symbol of sin and guilt being taken away. But all those lambs pointed forward to Jesus and His death on the cross as how our sins are truly taken away.
e. So now we see that the forgiveness of sins is not some universal thing that God just does for everyone but that it is connected to what the Lord Jesus did on the cross. And in ACTS 3:19 we have our last illustration of what the forgiveness of sins is and we see we can receive it. For there the Apostle Peter was preaching and he said this, “What God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ would suffer, [has happened]. Repent therefore … that your sins may be blotted out.” With watercolour painting, either for effect or to remove a mistake, the artist sometimes uses blotting paper to soak up all the paint pigment so that it completely disappears. There might have been a patch of red or blue a few seconds ago, but it is now blotted out. And similarly, forgiveness is having all traces of your sin and guilt blotted out. But you receive this only as you repent of your sins and believe that Jesus suffered on the cross for you.

So if you are sitting there, right now, with a terrible burden of guilt in your heart (one sin/many sins), let me tell you what you must do: CONFESS your sins to God; tell Him about your false steps. Then REPENT of your sin; resolve not to sin again. You can’t confess sin and then continue in it, you have turn around and go away from sin. And finally, BELIEVE that Jesus Christ died on the cross so that God could throw your sin into the sea, could tread it underfoot, could wash you clean, could take your sins away, could blot them out, completely. For then your burden will be gone; you will become a follower of Jesus who is a forgiven sinner. And there is nothing like it! But all this is what Art. 1 of WCF Ch. 20 means when it says that “the liberty which Christ has purchased under the gospel [includes] freedom from the guilt of sin.” Through Jesus Christ, we have the forgiveness of all our trespasses.

II. So we are made alive together with Christ as God forgives us all our trespasses. But v14 says more about this as it speaks of a CANCELLING. Would you please turn with me in your Bibles to PSALM 5:4-6 (p.449). These are verses worth underlining. They are verses completely ignored by those who have the idea that God loves everyone. We read, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not dwell with you. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” God does not love everyone; He hates all evildoers. And what this means for our Colossians passage is that if God simply forgives, if God just decides to ignore our sins and not punish them, then the words of Psalm 5 are a total nonsense. Our sin has to be punished. God cannot only be merciful for He is also just and holy. So as we come to v14 we are going to see how God is merciful and just. For here we see that He has forgiven our trespasses, “by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross.”

A. As we read earlier, when God gave His law to Israel, He said to them, Obey my law and you shall be blessed. And blessing ultimately means to be brought near to the face of God. Do you remember the great BENEDICTION from Numbers 6? We often hear it at the close of worship: “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine on you … the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” The ultimate blessing of perfect obedience is to enter into the presence of God. But God also said to Israel, “Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them.” So disobedience brought curse and death and separation from God. And we read earlier that the people of Israel obligated themselves to obey God. So tell me then: Is the OT then a record of Israel’s perfect obedience? No it is not. It is actually a record of Israel’s disobedience. In terms of the demands of the law, the people of Israel deserved curse, not blessing.
1. Now, the Apostle Paul came to understand this. In ROMANS 7:10, he said, “The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.” Paul came to see that the law as a way of salvation was not a friend but an enemy. That’s what v14 is saying when it uses the standing against us language. Other English versions use “is hostile to us.” Paul came to see that in terms of the law, the only thing he deserved was death and damnation.
2. The BIG PROBLEM with many of the Jews of the OT and Jesus’ time and here in Colossae though was that they did not understand this; they saw themselves as obedient law-keepers who deserved God’s blessing. In their minds, God said, Be circumcised, God said, Observe Sabbath, God said, Go to Jerusalem three times a year for the national feasts and offer the right sacrifices for sin, and now God said, Follow Jesus, and they were obeying these commands. And so, they deserved His blessing.
3. But Romans 3:20 says, “By works of the law no human being will be justified in [God’s] sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” The law cannot produce a record of obedience; it can only produce a record of debt. The law does not allow us to say, Haven’t I done well. The Law only allows us to say, “Woe is me for I am a guilty law-breaker.”

B. So how does God deal with this problem? Well, the Greek word translated here as “cancelling” is the same word translated as “BLOTTED OUT” in the quote I read to you earlier. What we are being told in these verses then is that not only has God blotted out our sins, He has also blotted out the curse of the law.
1. Now let’s be very clear about this: The Law of God has not been blotted out; it still binds you and me and everyone else to obedience. That is why we read this about the law in Romans 7:12, “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” Art. 5 of WCF Ch. 19 says, “The moral law binds all people at all times to obedience, both [believer and unbeliever] … Christ in no way dissolves this obligation, but greatly strengthens it.”
2. What God has blotted out is the curse of the law or the law as a way of salvation Galatians 3 uses exactly this language when it says that we are redeemed from the curse of the law. And Art. 1 of Ch. 20 of the WCF uses the same language when it says, “The liberty Christ has purchased for believers [includes] their being delivered from the curse of the moral law.”
3. Maybe it will help us to understand what is meant here if we illustrate it in this way: Imagine a heavenly courtroom with you in the dock. And Satan reads out a charge sheet of all your commandment breaking that proves beyond any doubt that you are a guilty law-breaker. But God takes the charge sheet from Him and gives it to the Lord Jesus and as soon as His nail scarred hand touches the paper, the whole list disappears! The record of debt that stands against you with its legal demands is blotted out!

C. And that illustration arises out of what we read here about exactly how it is that God forgave our trespasses and set aside the record of debt. We read that He did this by “nailing it to the cross.” And there is nothing mysterious or cryptic about what this refers to: When the hands and feet of the Lord Jesus were nailed to the cross of Calvary, He bore the curse of the law for us. All our trespasses He took upon Himself and then He endured God’s eternal wrath against them. He paid the price that had to be paid. So right there, as Jesus Christ said, “It is finished,” and died, we see perfect justice and perfect mercy. For the cross broadcasts this message of God: Him I punished so you I can forgive. And because I have forgiven you and removed the record of debt by my Son, now I can turn my face toward you and bless you and receive you into my presence in the joy of eternal life.
Can you see then why the efforts of the Jews in Colossae to require the Gentiles to observe the ceremonies and traditions of Judaism had to be strongly opposed by Paul? Any effort to reintroduce the law even as a part of the way of salvation is an effort to take the curse off the shoulders of Christ and put it back on yourself. What utter foolishness!

What we should do is rest in the finished work of the Lord Jesus. What we should do is sing, as we will in a moment, “My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought, my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul. Amen.