What is the greatest need in our lives?
- If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator.
- If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist.
- If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist.
- If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer.
- But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.
Unfinished Business, Charles Sell, Multnomah, 1989, pp. 121 ff.
The Beginning of the Christian Life
The Christian life begins with the realization and belief that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is sufficient to forgive all our sins: past, present and future. Our intimacy with God, our joy in living the Christian life, and our harmonious relationships with other people depend on our awareness that God has forgiven us of all our sins.
“When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions…”
Colossians 2:13 NASV
Is Faith Enough?
Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians to refute some ideas introduced to the church by false teachers. They did not make a frontal attack on faith in Jesus Christ. Rather, they said faith in Christ was a good starting point, but it was not enough to achieve true enlightenment and salvation. They added other requirements besides faith alone in the finished work of Christ for salvation: philosophical enlightenment, legalism, asceticism, and angel worship. Paul insisted that Jesus Christ revealed the fullness of the Godhead bodily. He is the creator, sustainer and ruler of the universe. He is all we need to live a life pleasing to God and to enjoy eternal salvation.
The Beginning of Spiritual Death
The focus of Colossians 2:13 is the efficacy of Christ’s death on the cross to atone for sin. First he reminded the Colossians of their condition before they trusted in Christ for salvation. He addressed the Colossians in the second person because they were Gentiles and he was a Jew: “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh…” As a Jew, Paul was circumcised when he was eight days old. Circumcision was a physical sign of the spiritual covenant God made with Abraham to give him a land, a Savior, and to make him and his descendants a blessing to all nations. The rite was a cutting away of a small piece of flesh from the body, which symbolized a refocusing of a person’s life from merely satisfying his physical appetites to pleasing God.
God created our physical bodies and gave us our physical appetites and emotional drives. There is nothing inherently sinful about them. They become sinful when we make idols of them and devote ourselves to serving them instead of subjugating them to serve God. Since man fell into sin in the Garden of Eden he has inherited a sin nature that compels him to focus on himself: his own needs, drives and desires, even if they are in opposition to God’s revealed will.
In his natural condition, man is spiritually dead. In Eden God commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of one tree. “…But from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17 NASV) To this point in their brief existence they had a relationship of trust and obedience with God. They were part of His family by His act of creation. They were innocent, guiltless. When they stopped trusting God and disobeyed His command, they lost their innocence and became rebellious sinners. Their intimate familial, spiritual connection with God was broken and they immediately became spiritually dead.
Spiritual death did not immediately result in physical death. Genesis 5:5 states that Adam lived 930 years. Life spans averaged about 900 years before the climate change caused by the global flood in Noah’s day. The point is that the moment Adam ate the forbidden fruit he died spiritually and began to die physically.
This story should help us understand how Paul could say to the Colossians that before they trusted Christ as their Savior they were dead in their trespasses. They were alive physically but dead spiritually. We use similar expressions even today. For example, if I were to say, “My cell phone is dead,” you would understand that my phone has not been totally destroyed and obliterated. It still has all its circuits, chips and screen intact. I could still make entries in my personal calendar, set the alarm clock, use the stopwatch, and maybe even play a game. What I mean is that it is no longer functioning the way a cell phone is supposed to function. It is not doing what it was designed and built to do . It is not connecting me to the communication system.
God created man to be connected spiritually with Him. When that connection is broken by sin, man is spiritually dead. He no longer functions the way he was created to function: in connection and spiritual communion with God.
What Does Trespass Mean?
When man is no longer connected with God spiritually he inevitably gravitates to behavior that is pleasing to himself and not to God. That is what Paul meant by the phrase, “dead in your trespasses.” To trespass is to cross over a boundary.
- God said, “Don’t eat of the tree.” Man ate of the tree.
- God said, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” Man worships the creation instead of the Creator.
- God said, “You shall not murder.” Man harbors hatred toward his brother.
- God said, “You shall not commit adultery.” Man lusts and breaks his marriage vows.
- God said, “You shall not bear false witness.” Man lies and gossips.
- God said, “You shall not covet.” Man desires what does not belong to him.
You are guilty of trespasses whether or not you intended to trespass. If you break any of God’s laws you are guilty of trespass. When I was working my way through Dallas Theological Seminary I worked part-time for the owner of an independent insurance company in Dallas. I was his “go-for.” Whatever he needed to be done, I would go for it: drive his car to the repair shop, deliver a contract to Frito-Lay headquarters.
One day he sent me on an errand to a part of Dallas with which I was not familiar. There was no GPS or even a MapQuest web site to help me. I had to fumble with my Mapsco, a book of maps three quarters of an inch thick. For a while I lost my bearings. After a quick glance at the Mapsco I found a street that would take me near to my destination.
As soon as I made the turn I knew I had made a mistake. The cars parked on both sides of the street were facing me. I was going the wrong way on a one-way street. There seemed to be no good place to turn around. It was only one block, and I could see that no one was coming towards me. I decided to drive to the end of the block and turn on to the two-way-street.
About half-way down the block I noticed at the end of an alley one of those three-wheeled motor scooters with an enclosed cab like some mail men drive. The uniformed man behind the steering wheel was not a mail man; he was a policeman. As soon as I passed him he darted out into the street and pulled up behind me with his blue light flashing. I had just made his day.
Though I explained to him that I was lost and did not realize it was a one-way street until I was already on it and there was no safe place to turn around he just kept writing on his little pad and then handed me a ticket. He had every right to do that. I had crossed a legal boundary. I had trespassed where I was not supposed to go.
Is Christ’s Death Enough?
The bad news is that our natural state is a rebellious heart and spiritual death, which will eventually result in eternal separation from God.
- God is light, so we would be in darkness.
- God is love, so we would be hated and despised.
- God is gracious, so we would be subject to harshness.
- God is kind, so we would be victims of cruelty.
- God is relational, so we would be isolated and alone.
- God is forgiving, so we would be tormented by guilt.
The good news is that God did not leave us in that condition. He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on a cross as a substitute for us. We deserved the punishment of death for breaking God’s moral law, but Jesus paid the penalty for us.
When I got the ticket for driving the wrong way on a one-way street I took it back to the insurance office and appealed to the owner for mercy. I was a poor seminary student and the price of the ticket would be a hardship for me and my family. After making it clear to me that he had no moral obligation to do so, he agreed to pay the ticket for me. I was guilty of trespassing. I deserved to pay the fine. My boss had not done anything wrong, but he paid the price of the ticket for me.
Because Jesus paid your sin debt God has forgiven all your trespasses:
- not just the worst ones
- not most of them
- not only the ones committed before you became a Christian
- but all of them
The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is sufficient to forgive all our sins, past, present and future. There is no good reason for you to continue to feel guilty for any shameful thing you have done if you have brought that sin to the cross of Jesus. You are forgiven, forever. Corrie Ten Boom, the Nazi holocaust survivor and author of the book, The Hiding Place, said, “The Bible tells us God has buried our sins in the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19), and then He hangs a “No Fishing” sign over them.”
The Greatest Thing
Not far from New York City there is a cemetery where there is a grave with a headstone that has only one word inscribed on it: “Forgiven.” There is no name, no date of birth or death. The stone is unembellished by the sculptor’s art. There is no epitaph, no fulsome eulogy–just that one word, “Forgiven.” But that is the greatest thing that can be said of any man, or written upon his grave: “Forgiven!”
J. Ray Smith, President
Fair Havens Publications
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