The Power of the Cross

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Colossians 2:11-15

INTRODUCTION: We are working our way through the book of Colossians together, and our message series is called “Living the Christ-Centered Life.” Last week we learned that the secret to living the Christian life is living in Christ. The Christian life is marked by faith in Christ, freedom in Christ and fullness in Christ. But how do we receive this freedom in Christ? That’s what this week’s passage is all about. We receive the freedom we need to live the Christian life through the power of the cross. (Read 2:11-15 and pray.)

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Before we came to Christ we had three major problems that kept us from God: our sinful nature, the law and Satan. Our sinful nature made us desire sin and choose sin over God. The law showed us our sin and brought us condemnation. And Satan was our tempter and accuser – both tempting us to sin and then accusing us before God when we gave in to temptation to sin. We were under the power of our sinful nature, the power of the law and the power of Satan, and we needed deliverance.

Fortunately there is a greater power than the power of our sinful nature, the law or Satan. And that greater power is the power of the cross. That’s what our passage in Colossians is all about this morning: the power of the cross to free you from sin, from the law and from Satan.

I. Freed from sin (11-13a)
   – by receiving new life in Christ

So first, let’s talk about the power of the cross to free you from sin. If you are a Christian this morning, then you have been freed from sin by receiving new life in Christ. Paul uses two religious symbols to teach us this truth – those of circumcision and baptism. Notice that this freedom is only symbolized by circumcision and baptism. No religious ritual has power on its own. These are only symbols of a deeper reality.

   A. Symbolized by circumcision (11)
      – Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Romans 2:28-29

So first of all, let’s look at the symbol of circumcision. Verse 11: “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ.” (Colossians 2:11)

The “in him” refers to Christ once again. Remember last week we said the secret to the Christian life is living “in Christ.” Christ is central, and we cannot live the Christian life apart from him.

But this phrase seems confusing at first. What does it mean that we were circumcised in Christ? Circumcision was the sign of the covenant for the Jews, but the Colossian church was a mixture of Jews and Gentiles which means that a lot of them were not circumcised. In fact a big part of Paul’s ministry was teaching that Gentiles who came to Christ did not need to be circumcised first, that faith in Christ was all this was needed.

So what is this circumcision in verse 11? Paul is not talking about physical circumcision. Rather he is talking about spiritual circumcision. Physical circumcision was only a symbol pointing to the deeper reality of commitment to God.

Even the Old Testament distinguished between physical and spiritual circumcision – between circumcision of the foreskin and circumcision of the heart. We read in Deuteronomy 10:16: “Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.” (Deuteronomy 10:16) Or again in Jeremiah 4:4: “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord, circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem.” (Jeremiah 4:4)

Even though the people were told to circumcise their hearts, the Bible also teaches us that this is something that really only God can do. And so we read in Deuteronomy 30:6: “The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.” (Deuteronomy 30:6) Remember we are freed from sin by new life in Christ, and here in Deuteronomy we are told that God will perform this spiritual circumcision of the heart so that you will live. Sin brings death, but spiritual circumcision from God brings life.

And so physical circumcision was only a sign of a deeper reality. Without circumcision of the heart, physical circumcision had no value. As Paul writes in Romans 2: “A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.” (Romans 2:28-29) Once again notice that Paul says that this true spiritual circumcision of the heart is accomplished by God, not by man. True circumcision is circumcision of the heart by the Spirit of God.

So what is this spiritual circumcision that Paul is talking about in Colossians? Let’s look at verse 11 once again: “In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ.” (Colossians 2:11) So what is this spiritual circumcision? Not the putting off of the foreskin but rather the putting off of the sinful nature. And how was this circumcision accomplished? Not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ.

We are all born with a sinful nature that makes us desire sin and makes us slaves to sin. But in Christ you have been set free. The sinful nature has been cut off. Christ’s death on the cross overcame the power of sin in our lives. This was a spiritual circumcision not done by the hands of man. I like what Todd Still says about this verse: “The only hands involved were the hands of God’s Son nailed to a crossbeam.”

Spiritual circumcision means that through the power of the cross your sinful nature has been cut off and you no longer have to sin. You have been given a new spiritual nature that seeks after God and desires true righteousness and holiness. You have been given new life in Christ, which brings us to our second symbol – baptism.

   B. Symbolized by baptism (12)
      – Romans 6:4-7

Look at verse 12: “… having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2:12) Circumcision was the sign of belonging to God’s people in the Old Testament. In the New Testament we have a new symbol of belonging to God – the symbol of baptism.

And what does baptism symbolize? Baptism symbolizes your identification with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. When you go under the water in baptism, that is a symbol of being buried with Christ. And when you come up out of the water in baptism, that is a symbol that you have been raised with Christ.

Notice Paul says you are raised with him “through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.” Just as physical circumcision didn’t make you right with God apart from spiritual circumcision, so water baptism does not save you apart from faith. Water baptism is a symbol of a deeper reality, and without faith it does nothing for you.

Baptism symbolizes your identification with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. Paul explores this symbolism even further in Romans 6 where he writes: “We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin – 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.” (Romans 6:4-7) This is similar language to the circumcision language we saw earlier. Spiritual circumcision was the putting off of the sinful nature. Here we are crucified with Christ so that the whole body of sin might be done away with.

Once again, baptism symbolizes your identification with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. When you put your faith in Christ, you are united with Christ by faith. That simply means that whatever happened to Jesus also happened to you. Jesus died which means you died with him. Jesus was buried which means you were buried with him. Jesus rose from the dead which means you were raised with him.

That is the power of the cross. If you are united with Christ by faith, then you died with Christ at the cross, and anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

   C. Made alive with Christ (13a)
      – 2 Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 2:1-5

Back to Colossians, Paul sums up this whole section on circumcision and baptism in verse 13: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.” (Colossians 2:13) You were dead in your sins. Your problem wasn’t that you sinned here and there. You were spiritually dead. You didn’t need a new direction; you needed a new creation! You were spiritually dead, separated from God, dead to holiness and righteousness. The wages of sin is death, and you deserved to die.

Do you know what baptism would look like apart from faith in Christ? You would still go under the water, but you would stay there! Why? Because you were dead in your sins. But when you put your faith in Christ, you were not only buried with Christ, God made you alive with Christ. That’s why you come out of the water in baptism. You have been given new life in Christ.

And it is all by God’s grace. We read in Ephesians 2: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins … But because of his great love for us, God … made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:1-5) You were dead in your transgressions and sins, but God made you alive! He made you a new creation! “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Living the Christ-centered life does not mean turning over a new leaf but getting a new life. And we get that new life when we are united with Christ by faith in his death, burial and resurrection. That’s the power of the cross, and that’s our first point this morning. You have been freed from sin by receiving new life in Christ.

II. Freed from the law (13b-14)
   – by the forgiveness of your sins

But the power of the cross is even greater than that. Because you have not only been freed from sin. You have also been freed from the law. You were freed from sin by receiving new life in Christ. And you have been freed from the law by the forgiveness of your sins. Look at verses 13-14: “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13b-14)

What a wonderful truth of Scripture. God forgave us all our sins. Not just some of them. Not just part of them. But all of them. Paul uses an unusual word for forgiveness in this verse. It’s a word that specifically means to forgive someone out of kindness and grace. We didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness. We could never have earned it on our own. But God in his grace forgave us all our sins.

   A. Cancelled your debt (14a)
      – Psalm 32:1-2; Galatians 3:10

And how did God do that? Two things. First of all, he cancelled your debt. That’s what the first part of verse 14 says: “having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us.”

The “written code” here refers to a debtor’s obligation that was written out in the debtor’s own handwriting. It was basically an I.O.U written out and signed by the debtor. And the “regulations” here refers to a publicly posted obligation. Have you ever seen those at City Hall? You owe the city something, and they can post it publicly for everyone to see.

So what was this debt that you owed, posted publicly for everyone to see? You were in debt to the law. The law spells out your obligations to God – obligations which you have not met and which you cannot meet on your own.

This debt was against you and stood opposed to you, but God through the power of the cross cancelled your debt. That word “cancelled” is a word that means “to blot something out, to plaster over it,” similar to using white-out. I like the way Peter O’Brien puts it: “God has wiped the slate and given a fresh start.”

Are you in financial debt this morning? How would you like it if someone wiped the slate clean for you? How would you feel if someone came along cancelled all your debt for you? What a blessing that would be! Well your sin debt is a much more serious situation than your financial debt will ever be. That’s why Galatians 3:10 says: “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.’” (Galatians 3:10) You owe God obedience to his law and you have failed. And so instead of a blessing you were under a curse.

But those who come to Christ know the blessing of having their debt canceled. Psalm 32 says: “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him.” (Psalm 32:1-2) How wonderful to have your debt of sin cancelled by Christ at the cross.

   B. Took away the law as a condemning force (14b)
      – Romans 6:14, 7:6, 8:1-2

But Jesus not only cancelled your debt to the law. He also took away the law as a condemning force in your life. That’s what the rest of verse 14 says: “he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:14b) When Christ died at the cross, the condemning force of the law died with him. I like the way Peter O’Brien puts it: “God has not only removed the debt; he has also destroyed the document on which it was recorded.” Just like the charges against Jesus were nailed to the cross, so the charges against us were nailed there and died with Christ.

When you put your faith in Christ, you are freed from the law because the law no longer has any power to condemn you. As Romans 6:14 says: “You are not under law, but under grace.” (Romans 6:14) Or we read in Romans 7:6: “By dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:6) Romans 8:1-2 says: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2) That is the power of the cross. You have been freed from the law by the forgiveness of your sins.

III. Freed from Satan (15)
   – by Christ’s defeat of all the spiritual forces of evil

1) You have been freed from sin by receiving new life in Christ. 2) You have been freed from the law by the forgiveness of your sins. And 3) You have been freed from Satan by Christ’s defeat of all the spiritual forces of evil. Look now at Colossians 2:15: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:15) The cross not only brought you freedom from sin and the law. It also brought you freedom from Satan.

   A. Disarmed the spiritual forces (15a)
      – 1 Corinthians 2:8; Hebrews 2:14

At the cross Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities. That word “disarmed” means either to strip off clothes or to strip off weapons. Just as Christ was stripped of his clothing at the cross, so the spiritual forces were stripped of their power and authority. Hebrews 2:14 says: “Jesus shared in [our] humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14) When Christ died on the cross, Satan was defeated and all his spiritual forces were disarmed.

If they had known what was coming, they would never have gone through with it. As we read in 1 Corinthians 2:8: “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:8) What an amazing irony! Satan focused all his power and forces on getting Jesus to the cross, and yet it was at the cross that Jesus disarmed Satan and all his forces.

   B. Triumphed over them by the cross (15b)
      – John 12:31

Jesus not only disarmed the spiritual forces but he triumphed over them. Colossians 1:15 says “he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 1:15) To “make a public spectacle” means “to expose publicly.” This verse paints the picture of a Roman general leading a victory parade following a conquest. The conqueror would return home leading the defeated captives behind him in chains. It was a public display of the conqueror’s victory as well as a public humiliation of his enemies.

That is what Jesus did to Satan and his spiritual forces at the cross. He made a public spectacle of them. Everyone loves a parade, but this was a parade to end all parades. Once again, the tables were turned. Jesus was publicly mocked and humiliated on the cross, but as it turns out, it was really Satan and his forces who were humiliated.

Right before Jesus went to the cross, he said: “Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out.” (John 12:31) And then he went to the cross where he defeated Satan and all his spiritual forces.

We sometimes think Jesus defeated Satan at the resurrection, that the victory was won when Jesus rose from the dead. But the Bible says Jesus defeated him at the cross. The resurrection was simply the proof that Jesus had won. You know how in a boxing match when the fight is over, the referee holds up the winner’s arm? That’s what the resurrection was. The fight was already over. The cross was the knockout punch. Satan lost; Jesus won. And the resurrection was God lifting Jesus’ arm up in victory.

CONCLUSION: So what have we learned this morning? Before you came to Christ you had three major problems that kept you from God: your sin, God’s law and Satan’s schemes. But through the power of the cross, you have been set free from all three.

As a Christian your sinful nature no longer has power over you. When you put your faith in Jesus, you were united with Christ in his death, burial and resurrection. You were spiritually dead, but God made you alive with Christ. You have been freed from sin by receiving new life in Christ.

As a Christian the law no longer has power over you. God cancelled the debt that was against you, and then he took it away, nailing it to the cross. You have been freed from the law by the forgiveness of your sins.

And as a Christian Satan no longer has power over you. Jesus disarmed the powers and authorities, and he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. You have been freed from Satan by Christ’s defeat of all the spiritual forces of evil.

You have been freed from sin, the law and Satan. That’s the power of the cross in your life.

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