Dead in Sin or Alive in Christ? (Col. 2:11-15)

Written by admin on May 13, 2013 in - No Comments


I invite you to turn with me again to Colossians 2. Please turn with me to Colossians 2:11–15.

In our sermon two weeks ago, which covered verses 8–10, we saw that Paul was encouraging the Colossians to guard themselves from being taken captive by human philosophy and human wisdom. They were to beware of getting caught in the false teaching of those who were trying to lure them away from divine wisdom into the trap of human wisdom and human philosophy. Wisdom and philosophy which Paul called empty deceit because it was promoting things other than Christ as the mediator between humankind and God. The false teachers were working to convince the Colossians that their spiritual lives were lacking—that they needed something other than Jesus Christ to give them complete and full salvation.

But Paul’s answer to all of this was: “In Christ you have all you need. You are lacking nothing. You are complete in Christ. Your problem is solved. Christ solved your problem and you need do nothing more but remain established in the faith you originally believed in.”

And he continues to make his case for this in our passage this morning. But in doing so, he does remind the Colossians about who they were and where they were apart from Christ. He reminds them of the real problem they did have. A problem which Christ came to resolve.

And the problem Paul presents here is not a problem that was unique to the Colossians. The problem applies to all of humanity. And we see this problem in verse 13 of our text for today. And that is what I will use to set the stage for my sermon this morning. Let me read the first part of verse 13 to us. Please follow along with me in your own Bibles.

13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh…

Paul describes the Colossians in this verse as people who were at one point dead. Now clearly they hadn’t physically died because they were alive and reading this letter. What Paul was talking about is spiritual death. Before they were made alive by God, they were spiritually dead as a result of the sins they had committed (i.e. their trespasses) and because of their inherited sinful nature (i.e. the uncircumcision of your flesh). The phrase, “the uncircumcision of your flesh” was a metaphorical way of speaking about the sinful nature that exists in men and women from birth and needs to be cut away or circumcised.

Now I am not telling you to get your theology from the folk singer Bob Dylan, but there is at least one incident where he nailed some theology in one of his songs. The song was entitled “Saved” and released in 1980 on an album bearing the same name. It has been redone by other groups more recently. But the song begins with the following words:

I was blinded by the devil
Born already ruined
Stone-cold dead
As I stepped out of the womb

And that is the problem. We are born dead. Spiritually dead that is. Our natures are stained with the stain of sin and our hearts are dead to the things of God.

The Problem: Apart from Christ we are Dead in Trespasses and Sins

So what we see from verse 13, and elsewhere in the Bible, is that as human beings we can be classified in one of two ways. We are either Dead in Sin or Alive in Christ. There is no middle ground. And so that is a problem. Because those who are dead in sin are separated from God and without hope. And since we are all born this way, we all need a solution to this universal problem.

Paul describes this situation for us with a little more detail in Ephesians Chapter 2. If you have your Bible turn back with me just a few pages to Ephesians 2. I will begin in verse 1.

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1–3 ESV)

Now that is a pretty serious situation. Dead in our trespasses or sins. Following the course of this world as spelled out by prince of the power of the air (i.e. Satan), which means we could not resist living in the passions of our flesh and carrying out the desires of our body which are opposed to God and thus, as we see in verse 3, we were under the condemnation of God as children of wrath.

And Paul continues this description in verse 11 of Ephesians 2:

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Ephesians 2:11–12 ESV)

And friends, apart from Christ, that describes us. Apart from Christ we are alienated from the people of God, we have no claim on his covenant promises, and we are without hope and without God in this world.

Again, this is a universal problem. It applies to every man and woman, every boy and girl. Friends, the fact is that apart from Christ we are spiritually dead. We are dead in our trespasses and sins and in an unbreakable state of rebellion against him.

And so we are all in desperate need of a solution to this most serious of problems. None of us are exempt from it and so what Paul offers here as the solution is very important to us all. So turn back with me to Colossians 2 where we see the first part of this solution in verse 11. Let me read it to us:

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 (Colossians 2:11 ESV)

Solution Part 1: Christ Cut Away our Sin Nature

So the first part of this solution to our spiritual deadness is that Christ cut away our sin nature. Paul alludes here to the Jewish ritual of circumcision which was a physical procedure that was used to mark all Jewish boys when they were 8 days old. But Paul is speaking here to Gentile Christians in the Colossian church, none of whom would have been circumcised in physical way. And Paul says as much, he says, “you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands,” or “When you came to Christ you were circumcised, but not by a physical procedure.” So what then is Paul talking about?

Well what he is talking about is a spiritual circumcision. Paul is saying to the Colossians, “When you came to Christ, he performed a spiritual circumcision on you by cutting away, not flesh from you body, but the sinful nature from your heart.” That is what he means when he calls it the circumcision of Christ. It is done by Christ. If you have an NIV translation, that is exactly how it is translated. The NIV reads, “you were circumcised by Christ.

So it is a spiritual circumcision of the heart done by Christ. And this is the only kind of circumcision that matters. Turn over with me to Romans 2. Let me read to us from verses 28–29.

28 For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. 29 But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God. (Romans 2:28–29 ESV)

Circumcision is a matter of the heart. It is not an outward and physical procedure. True circumcision is something done inside of us. It is the cutting away of the fleshly, sinful nature that rules over us. As Christians we are now freed from that old nature and capable of living in a manner, or walking in a manner worthy of the Lord.

And we see here that all of this is symbolized in our baptism. Baptism is a beautiful picture of what has happened to us as Christians. It doesn’t save us, but it is a picture of the saving work God did on us. Notice what verse 12 says:

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. (Colossians 2:12 ESV)

I have mentioned before how important these “in him” and “with him” statements are in the book of Colossians. Just look in verses 11 and 12.

  • “IN HIM you were circumcised…”
  • “having been buried WITH HIM…”
  • “you were also raised WITH HIM…”

When we placed our faith in Christ, we were somehow, in a way I cannot describe, taken back 2000 years to his death, placed in the grave WITH HIM, and raised WITH HIM three days later. And this is what baptism is a picture of. We were buried with him in baptism and raised to walk in newness of life. As Christians we have died with Christ and have been raised with Christ through faith in the powerful working of God. And don’t miss those words “through faith in the powerful working of God.” There is nothing magical about baptism. It is through our faith we are raised with Christ.

Baptism is the outward symbol of the spiritual circumcision that has taken place within us. Through Baptism, we express the reality of what has happened to us, spiritual circumcision and being made alive with Christ. We were spiritually dead and he raised us from the grave and circumcised our sinful hearts. This is not something baptism accomplishes, it is something baptism symbolizes. We were not raised with Christ through being baptized. We were raised with Christ “through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised [Christ] from the dead.” Baptism is only a picture of what has taken place within us. But what a beautiful picture it is.

Baptism is like your wedding pictures. The fact that you have pictures of your wedding doesn’t make you married. But they serve as a symbol and a reminder of what happened on your wedding day. And in the same way as putting on a wedding ring doesn’t make you married, baptism doesn’t make you a Christian. But it is the mark of a Christian.

So the first part of the solution to the universal problem of spiritual deadness is the cutting away our sin nature by Christ. The second part of the solution to the problem is revealed to us beginning the last part of verse 13. Let me read beginning at the end of verse 13 and continuing through verse 14:

13 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 ESV)

Solution Part 2: Christ Destroyed Our Record of Sin

As Christians, Christ has cut away, or circumcised, our sin nature and destroyed the record of sin that was standing against us.

We see in these verses that God has forgiven us all our trespasses. Trespasses being those intentional acts of rebellion against God that we all do. Trespassing is knowingly and intentionally crossing over the known boundary markers God has set up for holy living. The result of our trespasses, as we have already talked about, is spiritual death. For the wages of sin is death.

But mercifully, God has forgiven all these trespasses, and done away with the cause of our spiritual death. The cross solved the problem of sin. He has forgiven us our debt. But not only that, we see in verse 14 that he has destroyed any record of it.

Verse 14 says that he cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. And he went so far as to take the record of that debt away and nail it to the cross.

The picture here would have been very clear to the Colossians. The word translated “record of debt” was a word used in in Paul’s day for a written record of your indebtedness to someone. It was common during this time to sign a piece of paper which contained a list of debts you owed to an individual. Much like an IOU, but probably more formal. It was a legal document. It is like those signed mortgage papers that hang over so many of our heads. And the picture here is of a debt so high that it could never be repaid. And so the only hope is that the debt be forgiven or forgotten.

The point is that our trespasses against God represent a mountain of debt we could never pay. And apart from Christ we are spiritually bankrupt and without hope and separated from God. There is nothing we can do to earn our way out of this hopeless situation. But the picture we have here is of God canceling that debt. Wiping the slate clean. On the cross, Christ destroyed the record of our sin which was standing against us.

So Christ has cut away the old sin nature of the Colossians and he has destroyed the record of sin that stood against them and in doing so he has solved the problem of their spiritual deadness.

The Result: We Are Made Alive With Christ

Look back with me at verse 13. Let me read it again to us now and look how everything has come together.

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

We were dead in our trespasses and he forgave us our trespasses. We were dead in our state of uncircumcision and he spiritually circumcised us. And the result, “God made us alive together with Christ!” Brothers and sisters, this is good news. This is the gospel.

I know I have had you flipping around a lot today, but turn back with me one more time to Ephesians 2 and see how Paul describes it there. Look with me beginning in verse 4:

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved (Ephesians 2:4–5 ESV)

Those two words that begin verse 4 are possibly the two most important words in the Bible. You were dead in your trespasses and sin. You were in a constant state of rebellion against God. You could do nothing but obey the passions of your flesh. You were children of wrath destined for hell. BUT GOD! BUT GOD! being rich in mercy, and loving us, made us alive with Christ. He took us back 2000 years and raised us from the grave with Christ. We are a new creation. And this is all by God’s grace. Look back at the end Ephesians 2:5—“by grace you have been saved.”

Conclusion: Don’t Stray From the Gospel Looking for Something More

And the point Paul is making to the Colossians (go ahead and turn back with me to Colossians 2) is that they have no need to stray away from the gospel looking for something else, something better, something that would make the more complete.

They do not need to give any attention to the spiritual rulers and authorities we talked about two weeks ago who the false teachers were presenting as gods who needed to be appeased. We see in verse 15 that God disarmed these rulers and authorities. And not only that he put them to open shame through Christ on the cross.

I want you to imagine this with me. Take yourself back 2000 years as Christ is being led up that hill carrying his cross. Can you imagine the celebration that was taking place by all the demonic forces? They were certain they had won. Their enemy was about to be slain. Little did they know that the cross represented their ultimate defeat. And somewhere in the midst of their celebration, Christ said “It is finished,” and the game was over. On the cross, Christ triumphed over evil and defeated it once and for all. Yes it is still wiggling around like a snake with its head cut off, but Christ has won. And in him, we too have won.

And so we have no need to look for spiritual fulfillment anywhere else. Because Christ has given us a new life in him by cutting away our old sin nature and destroying the record of our sins, we must reject anything or anyone promising to complete our spiritual wholeness and, instead, continue on in the faith we have in Christ alone.

While the Colossians were spiritually dead because of their trespasses and their sinful nature (uncircumcision), God cut away that old sinful nature (spiritual circumcision) and forgave them of their trespasses making them spiritually alive with Jesus Christ through their faith. And by doing this, he disarmed the spiritual powers seeking to control them. They had no need to turn anywhere else for spiritual wholeness and neither do we.

How silly it would be for the Colossians to turn back to human philosophy and human wisdom, when they had partaken of and believed in divine wisdom. And how silly it is for us today to look anywhere other than the Christ-Centered Gospel for spiritual wholeness. Drink deeply from the gospel. It is balm for your soul. You are alive with Christ, what more do you need?