President Abraham Lincoln issued the “Emancipation Proclamation” on January 1, 1863, as the nation approached her third year in the bloody Civil War. This proclamation declared all persons held as slaves within the rebellious slave states “are, and henceforward, shall be free” and “the executive government of the United States, including the military and naval authorities thereof will recognize and maintain the freedom of said persons.”
The freedom the proclamation declared depended wholly upon the Union military victory. Without winning the war Abraham Lincoln could not enforce his proclamation and could not offer practical freedom. Even at the proclamation itself, at the mere declaration of freedom, widespread celebration broke out across this nation on that New Year’s Day in 1863. In Washington, D C, at Israel Bethel Church, the Reverend Henry McNeil Turner went out and secured a copy of the Washington Evening Star which carried the entire text of the proclamation President Lincoln issued. Back at the church Turner waved the newspaper from the pulpit and began to read the document. This was the signal for unrestrained celebration throughout the church that day, a celebration characterized by men squealing with delight, women fainting, dogs barking, and blacks and whites shaking hands with one another.
The Washington celebration continued far into the night. In the Navy yard, cannons began to roar and continued to roar for some time. This was good news of an historic event which affected all people throughout the United States.
The Emancipation Proclamation was but the first step in securing freedom for an enslaved people. Indeed, the next one hundred years, and more, would witness the struggle for the enjoyment of the freedoms declared in this proclamation. Imagine, for a moment, the joy which would be experienced even at that beginning step, a beginning step which must have brought such delight to all slaves who learned of this proclamation by the President of the United States.
Liberty and freedom always bring great joy to enslaved and captive peoples. Today we consider the good news of another emancipation proclamation. This emancipation proclamation is far deeper and it is universal. This emancipation proclamation was declared eighteen hundred years prior to that given by President Lincoln. This emancipation proclamation not only declared freedom, but it secured freedom. The military battle had already been won. Freedom had already been secured.
Who were the enslaved peoples who were the subjects of this emancipation proclamation? It was us. We, if left to ourselves, are an enslaved people to sin in two ways: through the condemnation sin brings upon our life and through the corruption which takes place inside of us.
Who is the signer and declarer and the procurer of this proclamation? It is none other than Jesus the Messiah.
How did He secure this freedom and vanquish the powers of slavery? It was through His death, His burial, and His resurrection.
Now we are free. We who are connected to Jesus Christ are free from the guilt of our sin and the power of sin ruling over our lives. In this study we take up the subject of spiritual freedom and I trust it will excite your soul as you consider it, for what great joy we discover when we taste the sweetness of spiritual freedom for ourselves.
In these verses God instructs us on this very subject. Jesus, of course, is the Liberator. All who are in Jesus are called no longer to live as one’s enslaved, held captive, and bound, but as those emancipated from sin and its deadly effects. We learn of four specific freedoms we can enjoy and delight in Jesus wins for us at the cross.
The first freedom is the freedom from deception. In Verse 8, we read,
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy…
In salvation God gives us new minds, new eyes, and He brings Light into our hearts so we can see truth and reality as it is. We are no longer held in the darkness of falsehood, error, and deception, but now we can know God and we can understand His glory. We know His ways and His wisdom and we know His will. We now can see Him and taste of Him and enter into a relationship with Him. We are free from deception so we might walk in the Light.
The second freedom secured for us Jesus is the freedom for fellowship with Jesus and God Himself. In Verse 9, we read,
9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form…
That is to say, if we are to know God we must know Jesus because all the fullness of God dwells in Jesus. There is no aspect of God which is not found in Jesus, so that we have to find Jesus and then look elsewhere for the fullness, but rather everything about God is found in Jesus Himself and through Jesus we are given the freedom to fellowship with God and enter into an intimate relationship with Him. It says in Verse 10,
10 and you have been given fullness in Christ…
This is a fullness to enjoy God forever and ever in close, intimate relationship and to walk with Him and to talk with Him and to hear Him tells us we are His very own.
In this study we will look at the third and fourth freedoms more directly and specifically. The third freedom Jesus Christ offers us through His work upon the cross is the freedom from the guilt of our sin, and what a freedom that is, as we read in Verse 13,
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.
Let’s look for just a moment at the description God gives to us concerning the natural condition of our human heart. It is a two-fold description. First, God describes your heart and my heart this way, “You are dead in your sins.” When God describes our spirit, our soul, as being “dead” He is telling us we are devoid of any spiritual ability and of any spiritual sense whatsoever, just as a physically dead person, a corpse, is devoid of any physical ability to get up and walk around, eat, and take part in activities. They are unable to have any physical abilities. So, also, the Scripture describes our soul as dead, spiritually unable to do the will of God and be in spiritual relationship with God.
Furthermore, the physical body which is dead also lacks any physical sense; it cannot see, hear, touch, and taste. When we are dead in our sins, our souls are unable to have any spiritual sense and to see what God’s Truth and what God’s revelation would reveal, unable to hear the voice of God, and unable to taste of God in His glory and His sweetness and His delight He would offer us.
As one’s who were dead in sins, we are locked up in sin’s grasp so tightly we cannot respond to God of our own initiative. Something dynamic and miraculous must happen. If an unconverted person is asked, “Are you spiritually alive?” there are many unconverted one’s, who have not come to faith in Jesus Christ, who would say, “Yes, I am spiritually alive. I have a spirituality that is rich and that I enjoy.” The Bible’s answer to that question, of the one who is not connected to Jesus Christ, “Are you spiritually alive?” is unequivocal, “No, you are not spiritually alive. You are dead in your sins.”
This verse goes on to tell us, not only the description we are dead in our sins, there is more to this description God gives of our soul,
13 …you were dead in…the uncircumcision of your sinful nature…
Circumcision was the physical sign in the Old Testament of being a part of God’s covenant community and of that people set aside by God, in grace, to receive God’s favor, promise, Law, and presence. But, here it is describing all of us spiritually as being “uncircumcised” in our sinful nature. That is to tell us, left in our natural condition, we are outside of God’s covenant community and we are separated from God’s people so we cannot and do not experience God’s favor, promises, hope, Law, and presence. We, in our natural condition, are uncircumcised through our sinful nature. We are destitute of spiritual life.
But then, the verse uses the words “sinful nature” and they refer to our natural condition of being born corrupted. So, we ask the question: why is it mankind, apart from Jesus Christ, is condemned by God? Is it because Adam, as the first of mankind, sinned? In answer to that question, the Bible says, “Yes! We are condemned by God because Adam sinned.”
Is it because we, ourselves, sin and commit acts of unrighteousness, rebellion, and transgression? The Bible’s answer to that is, “Yes, it is because of our own sin as well.” The Bible teaches us, first, by nature, as a result of Adams’ sin, we are condemned by God and by nature we are children of wrath. Why is it that is our very nature and the very condition of our soul? Romans 5 would answer that question this way,
19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners…
It was through the first parent, Adam, everyone born into human kind, into Adam’s family, was born with a corrupted heart and as sinners in their natural condition. This teaching from the Scripture reveals to us the nature of our problem is not superficial or peripheral, but the nature of our problem reaches down to the very root of who we are and of our very identity. It is not as though we need a fresh coat of paint or a mild, exterior washing and then we will be alright, but rather we need an absolute transformation from the very core of our being.
Not long ago my oldest son, who is being to drive, pulled out of the driveway and he got a little to close to my other car and he scraped it and pulled a bit of paint off. It is not a big deal. Most people, early in their driving, have those things happen, but often times we look at our soul and consider our soul like I would consider that car. I look at the scrapped paint and I say, “I wish that were not there, but I can still drive this car and it is still functional. Maybe someday I will have it buffed out and have a fresh coat of paint on it and everything will look great, but maybe I won’t and I will leave it the way it is. If I do, it is not exactly the way I want it, but it is alright.”
Often times we look at our soul and we consider it that way; the wounds of our soul being superficial. “It is not the way I would desire it to be. It bothers me a little bit when I look at the scraps which I wish were not there. I would like to have them buffed out and a fresh coat of paint on it, but I can drive the soul of my heart just the same.” But, God tells us it is more than just a surface scratch of the paint which is affected. Rather, it goes down into the internal nature of our being and of our person. The engine itself is no longer able to move the vehicle of our life forward in relationship with Him. We need a complete overhaul and, in fact, we need a whole new vehicle and a whole new heart.
But, the Bible tells us, also, as a result of this internal corruption, we express this internal corruption through sinful acts, so we are responsible for the actions of sin, transgression, and rebellion against God, for all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God. We are guilty because of our internal nature and of our external, rebellion actions and deeds.
Could we be worse sinners than we are? The answer the Bible gives is, “Yes, we could be.” The Bible does not suggest left in an unconverted state we act as evilly as we possibly could act. We look around at unconverted people and we see from our human standards some do more good deeds than others and some do more wicked deeds than others. We could become worse in our actions than what we really are, but, and here is the point and this is what Scripture reveals as it talks to us about being dead in our sins, as one NASCAR chaplain explained, “We are not as bad as possibly could be, but we are as bad off as we possibly could be.” That is the condition of our heart: we are as bad off, we are without God, without hope, and without His promises in this world.
I emphasize this natural condition of the human heart because I believe it is absolutely impossible to know the infinite joy and forgiveness Jesus Christ offers us through His work on the cross unless we embrace the infinite gravity of the seriousness of our sin and of our sins. I wonder, as you look at your life and hear this description, are you convinced this is true: apart from the work Jesus Christ offers of bringing about the miracle of new life, you are dead in your transgressions and sins? That is to say, God is indignant with you and your actions of disobedience against Him and He is indignant against the inner nature of your rebellion and resistance to Him.
Friends, the Scripture tells us only the Holy Spirit can convince us this is true of our own heart and if you say, “I hear you describe what the Bible says about the heart apart from Jesus, but that is not true of me!” What more proof might you need than the fact you are resisting the very description God Himself has given regarding your own soul and you are pushing away from Him in this regard. How precious it is when Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, convinces us of our sin problem. Praise God He brings to you the very strong impression of your need for forgiveness.
Philip Yancey, in a book entitled, Rumors of Another World, tells us, “The pain of guilt deserves our gratitude because guilt becomes a powerful force which nudges me toward repentance and faith. It reminds me of my place as one who is accountable to God Himself.” So often, left to our natural condition, apart from the work of God’s Holy Spirit, we look at our lives and say, “I think I am all right.”
We want to look at the good news of this freedom and look at Verse 13. It tells us we were dead, but it also says,
13 …God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins…
What joy there is in this! Our deadly disease was our sin, but Jesus Christ comes and brings His resurrection power to us so that we are alive unto God now. When we ask ourselves the question: what is my biggest problem I might face in life? The Bible tells us it is not a physical health issue, a relational issue where there is broken relationship which tears away our emotions, a financial need which we do not know how it is going to be met, political, societal, war looming upon the horizon, or the destruction of the world though a number of means. These are not our biggest problems. Our biggest problem is sin and every other problem is rooted in sin and Jesus Christ provides a solution for this problem of sin and along with that He provides a solution to every other problem.
God made us alive with Christ. How did He do that? He had to remove the sin problem. What did He do to remove the sin problem? It is at the end of Verse 13, “He forgave us all our sins”.
What does God mean when He tells us He forgave us all our sins? In the Greek New Testament there are two words translated “forgive”. The first word means, literally, “to take sin away”. Tomorrow (October 2, 2006) is Yom Kippur, “The Day of Atonement”, and I would encourage you to read Leviticus Chapters 16 and 17. I believe it is a good thing to celebrate some of these things the Jews still celebrate as a result of what God revealed in the Old Testament, because we now have the fullness and the completion of those promises.
On the Day of Atonement one of the things which would happen is the High Priest would take two goats and he would lay his hands upon the goat, thus identifying himself and the people to this goat, so the goat became a representative of the people and specifically of the people’s sins. By laying hands upon the goat the people’s sins would be transferred to this goat and the goat would be treated as a substitute. The goat would be set loose and it would wander away in the wilderness. What happens to a goat which wonders away in a desert? The goat will die, but as it wonders away in the desert it is taking away, bearing away, the sins. The people would watch this goat walk away and they would rejoice knowing God is providing grace to be able to have an answer for their sin problems.
John, when he came to Jesus Christ, said in John 1,
29 …“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
What a great picture of forgiveness that is; that our sins are borne away. In Colossians there is a different Greek term for forgiveness and this term means to “erase the record of wrongs”. We have a written record of all our crimes against God and this record is so thoroughly erased nothing and no one could ever bring up what was written on there in the first place. It has been blotted out and obliterated.
I love the phrase in Verse 14 because this is what it is talking about when it says, “He forgave us”. How did He do that, “having canceled the written code with its regulations that was against us”. The Written Code is the Law of God and this Law God gave was against us and “it stood opposed to us”.
Here we find a picture of a court room and I want you to imagine, just for a moment, you are the accused. This court room is the Court Room of God’s Eternal Justice and it is your day to stand in this room as the Bible says “every one of us one day will stand before God”. There are witnesses lined up to accuse us and to tell the Judge how we violated them and how we assaulted them. We step into the Court Room and God, the Eternal Judge, steps into the Court Room and takes His seat. We sit down and the Judge says, “Now it is time for the witnesses to be brought into the Court Room.” The door opens and we look and we gasp, for there is a crowd there. First, are ten really big guys who walk into the Court Room. They are followed by hundreds of these big guy’s relatives. One witness is called up to the stand. “State your name, sir.” “You shall have no other gods before me.” “Do you see anyone in this Court Room who has violated you and assaulted you?” “Yes, I do.” “Who is that, sir?” and this witness takes his finger and points at you. “That one, right there, violated me.” “Tell me, when did this one assault you and violate you so horribly?” There is not just one story, but there is story after story after story and each one recalls accurately a memory and you realize everything this witness says is absolutely true. He tells of the time you loved money more than God. He relates a time when you compromised your integrity to win the praise of men. He tells of another time when pleasure dictated your thoughts, you priorities, and your actions. After all of these stories, it comes to a merciful end and he sits down.
Another witness is called, “State your name, sir.” “My name is you shall honor your father and your mother.” “Do you see anyone in this Court Room who has violated you?” “Yes, I do, sir.” “Who is that?” and again that finger points directly at you. “This one.” “Tell me, how has he violated you?” and he tells story after story; the time when you spoke disrespectfully to your mother, the time when you lied to your dad in order to cover up a sin. Over and over again, each one of these offenses are made by an accuser who has been violated.
The third witness comes up. “State your name.” “You shall not covet.” “Do you see anyone here?” “Yes.” There was a time when you envied the one who received that promotion at work. There was the time when your friend purchased that new home, a home you could not afford.
Can you imagine how long this trial would be? Guess what, this trial takes as long as is necessary to get every accusation out there against you.
Picture another scene: you enter into the Court Room and you are deeply concerned for you know you have done much to offend the Holiness of God. The Judge asks the prosecuting attorney, “Now is the time to bring in your witnesses.” The prosecutor stands and says, “Your Honor, we have no witnesses today.” “What, no witnesses against this one? What can you mean?” “There are no witnesses. They all have cancelled their complaints.” We read in Verse 14, Jesus Christ,
14 having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us…
How did He get these witnesses who had stories to tell to cancel their accusations against us?
14 …he took it away, nailing it to the cross.
Jesus justly fulfilled all the punishment for our broken laws by dying on the cross in our place.
My sin, oh, 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!
What does it mean to be forgiven? It means all the accusations the Law would make against me have been absolutely and utterly cancelled once and for all time.
It says it was “nailed to the cross”. What does that mean? In New Testament times, a criminal who was executed via crucifixion had a plaque placed above them so Rome would declare the just reason why Rome is crucifying this criminal. It may read, “Murderer”, “Thief”, or “Insurrectionist”. All of these crimes were written on the placard and then nailed to the very cross upon which one would die so all would see, “This is a just penalty for their sin”.
Remember when Jesus Christ was crucified, Pilot, the governor who was the judge over the trial, three times publically said, “I find no reason to put this man upon the cross and execute this man.” In other words, he said, “He is innocent”, “He is innocent”, “He is innocent.” And yet, each time the crowd shouted, “Crucify Him”, “Crucify Him”, “Crucify Him”. Pilot washed his hands in the matter and said, “I do not want anything to do with this, but he still had to write a placard because Rome had to have a reason why they were crucifying this One. Pilot had written on the placard, “This is Jesus, King of the Jews”.
Jesus was absolutely innocent. He was a spotless Lamb and God saw to it in His sovereign plan the Roman government would recognize this with a placard above His person.
Yet, what took place in Heaven was a mystery which was veiled to human eyes, but something Colossians 2 is telling us happened. God wrote out a placard for Ritch Boerckel, and He wrote out a placard for everyone who has come to faith in Jesus Christ, and on that placard is written all of my sins and all of the acts of transgression I have ever done in the past, am doing now, and will do in the future. He took that placard and He nailed it to the cross of Jesus and then He treated Jesus as though Jesus had committed the sins written upon that placard.
Isn’t it a wonder to be forgiven, friends? Isn’t it a wonder to have the freedom of that guilt lifted off of us and the certain fear of impending judgment and condemnation?
J.B. Philips translation of this verse reads,
13 He has forgiven you all your sins. 14 Christ has utterly wiped out the damning evidence of broken laws and commandments which always hung over our heads and has completely annulled it by nailing it over His own head upon the cross.
God’s forgiveness is based upon His grace. It is not based upon our doing penance an our making up for wrongs we have done. It is not based upon our efforts to rectify and make things right and put a coat of paint upon our lives. God forgiveness is complete and whole; that is to say, all of our sins are covered in the cross. All of our sins in the past, all of our sins in the present, and all of our sins we will ever do in the future, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” because all of our sins were nailed to the cross. Praise God, praise God, oh, my soul.
God’s forgiveness is certain; that is to say it is based upon God’s promises. If you come to Jesus Christ His forgiveness is for you.
The fourth freedom Jesus gives us is the freedom to live in victory over sin. The freedom from the guilt of our sin would mean precious little if, while forgiven from the guilt of our sin, we were left enslaved to continue in sin, for now that the Light of God has shown in our hearts and we now understand who God is in His glory and we understand sin only leads to death, away from God, away from His favor, and away from His blessing, how horrible would it be to have our eyes opened to that truth, to be forgiven unto condemnation, and still be left to wallow in sin for the rest of our lives.
What God did at the cross is He broke the power of sin in our lives so we can live lives of joyful obedience to God today; that is to say, we no longer have to sin.
The Bible tells us there are three enemies which, before coming to Christ, held mankind in bondage to sin. This passage tells us there are two. The first is our sinful nature. What is our sinful nature? Our sinful nature is that inner-bent of our soul which loves sin and which pushes us toward rebellion and away from God.
Man is not able to live free from sin in his natural condition; he is not able to obey God. Once Jesus Christ liberates us from this power, we now are able to obey God. When Jesus Christ frees us He does not remove this sinful nature. We still have a bent which says to us, “Okay, move toward sin” but this bent, this principle, in our soul no longer has power to rule and reign. We can say, “No!” to sin and, “Yes!” to godliness. How can we do that? It is by God’s grace which He offers us in Jesus Christ. Our sin nature is not removed. We still have to war and battle against it everyday, but we now have a new Master, as we see in Verse 11,
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 (spiritual) circumcision done by Christ
Jesus Christ cut away that part of which represented the rule and power of sin. Physical circumcision was a cutting away of the flesh as a means to say, “This person is now removing a part of themselves which holds them to their natural state.” Paul says it is not about physical circumcision, but about spiritual circumcision, about Jesus Christ doing something in reality to release and to free us up to live a life of obedience.
We read, in Verse 12,
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.
Now we can say with Paul, as he says in Romans 6:14, “Sin shall not be your master, for we are no longer under Law, but we are now under grace.” We have a new principle, a new life, which dominates us and we no longer give ourselves over to sin, but we give ourselves over to God. We no longer, as Romans 6 says further on,
11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body…
Friends, it is possible for us, as believers, to still let sin reign, but it is not because sin is so powerful it overcomes us. It is because we give willfully over to it. God calls us to live out our lives with a new freedom.
How do we enjoy this freedom? The Bible is full of instructions to us. By faith, I would encourage you to meditate much upon the cross of Christ. Often times the reason why we still have besetting sins which plague us over and over again is because we are not meditating upon the accomplished work of Jesus Christ. And then, by faith, be confident the accomplished work of Christ can set you free.
So often we believe the lie, “I just cannot live a different kind of life. This sin has enslaved me and I am addicted to it,” and we even use the language of addiction. I am not belittling how difficult habits are to overcome in practical, daily life, but I am elevating, as the Scripture does, the freedom Christ provides for the believer. That, we should, all of us, enjoy.
The last element is we are free from the power of the Devil himself and from his minions, as we read in Verse 15,
15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Paul is telling us, if we meditate upon the cross we will realize all of the enemies of God, Satan and all of his minions, have been rendered absolutely powerless. In the cross, they were made a public spectacle to reveal Jesus’ victory over them.
In 1st Century times, when a general won a war, after he had been away for two or three years in war, how would the people know his glory? There was no Fox News or CNN which covered the war. There were no video tapes people could look at. There were no pictures. There were no war reporters in that day. How would he communicate to the people the glory of his victory? As they were returning home, first, they would take empty chariots of the opposing army and they would have them enter first into the city. The citizens would recognize those to be enemy chariots with no warriors, meaning the fiercest kind of military arsenal is now rendered harmless.
Then there would be the wagons full of shields, spears, and swords and as they clunked along the road they were rattling, but it is an empty rattling and there is nothing to fear. The enemy which was going to take siege over the city didn’t have weapons anymore.
Following the weapons would be wagons of gold and silver and now their “stuff” is captured. Following the gold and silver would be the people bound in chains and they would have to walk through people who used to fear them. They have no weapons. They are captive. They are marching to their death. It would be the children, the servants, the women, and finally the warriors.
The last to come in would be the general and everyone would make noise because the general caused all of this to happen.
Let me read one commentary, “No one in town that day could possibly be ignorant of what happened as hundreds of weary prisoners of war were paraded, straggling behind the conquering army. Shamed and exposed to public gaze, everyone can see there is nothing to fear from these once proud warriors.”
Friends, there is nothing to fear from Satan and his minions. Jesus Christ has set us free. Are you free? Complete freedom is bound and offered to you in Jesus Christ.
There are two things which may keep you from believing in Jesus and from repenting of your sin. Both of them have to do with pride. First, the force of pride minimizes our sin; “It is not that big of a deal. It is just a coat of paint I need. My soul is not in that much trouble.” That will keep you from repenting and believing in Jesus.
The second is the force of pride which maximizes your own ability; “Okay, it may be bad, but I think I can make up for it. I think I can scratch and claw my way back into God’s favor.”
Jesus Christ offers you and me liberty and freedom found only in Him. Come to Him and hear His gracious invitation upon your life. Christian friend, let us not have sin be our master anymore, for we are no longer under Law, but we live under grace.