09 – Colossians 2:13-17 – Freedom from Sin and Legalism

“God has given life through Christ to you who were once dead by reason of your sins and uncircumcised nature. He has forgiven us all our transgressions. He completely annulled the damning handwritten evidence of broken commandments which testified against us, nailing it to His cross. His triumph over all evil powers completely disarmed them and held them up to public contempt. Therefore, let no one judge you for what you eat or drink or regarding a holy day, a new moon, or Sabbath days. All these things simply foreshadow Christ.”   (2:13-17, paraphrased)

v. 13
The previous spiritual condition of the Colossians is compared to their current position. Formerly they were “dead in their sins.” The phrase means “to deviate from the truth or stray from the path of obedience.” Paul’s use of the term “uncircumcised” reiterates their prior unregenerate state (Gal. 5:6 & Eph. 2:11-12). “Uncircumcision” is a metaphor describing the hopeless condition of spiritual depravity (Acts 7:51). The Mosaic covenant, sealed by the act of circumcision, obligates Jews to live holy lives before Jehovah. However, Gentiles are uncircumcised both physically and spiritually. This stands in stark contrast to the “circumcision of Christ” (Col. 2:11). Regardless of ethnicity, all who find redemption through Christ become spiritually alive.

v. 14
Paul pictures God as “erasing” or “blotting out” (exaleipho) the “ordinances against us.” Exaleipho is the canceling, removal, or obliteration of a debt. The “handwriting” or hand-written document (cheirographon) refers to a certificate of indebtedness in force until a debt is liquidated. But this “bond written against us” cannot refer only to infractions of the Mosaic Law, for it was never binding on Gentiles. The entire scope of God’s moral law is in view here, for the insurmountable debt of sin owed to God is the same for Jews and Gentiles (Rom. 3:22). While God’s law demands obedience, it cannot provide the power to obey them. The only way our obligation can be met is by One who has both the willingness and the resources to pay it.

These “ordinances” or “decrees” (dogma) are the general moral principles and laws of God which all men have broken. Our indictment was “contrary” (hupenantion) to us, acting as a hostile enemy which directly opposes reconciliation with God. The Lord takes our list of sins and “nails it to His cross.” The metaphor Paul uses here may be an allusion to the ancient custom of publically posting a notice of canceled debt. This document of accusation was “taken out of the way” by Jesus when He hung on the cross. John the Baptist said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29).  The battered, bloody body of Christ is the universal notice that the debt of sin has been forever canceled.

It is not unusual for a scroll listing the accusations of a crucified victim to be nailed overhead. The Romans affix a sign above Jesus on the cross (Jn. 1:19). It is written in three languages so all will understand the charge that He claims to be “King of the Jews” (v. 20). On Calvary, Jesus expunges the debt every person owes to God (II Cor. 5:21 & Heb. 10:10). He cancels our signed confession of guilt by “bearing our sins in His own body on the tree” of Calvary (I Pet. 2:24). 

v. 15
His vicarious act of grace is also a statement of triumphant victory over all evil forces. A direct result of His crucifixion is the disarming of the entire hierarchy of evil. To “spoil” (apekduo) means “to divest one of armament.” “Principalities and powers” is a general category encompassing the myriads of entities that attempt to hold humans in subjection.

While the philosophical ramblings of the Gnostics are vague, Paul’s response is crystal clear. Hostile forces seek to draw people into their web of cosmic deception. Those under the spell of astrology, black magic, cults, and superstition are liberated by His singular sacrifice. Believers should bear in mind that “neither death, life, angels, principalities, powers, things present, things to come, height, depth, nor anything else is able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).   

The cross is the secret weapon that defeats the enemies of Christ (I Cor. 2:8). To “make a show” (edeigmatisen) means “to make a public spectacle.” Through His atonement, Christ strips all evil powers in the cosmos of their potency, exposing and disgracing them eternally. “Triumphing openly” pictures a king gallantly leading defeated and humiliated enemy princes, officers, and troops through the city streets. Jesus shows Himself victorious by divesting them of power and authority and parading them publically as captives (Eph. 4:8). Such a cavalcade today would include New Age proponents, philosophers, Satanists, cult leaders, and all who seek to undermine the authority of Christ. Angelic principalities are completely subdued by Christ who validates his superiority and authority over them all.

v. 16
Paul now begins to list some of the distinctive Jewish features of the Colossian heresy. This doctrine appears to be a combination of asceticism and Judaism, including dietary restrictions and observation of specific calendar dates. Central to these false teachings is the idea that angelic mediators are appeased by complying with various rituals and prohibitions. However, the question here concerns authority. No man can sit in judgment regarding Jewish laws because they have been annulled. Christ has set us free and we are accountable to Him alone.

This is not the first time Paul deals with the question of religious observances. This verse echoes his comments to the Romans regarding their freedom in Christ (Rom. 14:5-17). Paul is appalled by those who attempt to undermine Christian liberty by putting Jewish yokes on Gentile necks (Acts 15:10).   

Jews celebrate ancient feast days such as the Festival of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Passover. Many continue to observe these sacred days today in anticipation of the Messianic kingdom. In general, Paul tends to regard Judaic observances as a matter of individual conscience rather than mandated obligations.

The Colossian heretics seek to control Gentile Believers by bringing them under the bondage of ancient Jewish ordinances. While Jewish regulations concerning meat are common, there are few specific laws that control either what one may drink or abstain from drinking (Lev. 10:9 & 11:34-36). The exceptions are the severe warnings against drunkenness in both the Old Testament and the New (Pv. 20:1 & Eph. 5:18). Paul’s generalization about “food and drink” includes all dietary restrictions imposed by false teachers (Gal. 4:9).

For Jews, the appearance of a new moon requires sacrificing various animals in connection with their lunar calendar (Num. 10:10 & 28:11-14). The new moon in October signals the beginning of the Jewish year and is observed by a festival (Lev. 23:24-25 & Isa. 1:13). The reference to “Sabbath days” might refer to the beginning and close of certain ceremonies and events that begin and end on the Sabbath.

The asceticism being promoted in the Lycus Valley seems to extend beyond Judaic observances. Paul wants the church in Colossae to understand the Mosaic food laws originally intended to regulate a healthy kosher diet are no longer required for either Jewish or Gentile Believers. The Colossians need not submit to any demands regarding the observation of special feasts, customs, rituals, rites, or dietary regulations. To accept such restrictions is to submit to the authority of the teachers who mandate them. This negates the power of Christ which frees us from such regimentation.

Paul condemns practices which serve as badges of superiority for those imposing them. Christians must be on guard against those who presume to judge their spiritual standing in Christ. Some have the audacity to burden Believers with man-made rules and then condemn them if they do not comply.

v. 17
Paul states his reason for non-compliance with the demands of the false teachers. Their legal observances and rituals are simply irrelevant. Although rituals have some value in the Old Testament era, Jesus’ atonement makes them obsolete. Ordinances of the law must be regarded as types that find their fulfillment in Christ. The Colossians are being urged to accept transitory things that serve only to foreshadow the reality of Christ. The temporary nature of empty philosophy and rote ritualism has no solidarity. The laws of Moses are only a faint shadow, but the Gospel of Christ is the true substance.


Points to Ponder

1. Paraphrase and elaborate on the ideas contained in Ephesians 2:15-16 and Galatians 6:14.

2. How was the “handwriting” against us canceled and our debt fully paid (I Peter 2:24-25)?

3. What is the only effective way for Believers to combat the forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12-17)?

4. Read Galatians 2:11-16 and explain why Paul rebuked Peter. Why does Paul feel this is necessary?


5. Read Galatians 4:9-11 and explain what Paul was afraid of and why?


6. Is it wrong for contemporary Jewish Christians to celebrate Passover? If not, why not?


Maxim of the Moment

Love is blind, but marriage is an eye-opener.