St. John's & Zion Lutheran Churches

It’s Christ Alone Or Nothing

Sermon on Colossians 2:13-17

Text: When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Many people are familiar with the California Gold Rush that began in 1849. More than 300,000 people flocked to California to try and find their fortune. You may not be familiar that there was another gold rush ten years later to Colorado. In 1859, news of another gold strike caused many people to pack up their belongings and head to Colorado in search of gold. Some of the travelers wrote “Pikes Peak or Bust” on the side of their wagons. It signaled their determination that nothing was going to satisfy them except getting to Colorado. They would accept nothing less. When it comes to our salvation, we need to have such a singular focus. There are many paths to salvation that are presented. However, as we study God’s Word, we see that IT’S CHRIST ALONE OR NOTHING. 1. He Did It All. 2. As a result, we need to Be Careful That We Don’t Add Anything.

In this letter, the apostle Paul warns the Christians in Colossae about a false teaching that was threatening their faith. These false teachers taught that it was OK to believe in Jesus as your Savior. If you wanted to be saved, however, you still had to do certain things. You still had to live a certain way. This included following all the Old Testament laws and regulations that were given to Moses on Mount Sinai. In this section of his letter, the apostle shows why this was absolutely unnecessary.

Paul refers to the law when he uses the term “our legal indebtedness.” In what way were we legally indebted to God? It goes back to the legal contract that God set up with all people at the beginning of time. Already in the time of Adam and Eve, the basic terms of this contract were in place. Do this and you will have life. In Adam and Eve’s case, it involved refraining from eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In the case of the people of Moses’ day, it involved all those laws that Moses received on Mt. Sinai. These commands covered every aspect of their lives from how they worshiped to what they ate to how they planted their crops. If they obeyed God’s commands, they would be blessed. God’s laws are still passed down to us today. We have God’s laws summarized for us in the Ten Commandments. The terms of the contract are the same. Act this way and you will live.

However, as Paul so clearly reminds us, we have “legal indebtedness.” We have not kept our end of the contract. We have failed to live up to God’s perfect standards. For example, how many times haven’t we assumed the worst about someone rather that the best? We see someone who is different than we are and make negative assumptions about them. We assume that someone is being mean to us because they ignored us, when it might be that they were distracted by something else. The list goes on and on of the ways that we are legally indebted to God. As a matter of fact, verse 13 reminds us, “You were dead in your sins.” We could not do one thing that would make up for our sins or make the first step toward our salvation. The spiritual death that we are born in would have become an eternal death in hell.

Yet, we, who were dead, have been made alive. Note that we did not make ourselves alive. Rather, we were made alive. It says in verse 13, “God made you alive with Christ.” God made us alive in connection with Jesus. How did he do this? “He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us.” (Verses 13&14) God forgave us. He canceled the charges against us, all our failings to live according to his will. How did he do this? Why did he do this? It wasn’t because God changed his mind about his demands in the law nor the consequences for breaking his law. It wasn’t that God was like a grandfather who smiles when the grandchildren are getting into mischief. God is still God and is deadly serious about keeping the law and the punishment for failing to do so. He still means it when he says, “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)

However, Paul also shows us how God can forgive our sins, how he can cancel our legal indebtedness. “He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.” (Verse 14) It all points us to Jesus. He made us alive by dying for us. He went to the cross to sacrifice his innocent life for us. God demanded death as the punishment for us. Jesus stepped in our place and suffered the death, God’s wrath, against all the sins that we, that the entire world committed. It is only because of Jesus’ perfect life, his innocent suffering and death, and his glorious resurrection that we are saved. Our debt has been cancelled. Eternal life is ours.

As a result of Jesus’ work, Paul speaks of the fact that Jesus “disarmed the powers and authorities.” (Verse 15) The powers and authorities are the devil and his evil angels. They have been disarmed. On the one hand, they have been disarmed because they cannot accuse us of sin before God. When God looks at those who have been brought to faith in Jesus, he doesn’t see a single sin, because they were all taken away by the work of Jesus. On the other hand, they have been disarmed, because we no longer must obey them. When they come to us with a temptation, we can say “No” to them. We can say that we want to live in a way that honors and glorifies God for all that he has done for us. These powers and authorities have been defeated. They are disarmed. It’s all because Jesus did everything for us.

Because we still have a sinful nature, a word of caution is in order here. Within the sinful heart lurks a sinful pride that refuses to admit that we are totally helpless spiritually and totally incapable of contributing anything toward our salvation. It stubbornly insists on believing that we can do something, however small and insignificant it may be, to earn God’s favor. We see this in some churches that say, if you want to be saved, you must not only believe that Jesus paid for your sins, but you must do something, as well, to make up for them. Others will say that Jesus has paid for our sins, but it is up to us to make our decision to follow him. Others will say that you are not truly saved until you are able to do some miraculous thing, such as speaking in tongues. In these instances, it is easy for us to see that they are trying to add something to the sweet gospel message, that there is something that we contribute to our salvation.

While these instances might be easy for us to see, there may be others that are more difficult for us to see. When we live as Christians, doing those things that are pleasing to God, do we ever catch ourselves thinking that God owes us one. ‘I’m going to church and they’re not. God, do you see that? I put extra into the offering plate this week. God, did you notice?’ While these things are good and pleasing to God, our sinful pride wants God to give us, at least, some credit for it. It can quickly happen that we rely on these things as our proof of salvation, rather than relying solely on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Remember that Jesus did it all for our salvation. We add nothing.

We, also, need to be careful that we don’t raise our cherished Christian customs and traditions to the level of laws. You must do this or that, when God has not made a law one way or the other. We may try to impose them on others or try to make them “better” Christians. This might include insisting that a person must look a certain way or dress a certain way if they are going to be saved. God does allow some latitude in many areas of our lives. That is why the apostle wrote, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” (Verse 16) All of those Old Testament things were good things. However, to insist on them, when God did not, would be taking it too far.

It’s also worth noting that the apostle gives us a good reason to read and study the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament. Paul notes, “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” (Verse 17) When we read about all of those Old Testament laws and ceremonies, we see God using pictures to teach his people what the Messiah would come to do. You and I have the advantage of hindsight in these things. When we read about the dietary laws of the people, we can be reminded that Jesus is the only food that satisfies our souls. Jesus said of himself, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35) When we think of all of the sacrifices that were offered on those altars, we remember what John the Baptist said of Jesus, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) As we hear about the rest that the Old Testament people observed on the Sabbath, we think of Jesus’ words, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matthew 11:28&29) Our God has given us so many pictures of what Jesus would do and did for our salvation.

There are certain things that just do not mix. For instance, oil and water do not mix. You might shake them together in a container, but eventually, they will separate. They don’t mix together. This morning, we have look at something that does not mix, either, and that is the law and the gospel. We can never look to the law to save ourselves. No matter how hard we try, we will always fall short of the standard of perfection that God demands. The end result will always be death. May God remove from our hearts any thoughts of trying to save ourselves! Instead, may God continue to strengthen our faith and our reliance on Jesus as our salvation! Jesus has done it all for us. Indeed, it truly is Christ alone and nothing else. Amen.