Colossians 2: The Cross and Human Guilt
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Colossians 2:13, 14
The cross has an unpopular message
Tonight we’re looking at a couple verses that are fantastic for explaining the cross of Jesus Christ. They’ve been favorites of mine for years because of some of the imagery that Paul uses to convey what Christ did at the cross.
Recently I was at the S.C. getting my supply of tapes to listen to, and there was a series of tapes on the cross of Christ. And I thought, “That is so great! I’ve got to have those!” Because it is a topic that is so un-trendy. It’s so stripped-down and basic. But in that series I learned again that the cross is the answer to guilt. The cross is the answer to loneliness. The cross is the answer to meaning in life. So much media-hype, money and ink is wasted over trendy, six-month solutions to these problems.
The cross of Jesus Christ is kind of a laughably stark to all these problems.
I want to consider the biggest problem the cross addresses, guilt. And I want to consider the notion of guilt in today’s culture. There is so much energy being expended today to explain that we are not really guilty, that we aren’t really to blame, that we are victims of this, that or the other thing.
(Read stories of victimization from Newsweek and Time. Some good ones.)
In all this hubbub, we have a pretty unpopular message to bring: You are guilty. You are responsible. And you will be held accountable. Those ideas are pure heresy in our culture. You can be taken on the talk-shows and lynched for saying that kind of stuff.
But the message of the cross is exactly that. Jesus died for us because our guilt is so vast we could do nothing about it. The answer to guilt we find in the cross is not “I’m OK, You’re OK.” The answer is, “Jesus Christ died for you and me, because we’re not OK.” It’s such an extreme message of our sinfulness on the one hand, and God’s powerful love for us on the other hand.
We are guilty (v. 13, 14)
First of all, it says that we were dead spiritually. That means we were in an alienated state from God—hostile to God.
Then it says we were “in the uncircumcision of our sinful nature.” He is not referring to the actual rite of circumcision here. He is using it as a metaphor. Circumcision stood for being unique and set apart for God. It was a rite that simply meant you were God’s possession. So here Paul is saying that previously you were separate from God. Far from being his possession, you were alienated from him, hostil towards him, in a state of war.
He says the answer to this is that God made us alive with Christ, and forgave our sins. How did he do this? I love the imagery of this next verse. He says there was a certificate with charges against us. The image is of a multi-page indictment. Actually it was beyond an indictment, this is the verdict. These charges were, “You are guilty of this. You are guilty of that . . .” And he says it was against us. This list of charges was against us. We were guilty.
But he took the whole list and nailed it to the cross.
What was the cross about? The cross was about my guilt, my sin—the sin I am responsible for, that I choose. Jesus Christ was actually judged and punished for that sin!
We minimize the sin part
There’s a danger in our culture, and maybe it’s always been a danger, of sterilyzing the cross of this part of the message. We want to take the guilt and the fact that we deserve condemnation out of the picture.
From Horton’s Beyond Culture Wars, “Even the cross itself is no longer the way God dealt with my guilt toward him and his condemnation toward me, but is rather the way God shows me how much I’m worth and that should keep me from feeling guilty and condemning myself.”
There’s a subtle twist here, when the sin, guilt and deserved condemnation are taken out of the picture. Yes, the cross shows how much God loves me. Yes, the cross shows how much I matter. But also, the cross shows how hopelessly guilty I am.
I have seen the fruit of this many times in the lives of Christians who have supposedly received God’s forgiveness, they have turned to the cross of Christ for forgiveness. And yet many Christians have very little awareness that they were even guilty in the first place! Or we have very little sense for how grevious our guilt was before God.
This passage here is saying there was a document, a list of charges against you that was hostile towards you. It said, “You must die. You are guilty enough to go to hell.”
The price of minimizing
The price of this minimizing is that we don’t appreciate God’s love. There are a lot of Christians who are floundering in their Christian life, and I’m convinced it’s a problem with square one: They don’t understand what it’s all about. They don’t understand their guilt, their sin, and the fact that it is completely outrageous God is relating to them at all. They take it as a given that God would forgive them.
This was the essence of the conflict that swirled around Jesus Christ. With religious people he was obviously cool and aloof! But he was a friend of sinners.
Example: It was Zaccheaus, who climbed a tree because he had to see this guy who talked about forgiveness so much.
Example: I was people like the woman who washed his feet with her tears because she couldn’t believe he would forgive her.
There were people who were close to Jesus, and there were people who were distant. And the difference was how much they appreciated his message of forgiveness.
This is why God has to let us go through things that will open our eyes. Christians often relate that they see themselves as more of a sinner now than before they became a Christian. The reason is not that they sin more (except in some cases). The reason is that their eyes are open more now. They see something they didn’t see before, and that is how much of a sinner they really are.
One of the most graphic descriptions of Paul’s sin comes towards the end of his life (read Titus 3:3). This is without a doubt the most graphic description of Paul’s sin. And I’m sure it comes as a result of seeing more and more about himself.
There’s something I hear on the lips of almost every Christian I’ve talked to about their relationship with God. “I don’t experience God’s love very much,” or something like that. I hope you’ll see from our discussion tonight that there’s something huge standing in the way of that. And it’s not God’s refusal to love you. It’s our refusal to see our sins. It’s our desire to minimize our sins. And when we do that we shrink the grace and love of God into something very small.