Our identity in the gospel
The Bible wasn’t dropped out of the sky as a complete revelation of God to mankind. Instead, the Scriptures were assembled from the writings of God-inspired authors over hundreds of years. Through these authors, God revealed more and more of His plan for the world and the salvation of those who trust Jesus for eternal life. This process is referred to progressive revelation.
Therefore, we must consider each section of Scripture in light of the larger context of the God’s story throughout the Bible. Most of the letters in the New Testament are addressed to a particular group of believers or an individual believer to discuss specific topics. Since the letters’ recipients have already placed their faith in Jesus, getting an “in a nutshell” explanation of the gospel doesn’t appear very often, as the author typically spends his time instructing his readers about the effects of the gospel in their lives or encouraging them to live their lives with eternity in mind.
Paul certainly wrote to the Colossians to give them instruction and encouragement. However, after he reminds them of where their identity comes from, in verses that follow, he gives them a wonderful “in a nutshell” statement of the gospel message:
For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.
Paul then uses two illustrations that his readers would have been very familiar with. These physical examples had been previously used to confirm a person’s identification with a group of people. Both illustrations contain the imagery of a permanent change that takes place in a person’s life.
In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah.
Circumcision was the physical removal of flesh that the Israelites performed as a symbolic indication of their identification with God and a separation from the surrounding nations and their gods. However, a physical circumcision was no longer necessary after Christ’s death and resurrection – our identity with Him is a spiritual circumcision. In Jesus, we have rejected, or put off, the selfish desires of our flesh.
Continuing with his next example, Paul says
Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
The Greek word for baptism means “to be placed into”. When we are physically immersed in a water baptism, we are symbolically demonstrating what has already happened to us spiritually. We were set apart and placed into Christ the moment we put our faith in the working of God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead.
The beauty of our salvation is that we don’t have to try and earn it. The truth is – we can’t earn it. God knew that, but still desired relationship with us. As Paul reminds the Colossians, Christ took care of our sin debt while we were still rebels.
And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.
While we were still sinners, Christ paid humanity’s sins. Because of their faith in the working of God, who raised [Jesus] from the dead, God forgave all their sin. Christ’s standing with the Father is credited to each person who places their faith in Jesus.
We’ve all had times in our lives where we messed up and afterward we had the offense forgiven, but we still had to live with the consequences of our actions. However, that’s not the case when it comes to our salvation from sin. Not only has Jesus erased the certificate of debt but He has also erased…its obligations. In Christ, we are free from sin – and its penalty.
Our salvation wasn’t secured by some back-door, secret deal, either. Christ was publicly humiliated and crucified – the kind of death and separation from God that we deserved. Jesus’ sacrifice was on display for entire world to see. By His loving actions, He disarmed the rulers and authorities set against us, and, as Paul stated in verse 9, Jesus became the head over every ruler and authority
In these verses, we find that we have been set apart (11-12), our sins forgiven (13-14), and we have victory over forces of evil (15) – all because of Jesus. That’s the gospel “in a nutshell”.