Alive in Him! (2:13-14)
"And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross" (Col. 2:13-14).
Someone once said that before we get people saved we have to get them lost! There's a lot of truth in that statement. The fact is, our society has virtually lost any sense of sin. What good is it to speak of salvation to those who have no awareness of alienation from God or liability to his righteous wrath?
Paul describes two glorious elements in our salvation in Colossians 2:13-14 – being made spiritually alive and having our sins forgiven. But before those concepts can mean anything to us he first portrays our condition before and apart from Christ. First, we were "dead" in our trespasses. Second, we were in "debt" to God infinitely beyond our capacity to pay.
But before I look at the first of these statements, a word is in order about Paul's description of the Colossians as "uncircumcised in flesh" (v. 13).
The label “uncircumcised” was used by Jews of Gentiles as an expression of derision and scorn. When Paul refers to the "uncircumcision" of the "flesh" of the Colossians, he's not talking about their moral or ethical condition but of their ethnic identity as non-Jews. To be a Gentile meant that you were "separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world" (Ephesians 2:12). Paul's point here in Colossians 2:13 is that their ethnic identity is no longer a barrier to fellowship with God. God has forever broken down the wall between Jew and Gentile, having created in Christ one new man, the Church (see Eph. 2:11ff.).
Now, let's look at his description of the Colossians (and us!) as being formerly "dead in trespasses" (v. 13; see Eph. 2:1 for almost identical language).
The word translated “transgressions” means a false step, a blunder, a crossing over a known boundary. Paul says we were dead “in" our transgressions, which is to say because of or by reason of our transgressions. His point is to highlight the state or condition of spiritual death “in” which people languish.
But we have a problem. At first glance, to say that people are "dead" seems to run counter to human experience, for “lots of people who make no Christian profession whatever, who even openly repudiate Jesus Christ, appear to be very much alive. One has the vigorous body of an athlete, another the lively mind of a scholar, a third the vivacious personality of a film star. Are we to say that such people, if Christ has not saved them, are dead? Yes, indeed, we must and do say this very thing. For in the sphere which matters supremely (which is neither the body, nor the mind, nor the personality, but the soul) they have no life. And you can tell it. They are blind to the glory of Jesus Christ, and deaf to the voice of the Holy Spirit. They have no love for God, no sensitive awareness of his personal reality, no leaping of their spirit towards him in the cry, ‘Abba, Father’, no longing for fellowship with his people. They are as unresponsive to him as a corpse. So we should not hesitate to affirm that a life without God (however physically fit and mentally alert the person may be) is a living death, and that those who live it are dead even while they are living” (John Stott, Commentary on Ephesians, 72).
No one said it better than 18th century revivalist George Whitefield:
“Come, ye dead, Christless, unconverted sinners, come and see the place where they laid the body of the deceased Lazarus; behold him laid out, bound hand and foot with grave-clothes, locked up and stinking in a dark cave, with a great stone placed on the top of it. View him again and again; go nearer to him; be not afraid; smell him. Ah! How he stinketh. Stop there now, pause a while; and whilst thou art gazing upon the corpse of Lazarus, give me leave to tell thee with great plainness, but greater love, that this dead, bound entombed, stinking carcass, is but a faint representation of thy poor soul in its natural state: for, whether thou believest or not, thy spirit which thou bearest about with thee, sepulchred in flesh and blood, is as literally dead to God, and as truly dead in trespasses and sins, as the body of Lazarus was in the cave.
Was he bound hand and foot with grave-clothes? So art thou bound hand and foot with thy corruptions: and as a stone was laid on the sepulcher, so is there a stone of unbelief upon thy stupid heart. Perhaps thou hast lain in this state, not only four days, but many years, stinking in God’s nostrils. And, what is still more effecting thou art as unable to raise thyself out of this loathsome, dead state, to a life of righteousness and true holiness, as ever Lazarus was to raise himself from the cave in which he lay so long. Thou mayest try the power of thy own boasted free-will, and the force and energy of moral persuasion and rational arguments (which, without all doubt, have their proper place in religion); but all thy efforts, exerted with never so much vigor, will prove quite fruitless and abortive, till that same Jesus, who said ‘Take away the stone’; and cried, ‘Lazarus, come forth’ also quicken you” (quoted in John Gerstner, A Predestination Primer [Winona Lake, Ind.: Alpha, 1979], 20).
Make no mistake. Paul is not saying that people are born alive and gradually, through sinning, experience a slow process of spiritual and moral degeneration that eventually consummates in death. No! All people are born dead and remain dead until such time as God sovereignly infuses life and brings them by his Spirit to faith in Jesus Christ.
God made us alive together with Christ! Were ever more precious words uttered? Spiritually lifeless, morally decayed, in every way insensible to the beauty and sweetness of Jesus . . . until God, in sovereign mercy and grace, made us alive together with his Son! Praise God, from whom all blessings flow!
From one formerly dead person to others,