Monday, June 30, 2008

Alive, Part 2 of 2

The first question Paul answers in Col 2:13 is in what way did God make us alive? The answer is simply, “God made [you] alive together with him.” Taken out of context it would seem that God, being the nearest antecedent to the relative pronoun, makes one alive together with himself. Yet in context it is quite clear that him refers to Christ. Paul’s entire argument in 2:8-2:15 is based on the position of the believer with Christ who is part of the Godhead. Therefore we find the following anthem, “you have been filled in him… In him also you were circumcised… having been buried with him… you were also raised with him… (2:10-12).” Add to this the final statement about Christ in 2:12 that Paul made, “God, who raised him from the dead.” Immediately after this statement Paul launches into 2:13 with the death and resurrection of the believer with him, namely, Christ. Eph 2:5 dispels any further doubt by explicitly stating that God “made us alive together with Christ.” To fully understand how God makes a sinner alive with Christ, the Righteous one (1 Jhn 2:1), Paul answers a second question: what means did God use to make us alive?

Paul provides two means by which God made us alive. The first means is “having forgiven us all our trespasses (Col 2:13).” The word Paul employed for forgiveness is not the common Greek word (ἀφίημι). Instead Paul used χαρίζομαι which has the idea of “to forgive, on the basis of one’s gracious attitude toward an individual (Louw-Nida, 1:502).” Whereas ἀφίημι displays “God as the Judge to whom man is responsible (TDNT, 1:512),” χαρίζομαι demonstrates God as “gracious by forgiving wrongdoing (BDAG, 1078).” God’s grace has not just forgiven us of sin in general, but particularly all our sins. God has taken account of each sin committed and has graciously forgiven each one.

The second means is the cancelation of debt by payment. The word ἐξαλείφω (canceling) is quite unique in the New Testament . Peter used the same word when he preached at Pentecost saying, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted (ἐξαλείφω) out (Acts 3:19).” The concept the word conveys the idea “to remove so as to leave no trace, remove, destroy, obliterate (BDAG, 344).” This word is also frequently used in the LXX in reference to sin. Perhaps the most significant occurrence is in Isa 43:25: “I, I am he who blots (ἐξαλείφω) out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” The Psalmist cries out to God to “blot out my transgressions (Ps. 50:3, 11),” but “not the sin of his [the wicked] mother (Ps. 108:14).”

What did God blot out? “The record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands (Col 2:14).” This record of debt (χειρόγραφον) is a hand-written certificate of debt whereby the signer acknowledges his obligation the debt and agreement with the consequences (TDNT, 9:435). It is as if at some point the sinner gives God a signed promissory note listing all the sins he has committed and prescribed penalty (death) for defaulting on the loan. In saying “that stood against us” Paul pushes the metaphor further by claiming that the “document in question was one of condemnation (Dunn, 165).” The due date had passed and the loan was now in default. When God makes the sinner alive, rather than requiring immediate payment of the debt, he removes the debt completely without a trace. Lest the reader accuse God of keeping unbalanced books, Paul quickly explains how God can cancel the debt and remain just in His action. Paul very simply states: “this he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” This is a clear reference to the practice of nailing the indictment of the one crucified on the cross for all to read (Dunn, 166). Though Jesus’ cross did not literally have our sins attached for all to see (it could not contain them!), God figuratively nailed them there and they were seen by the only one that mattered—God.

God could justly cancel the debt because it has been paid for on the cross. Paul wrote in Romans 6:23 “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Jesus paid for the “legal demands” of our promissory note, and therefore God wiped away our debt and gave us life.

Having gone through this passage we conclude by comparing it to Eph 2:1-9 which is a parallel passage where Paul essentially teaches the same truths with a slightly different focus. In Colossians Paul briefly states the former condition of the believer and moves on the emphasize the gracious forgiveness provided by the cross. In Eph 2:1-3 Paul extensively describes the former state of the believer, and sharply contrasts it in 2:4-9 with the God’s grace. He describes God as being “rich in mercy”, having “great love”, demonstrating “immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us.” Twice Paul repeats “by grace you have been saved (2:5, 8).” Paul’s theme in Eph 2:1-9 is you are saved by God’s grace, and by God’s grace alone. The theme in Col 2:13-14 is God has done away with the instrument of death, and has given you life. Put another way, in Ephesians Paul emphasizes God’s grace in salvation (rescue from the former way of life), and in Colossians he emphasizes God’s grace in regeneration (removing the dead nature, and giving new life).

In meditating on these truths the believer cannot help but stand in awe of God’s mercy. As we continue to struggle with sin in our earthly bodies, sin which has been done away with and forgiven, we eagerly hope for the coming King who will transform us to be like Him and will finally and completely do away with sin. To God alone be the glory!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Alive, Part 1 of 2

When Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, Jesus challenged Nicodemus’ soteriology. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God (Jhn 3:3).” Nicodemus, wondering how a man could produce this for himself asked, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born (Jhn 3:4)?” Jesus confronts Nicodemus’ works-righteousness by declaring, “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (Jhn 3:6).” Nicodemus wondered how a man could make himself be born again, and Jesus taught him that only the Spirit can convey spiritual life.

Though Paul was not present during Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, he was nevertheless very aware of this concept and used it frequently in his writings. Yet there is particular one passage where Paul explains the means by which God has makes man alive. After Paul pointedly reminds his readers in Col 2:13-14 of their sin induced state of spiritual death, he makes it clear that because sin is the cause of death, the only way to bring life is to remove sin. Therefore when God produces spiritual life in a person, he forgives that sinner’s trespasses; not by means of averting His eyes to sin, rather by accepting the payment made on the cross.

The grammatical structure in Col 2:13-14 is such that v. 13 contains the two primary clauses: (1) “you who were dead”, and (2) “God made [you] alive together with.” This essay will focus on the second clause which is followed by supporting clauses in vv. 13-14 which the answer two questions: (1) in what way did God make “you” alive, and (2) what means did God use. Of first importance is to understand what Paul meant by God “made alive together with” which is based on a single Greek word συζωοποιέω.

Paul coined a new term to describe the believer’s relationship with Christ. συζωοποιέω which is translated “made alive together with,” has only one other use in Eph 2:5 which is virtually an exact parallel. This form of the word συζωοποιέωis found nowhere else in Greek literature, which testifies to its unique soteriological significance (see next paragraph). The prefix συ emphasizes our “identification with the risen Christ.” In examining ζωοποιέω without the prefix, we find that the giving of life is a Trinitarian activity. In Jhn 5:21 we find that the Father and the Son give life to whomever they will. Implicitly Rom. 8:11 teaches that the Father (“he who raised Jesus from the dead”) gives life. Finally, 2 Cor 3:6 teaches us that the Spirit gives life. We know that the Father is the one who gives life in Col 2:13 because the surrounded context (2:8-15) portrays Christ as a participant, not as the initiator. It is important to note that “God initiates the salvation process, because spiritually dead people cannot make themselves alive (MacArthur, 109).” When Jesus resurrected the dead to life during His earthly ministry there was no initiative coming from the corpse. Lazarus was totally incapable of doing anything until Jesus commanded him to “come out (Jhn 11:43).” A corpse has no cognitive ability to even think about doing anything. Therefore God always takes the initiative when He gives life to a dead sinner.