Second danger & answer
5e. Freed in Christ (1)
The Debt of the Law
The runaway slave The handwriting of ordinances The problem of the Law The purpose of the Law The curse of the Law
In this section of being complete in Christ we have seen, so far, that we are circumcised in Christ, and baptised into Christ. We now move to the third aspect of this completeness.
The third aspect of us being complete in Christ is that we are freed in Him; that is freed from the Law and the debt due to the Law.
The first part of this passage is near enough identical with a well know section of Ephesians
Our previous condition without God was one of death, spiritual death - dead in our sins and trespasses. But God intervened and quickened us, that is made us alive with Christ. He did this because of His great love for us.
A key phrase in this Colossian passage is 'handwriting of ordinances', and it is important for us to understand its meaning. For this we turn to Philemon. Another book written at the same time as Colossians. Indeed the people mentioned therein were members of the Colossian assembly.
Paul was writing to Philemon in whose house the Colossian church met. Philemon had a slave called Onesimus who had run away. Why, we are not told and so it is therefore best that we do not speculate. This man came to know Christ, and ministered to Paul whilst he was a prisoner. Despite being a great blessing and of great profit to the apostle, Paul thought it only right to send Onesimus back to his rightful master.
However in this small epistle Paul entreats Philemon to receive Onesimus back as a brother, and not as a slave. And in the process to forgive him; whether the forgiveness was just because he ran away, or because of some other thing we are not told. But asking Philemon to forgive Onesimus Paul did.
There is one further detail that Paul puts in. If this runaway slave had wronged Philemon, or owed him anything then Paul would pay what was owed. Paul said he would pay it and has written it with his own hand! We could say that there was a handwriting of debt against Onesimus. Whatever the debt this slave had incurred against Philemon, the apostle would stand up and take the responsibility of paying it.
This is a wonderful illustration of what Christ has done for us. We had a debt against us and Jesus paid it as if it were His! We have already looked at the fact that Jesus has paid the penalty for our sin. But what is Paul talking about when he refers to the handwriting of ordinances?
Looking at the passage more closely we note that Paul is now referring to our trespasses rather than sins. He then goes on to say that the handwriting of ordinances against us have been blotted out. The question is: what are the handwriting of ordinances that was against us?
The second chapter of Ephesians is well known to many, if not all believers. The first half of the chapter deals with the Christian's relationship to God before and after salvation. Before we were saved we were dead in trespasses and sin. After we were saved the God who loved us, made us alive in Christ and has raised us into the heavenly places with him Eph.2:1-10.
The second half of the chapter deals with the believer's relationship with Israel. And it is in this context that Paul tells us what the ordinances are. So we need to examine this carefully.
There are two things to note first of all. Before we were saved, without Christ, we were strangers from the commonwealth of Israel. Then Paul says that the law of commandments contained in the ordinances were the enmity between unbelievers and Israel.
It was this law, the Mosaic Law as we call it, that was the enmity between Israel and the Gentiles. For the Gentiles because it caused a clear division between Israel and them. It was also a problem for Israel because those who broke the Law were cursed! Deut. 27:26 quoted Gal.3:10. And Israel could never keep it! Later in the epistle tot eh Hebrews, the writer says that God fund fault with Israel because they could never keep it Heb.8:8a.
It is important to understand that in scripture a curse does NOT mean the casting of spells. Rather it means being exposed to God’s vengeance/judgement. In other words those who break the Law are exposed to God’s judgement. If we are guilty of breaking one point we are guilty of all the Law Jms.2:10. Further, if we try to keep one point we are obligated to keep it all Gal.5:3. So one can see the problem!
Does this mean that the Gentiles are free from law? Rom.2:12-17 gives us the answer. Whilst Gentiles do not have the Mosaic Law there is a law of conscience. It that by which the Gentiles are judged. Paul in Romans sums up that all the world is guilty before God Rom.3:10. There is NO Law that can bring in Righteousness Gal.3:21, whether Mosaic or conscience, or any system that anyone can dream up.
So we have it that the Law contained in the ordinances is the Mosaic Law that the Gentiles were excluded from, and which Israel could not keep.
For our present purposes we identify four purposes for the Mosaic Law. We will only briefly outline this here. It has already been covered in our series on Galatians. For a fuller discussion the reader is advised to read the series on the Galatians' letter where the subject is dealt with in more detail.(1) To identify sin Rom.3:19-20; 7:7.
(2) To measure sin Rom.7:7-13; I Cor.15: 54-57
(3) A temporary measure until Christ should come Gal.3:19-22
(4) A schoolmaster to bring us to Christ Gal.3:23-29
Paul reminds us in Galatians of the what the Law said: if one does not continue in it then one is cursed. In fact James underlines the point when he says that breaking one part renders us guilty of the whole Jms. 2:10-11.
The soul that sinneth it must die Ezk. 18:4. Paul in that famous verse in Rom.3:23 concludes his treatise on the condition of the human race: all have sinned. There is no exception. And because we have sinned, and not kept God's Law we are cursed. So we see that there is a handwriting of debt against us.
However, the good news is that Christ has taken our place, by being made a cursed instead of us, He became our substitute. The debt was paid, the handwriting of ordinances was been blotted out Isa.43:25. The word blotted is the same as wipe away in Rev.21:4. In the Revelation reference the context is one of permanence; in the new heavens and earth, all the tears have gone forever. So we are to understand too, that the handwriting of ordinances have been wiped away for ever!
The handwriting that was against us was wiped out. The debt, the law caused, has been removed and was nailed to the cross - this, an allusion to the ancient method of cancelling debts by nailing a bond to a post.
The word redeem means a payment of a price to recover from the power of another, in this case the Law. Jesus paid the price and His life was that price. However Paul gives us further insights into our relation to the Law. And it is this we shall consider next.