Date: November 18, 2018
Speaker: Jeff Breeding
Scripture: Colossians 1:13–1:14
Think back, if you would, to our passage last week, where the apostle Paul prayed for God to sustain the Colossians in living the Christian life. Toward the end of his prayer, the apostle Paul made an incredibly encouraging statement. He declared that God the Father has qualified his people to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. You can see it there in v12. What a powerful truth – that God himself has made his people worthy to receive the heavenly inheritance! No wonder, then, Paul identified thanksgiving as one of the main ways we walk in a manner worthy of the Lord. When you know that God the Father has made you worthy – that he has qualified you to be his heir in Christ, what other response is there but thanksgiving! The truth of v12 is full of hope, full of assurance for the Christian.
There is, however, a question that arises as we consider the hopeful truth of v12. It might not be a question you think of at first, but it is an important question. In fact, I would go so far to say that if we don’t answer this question, then the encouragement of v12 evaporates, the hope becomes rather flimsy, and the assurance crumbles. It is that significant of a question. The question is this – How can a holy God make an unholy people worthy to receive his inheritance? Let me say it again. How can a holy God make an unholy people worthy to receive his inheritance? This is a massively significant question.
Remember, the Scriptures are very clear about who God is and who are we by nature. God is holy – unstained by sin, completely devoted to righteousness, just in all his ways, and infinite in his perfections. He has never done anything unrighteous. Indeed, God cannot do anything unrighteous. All that he does is just and right because he is the Holy One. According to Scripture, that’s who God is.
We, on the other hand, are unholy. We come into this world stained by sin, having inherited both the guilt and the corruption of our father, Adam’s sin in the garden. By nature, our hearts run after evil. In fact, the Bible declares that by nature, all we do is unrighteousness. Even our best actions are often tainted by sinful motives, unholy aspirations, and wicked desires. According to Scripture, this is who we are by nature.
When Paul says the holy God has qualified an unholy people, the question virtually screams out for an answer – How can God do this and remain true to who he is? How can God qualify sinners to be his heirs, while at the same time, maintaining his own commitment to righteousness and justice? As creatures made in the image of God, even we know, intuitively, that unrighteousness must be dealt with. Even we know that wickedness demands justice. And yet, in v12 of Colossians 1, Paul declares that the righteous God qualified unrighteous people. How can this be? You see, this is the great question circulating behind and underneath the good news of the gospel. How can a holy God make an unholy people worthy to be his heirs?
Our passage today, gives us the answer. If v12 described the wonderful result of the gospel – that believers are qualified to be God’s heirs – then vv13-14 describe the glorious work of the gospel – how that qualification has happened, how the holy God makes an unholy people worthy. In these verses, the apostle Paul pens one of the clearest summaries of the gospel in the entire NT. These verses are only one sentence in the original, but in just one sentence, Paul takes us all the way from our abject slavery to sin, on the one hand, to the blessed reality of those sins forgiven on the other. And he does so by declaring to us the centrality of Christ crucified. You see, that is the answer to our pressing question. How can the holy God make worthy an unholy people? Only through the death of God’s beloved Son. It is the cross of Christ, and more specifically, the blood of Christ that makes the encouragement of v12 possible.
If you’ll look at the passage with me, you’ll notice vv13-14 focus on two distinct actions of the Triune God. In v13, Paul focuses on God the Father – how he has rescued his people from sin’s slavery. And then in v14, Paul shifts to focus on God the Son – how he has redeemed his people from sin’s penalty. Those two gospel realities, are the heart of this text. How can God make us worthy? Because he has rescued us from sin’s slavery and redeemed us from sin’s penalty. Of course, those are very rich statements, so let’s take advantage of our time today to simply focus in on these magnificent gospel realities.
Rescued from Sin’s Slavery
First of all, v13 – God’s people have been Rescued from Sin’s Slavery. Now, the focus in v13 is on God the Father. You’ll notice that v12 specifically identified the Father as the recipient of our thanksgiving, so as Paul transitions into v13, it is God the Father whom he has in view. And what draws Paul’s attention is the Father’s work to deliver his people. The verb deliver here carries the idea, quite simply, of rescuing someone from danger. Paul actually uses this verb numerous times to describe his own ministry as an apostle. In 2 Corinthians 1, Paul says God “delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.” In 2 Timothy 3, Paul testifies that God rescued him from all the persecutions and sufferings of his missionary work. Whether it was a shipwreck or a riotous mob in Ephesus, at each turn, God delivered Paul from danger. You can hear the note of rescue in those references. And that’s the idea here – God the Father has intervened to deliver, to rescue his people.
But to say that the Father has rescued his people only raises the question – rescued from what? What is the danger from which God has delivered the believer? Well, unlike Paul’s testimony, the deliverance of v13 doesn’t have to do with earthly or physical danger. No, it’s much more serious than that. God the Father has rescued his people from the domain of darkness. Actually, that translation is a bit tame. It might be better to say the Father has rescued his people from the dominion of darkness. You see, the idea is not so much a sphere or place where darkness dwells. It’s more about the power that darkness exercises over people’s lives.
And of course, if you read even briefly in the Scriptures, you’ll quickly learn that darkness is associated with the Evil One and with sin. Light denotes God’s presence, even God’s holiness, while darkness has the opposite connotation. Darkness in the Bible is a spiritual and moral category. Think about Revelation 22, where the apostle John tells us there will be no more night, no more darkness in the new creation. Why is that such good news? Because it means that sin and wickedness and evil will be no more. You see, darkness in Scripture is a spiritual and moral category. To be in the domain of darkness, then, is to be subjected to the power of sin. Those who dwell in darkness experience the horrendous effects of the Evil One’s wicked regime. Domination, subjection, even slavery – those are the realities Paul has in mind when he says the domain of darkness.
We need to pause here and come to grips with what this means for humanity in our natural state. According to the Bible, we come into this world utterly subjected to sin and its effects. We are not merely prone to sin; we are devoted to sin. We are naturally drawn to darkness. The natural human heart has no ability to turn to God because the natural human heart is enslaved to sin. I know that slavery is a strong word, but that’s what v13 teaches us. Human beings – you and I – come into this world completely enslaved to sinful darkness. Hopeless and helpless, we exist in the grip of sin’s domination.
This is why the apostle John says in 1 John 5 that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one. This world stands in opposition to God, but it’s not just the world out there. The Bible says that opposition is in here too, in our hearts by nature. The domain of darkness is what defines humanity by nature, and in that domain, there is no hope that we might rescue ourselves. Again, let these words sink in – subjection, domination, slavery. That is the natural state of fallen human beings.
Now, with that hopeless situation in mind, read v13 again, and marvel at the grace of the Father – “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness.” Understand, this is why time and time again, the Bible declares to us that salvation begins with God. While we were enslaved in sin’s darkness, the Father did what only he could do – he rescued undeserving sinners like us. It’s almost too good to even conceive of – that the Father did not remain far off, that he did not leave his people to suffer under sin’s power, that he did not instantly condemn us as his enemies. No, in his infinite grace, the Father broke through sin’s domination, he destroyed sin’s shackles, and he gave new life to those once dead in sin’s darkness.
You know this is what happens when someone is saved through the preaching of the gospel. When a person is saved, it’s not simply that the person made a decision to follow Jesus, as important as that is. No, it’s much more powerful, much more amazing than that. Through the preaching of the gospel, God the Father commences his rescue operation. The gospel goes out through proclamation, it is then applied by the Holy Spirit, and in that moment, something marvelous occurs. The Father breaks sin’s shackles. He crushes sin’s domination. And he rescues his people from the domain of darkness. It is his work because he alone could accomplish such an incredible rescue.
Brothers and sisters, if you are trusting in Christ today, this is your testimony. The Father has rescued you from sin’s dominion. You are no longer a slave to sin. Do you believe that? You are no longer enslaved to sin’s power. Yes, we still struggle against sin, but that struggle is itself evidence of life. Do you see it? Those who are dead in sin don’t struggle. As you strive after godliness, even that pursuit, with all of its stops and starts – even that pursuit is a reminder of the Father’s grace in your life. He has made your pursuit possible because he has rescued you from the domain of darkness.
But you may have noticed in v13 that the good news doesn’t stop with the Father’s work of deliverance. The Father’s work is actually two-fold, according to v13. Not only does the Father rescue his people from sin’s domination, but he also transfers his people into the kingdom of his beloved Son. The idea here is that God gives his people a new identity. Instead of being slaves to darkness, God makes us citizens of Christ’s kingdom. Instead of being subject to the evil one, God causes believers to experience the redemptive reign of Jesus Christ. And this change could not be more dramatic. The domain of darkness is oppressive; the kingdom of Christ brings freedom. The domain of darkness destroys people; the kingdom of Christ restores people. The domain of darkness is chaotic and fearful; the kingdom of Christ is love, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit. You see, it’s a new identity, a new status, even a new future. Those who belong to Christ are citizens of the heavenly kingdom.
And in this kingdom, do you know what defines the believer’s relationship with God the Father? While we were in the domain of darkness, our relationship to God was defined by hostility. We were opposed to him, even hating him and hating others, the Bible says. But in the kingdom of Christ, do you know what defines our relationship to the Father? Love. Through the gospel, love now defines the believer’s relationship to the Father. Notice how v13 identifies Christ as the Father’s beloved Son. This is central to the NT – Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. Jesus is the Son whom the Father loves. Think of Jesus’ baptism in the Gospel accounts. What does the Father say as Jesus is baptized? He says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” For all eternity, the Father has delighted in his Son with a perfect love that cannot change.
And yet, what did the Father do with his beloved Son? He gave his beloved Son for us and our salvation. Do you see it? To know Christ is to know the love of the Father, unfailing for all eternity. To have Christ as your Redeemer is to have the Father’s love as your confidence, unfailing for all eternity. When Paul says believers live now in the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, he’s telling us we live each day in the reality of the Father’s love. This is why the divine rescue of v13 is such a stunning gospel reality. Not only has the Father broken sin’s tyranny, he has also given us his love in Christ. By grace, God’s people have been rescued from sin’s slavery.
Redeemed from Sin’s Penalty
The reference to God’s Son at the conclusion of v13 transitions us to Paul’s second gospel reality that comes in v14 – believers have been Redeemed from Sin’s Penalty. Now, within the flow of the passage, v14 tells us how the rescue of v13 has been accomplished. How did the Father deliver believers from darkness? Through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. Because Jesus died in the place of his people, believers are freed from sin’s slavery. That’s what redemption means. It means to be bought back, to be liberated and freed at a price, and the price that secured such freedom was the blood of Christ.
And as a result of this redemption, believers have forgiveness of sins, Paul says. Remember, sin has a definite penalty that must be dealt with. All the way back in Genesis 3, God clearly defined sin’s penalty to be death, both physical and spiritual. Our bodies suffer under the curse of sin, and our souls suffer under sin’s tyranny as well. The penalty is death, and that penalty cannot simply be swept under the rug of the universe. That’s a common misconception about forgiveness – as though God just decides to let sin go, as if nothing happened. But that’s never the case. The penalty must be enforced, it must be dealt with, for God is just.
And so, when the Father determined to rescue his people, he did so by sending his own Son to deal with sin’s penalty. This is the divine purpose at work in the cross of Jesus Christ. He died to bear sin’s penalty. He hung on the cross to taste the bitter sting of death. And therefore, God’s people have forgiveness. Do you see the cost of forgiveness? Believers are forgiven not because God decided to simply let sin slide, as though nothing happened. No, believers are forgiven because the punishment, the penalty has been paid for by Jesus Christ.
I do wonder if you believe this glorious good news? If you are in Christ today by faith, the Father is not punishing you, and he will not punish you for your sins. Why? Because he punished Jesus in your place. That’s what the cross was about, brothers and sisters – Christ took your penalty, so that you would be forgiven. The Father is not punishing you, and he will not punish you because Jesus has already paid the penalty at the cross.
You know, your mind can tell you strange things in the midst of life’s hardships. This is true even for believers. Your mind can tell you strange things. You don’t get that job opportunity, and you think, “Maybe God is punishing me.” Your child gets sick, and you think, “Maybe God is angry with me for what I did when I was young.” Or maybe there’s just a general sense of things not going well in life, and you think, “I’m sure God is paying me back for that awful thing I did way back when.” Brothers and sisters, please hear me very clearly. If you belong to Christ by faith, those thoughts are utterly untrue. Those thoughts are at odds with the gospel, and on the authority of God’s Word, you should not listen to them. The Father will not punish his children for their sin because he’s already punished Jesus at the cross. When the Bible says you are forgiven in Christ, it means that the Father is not holding your sin against you. You’ve been released from sin’s penalty, your debt has been paid, and there is therefore no condemnation because you are in Christ Jesus by faith. This is how the Father rescues his children from the domain of darkness – by sending forth his own Son to redeem us, to pay our debt at the cross, thereby breaking sin’s shackles and bringing us into his kingdom by faith.
But there’s another piece to redemption from v14 that we must see. There’s another aspect of this forgiveness that is essential. Notice the very first words of v14 – in whom. Please don’t breeze past that little phrase. The apostle Paul is telling us where this glorious redemption is found. It is found only in God’s beloved son. Redemption is in Jesus Christ. Oh, this is so key for us to understand, brothers and sisters. Redemption is not an abstract action but a personal action. Forgiveness is not a thing that the Father just gives out, like a gift or a present. No, forgiveness is personal. Redemption is personal. It was achieved in Christ’s physical body at the cross and resurrection.
You see, this is why so many of the church’s hymns down through the ages have focused on the blood of Christ. I’m sure to an outsider it’s probably very strange to hear a group of people singing about blood. It’s probably even stranger to recognize that this blood required someone’s death. But that’s just it. So many of the great hymn writers of the church wrote about blood because they understood this little phrase in v14. They understood that redemption is not abstract but personal. It was accomplished solely because the Son of God shed his blood as the redemption price for his people.
And therefore, the pinnacle of Christian worship is, in some sense, to sing “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins.” Our deepest joy is to raise our voices together and declare, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.” Our confidence is to gather as one and sing out, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” And there is nothing sweeter than to hear a congregation ask, “Would you be free from the burden of sin,” and then to hear the answer in that wonderful refrain, “There’s power in the blood.” Yes, to an outsider, it sounds strange, but to forgiven sinners like us, this is our story and our song to know that Christ’s blood secured our salvation.
What I want you to see this morning is that we must never minimize that little phrase at the start of v14. Our redemption is in Christ – in his physical death and resurrection. We are freed from sin’s penalty because Christ bore God’s wrath in his body at the cross. We are freed from sin’s power because Christ crushed death in his resurrection. The price of our redemption was Jesus’ blood, that blood was shed at the cross, and therefore, we are proclaiming the greatest news in the universe when we declare that forgiveness is found only in Christ.
If you are a Christian this morning, this is your assurance of salvation. V13 is your testimony, and v14 is your assurance. Don’t trust your feelings. “I dare not trust the sweetest frame,” the old hymn says, “but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.” Don’t base your assurance on whether or not you feel like a Christian. Base your assurance on the blood-bought, resurrection-sealed redemption that belongs to you in Christ Jesus. He is the Christian’s assurance, and since he died once and rose from the grave never to die again, those who trust him can have confidence that their sins are indeed forgiven.
Think of it this way, brothers and sisters – in order for the Father to punish you for your sin, he would have to conclude that the blood of his Son was worthless. And the Father would never do such a thing. Indeed, right now, the Lord Jesus is seated at the Father’s hand precisely because the Father has declared, once and for all, that Christ’s blood is eternally effective. If you are a Christian, the Lord Jesus is your assurance of salvation. Don’t trust your feelings to do what only Christ can do – assure of your standing with the Father.
If you are not a Christian this morning – if you have not turned from your sin and trusted in Christ to save you, then I have good news for you. Though you live right now in the domain of darkness, God the Father rescues sinners through the redemption Christ accomplished at the cross. There is no hope of saving yourself. We’ve seen that from God’s Word even this morning in v13. There’s no hope to rescue yourself. But the good news of the Bible is what we’ve spent all morning considering together. The good news is that God put forth his Son, Jesus Christ, to pay for sin at the cross. Jesus lived a perfect life in every way. He did not deserve to die. Yet, Jesus willingly went to the cross, where he shed his blood and laid down his life. Why would he do that? So that sinners like you and me would be forgiven. And indeed, three days after he died, Jesus rose once more from the grave, proving that sin had been dealt with once and for all. Forgiveness, redemption, life everlasting – all of that is found in Jesus Christ. If you don’t know Christ this morning, won’t you turn from sin and trust in his name? Rescue from sin’s slavery, redemption from sin’s penalty – it’s good news! Trust in Christ, and be saved.
How can the holy God make an unholy people worthy to share in his heavenly inheritance? That’s the great question underlying the gospel message. And the answer to that question is the cross of Jesus Christ. God has qualified his people to share in his inheritance by rescuing them from the domain of darkness and transferring to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. The good news of the gospel is amazing, and that good news is true because Jesus shed his blood to break sin’s power, pay sin’s penalty, and secure life everlasting.
No wonder, then, the apostle Paul begins this letter by giving thanks to God the Father. “We always thank God,” Paul writes in v3. In fact, if vv3-14 are a summary of the Christian life, then notice how it begins and ends – with thanksgiving in v3, and then thanksgiving again in v12. As you go about this upcoming week, I pray you would do so with thanksgiving to God. “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.