So live in Christ Jesus the Lord in the same way as you received him. 7 Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith, and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught. 8 See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ.9 All the fullness of deity lives in Christ’s body. 10 And you have been filled by him, who is the head of every ruler and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not administered by human hands. The circumcision of Christ is realized in the stripping away of the whole self dominated by sin. 12 You were buried with him through baptism and raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead because of the things you had done wrong and because your body wasn’t circumcised, God made you alive with Christ and forgave all the things you had done wrong.14 He destroyed the record of the debt we owed, with its requirements that worked against us. He canceled it by nailing it to the cross. 15 When he disarmed the rulers and authorities, he exposed them to public disgrace by leading them in a triumphal parade.
One of my favorite scripture passages is Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” When things get tough and decisions get hard, Jesus’ promise is a powerful encouragement. In our world there are losses of all kinds - illness, persecution, recessions, loss of jobs, and so on. Added to that there are indications of a great deal of internal baggage. We carry things like past mistakes, regrets, shame, embarrassment, failure, rejection. Sometimes the internal burdens are worse than the external ones. My problem is that I hear the first part of that beautiful passage and miss the second part. I can do all things … and I tend to forget the part about “through him who strengthens me.” CHRIST is the one that makes all things possible.
The struggles of life can be overwhelming. Mistakes can haunt us for a lifetime. Baggage can become heavy and cumbersome. SLIDE: Excess Baggage It is like hooking up to this cart and presuming you have to pull it the rest of your life.
One of the difficulties in the Colossian church was having things imposed on them by other people in the faith. As Gentiles, they were new to the household of faith and looked up to others who had more experience. Some of those counseled that you needed to follow all the Jewish rules in order to be saved. Things like the periodic ritual sacrifices for sin and following the old rigid rules were a difficulty. Guilt was a card often played. Salvation was something you earned by doing right actions.
God’s solution, however, is forgiveness, and a new start. God knew that humanity’s greatest struggle was freeing themselves from past mistakes in order to take ahold of God’s preferred future for us. God forgives! Our problem is accepting God’s forgiveness and letting go of the past. Me? I tend to take the guilt back. I tend to believe that I don’t deserve God’s love and forgiveness. I can lack the trust to simply receive God’s forgiveness, and that it is complete. Let’s look at Psalm 85:2. It says, “You’ve forgiven your people’s wrongdoings; you’ve covered all their sins.” ON the surface it is a wonderful affirmation of God’s forgiveness. But, I can get hung up on the word “covered.” Do you remember the child’s game of peek-a-boo? You hide around a corner or even just behind your hands and the child’s face shows concern. As soon as you uncover your face they giggle in delight. It is a game of covered and uncovered. My thoughts can run to, “If God has “covered” my sin, he can also “un-cover” it.” God can rediscover my sin and hold it against me. After all, why should I expect to escape accountability? Isn’t forgiveness taking the easy way out? I really should pay for my mistakes.
Let’s hear Colossians 2:13-14 again. “13 When you were dead because of the things you had done wrong and because your body wasn’t circumcised, God made you alive with Christ and forgave all the things you had done wrong.14 He destroyed the record of the debt we owed, with its requirements that worked against us. He canceled it by nailing it to the cross.” Not only does God forgive all, but he also destroyed the record of those sins - canceled them forever – by nailing them to the cross! SLIDE: I AM FORGIVEN!!.
It begins with believing that God truly accepts us exactly as we are. We don’t have to become better before God will love us. We don’t have to earn God’s forgiveness. We don’t have to pay the price!
David Redding relays a story about his personal experience of acceptance. Growing up, his family moved out of the city and into the country. He was 13 at the time. As he says, if they were going to go hunting, they went toward town! They raised prize sheep. His father’s stock was amazing. He knew every one of them by name. He had one special ram. Now a neighbor down the road has prize dogs. One day the neighbor asked if he could borrow his father’s prize ram. A deal was struck – the [prize ram for a week for a pick of the litter. That’s how David got Teddy, a big black Scottish shepherd. There was an instant connection. They were inseparable. David went away to WWII with the Navy. After his hitch, he was coming home. The last bus stop, which was closest to his family’s home was 14 miles from farm. He got there at 11:00 PM. So, he walked the rest of the way. In the dark, when he was about ½ mile from the house he heard Teddy’s warning bark. One whistle from David produced a yelp of recognition. Hurtling toward him was his big black dog. They were together again. There was an eloquence of this unforgettable memory speaks to us about our God. If his dog, without any explanation, would love him and take him back after all that time, wouldn’t his God? Wouldn’t our God?
I am reminded of Jesus in John 10:27 - “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.” With a single call to God – a single act of turning toward “home” - we find ourselves wrapped in his arms, receiving us back as though we never left. It is as though we never sinned. We are asked to change our ways, but that is after forgiveness is already extended – a “welcome home” offered. Forgiveness is the single greatest action of God on our behalf. Without it we will ultimately drown in our own mistakes. With it we can find a new way of living – of thriving – for our amazing God.
So, if we begin with God’s radical acceptance of us, then we have to trust His word – Col. 2:13-14. The record of our wrongs is truly erased! We are “free” to begin again. And if, as we humans are prone to do, we make the same mistake again God doesn’t mark another tally on the sheet, shaking his head and reminding us of the last time we made the mistake. Instead, he just patiently waits until we seek his face and ask his forgiveness. Even though we remember the mistake, and the accumulation of mistakes, God doesn’t. He just offers his pure and complete forgiveness, and once again, destroys the record of the wrong.
God declares a “Chapter 13” – all is forgiven. Start new. Start now! No record! Let go.
Pastor Paul Grossman