The gospel is a triumph and a triumph is the gospel. These words bind everything I know to be true into one beautiful turn of phrase. But how is it undone by the adversary and the western world’s largest religion?
And you are complete in Him, Who is the Head of every sovereignty and authority, in Whom you were circumcised also with a circumcision not made by hands, in the stripping off of the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ. Being entombed together with Him in baptism, in Whom you were roused together also through faith in the operation of God, Who rouses Him from among the dead, you also being dead to the offenses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He vivifies us together jointly with Him, dealing graciously with all our offenses, erasing the handwriting of the decrees against us, which was hostile to us, and has taken it away out of the midst, nailing it to the cross, stripping off the sovereignties and authorities, with boldness He makes a show of them, triumphing over them in it. (Colossians 2:10-15 Concordant Literal New Testament, bold mine)
I love this passage. In one fell swoop, Paul declared the cross was a bold, revolutionary triumph over the spiritual “sovereignties and authorities” that longed to bring creation to its ultimate destruction. Condemnation was the play and eternal damnation was the prize until the Son of Man, known in Judea as the lowly carpenter from the unsophisticated town of Bethlehem, “annulled the acts of the Adversary” (1 John 3:8). I had someone ask that if God created evil, what need was there for an adversary? What is the purpose of the adversary – this devil who “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8)? The entire purpose and reason of their existence is summed up in the conclusion that Christ Jesus “makes a show of them,” this feeble foil, to demonstrate His power to reconcile creation back to Himself and triumph over the condemnation our mortality affords.
What does the devil do to hopelessly counteract this embarrassing display? He attempts to undo it.
For if we have become planted together in the likeness of His death, nevertheless we shall be of the resurrection also, knowing this, that our old humanity was crucified together with Him, that the body of Sin may be nullified, for us by no means to be still slaving for Sin, for one who dies has been justified from Sin. (Romans 6:5-7 CLNT)
To undo (in a relative sense) the triumph he has to annul the completion of the death, entombment, and resurrection of Christ. If Christ’s death meant the death of sin (Romans 5:6), he shall resurrect your sin and claim that you crucified Him. If Christ’s death meant the death of the old humanity (2 Corinthians 5:17), he shall resurrect your bondage to it. If Christ’s death meant the positional justification of all (Romans 5:18), he shall resurrect the exclusivity of the law. If Christ’s death encompassed all and thus all are in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14-15), he shall make believe that it encompassed no one. If Christ’s death meant we are to regard no one in accord with the flesh (2 Corinthians 5:16-17), he shall turn believers against the world because of the flesh. If Christ’s death has made us complete (Colossians 2:10), he shall regard us as incomplete and in a continual state of manual striving towards purity. If Christ’s death meant the reconciliation of the world (2 Corinthians 5:18-21), he shall convince the world of eternal damnation. If God procured death’s eventual defeat through the death of His only begotten son (1 Corinthians 15:26), he shall claim that Christ lived as an immortal soul. If Christ secured our future resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:35-49), he shall claim that we, too, possess an immortal soul. If Christ is the saviour of all (1 Timothy 4:10), he shall convince the world that it is its own saviour who must, by faith, save itself from everlasting destruction.
Its deceptive power lies in its simplicity. The triumph is undone by denying it. Nothing else could be as elementary and transparent as convincing the world that the responsibility of reconciliation and completion is ours.
To further expand upon this, let me retread an exegetical practice I’ve used before. When something in Paul’s epistles appears to place the burden onto us, the grammatical context is always one of inviting us to relatively experience that which is objective. Staying in line with the passage we are quoting, in 2 Corinthians 5:20, Paul offers this advice,
For Christ, then, are we ambassadors, as of God entreating through us. We are beseeching for Christ’s sake, “Be conciliated to God!” (bold mine)
Is Paul stating that it is the responsibility of his audience to be conciliated to God? On the contrary, Paul is inviting his audience to step into and experience a truth that is past-present. A literal translation of this would read, “Be being conciliated to God!” or “Realize that which has already been done!” The Greek lexicon of the New Testament affirms this officially.
To deny this and oppose the universal triumph of Christ’s final breath is to rebuild the throne of the adversary all over again. It is to give power to a defeated enemy who says you are not free to be you; that you are a stench to the God who loves with unconditional love. Nothing could be further from the truth.