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Understanding Grace and the Law

- What was Nailed to the Cross

 

In properly understanding the relationship between grace and the law we need to understand what was nailed to the cross. This is the third thing from Colossians 2:14 that we now need to look at. If you have not read it, please go to part 1 of this 3-part study of Colossians 2.

We would all agree that Jesus death did away with the need for animal sacrifices. But animal sacrifices were not nailed to the cross. Jesus' death also did away with the Levitical priesthood because Jesus won the right to become our high priest but neither was the priesthood nailed to the cross. We could say that, figuratively, the system of sacrifices and the priesthood were nailed to the cross but we don't need to deal in figures and symbols here - something, someone, literally was nailed to that cross. We need to understand correctly what was nailed to the cross and what ended because the death of Jesus on the cross brought in or revealed the true sacrifice and true priesthood and, understood correctly, helps us to understand the relationship between grace and the law.

The whole question of what was nailed to the cross (there has been a long debate between grace and law) is very simple. Ask any child who knows the story "What was nailed to the cross?" and the answer won't be some complex reasoning about grace and law. It will be simply: "Jesus was." Jesus became a curse for us to pay the debt for our disobedience of the law and He was nailed to the cross.

To summarize the clues we have as to what the handwriting of ordinances might mean:

  1. it was against us
  2. it was contrary to us
  3. it separated Jew (believer) and Gentile (unbeliever)
  4. it could not be the law of God
  5. it is spoken of as "the enmity"
I would like to suggest three possible meanings for the handwriting of ordinances and then examine how they fit the above clues:
1. The punishment appointed for disobedience of God's law.
2. The animal sacrifices that were required.
3. The debt of our guilt.
1. Punishment It was as a result of man's first disobedience that a curse or punishment (more correctly, a consequence) was pronounced on the earth:
"... cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field." (Gen 3:17-18)
Notice how the curse is connected with the thorns. When God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice instead of his son it is significant that this ram, representing Jesus, was caught in a thicket by its horns (Gen 22:13). It is as if it was wearing a crown of thorns to represent the curse that Jesus was to bear on our behalf. Not only did Christ bear the curse but He was made a curse or counted as a curse:
"For he hath made him to be sin for us, ..." (2Cor 5:21)

"Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:" (Gal 3:13)

"His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) ..." (Deut 21:23)

"Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree..." (1Pet 2:24)

"But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing..."
(Heb 6:8)
This idea that the ordinances referred to in Colossians 2:14 are the punishment or curse that comes as a consequence of sin fits the clues given above. We are at enmity with it, it is against us, contrary to us, it is not the law of God, and it separates believers and unbelievers in the sense that the punishment only falls on those who do not by faith accept that Jesus paid the debt or bore the curse on their behalf.

2. Animal sacrifices These could be spoken of quite accurately as being against or contrary to those that did them. Who would enjoy the task of cutting the throat of an innocent lamb? Would you rather have grace or the law of sacrifices? Jews performed these sacrifices, Gentiles had their counterfeits. This also fits the clues. Note that, although God required the sacrifices, they were not primary moral laws. The laws of sacrifices do not extend in time to eternity past as the moral law does. If the moral law had always been observed there would have been no need to perform sacrifices. There is nothing inherently right or moral about killing an innocent animal. The first sacrifice was offered in Eden after sin. Sacrifices were offered in consequence of not keeping the moral law or as part of the remedy for transgression of the moral law. In a sense, they were penalties.

3. The debt of our guilt "The handwriting of ordinances that was against us" (Col. 2:14) refers to the huge debt of guilt for which animal sacrifices could not atone. This guilt was nailed to the cross:
"For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (2 Cor 5:21)

"Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed." (1 Pet 2:24)
When we accept Him, He is able to remove our guilt, making us free from condemnation (Rom. 8:1)
"Erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross."
(Col 2:14, NRSV)

Holydays, New Moons and Sabbath Days

"Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:" (Col 2:16)
"Let no man therefore judge you The "therefore" shows that this means to "let no man ... judge you" because of something that happened before. This could be because of the victory described in v 15 or because something was nailed to the cross in v 14.

"in meat or in drink" The margin reads "for eating and drinking" indicating that a more literal translation shows that the Colossians were to let no man judge them "for eating and drinking" not "for not eating and drinking". Considering the context of the passage, this likely refers to eating and drinking things that were considered taboo by the traditions of men. The other, perhaps less likely, possibility is that it refers to partaking of the ordinances of the last supper. The two other places where meat and drink are used together from the same original words (meat = Gk. brosis, Strong's G1035; drink = Gk. posis, Strong's G4213) are:
"For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed." (John 6:55)

"For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
(Rom 14:17)
"in respect of" This refers to someone respecting or keeping the things mentioned not to someone who is not respecting them. The same original word here translated respect (meros - Strong's number 3313) is most often translated as "part" and is used in the following verses with the idea of "taking part":
"Peter saith unto him, Thou shalt never wash my feet. Jesus answered him, If I wash thee not, thou hast no part with me." (John 13:8)

"Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." (Rev 20:6)

"But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." (Rev 21:8)

"And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book." (Rev 22:19)
The meaning of having a part of something is to participate in it not the opposite. The most plain reading in the King James Version is to have respect of a holyday etc. not to disrespect it. In light of this, the verse is really saying "Let no man judge you ... for taking part in or keeping holydays etc." It is not saying to not let someone judge you because you disrespect the holyday or want to have no part in it. This verse is so often said to mean exactly the opposite of what the wording says!

"holyday" (Greek: "heorte" Strong's G1859) Of the 27 uses of the Greek word heorte, 26 are translated as "feast" and refer to one of the annual feast days, never to a seventh-day Sabbath. Why should the one case where it is translated into a different word - "holyday" in Col 2:16 - mean anything other than a feast or festival? If it was meant to refer to the seventh-day Sabbath why would there be two mentions-needless repetition-in the same verse? It would be like saying "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of the sabbath, the new moon, or the sabbath."

"new moon" (Greek: "noumenia" Strong's H3561) New moons will be kept in the new earth:
"And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another ... shall all flesh come to worship before me ..."
(Isa 66:23)
"sabbath" (Greek: "sabbaton" Strong's G4521) Every one of the 68 uses of sabbaton in the New Testament refers to the weekly seventh-day sabbath. It is never used to refer to feast days. These are already mentioned by the word "holyday". The evidence is that the "sabbath" mentioned is the weekly, seventh-day Sabbath. As discussed above under the heading "holyday," if "sabbath" here is taken to mean a feast day there would be a needless repetition. Again, it would be like saying "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of the feast days, the new moon or the feast days." Again, there would be needless repetition. It makes much more sense that it would listing three different things.

"Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." (Col 2:17)

"Are a shadow of things to come." Note the tense in which Paul writes here. He says "are...to come" not "were...to come" or "that are past". How could feasts, new moons and seventh-day sabbaths be shadows of things to come (ie point forward to something in the future)? Let's examine each of the feasts, new moons and sabbaths to see if they can reasonably be understood to be pointing forward to something yet future from now or at least from Paul's time. This will be done in part 3 - The Mosaic Law of this 3-part study and will advance our understanding of the relationship between grace and law.

 
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Did you know: the Greek has multiple words for forgiveness? God forgives (charizomai) if we ask or not. Receiving forgiveness (apheimi) is our choice. God always forgives.
   

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