|Volume 21 Number 11 November 2019||
Have you ever read Colossians 2:14? It reads, “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross…” According to the Bible in Psalm 19:7, God’s law is perfect, converting the soul. Why then is it written in the New Testament that it was “nailed to the cross”? What was nailed to the cross? Was it this perfect law of God?
The perfect law of God that converts the soul was given by Moses and witnessed in the Old Testament. The apostle Paul wrote that this law was a tutor to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24-25 ESV.) In New Testament days, a “tutor” ( “schoolmaster,” KJV) was the servant who was charged with the safe delivery of the master’s children to the schoolhouse where the Master teacher would be waiting. Today, we call them bus drivers! The law then was a bus driver to deliver us to the Master teacher, Jesus Christ. Paul said that Timothy had known the Holy Scriptures from his youth and that those Scriptures, found in the Old Testament, were able to make men “wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15 KJV). Just as students need to go to the first grade before entering the second, or just as students need to finish high school before entering the university, so it is that people needed the instruction found in the Law and the prophets before coming to Jesus, God’s Master Teacher!
Friends, the instruction we learn from God’s law prepares us to live as Christians. Before we answer the question, “What was nailed to the cross,” let’s think about God’s law for a few minutes.
What do Christians learn from God’s law that is needed today? We need to know what the Bible calls the “work of the law.” For instance, the apostle Paul said that “when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to [Paul’s] gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Romans 2:14-16 ESV). So, Paul affirmed that people who do not possess God’s law may very well be practicing the “work of the law.” What is the “work of the law”? The work of the law is the kind of behavior that the law produces when people read it and obey it. That’s right! Well, Gentiles were not practicing the Israelite sacrificial system or following the priests of the tribe of Levi, nor where they keeping the Sabbath days and Jewish festivals; they were pagan Gentiles; they had a different sacrificial system and a different priesthood system than did God’s people, the Israelites. Therefore, the “work of the law” in their hearts was the right and wrong moral judgments that they were making, which were taught in God’s law. “The work of the law,” then, is the behavioral result of the law in the life of people who read it and obeyed it. There were some Gentiles who had not read it, but they were obeying it! Paul also calls this the “righteousness of the law” in Romans 2:26. It is also translated as the “precepts of the law” (ESV).
Even pagans could practice the righteousness of God in many ways. For instance, when a pagan was faithful to his wife, he was practicing the law of God. On the other hand, when a married pagan had an affair with a woman, he was breaking God’s law and committing the sin of adultery. When a pagan was honest in his business dealings, he was practicing the righteousness of God’s law. If a Jew was dishonest, his Jewishness could not make it right! Keeping the Sabbath days could not overcome his dishonesty. That’s right! By righteous behavior, such as faithfulness to a wife and honesty in business, even Gentiles could demonstrate the “work of the law written in their hearts.”
Now God’s law against adultery and dishonesty was not nailed to the cross so that it was no longer effective, nor binding upon people! Adultery is still adultery. Jesus did not change the law concerning adultery! Furthermore, Jesus did not change the law concerning stealing. God’s law condemns such sins as these, and the people who practice these things will be justly condemned in the Day of Judgment no matter whether one is a pagan, a Jew, a Muslim, a Hindu or a Christian.
Well what, then, does the passage mean that says that the “handwritten ordinances…were nailed to the cross.” The passage where this is found is Colossians 2:14. Let’s turn our attention to this passage. The section we will study begins with verse 1 of Colossians 3, but we will pick it up in verse 8. “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” Here, friends, are the competing philosophies of life. These ideas compete for your allegiance and obedience. The traditions of men handed down from those before you compete with the commands of Christ, which is the law of God. The basic principles of the world are worldly thinking. These principles perhaps contain the best ideas of the human race, but they only pertain to this world. Christ’s commands, God’s laws, pertain to the reign of God in the hearts of men and women upon the earth. They are heavenly principles and godly traditions. So, the apostle warned, ‘Beware lest anyone cheat you of your heavenly destiny by these worldly ideas.’
Paul went on to explain why Christ’s rule in people’s hearts is better than the ideas of men. “For in [Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you [Christians] are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” Friends, the true source of human tradition and human philosophy is Satan and his powerful partners. That’s right! These are called principalities and powers in heavenly places. Paul said in Ephesians 6 that the Christian warfare is against these “principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12 KJV). These are the spiritual forces present in the traditions and the philosophies of men. They are the ones who are trying to cheat you out of your eternal inheritance!
Beware [therefore] lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. In [Christ] you [Gentiles] were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. (Colossians 2:8, 11-15)
Jesus Christ has already defeated His competitors. He has defeated those who are competing with Him for your allegiance! That’s right! He has disarmed the principalities and powers. What were their weapons? The main weapon that Jesus took out of the hands of His spiritual enemies was the second death! That’s right! “Oh death, where is your sting? Oh grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law” (1 Corinthians 15:55-56 KJV). God’s law requires the second death of the sinner! The second death! That’s the death that separates us from the Tree of Life, which is in the paradise of God. That’s the death that Christ died on the cross. Your penalty and mine, and the penalty of every human who has ever lived, was forgiven, being carried by Jesus Christ to the cross. The ceremonial parts of God’s Old Testament which were “against” Gentiles, which automatically condemned Gentiles…these “handwritten ordinances” were nailed to the cross. Paul drew the conclusion: “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward…” (Colossians 2:8-18 NKJV.)
The ordinances that God gave the Israelites that pertained to food and drink, festivals, new moons and sabbaths were “shadows.” Christ was the one casting those shadows. When Christ came, we no longer look at the shadows, but instead, we look into the face of Christ. We become His disciples; we follow His commandments, which never have nor never will detract from God’s laws for human behavior. Our worship services in the Christian Age now follow the rules found in the New Testament.