“And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them in him.”
The gospel of Christ brings dead men to life.
It is not uncommon for Scripture to speak this way concerning our inability to do anything worthy of, or meriting mercy. The truth is, and just try to deny it, you screw up all the time. You have fallen short or do fall short of just about every standard that has ever been placed over you: you have upset your parents, you have received an F, you have hurt a friend, didn’t meet a deadline, you continually look at porn even though you keep telling yourself you will stop, you consistently drink too much, you were late picking up your son from school, your body has aches, peanuts make your esophagus swell up until you suffocate. You get the picture. Something is broken and decaying. This is not to say that everything is broken and decaying; but, your life is far from flawless, albeit not all is your fault. Nonetheless, you and I remain helpless to fix anything. Our life has been contaminated with sin and the effects of sin. Sin is the bad that you perpetuate by commission and by omission (things you do and things that you don’t do). The effects of sin are the results of certain behaviors (eg. you got a little too angry with your wife, therefore she is bitter against you), or just the state of a sin-broken earth (cancer, work is difficult, childbirth hurts, etc).
We are considered dead men in another way, too. Much like on death row when a prisoner is led through the corridor of the jail cells the executor will announce, “dead man walkin’!” Contra the popular notion of human innocence, God says everyone is immeasurably guilty before him (Rom. 3:10-18). Our smallest rebellion demands God to uphold his holiness by exercising his just condemnation on us. He is glorified in doing it, too. I hope that you begin to see how sorry our state is.
The great news of the gospel is that in our helpless state of being dead, God makes us alive with him. In our passage, Paul describes this shift in status in terms of a cosmic legal transaction. We racked up an enormous amount of debt which legally stood against us demanding a grim sentence; however, God took our debt, transferred it onto his son, and his son took the heat. All of it: past, present, and future. In this way he made us alive. Sin, which held us captive to habits which bring deathly consequences, was killed. We no longer remain enslaved to sin, our new master is Jesus Christ. Although, we remain disobedient slaves of Christ at times, we are nonetheless his and not sin’s. Additionally, instead of a sentence of death and punishment for eternity, those who have their debts cancelled receive a sentence of life and joy for eternity. Our status is changed immediately apart from our own works but simply because Christ cancelled our debt by taking the heat in our place–he could afford it, we couldn’t. The legal demands of punishment are exhausted, paid for. In this way, Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities” who would try to accuse you of your ill-worth for God’s blessing. We don’t need to deny the fact that we are unworthy, its true. But Jesus disarmed them of the ammunition they would use against us. Their accusations are exhausted and outdated. Nothing remains but Christ’s perfect righteousness which was enough to cover you and me both. Thanks be to God.