What does Colossians 2:13-17 mean?
“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.
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” (Colossians 2:13-17).
We are not saved by the law
The law does not furnish us with a means of salvation. “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16). The purpose of this law is to point out our sin. As the apostle Paul says in Romans 3:20, “By the law is the knowledge of sin.”
However, some have concluded that the passage in Colossians 2:13-17, especially verse 14, shows the Ten Commandment law (found in Exodus 20) was done away with by Christ at the cross. However, many students of the Bible reject this idea, and hold to one of the following explanations:
- The “handwriting of ordinances” was the ceremonial or ritual law, especially as interpreted by the Jews (Acts 15:5, 10), which emphasized the types or shadows of things to come (Colossians 2:16, 17). This ceremonial law, along with its man-made regulations or traditions (Mark 7:6-13,) was “against us,” and was removed or nullified at the cross. (Compare with Hebrews 7:12-14.)
- The “handwriting of ordinances” refers figuratively to either an IOU or a record of our sins which condemns us all before God as lost sinners (Romans 3:23), because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). On the cross, Jesus paid the debt for our sins (Acts 20:28; Hebrews 9:12; 1 Peter 1 :18, 19) in order that we might be forgiven. For the believer Jesus’ death canceled that which stood “against us.” Therefore, let no one “judge you” as to your standing before God (verse 13) on the basis of law keeping.
Whichever view one accepts, one thing is clear in the Bible: God's moral law of Ten Commandments, which includes the Sabbath commandment (Exodus 20:8-11 ), is still in effect.
Among the Bible passages which point to the continuing validity of this moral law are the following:
1. Matthew 5:17-19
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
2. Colossians 3:1-10
Even the apostle Paul in the same letter to the Colossians affirms that the life should change after Christ has saved us from sin.
“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.
But now you yourselves are to put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy language out of your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds, and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him.” (Read also verses 12-14.)
Romans 7:7, 12
Paul continued in his letter to the Romans: “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.”
“Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:7, 12). (See also Romans 3:20; 1 John 3:4.)
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well; but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Do not murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty.”
Are the 10 Commandments still in effect?
These texts and others clearly show that God’s Ten Commandment law is still in effect. This should not surprise us, since the Ten Commandments are an expression of God’s moral character and of His love for us, and can no more be changed than God's character itself.
We have all sinned by breaking God’s law (Romans 3:23; 1 John 3:4). We deserve the penalty of sin, which is death (Romans 6:23). We can never undo what we have done even if we should keep the law perfectly from this day forward. There is no way we can save ourselves. Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
Salvation through Christ alone
We can’t save ourselves, but God can save us through His Son Jesus Christ, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).