Since Satan still “prowls around like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8), in what sense is he disarmed (Colossians 2:15) or nullified (Hebrews 2:14) or bound (Mark 3:27)?
One of the most beautiful passages in the Bible about the astonishing achievements of the crucifixion is Colossians 2:13–15. It contains the answer to our question, and so much more.
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 key question is the relationship between 1) the disarming of Satan in verse 15 (“he disarmed the rulers and authorities”), 2) the forgiveness of sin in verse 13b (“having forgiven us all our trespasses”), and 3) our new life in verse 13a (“God made you alive”).
How We’re Forgiven
Since we were dead “in our trespasses” (13a) and since we are forgiven “all our trespasses” (v. 13c), the link is established between our forgiveness and our new life. Trespasses were our death sentence. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:3). The soul that sins shall die (Ezekiel 18:4). We have committed many trespasses. They are all written in the records of heaven. The books recording our debts (Revelation 20:12) are enormous.
So Paul explains in three steps how our transgressions are forgiven.
At the root in verse 14c “the record of our debt” is “nailed to the cross.” It’s as if Jesus reached up to the Father and asked if he could hold the entire record of all our trespasses in his hand. Then he held it in his hand as the spike was driven through, and it pierced the record of our debts as it pierced his hand.
By means of this nailing, God “canceled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands” (v. 14a). Literally, he erased it. He wiped the ink off paper. It’s as if the blood of Jesus, soaking the record of debts in his pierced hand, caused all the ink to dissolve and flow away. No more record of debt.
Third, by means of this nailing and canceling, “God set the record of debt aside” (v. 14b). Literally: he “took it out of the midst.” He doesn’t say the midst of what. We may assume: heaven, or the courtroom, or any legal consideration, or, as we shall see, the hand of Satan.
In these three massive acts of redemption, God was providing “forgiveness for all our trespasses” (v. 13c). That is how he did it, and what it cost.
Follow Paul’s Thought
Now, because of this blood-soaked forgiveness of our trespasses, we get new life. We were dead “in our trespasses” (v. 13a). The forgiveness is precisely of these death-causing trespasses. Therefore, the life that this forgiveness brings is a life free from fear of condemnation by God because of our sins.
But what about Satan and all the rulers and authorities he governs? Paul continues in verse 15: “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”
Paul does not expect us to dream up what he’s talking about. He doesn’t expect us to dream up how God stripped, and shamed, and triumphed over the demonic powers. He expects us to follow the flow of his thought.
The Fearless Life
When Christ died and “wiped out” the record of our debts — our recorded trespasses — the courtroom-file of accusations was taken away from our prosecuting attorney, Satan, the great “accuser” (Revelation 12:10). Satan has no grounds for accusation anymore — none that stick. They have all been erased. His list of our condemning crimes is blank.
True, he is not yet cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10). He still prowls around. But his power to condemn is gone. He is disarmed of the only weapon that could damn us — unforgiven sin. He is made a fool in the court of accusation. His case against us fails miserably.
This too then is a source of our new life. Not only do we not fear the wrath of God, but neither do we fear the accusations of Satan. Our freedom from both these fears is based on the death of Jesus. The record of our debts, that gave Satan his power to condemn, and gave God the legal necessity of just punishment, has been wiped away by the blood of Jesus.
Therefore, we are alive with Christ, and forever safe from God’s wrath and Satan’s accusation. As Peter says, “we have been born again to a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3).
Live in the joy of this hope. Preach this to yourself morning and night. Resist the devil with this. Come boldly to the throne of grace with this. You have new life — forever.