The Power of the Cross: 49th Edition, September 16, 2018

Mike Cleveland

Hello friend,

Welcome to the new subscribers just joining our newsletter. We publish once per week on Sunday. The newsletter alternates a gospel teaching on one week with testimonies from Setting Captives Free students on the following week. We hope you will find the newsletter helpful and encouraging. 

This week’s teaching is the eighth lesson of our new group study, which will hopefully be available within the next year. The following is designed to be done over the course of one week, in preparation for meeting with your group to discuss and pray together. 

We have made each lesson contain 7 questions, so the study is done answering 1 question per day.

Setting Captives Free - Lesson 8: Buried and Raised in Jesus

Colossians 2:12-13 (NIV) having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,

Some might think that the gospel approach to freedom and healing is insufficient (we touched on this in an earlier lesson). They might think their problems are too deep for the gospel, that they’ve had these problems too long and that no “simplistic” answer will help them.

Maybe they’ve had traumatic childhoods, suffered abuse, or had other severe problems in life that seem, to them, to be beyond the power of the gospel.

Or they are people of action and just want something to do, some immediate steps to take, some rules to follow. This “looking at Jesus” is so different than the work and the effort and the steps they are used to doing.

I certainly understand. My wife and I both had traumatic childhoods, and we empathize greatly with those who have been through severe problems and difficulties, and of course I had been doing steps and works programs before finding freedom.

Today, I want us to understand that there is no problem that is too hard for God! There is no issue (emotional, physical or spiritual) that the gospel cannot address and ultimately heal.

But we must also understand that God works differently than the world, differently than everything we’ve done in the past. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

We are studying through Colossians 2, seeing how the cross of Jesus Christ has dealt with all sin, indeed all problems in life. Now we have come to this section:

Colossians 2:12-13 (NIV) having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,

Question 1. Please list what this passage states has happened to all believers.

This is an important passage and will be expounded on further in the upcoming application of the gospel section of this course. But even in one reading of the text, we discover that all believers died with Christ, were buried with Christ and then were raised with Christ. Think of it: our old selves, our sinful selfish selves were not only circumcised, that is, cut off from us, but they actually died and were buried with Jesus.

So if we were to turn and look at the cross just now what we would see is not only one man dying on that center cross, but all the trapped, captive, imprisoned lives of all people everywhere. Making it personal, when you look at the cross you should see your “old self” crucified with Christ. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NIV).

Why is this important? Well, let’s take a moment and contrast God’s way with the world’s.  Worldly methods try to make our old selves better, like trying to give us a new wardrobe and a new hairstyle in hopes that we’d act better; whereas the gospel way is to put our old selves to death and raise us up as new people.

The world’s way might make us look a little better, but our improvements won’t last because we are unchanged on the inside. Now, think of the power of the gospel way. It is so effective because it nails our past self to a cross and buries it in a tomb, then raises us up as new creations, new people with new hearts and new lives. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV).

Question 2. Please list again the two parts of the gospel that we studied in previous lessons, according to 1 Corinthians 15:1-5.

Two parts of the gospel: Christ died for our sins and rose again on the third day.

Application of the gospel: we died with Christ and rose again to a new life.

Examining the first part of the gospel, that Christ died for our sins, and seeing the application of the gospel, that we died with Him and were buried, notice how this understanding and application can set us free.

Stop for a moment and imagine yourself dead and in a casket. I know it’s not pleasant but force yourself to do this for just as bit as it will help you to understand the point  we are studying. So, you look into the casket and you see yourself, lifeless--just a shell. Now, picture your particular struggle, your temptations being placed around the casket. Maybe it’s pornographic pictures on full display, or maybe it’s bottles of alcohol, or maybe prescription drugs, or a big pizza with a side of ice-cream, etc.

Question: can the dead you sin? This is a rhetorical question for sure because we all know that dead people are unresponsive; they won’t react no matter what happens.

And now we see the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. You died with Christ and were buried with Him.

“But”, says someone, “I’m still alive. I still face temptations every day, I can still sin.” True, but as a believer you can and must learn a new way of responding to temptation. That new way of responding is as a dead person, one who has been crucified with Christ and buried with Christ.

Here’s what that might look like:

That person you were immoral with is calling you on the phone. You are tempted to answer but then you see yourself hanging on the cross with Jesus and remember that a dead person cannot answer a phone. This time you don’t pick up, and then you go on to change your phone number.

Or maybe you’re feeling the pull toward getting drunk, seeing the wine as it is “red in the cup” (Proverbs 23:31) rather than the guilt and blackouts that follow (Proverbs 23:32-34). This time when temptation hits you see yourself having died with Christ and are now buried in a grave. A dead person cannot respond to the temptation. You don’t drink and instead you seek the Lord, knowing how much better it is to be filled with the Spirit than to be drunk with wine (Ephesians 5:18).  

Question 3. Please write out a scenario similar to the ones above, but apply this one to your own situation.

The reality is this: we used to be dead in sin, now we are dead to sin. We died with Christ and were buried with Him. We were raised with Christ, but our old self lies, lifeless in the grave. Now we are to live like we are dead to sin. That is, we are to live our lives with the understanding that our old self, that always responded the same way to temptation, was crucified with Christ and no longer lives. When temptation knocks on the door, a dead person cannot answer.

Oh, friend think of how this gospel understanding sets captives free! Here we are not merely trying harder or attempting to do better, nor are we learning tips and tricks for making ourselves behave, or merely “managing our addiction”. No, we.have.died! #BuriedwithChrist! This is where there is real and lasting freedom. “Because anyone who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:7). Even though I was once a gross captive to sin, I have been experiencing this life of freedom for many years, through fixing my eyes on Jesus, and seeing that both He and I died together that awful day on Golgotha’s hill.

The world’s methods are all an attempt to make the old you behave, but the gospel goes far deeper and has real spiritual power to set you free. Hallelujah!

And the gospel gets even better! Let’s review our passage for this lesson again:

Colossians 2:12-13 (NIV) having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,

Question 4. According to Colossians 2:12-13, what else happened to you when you put your faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

Oh, this is just so good now. For not only were we buried with Jesus we were also raised up with Him. Like Jesus, we are now full of life, full of resurrection power, full of the Holy Spirit, full of the presence of God! Now we are raised up from the grave of sin; having had our hearts circumcised at the cross, we are also brought out of the grave and given a new life in Christ. We are now alive to God in Jesus! “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6 NIV).

Friend, think of what this means for you today: when you put faith in Jesus you are raised to a new life (see Acts 5:20)! This changes your identity. No longer “Addict” but rather “Overcomer” (Revelation 2:26, Revelation 21:7). No longer “in recovery” but rather “Redeemed” (Ephesians 2:7) and “Rescued” (Colossians 1:13). While you can still be “tempted” (1 Corinthians 10:13) you can no longer be “triggered”.

Not only do people’s identities change, their interests change as well. If someone begins to gaze at the cross of Christ, and God gives them real faith to believe the good news they are seeing, then they begin to be irresistibly drawn to Him (John 12:32). They feel a desire to read the Word of God so that they might see Jesus in it. They are drawn to prayer because they are responding to the work Jesus has done for them on the cross and the work the Holy Spirit is doing in their hearts. They even develop a desire to go to church, where the songs begin to mean something to them, and the sermons actually make sense now.

As we’ve seen in several lessons now, truth that is taught clearly in the New Testament is usually illustrated in the Old Testament. As we think about this passage in Colossians 2 that we are studying, that we were crucified with Christ, buried with Christ and risen with Christ, let’s look at an Old Testament passage that reinforces this truth. Please read the following Scripture and provide your answers and thoughts below:

Hosea 6:1-2 (NIV) “Come, let us return to the Lord. He has torn us to pieces

but he will heal us; he has injured us but he will bind up our wounds. 2 After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.

Question 5. How do we see the two points of the gospel in Hosea 6:1-2?

The gospel is “that which is of first importance” and it is found literally all throughout the Bible. Here we see it in Hosea 6:1-2, and yet it is worded differently.

Written from a Jewish perspective, as is all the Old Testament, we see that the nation of Israel had been injured and torn to pieces. Through their idolatry the Lord had given them over to ravaging nations and powerful kingdoms that tore them apart like prey. But they had hope that at some point in the future they were going to be restored as a nation, they would once again be favored by God and would live in His presence.

That is the historical background of Hosea 6:1-2. But it would be wrong to leave it as a historical story and miss the gospel in it. The good news is that though our sins have “torn us to pieces”, ruined relationships, damaged marriages, devastated lives, yet Jesus came and died on the cross to heal us and give us new life.

As we’ve learned from our passage in Colossians 2, we were in Jesus and with Him on the cross. We were “injured” by the beatings and we were “torn to pieces” when we were crucified two thousand years ago.

But something amazing happened! After “two days” in the grave we were “revived”! “On the third day”, we were raised up and restored to life and are now alive and well! Hosea 6:1-2 illustrates the point that we were crucified and buried with Christ and on the third day raised up to new life to live in God’s presence forever!

Now let’s apply this truth that we were risen with Christ by faith: your boss walks in and dumps a pile of work on your desk and the temptation hits to respond in anger. But that “old you” that used to respond to the temptation is dead, and there is a new you that has been raised a new person. The new you sees the futility of the anger of man (James 1:20) and understands that all things are filtered through the hand of our God (Genesis 50:20). The new you finds joy and excitement in reading the Word of God, and peace in believing the gospel, so the new you smiles and blesses your boss who mistreats you (Luke 6:28). You are dead to self and alive to God. The response is different than it used to be.

Or maybe you are hit with the usual desire to stuff yourself with a Big Mac, large fries and a huge “Diet” soda. But the old you was crucified with Christ, and the new you that has risen with Christ isn’t interested. You are alive to God, not to sin. Your response is different. You grab a delicious salad or regular sized burger, and a satisfying cup of water. You cap off the day with exercise, thanking God that He has raised you to a new life and given you new interests that are not harmful to the body He has given to you. #RaisedwithChrist! That’s where your freedom is!

Question 6. Please write out a scenario like I did above, where your usual temptation hits, but this time you show a new response.

Friend, whatever problem, challenge, struggle, sinful bondage you’ve experienced, the gospel of Jesus Christ, received and applied, is the answer. This answer is not “too simple” for your problem, it is dynamite power (Romans 1:16-17) to set captives free!

Lesson 8 Testimony: Erick

Erick writes, Although I do not remember how the argument started, or what lead up to my anger that day, I do remember where we were and the details leading up to an anger that would shock even me. I was 15 years old when my older brother and I had gotten into one of our usual arguments. He began poking me in the chest with his finger while asking, “what are you going to do”? I was getting irritated that he was poking me and I could feel my anger rising within me. On and on it went, “what are you going to do”?, as he continued to poke me with his finger into my chest. My temperature rose with every poke. With every word. “What are you going to do”?!

Once my internal temperature reached its boiling point, I tackled my brother to the ground (we were outside on our concrete driveway), venting all the steam that had built up inside me. After a brief skirmish, I got up thinking, “What just happened”? But that thought soon left and I went on about my day as though nothing happened. This initial anger burst would later turn into rage, and would seek to destroy all that was important to me. My wife, my family, my children.

Whatever sin has overtaken us as young men and women, will be taken into our adult life. Sin isn’t something that we “get over” or “grow out of”. No, that type of thinking will keep us in everlasting chains. So I took this anger into my marriage, and it would be 17 more years before being set free from its grip. I can not tell you how many times my anger would be out of control, there are simply too many to count. And unfortunately, my wife is the one who received the brunt of my rage. It would always work the same as it did that first day on the driveway with my brother.

My wife and I would argue,  and I would explode time and time again, (feeling the temperature of my youth rising) with rage and anger towards her. When she was pregnant with our first born child I became so enraged that I took her by the throat with her feet off the ground and pinned her to a wall. On another occasion I put her head through a wall. Many times I would drag her to the ground by her hair. Of course, all this rage and anger was united with the most intense and vulgar language you could think of. I am writing with tears as I recount all the evil I have poured out onto my precious wife Sylvia.

But it all came to an end when my wife and I were praying desperately for our son. The Lord used the trouble of our oldest son to drive us to our knees, crying out for help. Looking back now its as if the Lord tapped me on the shoulder and said, “it’s you”, not your son. Wow, what a wake up call. My oldest son was threatening my life, and threatened to have me murdered. There were times I would have to wrestle the guns out of his hands.

Jesus Christ was pierced and crushed (Isaiah 53:5) so that our “bodies of flesh” might be brought to nothing, set free from the slavery to sin (Romans 6:6). So my son was right the whole time, his dad needed to die, just not in the way he was thinking, but in Christ, with Christ, so that I could be RISEN WITH CHRIST, to a new life, a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). I can now say as Paul did, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20) And now flowing from my heart is the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, instead of the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:17-22).

I’m so glad I died with Christ! No longer would I hurt my wife physically or verbally! It was over! IT WAS FINISHED! on the cross (John 19:30) I had truly died with Christ (Romans 6:5), and now I began to live to God (Romans 6:10). The gospel penetrated my heart! (Colossians 2:11). I could not wait to tell my wife the good news! The power of sin in my heart (Matthew 15:19) was truly overcome by “The Blood Of The Lamb” (Revelation 12:11).

Of course, she had heard enough from me over the years, and how sorry I was for hurting her both verbally and physically. How could I be trusted that I had indeed been set free? I knew that she would have to see the change herself, and as time went on she did.

Today we live in that change everyday of our lives. The Lord has restored our love to new heights. To greater heights I could never have imagined–if I had not experienced it for myself! Usually if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Not in this case my friend! The power and wisdom of God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, is the only hope of changing us from the inside out (1 Corinthians 1:18-19; John 7:38). “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).”--Erick Hurt, Board Member, Setting Captives Free

Question 7. Please share your thoughts on Erick’s testimony.


Mike Cleveland
Volunteer for Setting Captives Free