When the Bible talks about the work of Jesus, it uses an abundance of metaphors.
We sometimes get ourselves stuck. We have an idea of what it means to confess that Jesus “died for our sins,” and we bring this idea with us wherever we go. Often in the world of Western Christianity the idea that Jesus died for our sins brings to mind the idea of legal infraction, a penalty that has to be paid for breaking the law.
But the idea of legal infraction is often not present. Yes, there is sin; yes, Jesus dies for this sin; and yes, there is forgiveness. But it can be imagined in other ways as well.
In Colossians 1, we read this description of salvation:
He made it so you could take part in the inheritance, in light granted to God’s holy people. 13 He rescued us from the control of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. 14 He set us free through the Son and forgave our sins. (CEB)
The metaphors in vv. 13-14 have to do, not with guilt but rather with slavery. Freedom here is not freedom from guilt or punishment. It is freedom from a controlling power, from “darkness.” The solution to a problem of slavery is liberation. The kingdom transfer laid out here–form darkness to the Son–is a transfer from a domain of slavery to a domain of freedom.
Entailed in this transfer is “forgiveness of sins.” Where does that play into the slavery metaphor?
Perhaps the sort of enslavement that we should envision is the slavery of debt. This metaphor is taken up in 2:14:
He destroyed the record of the debt we owed, with its requirements that worked against us. He canceled it by nailing it to the cross. (CEB)
The work of Christ in bringing forgiveness is cancelling debt. That debt was, or lent, its enslaving power to those who controlled us and made us hostile to God. And thus Paul can continue, after claiming that the debt certificate was nailed to the cross:
When he disarmed the rulers and authorities, he exposed them to public disgrace by leading them in a triumphal parade. (Col 2:15, CEB)
With the death and resurrection of Jesus, the authorities and powers that were created through and for the sake of the Son are disarmed and subjected to him again. In forgiving our debts, Jesus opens the door for the Father to transfer us from the kingdom that is hostile into the reconciled, cosmic space that Jesus created afresh through his death and resurrection.
The work of the cross is not one in which “freedom” becomes a next calling after God has “forgiven” us in a court of law. The act of salvation itself is a transfer from one lord to another Lord, from one kingdom to another Kingdom.
Debt is forgiven.
And we are free.