Saints Alive and Alert
Lets Read Colossians 2:4-15
8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
Lets Read Colossians 2:4-15
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
I recall a story about a pastor who was concerned about some unsavory businesses that had opened near a school. His protests finally led to a court case, and the defense attorney did all he could to embarrass the gospel minister. “Are you not a pastor?” the lawyer asked. “And doesn’t the word pastor mean ‘shepherd’?” To this definition, the minister agreed. “Well, if you are a shepherd, why aren’t you out taking care of the sheep?” “Because today I’m fighting the wolves!” was the pastor’s quick reply, and a good answer it was.
Knowing that there were enemies already attacking the church in Colossae, Paul offered encouragement. By heeding his admonitions, the Colossians would overcome their enemies.
KEEP MAKING SPIRITUAL PROGRESS (2:4-7)
In the Christian life, we never stand still–we either go forward or gradually slip backward. “Let us go on to maturity!” is the call we must obey (Heb. 6:1). The Christian who is not making spiritual progress is an open target for the Enemy to attack and destroy.
The need for progress (v. 4). Satan is deceptive. He wants to lead believers astray, and to do this, he uses deceptive words. The Greek term used here describes the persuasive arguments of a lawyer. Satan is a liar (John 8:44), and by his lies, he leads believers into the wrong path. It is important that we exercise spiritual discernment, and that we continue to grow in our knowledge of spiritual truth.
The nature of progress (vv. 5-7). To emphasize his admonition, Paul used several vivid pictures to illustrate spiritual progress.
The army (v. 5). The words order and steadfastness are military terms. They describe an army that is solidly united against the enemy. The order describes the arrangement of the army in ranks, with each soldier in his proper place. Not everybody can be a five-star general, but the general could never fight the battle alone. Steadfastness pictures the soldiers in battle formation, presenting a solid front to the enemy. Christians ought to make progress in discipline and obedience, just as soldiers on the battlefield.
The pilgrim (v. 6). The Christian life is compared to a pilgrimage, and believers must learn to walk. Paul had already encouraged his readers to “walk worthy of the Lord” (), and later he used this image again (; ). In the Ephesian epistle, the companion letter to the Colossian epistle, Paul used the image at least seven times (, ; , ; , , ). We are to walk in Christ the same way we originally received Christ–by faith. The Proto-Gnostic teachers wanted to introduce some “new truths” for Christian maturity, but Paul denounced them. “You started with Christ and you must continue with Christ,” Paul wrote. “You started with faith and you must continue with faith. This is the only way to make spiritual progress.”
We are to walk in Christ the same way we originally received Christ–by faith. The Proto-Gnostic teachers wanted to introduce some “new truths” for Christian maturity, but Paul denounced them. “You started with Christ and you must continue with Christ,” Paul wrote. “You started with faith and you must continue with faith. This is the only way to make spiritual progress.”
The tree (v. 7a). Rooted is an agricultural word. The tense of the Greek word means “once and for all having been rooted.” Christians are not to be tumbleweeds that have no roots and are blown about by “every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14). Nor are they to be “transplants” that are repeatedly moved from soil to soil. Once we are rooted by faith in Christ, there is no need to change the soil! The roots draw up the nourishment so that the tree can grow. The roots also give strength and stability.
The building (v. 7b). Built-up is an architectural term. It is in the present tense: “being built up.” When we trust Christ to save us, we are put on the foundation; from then on, we grow in grace. The word edify that is found often in Paul’s letters simply means “to build up.” To make spiritual progress means to keep adding to the temple to the glory of God.
The school (v. 7c). It is the Word of God that builds and strengthens the Christian. Epaphras had faithfully taught the Colossian believers the truth of the Word (Col. 1:7). But the false teachers were undermining that doctrine. Today, Christians who study the Word become established in the faith. Satan has a difficult time deceiving the Bible-taught believer.
The river (v. 7d). The word abounding was often used by Paul. It suggests the picture of a river overflowing its banks. Our first experience in the Lord is that of drinking the water of life by faith, and He puts within us an artesian well of living water (John 4:10-14). But that artesian well should become a “river of living water” (John 7:37-39) that grows deeper and deeper. The image of the river flowing from the sanctuary (Ezek. 47), getting deeper as it flows, probably is what Paul had in mind. Sad to say, many of us are making no progress–our lives are shallow trickles instead of mighty rivers.
Again, Paul mentioned “thanksgiving” (see Col. 1:3, 12). A thankful spirit is a mark of Christian maturity. When a believer is abounding in thanksgiving, he is making progress!
By reviewing these pictures of spiritual progress, we see how the growing Christian can easily defeat the Enemy and not be led astray. If his spiritual roots are deep in Christ, he will not want any other soil. If Christ is his sure foundation, he does not need to move. If he is studying and growing in the Word, he will not be easily enticed by false doctrine. And if his heart is overflowing with thanksgiving, he will not even consider turning from the fullness he has in Christ. A grounded, growing, grateful believer will not be led astray.
WATCH OUT FOR SPIRITUAL PERILS (2:8-10)
Paul continued the military image with this warning: “Beware lest any man carries you off as a captive” (literal translation). The false teachers did not go out and win the lost, any more than the cultists do today. They “kidnapped” converts from churches! Most of the people I have talked with who are members of anti-Christian cults were at one time associated with a Christian church of one denomination or another.
How is it possible for false teachers to capture people? The answer is simple: These “captives” are ignorant of the truths of the Word of God. They become fascinated by the philosophy and empty delusion of the false teachers. (This is not to say that all philosophy is wrong, because there is a Christian philosophy of life. The word simply means “to love wisdom.”) When a person does not know the doctrines of the Christian faith, he can easily be captured by false religions.
This philosophy of the false teachers is “hollow and deceptive” (Col. 2:8 NIV) for several reasons. To begin with, it is the tradition of men and not the truth of God’s Word. The word tradition means “that which is handed down”; and there is a true Christian tradition (1 Cor. 15:3ff.; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6; 2 Tim. 2:2). The important thing about any teaching is its origin: Did it come from God or man? The religious leaders in our Lord’s day had their traditions and were very zealous to obey them and protect them (Matt. 15:1-20). Even the apostle Paul, before he met the Lord, was “exceedingly zealous of the traditions” (Gal. 1:14).
If a new Christian from a distant mission field were to visit many of our churches, he would probably be astounded at the ideas and practices we have that cannot be supported by God’s Word. Our man-made traditions are usually more important to us than the God-given doctrines of the Scriptures! While it is not wrong to have church traditions that remind us of our godly heritage, we must be careful not to make these traditions equal to the Word of God.
The false teachers’ traditions were “hollow and deceptive” for another reason: They involved “the rudiments of the world.” The Greek word translated “rudiments” basically means “one of a row or series.” It had several meanings attached to it: (1) the elementary sounds or letters, the ABCs; (2) the basic elements of the universe, as in 2 Peter 3:10-12; (3) the basic elements of knowledge, the ABCs of some system, as in Hebrews 5:12. But in ancient Greece, this word also meant “the elemental spirits of the universe, the angels that influenced the heavenly bodies.” It was one of the words in the vocabulary of the religious astrology of that day.
The Proto-Gnostics believed that the angels and the heavenly bodies influenced people’s lives. Paul’s warnings to the Colossians about “new moon” and other religious practices determined by the calendar (Col. 2:16) may be related to this Proto-Gnostic teaching, though the Jewish people also watched the calendar (Gal. 4:10). One thing is certain: Such teachings about demons and angels were not a part of true Christian doctrine. If anything, such teachings were satanic.
The fact that this teaching is not after Christ is sufficient to warn us against horoscopes, astral charts, Ouija boards, and other spiritist practices. The whole zodiac system is contrary to the teaching of the Word of God. The Christian who dabbles in mysticism and the occult is only asking for trouble.
Why follow empty philosophy when we have all fullness in Christ? This is like turning away from the satisfying river to drink at the dirty cisterns of the world (Jer. 2:13). Of course, the false teachers in Colossae did not ask the believers to forsake Christ. They asked them to make Christ a part of the new system. But this would only remove Him from His rightful place of preeminence.
So Paul gave the true and lasting antidote to all false teaching: “All fullness is in Christ, and you have been made full in Him. Why, then, would you need anything else?” (see Col. 2:9-10).
We have seen the word “fullness” (pleroma) before (Col. 1:19). It means “the sum total of all that God is, all of His being and attributes.” This word was used by the Proto-Gnostics, but they did not give it the same meaning as did Paul. To them, the pleroma was the source of all the “emanations” through which men could come to God. The highest point in Proto-Gnostic religious experience was to share in the pleroma.
Of course, there are no emanations from God. The gulf between heaven and earth was bridged in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. He is declared to be “Emmanuel … God with us” (Matt. 1:23). Jesus Christ is the fullness of God, and that fullness dwells continually and permanently in Him bodily. Once again, Paul refuted the Proto-Gnostic doctrine that matter was evil and that Jesus did not have a human body.
When Jesus Christ ascended to heaven, He went in a human body. It was a glorified body, to be sure, but it was real. After His resurrection, our Lord was careful to assure His disciples that He was the same person in the same body; He was not a ghost or a spirit (see John 20:19-29). There is a glorified Man in heaven! The God-Man, Jesus Christ, embodies the fullness of God!
Now, the remarkable thing is this: Every believer shares that fullness! “And ye are complete in him” (Col. 2:10). The tense of the Greek verb indicates that this fullness is a permanent experience. Dr. Kenneth Wuest’s very literal Expanded Translation reads, “And you are in Him, having been completely filled full with the present result that you are in a state of fullness.”
When a person is born again into the family of God, he is born complete in Christ. His spiritual growth is not by addition, but by nutrition. He grows from the inside out. Nothing needs to be added to Christ because He already is the very fullness of God. As the believer draws on Christ’s fullness, he is “filled unto all the fulness of God” (Eph. 3:19). What more does he need?
Indeed, there are spiritual perils that the Christian faces. The fundamental test of any religious teaching is “Where does it put Jesus Christ–His person and His work?” Does it rob Him of His fullness? Does it deny either His deity or His humanity? Does it affirm that the believer must have some “new experience” to supplement his experience with Christ? If so, that teaching is wrong and dangerous.
DRAW ON YOUR SPIRITUAL PROVISIONS (2:11-15)
Remember that the false teaching that threatened the Colossian church was made up of several elements: Eastern mysticism, astrology, philosophy, and Jewish legalism. It is the latter element that Paul dealt with within this section of his letter. Apparently, the false teachers insisted that their converts submit to circumcision and obey the Old Testament law.
Proto-Gnostic legalism was not quite the same as the brand of legalism practiced by the Judaizers whom Paul refuted in his epistle to the Galatians. The Jewish teachers that Paul attacked in Galatians insisted that circumcision and obedience to the law were necessary for salvation. (See Acts 15 for some background on this problem.) Proto-Gnostic legalism said that the Jewish law would help the believers become more spiritual. If they were circumcised, and if they watched their diets and observed the holy days, then they would become part of the “spiritual elite” in the church. Unfortunately, we have people with similar ideas in our churches today.
Paul made it clear that the Christian is not subject in any way to the Old Testament legal system, nor can it do him any good spiritually. Jesus Christ alone is sufficient for our every spiritual need, for all of God’s fullness is in Him. We are identified with Jesus Christ because He is the Head of the body (Col. 1:18) and we are the members of the body (1 Cor. 12:12-13). Paul explained our fourfold identification with Jesus Christ that makes it not only unnecessary but sinful for us to get involved in any kind of legalism.
Circumcised in Him (v. 11). Circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant with the Jewish people (Gen. 17:9-14). Though it was a physical operation, it had a spiritual significance. The trouble was that the Jewish people depended on the physical and not the spiritual. A mere physical operation could never convey spiritual grace (Rom. 2:25-29). Often in the Old Testament, God warned His people to turn from their sins and experience a spiritual circumcision of the heart (Deut. 10:16; 30:6; Jer. 4:4; 6:10; Ezek. 44:7). People make the same mistake today when they depend on some religious ritual to save them–such as baptism or the Lord’s Supper.
The believer doesn't need to submit to circumcision, because he has already experienced a spiritual circumcision through his identification with Jesus Christ. But there is a contrast here between Jewish circumcision and the believer’s spiritual circumcision in Christ:
external surgery internal–the heart
only a part of the body the whole “body of sins”
the whole “body of sins”
done by hands done without hands
done without hands
no spiritual help in beating sin enables them to overcome sin
enables them to overcome sin
When Jesus Christ died and rose again, He won a complete and final victory over sin. He not only died for our sins (salvation) but He “died unto sin” (sanctification; see Rom. 6:10ff.). What the law could not do, Jesus Christ accomplished for us. The old nature (“the body of the sins of the flesh”) was put off–rendered inoperative–so that we need no longer be enslaved to its desires. The old sinful nature is not eradicated, for we can still sin (1 John 1:5–2:6). But the power has been broken as we yield to Christ and walk in the power of the Spirit.
Alive in Him (vv. 12-13). Here Paul used the illustration of baptism. Keep in mind that in the New Testament, the word baptize has both a literal and a figurative meaning. The literal meaning is “to dip, to immerse.” The figurative meaning is “to be identified with.” For example, the Jewish nation was “baptized unto Moses” when it went through the Red Sea (1 Cor. 10:1-2). There was no water involved in this baptism because they went over on dry land. In this experience, the nation was identified with Moses.
Paul used the word baptism in a figurative sense in this section of his letter–for no amount of material water could bury a person with Christ or make him alive in Christ. Water baptism by immersion is a picture of this spiritual experience. When a person is saved, he is immediately baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12-13) and identified with the Head, Jesus Christ. This identification means that whatever happened to Christ also happened to us. When He died, we died with Him. When He was buried, we were buried. When He arose again, we arose with Him–and we left the graveclothes of the old life behind (Col. 3:1-14).
All of this took place “through the faith of the operation of God” (Col. 2:12). It was the power of God that changed us, not the power of water. The Spirit of God identified us with Jesus Christ, and we were buried with Him, raised with Him, and made alive with Him! (The Greek verbs are very expressive: co-buried, co-raised, and co-made alive.) Because God raised His Son from the dead, we have eternal life.
The practical application is clear: Since we are identified with Christ and He is the fullness of God, what more do we need? We have experienced the energy of God through faith in Christ, so why turn to the deadness of the law? God has forgiven us all our trespasses (Col. 2:13b) so that we have a perfect standing before Him.
Free from the law in Him (v. 14). Jesus not only took our sins to the cross (1 Peter 2:24), but He also took the law to the cross and nailed it there, forever out of the way. The law was certainly against us because we couldn't meet its holy demands. Even though God never gave the Ten Commandments to the Gentiles, the righteous demands of the law–God’s holy standards–were “written in their hearts” (Rom. 2:12-16).
When He shed His blood for sinners, Jesus Christ canceled the huge debt that was against sinners because of their disobedience to God’s holy law. In Bible days, financial records were often kept on parchment, and the writing could be washed off. This is the picture Paul painted.
How could the holy God be just in canceling a debt? In this way, His Son paid the full debt when He died on the cross. If a judge sets a man free who is guilty of a crime, the judge cheapens the law and leaves the injured party without restitution. God paid sin’s debt when He gave His Son on the cross, and He upheld the holiness of His law.
But Jesus Christ did even more than cancel the debt: He took the law that condemned us and set it aside so that we are no longer under its dominion. We are “delivered from the law” (Rom. 7:6). We “are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). This does not mean that we are lawless, because the righteousness of the law is fulfilled in us as we walk in the power of the Spirit (Rom. 8:4). Our relationship with Jesus Christ enables us to obey God out of love, not out of slavish fear.
Victorious in Him (v. 15). Jesus not only dealt with sin and the law on the cross, but He also dealt with Satan. Speaking about His crucifixion, Jesus said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31). The death of Christ on the cross looked like a great victory for Satan, but it turned out to be a great defeat from which Satan cannot recover.
Jesus had three great victories on the cross. First, He “disarmed the powers and authorities” (Col. 2:15 NIV), stripping Satan and his army of whatever weapons they held. Satan cannot harm the believer who will not harm himself. It is when we cease to watch and pray (as did Peter) that Satan can use his weapons against us.
Second, Jesus “made a public spectacle” (Col. 2:15 NIV) of the Enemy, exposing Satan’s deceit and vileness. In His death, resurrection, and ascension, Christ vindicated God and vanquished the Devil.
His third victory is found in the word triumph. Whenever a Roman general won a great victory on foreign soil, took many captives and much loot, and gained new territory for Rome, he was honored by an official parade known as “the Roman Triumph.” Paul alluded to this practice in his second letter to the Corinthians (see ). Jesus Christ won a complete victory, and He returned to glory in a great triumphal procession (.). In this, He disgraced and defeated Satan.
To recap, In the section Paul is admonishing us to Keep Making Spiritual Progress, Watch our for Spiritual Perils, and to Draw on our Spiritual Provisions. You and I share in His victory over the Devil. We need not worry about the elemental forces that govern the planets and try to influence men’s lives. The satanic armies of principalities and powers are defeated and disgraced! As we claim the victory of Christ, use the equipment He has provided for us (.), and trust Him, we are free from the influence of the Devil.
You and I share in His victory over the Devil. We need not worry about the elemental forces that govern the planets and try to influence men’s lives. The satanic armies of principalities and powers are defeated and disgraced! As we claim the victory of Christ, use the equipment He has provided for us (Eph. 6:10ff.), and trust Him, we are free from the influence of the Devil.
What a wonderful position and provision we have in Christ! Are we living up to it by faith?
To recap today, Paul is admonishing us to Keep moving forward, to watch out for spiritual perils, and to draw on our spiritual provisions. Through this you and I share in His victory over the Devil. We need not worry about the elemental forces that govern the planets and try to influence men’s lives. The satanic armies of principalities and powers are defeated and disgraced! As we claim the victory of Christ, use the equipment He has provided for us (.), and trust Him, we are free from the influence of the Devil.