Are you an impulsive shopper? If so, which strategy usually works for you? Is it the “save five dollars with a minimum purchase of fifty dollars”? Or maybe the “2 for the price of 1” even though you don´t even need or want the first one? Or is it the “limited time only” where you push the “buy now” button and stop to think about it later? Or is it buying what seems to be trending or popular now because everyone else has one? To which marketing strategy are you most susceptible?
To which theological false teacher are you most susceptible? Is it the one who has the title Doctor or Pastor in front of their names meaning that they must surely know what they are talking about? Or the one who is from your same denomination? Or the one who has the biggest church and the fancy car because it seems like they understand how to be blessed by God? Or maybe it is the YouTube preacher who has the most followers? Or maybe it is an author who has written the most best-selling books? Or maybe it is the teacher who says what we want to hear? Or the teacher that speaks of a God who will help us get the kind of life that we want? Or the teacher who talks a lot about happiness, blessing, and peace but very little about sin, repentance, and being made holy.
In Colossians 2:8-15 Paul continues to help the new believers in Colossae guard against false teachers who are seeking to lead them away from Christ and the gospel. Paul is in prison in Rome so he writes this letter and then continues to agonize in prayer on their behalf.
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.
Helping the Colossians remain free from false teaching was Paul´s goal. Paul used the imagery of not being “taken captive.” The Greek word used here was the idea of a slave-dealer carrying away captives from a conquered nation. It was tragic to think that some who had already been set free in Christ were now susceptible to being taken captive by these false teachers.
Paul was exhorting them to be intentional, not accidental. Purposefully protect yourself, be attentive, and keep your guard up. As we read in 1 Peter 5:8, “Be sober-minded; be watchful,” remembering that “your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Make sure that no one takes you captive, spiritually lures you away, and takes you where you do not want to go, by the philosophy that sounds good and right but in the end, was a lie.
It is similar to the idea of sheep. Sheep are notorious for following blindly.
Several years ago, in eastern Turkey in the Van province near Iran, there were shepherds who were caring for a flock of 1,500 sheep. They took a break and neglected the sheep while eating breakfast. During those few minutes, the sheep wandered away towards a cliff that dropped off into a ravine 50 feet below. The first sheep fell to his death. The next 399 also followed and fell to their deaths. The remaining 1,100 sheep also followed and fell, but because the ravine was already filled with dead sheep their fall was cushioned and they survived.
Paul is exhorting the people in Colossae to not be like this. Don’t just follow blindly the leading of the false teachers, taking for granted that whatever they say is correct. Evaluate what is being said. Be like the Bereans in Acts 17 who after hearing Paul preach, “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”
Every day, after even hearing the Apostle Paul’s teaching, they would go to God’s Word as their ultimate authority, to see if what Paul was saying was true. As we listen to the pastor, a preacher on YouTube, a small group discussion, or even advice from another believer we should live with our gospel filter in place and our Bible filter on, listening, but then discerning if what we are hearing is truly in accordance with scripture.
Paul instructs them to not be taken captive by philosophy and empty conceit. The philosophies were merely ideas of man about man. We are in need of much more than that. Scripture speaks of God´s wisdom that is so far above ours.
Proverbs 3:5-6 instructs us to, “Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your path.”
Isaiah 55:8-9 tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Paul is calling us beyond mere philosophies of man to Spirit-revealed truths of God. That we would not be lured away by mere captivating ideas of man. Paul also warns against vain deceit. The meaning of this word gives us even more understanding. The word for deceit originally meant fishhook. That word provides us with a clear picture. A fishhook is camouflaged by bait of some kind that attracts the fish. The fish is lured in, eats the bait, and swallows the hook. The false teachers were doing the same thing. They were offering dangerous false teachings that were presented as something important and desirable, but in the end led to death.
The false teaching was appealing to the elemental spirits of the world that were in contradiction to the teachings of Christ. The meaning of this word for “elemental” was that of something being elementary or very basic in nature. Some type of religion that man could think up themselves. The false teaching appealed to the base desires and human logic. The false teachers were claiming to have some higher knowledge, but, when you listened to their teaching, all they were doing was catering to man´s natural sinful desires and logic. The gospel of Christ was a mystery that had only been revealed to a person’s heart as the Spirit ushered one to repentance and granted them the faith to the believer.
We still see much of this false teaching today. Imagine you are listening to a sermon on YouTube. How do we know if it is trustworthy preaching? Here are several questions that will help you discern whether it is true or false. Is it teaching that falsely claims that mankind is naturally good and deserves even better when scripture teaches that mankind is fallen, sinful, helpless, and in desperate need of undeserved salvation through Jesus Christ? Is it wrongly using God to selfishly help you get what you want or is it teaching us to live our life for God´s purposes and God´s glory, regardless of the cost? Is it claiming that we can live the Christian life in our own power or is it leading us to rely fully on the work of God in our lives? Is it relying more on the ideas of man or using scripture as its basis? Is it moving us towards greater dependence on Christ or to rely on ourselves and our own religious works and willpower?
Any teaching that points to any salvation other than Christ is not true? Christ is our only hope for salvation. It is in Christ that we have been redeemed, made new, and made righteous. If a teacher talks of what we need to do to earn salvation in our own works, willpower, religious ritual, or strict living we know we are not listening to a teacher who can be trusted. Jesus alone is our hope for both salvation and righteous living. That is the mystery of the gospel. When we were dead in our sins and hopelessly separated from God, Jesus came and did what we could not do for ourselves. He lived a perfect life and died on the cross for our sins. He took upon Himself the sinfulness of man and paid our penalty so that through faith we could be forgiven and reconciled to God. Salvation is not about who we are and what we have done. It is about who Christ is and what He has done.
It is interesting that Paul does not state the heresies or false teachings clearly in these pages. Instead, he drives us to Jesus. As we discussed in the previous verses, we need not prepare ourselves for all the false teachings that are in the world. We just need to be assured in Jesus. As we are then faced with false teachings, we will recognize them because we know the real Jesus.
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.
Remember the false teachers of Gnosticism believed that spirit was good and the flesh was sinful so in their minds Jesus could not be God and man, but Paul states clearly Jesus was fully God and yet fully man. And this same Christ lives within us.
In this verse the Greek word pleroo is translated as fullness. It can also be translated, to make complete in every particular, to render perfect, and filled absolutely by him as the Giver. In Christ, we have been filled and made complete with all that we need.
Those who believe in Christ and become children of God will find that “Their fullness of life comes from Christ’s fullness. They partake of the divine nature through Christ.” This is clearly spoken of in 2 Pet 1:3-4:
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph 1:3). It is in Christ that one now has access to all the resources of God.
This fullness is much like our physical appetite. When we eat and are fully satisfied we are content. We no longer need to quarrel and fight, hoard, and covet, be impatient or complain. Selfishness is no longer necessary we have all that we need.
In Christ, it is the same. We have the fullness of Christ. When we live in that reality the fruit of the Spirit are ours. The Spirit of Christ is manifest in us and the result is love, joy, peace, patience kindness, gentleness, and self-control.
If we choose not to abide in Christ, we live as street children even though we are children of the king. We live like the foster child who is used to hunger but now lives with a loving family. At dinner, when no one is looking he is stuffing his pockets with bread, afraid that he will go without food, when the opposite is true. His every need is now met, but it will take a while for Him to believe and walk in that truth.
Firsthand knowledge of our all-sufficient Savior is the best defense against being taken captive by false teachings. As one comes to know the Truth, falsehood will be exposed as a lie. As one comes to know the beauty and sufficiency of Christ all else will fade in comparison.
We have been reconciled to God and now have full access to the full resources of God. We were dead in our sin and now we have been made alive in Christ.
This was not the first time Paul had come up against false teachers of this type. After Paul and his coworkers had started churches in Galatia the churches were also infiltrated by Jewish false teachers. As always, the false teaching resembled the true teaching enough that those who were ignorant of God’s truth or indecisive in their belief were prime prospects of being led away from the truth of the gospel. These false teachers did not deny Christ, but they demanded additional requirements to truly be a follower of Christ. Their false teachings included obeying the Jewish laws as prerequisites to salvation in Christ. It was the idea of “Christ . . .plus,” as if Christ’s death and resurrection were not enough to bring forgiveness and to make us holy. One of the Jewish laws that was being required was that of circumcision.
11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
In the Old Testament circumcision was an outward sign. The flesh, the foreskin was cut and put off. It set the Jews apart from their neighboring nations. Circumcision was to be an outward symbol that the Jews were a “set apart” people, a people set apart for their God. It is similar to the word “holy.” Holy means set apart, dedicated or consecrated to God for a sacred purpose. That is who the Jews were to be. A holy, set-apart people. This was shown outwardly by circumcision, trusting that inwardly it was a reflection of their hearts that were also supposed to be “set apart” for God.
It is interesting how when we look at the New Testament we see a similar idea. Once again we see this idea of putting off the “flesh” and being set apart, holy. In the New Testament it is not a literal “flesh” is no longer the foreskin, but the flesh is the sinful, selfish, unholiness of man.
Romans 8:13:“For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”
Salvation is to put away the flesh and put our faith in Jesus Christ. We are to die to the flesh and be alive to Christ. It was now to be an inward holiness that really mattered. To tie together the symbolism for the Jews Paul referred back to the word circumcision as a synonym for holy set apart-ness.
The false teachers were teaching that to be truly close to God, to be a true Christian, you needed Christ plus circumcision, but Paul argued it was not about outward circumcision. It was possible for someone to be physically circumcised, but their heart be far from God. It was also possible for someone to not be physically circumcised, but for their heart to be holy and set apart. In the end, it was the heart that mattered most and the only way a heart could be holy was through Christ. Nothing more and nothing less.
We need to hear the same message. It is not about trying to be good enough, trying to be religious enough, trying to be perfect enough, trying to earn God’s love and blessing. We are in Christ. He knows everything about us and yet, through Christ, when God looks at us His heart loves us fully. We are His and He finds joy in us. So much so that we were worth sending His Son so that He could take hold of us, His beloved once again.
The Colossians had been “set apart” and made holy, but not by physical hands. It was something deeper. Their hearts were “circumcised and set apart” by putting off their flesh, their sinful desires, passions, and appetites of this world. They had died to these desires as if they no longer could even hear or sense their tempting call as if these evil desires no longer even existed. This clearly set them apart from the people of the world.
The Colossians´ hearts were circumcised by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ. The Colossians were only able to put off the body of the flesh because their hearts had first been circumcised by Christ. It was not their own doing. They were set apart because of the newfound holiness that had been granted them through Christ and Christ alone.
As we read in Deuteronomy 30:6, “And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.”
Paul then uses the word baptism to communicate one´s complete immersion in and associated with Christ in his death and resurrection.
This is clearly seen in physical baptism. The physical baptism is an external example of what has already happened internally. Like physical circumcision, if a person is baptized by immersion, but their heart has not been changed by Christ then being lowered into the water means nothing.
A person turns from their sin and puts their faith in Jesus Christ. The old body of the flesh and the sinful nature die. Like the person being lowered into the water during baptism. They then are enveloped by, immersed in, and fully associated with Christ in His death. The person is then raised from the water. This symbolizes the truth that they have been raised from the dead with Christ.
This is clearly seen in Romans 6:4 “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”
Paul then continues in verses 13-15.
13 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, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
All mankind were and are dead in their sin. They have no power to atone for or overcome their sin. While we all were dead in our sin and the worldliness of our flesh, God gave us life in Christ, having forgiven all the sins that separated us from God, by canceling all the judgment and debt for sin that we owed. This he annulled by paying it Himself in Christ. We owed the penalty of death for our sins and in our place, Jesus claimed the sins of the world as His own and endured the punishment for those sins, dying in our place on the cross. Now the debt has been paid. He took upon Himself our sin so that we could take upon ourselves His righteousness.
Because of this the rulers and authorities, which are seen as demonic spirits in various places in the New Testament, can no longer judge or condemn us. They were like our slave drivers or prison guards, accusing us, taunting us, and lording over us as we were held captive by our sins. Justice was on their side because we were guilty and deserved judgment. But now that we are in Jesus we have been forgiven, justice has been satisfied in Christ, and we now walk free. Our slave drivers, the demonic spirits, no longer have power or dominion over us. In Christ, they have been disarmed, and defeated and Christ now puts them to open shame by triumphing over them as the Romans did as they paraded their vanquished foes through the streets of Rome to everyone’s pleasure.
Our debt has been canceled. We are counted innocent. Not like a sexual offender who continues to walk in the shadow and penalty of their sin long after their debt has been paid. We are free. Our eternal record is clean. Our sin has been put away as far as the east is from the west. When God looks at us He sees the perfection of Christ and His love continues to endlessly rain down on us, His beloved.
It doesn’t make sense but in Christ, we are made new, born again, righteous, and extravagantly loved.
Fix your eyes on the beauty of Christ. Drink deeply of Him, “9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him.” (Colossians 2:9-10a)