As we continue working through the fundamentals of the Gospel as explained in the New Testament, it is our hope that you will also explore our Old Testament (OT) studies and see how the Bible truly is one complete document, the very Word of God.
Last week we started in Colossians 1 and we stopped after Colossians 2:5. By way of review, we looked at some of the history of the Church an Colossae, a church that wasn’t planted by the Apostle Paul, nor had he visited them at the time of this letter to the church. This is an important detail to bear in mind when reading Paul’s letter, because of what Paul focuses on in his letter. We looked at his letter to the Ephesians in which he is summarizing the Gospel to the Elders with whom he had spent 3 years working. Paul is reminding the Elders in Ephesians all that he had taught them, but to the church in Colossae, Paul first establishes the fundamentals of the faith, the centrality and supremacy of Christ. He doesn’t rattle of a checklist of accomplishments that prove they are Christian, he simply reaffirms the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Today we will pick up where we left off and in so doing we will look at some of the primary encouragements for Christian living that lead directly into some important warnings about false doctrines. So, without further adieu, let’s continue in our study of Colossians 2.
Doctrine is Important
Colossians 2:6-23 (ESV)
Alive in Christ
6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
This is the focus of the Christian life. Not miracles, not visions, not even spiritual warfare… the focus of Christian living is being firmly rooted in Christ, being built up in Christ (in knowledge and obedience) and established in the faith as taught (the Gospel of Jesus Christ), abounding in thanksgiving to God. Everything is covered here in a concise manner. I make this comment to point out that there is no “advanced Christianity” dimension or state, we never “move on from” the faith nor do we ever have roots planted anywhere other than Christ Jesus. There will always be crafty, scheming men who will try to convince you, dear Christian, that there is something beyond the Gospel that you need to learn, study, practice, and perfect in order to achieve “the higher calling” or some kind of “special anointing”. This is falsehood. Paul hasn’t even met these folks and already he is encouraging to remain in Christ “just as you were taught”, because he knows that they were taught Jesus Christ. They don’t need anything “new” to advance in their walk, they just need to grow roots and be built up in Christ, whom they have already received, the Glory of God.
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.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. 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.
Praise the Lord. I want to interject here, if I may, to mention that we discussed these verses two weeks ago OT look at the Crossing of the Red Sea. We saw how Paul’s declaration that the cross put the rulers and authorities to open shame in much the same way that Egypt was put to shame when God destroyed Pharaoh’s army by crushing them with the waters through which Israel safely walked. I’ve also underlined four phrases in verse 8 that we will address more fully after we close out the chapter. For now, these represent four principle means by which Christians are led astray into false doctrine, making shipwreck of their faith.
Let No One Disqualify You
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Paul packs a lot of great instruction, warning, and encouragement in this short chapter. Now that we’ve read through the chapter, lets try to unpack this wonderful passage in a way that brings clarity to our Christian walk (being rooted and built up in Christ).
I mentioned earlier that in verse 8 Paul introduces four primary ways in which Christians are led astray into false teaching. Let’s take a look at each one.
Elemental Spirits of the World
Within this passage we see a few things listed by Paul that help us understand how Paul is using this phrase. We see he lists worship of angels and going on in detail about visions, but we also see a reference to festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths. Paul is not only talking about completely false elemental spirits, but he is including false teaching surrounding real spirits as well as applying shadows of truth over the substance of the Truth, which belongs to Christ. By the time Christ arrived in human form (by virgin birth), the world already had Aristotle and “ancient” Greek philosphy/mythology. They had false elemental spirits and false deities, all of which were unclean spirits or demons. Paul is clearly insisting that the Christian not be disqualified by caving into any idolatry.
The Jews also had festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths in the Law of Moses (or the Mosaic Covenant). These were shadows of what was coming, Jesus Christ. Paul is warning the Christian not to fall into the snare of those who would insist that in order to truly follow Christ, a Christian must keep the Law of Moses (circumcision, feasts, festivals, Sabbaths, etc). The entire Book of Galatians was written by the Apostle Paul to the Churches of Galatia for precisely this reason, they had allowed this false doctrine to take root and divert their eyes from Christ. Paul didn’t mince any words in that letter.
Galatians 1:6-9 (ESV) | No Other Gospel
6 I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— 7 not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Seriously a wonderful book to read and to study. While the prevailing theme of the letter is a rebuke against false teaching, Paul also provides some truly wonderful teaching in that letter to the Galatians. Here, in his letter to the Colossians, Paul is encouraging the Church not to allow anyone to disqualify them regarding these festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths. But notice that he said “let no one pass judgement on you in…” As foreshadows of Christ, they are simply not a factor for those who are in Christ. What do I mean? I mean that whether you choose to observe the feasts, the new moons, or even dietary restrictions, so long as you do everything to the glory and honor of Christ, there is no judgement for the observance or the abstinence from these traditions. Paul also brought up food and drink. The Law had detailed dietary rules. The world also has it’s own theories on food (Paleo, Gluten-Free, Oragnic, Vegan, etc) which stem from a godless worldview (evolution or pagan theology). Paul addresses this teaching in more detail in his letter to the Romans. Let’s take just a quick look at the start of chapter 14.
Romans 14:1-6 (ESV) |Do Not Pass Judgment on One Another
1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
Notice how it ties back to Colossians 2:7, where Paul ended his summary of walking in Christ with “abounding in thanksgiving”, and that thanksgiving is to God. The passage in Romans 14 often gets overstretched (twisted out of context) to include opinions that run contrary to God’s Word, guard against that. The festivals and food rules point to Christ, therefore if we have Christ we have the fulfillment of the Law that can only be found in Him and in His work of obedience, even to death on the Cross. So, keep it in Scriptural context… Jesus declared all foods clean, and He also declared Himself Lord of the Sabbath. So, you see, we have freedom in Christ, and only in Christ, and in that freedom we are not to make judgements against our brothers and sisters in Christ regarding matters of freedom.
After discussing all of the Mosaic covenant and the poor teaching of the Law of Moses, one might be tempted to think we already addressed this point. Not yet, we haven’t. You see, the Law of Moses didn’t come from men, but was given to men as a Testimony of who God Is and what He will do in His Son, Jesus. A common error in the church today, is to accuse Christians who hold tightly to the Scriptures, the Written Word of God, of being like the Pharisees. The truth is that had the Pharisees kept to the Written Word of God, and believed Moses, they would not have rejected Jesus.
John 5:45-47 (ESV) 45 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
The Pharisees had a separate tradition, what they called the “oral law” or “oral Torah”. They believed that there were 2 laws given to Moses, one written and one only spoken. They believed that the oral law could only be passed down orally within the Priests and Scribes of the tribe of Levi. They believed that their role as Levites was to interpret the Written Law. For example, the written Law says “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy”, but the Oral Torah had all kinds of rules and regulations specifying what it meant to keep it holy, down to the distance one could walk on that day without breaking the Sabbath. Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for enforcing their man-made traditions over the Written Law.
Matthew 15:1-6 (ESV) | Traditions and Commandments
15 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and,‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.
We, the visible Church, still struggle with this today. God forgive us for elevating our own traditions and customs to the status of Scripture. Many denominational splits are defined by differences in man’s “oral laws” taught to explain what is happening behind the Scriptures. May the Lord grant us Grace and Mercy in this regard. We also see this in churches who push a “social gospel” where the primary role of the church is somehow to “make the world a better place” even if that means preaching Law and Gospel needs to take a back seat until we’ve “earned the right” to share the Word of God. Again, may the Lord forgive us of this, and cleanse us from this unrighteousness. Are good works bad? Not at all, but they flow out from the Gospel of Jesus Christ; therefore, they cannot replace the Gospel in any way.
Philosophy was born out of a desire to explain the inner workings of the mind, our social interactions, even religion without invoking what God has revealed about Himself and His Creation in His Word. It begins and ends in death. Philosophy began as Metaphysics. Paul engaged the Greek philosophers that the world today think they’ve rediscovered in some new way. What did Paul have to say about their philosophy?
Romans 1:18-23 (ESV) 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.
The modern church struggles with this today, and some might argue in greater measure. The church has begun to doubt the historical accuracy of Genesis, the Creation, and whether or not the Bible is infallible. These doubts are born out of philosophy, man’s attempt to explain away God, by refusing to honor Him as God. They have become fools. Brothers and sisters, evolution is a lie, God did NOT use evolution to create the world by “trial and error”. The flood through which God carried Noah and his family was a global flood, not a localized one. God made man and woman, and He made them that way for His purpose. We do not get to decide when He made a mistake in gender, or sexuality. It is not for us to interpret the Bible through the Philosophy of men; rather, it is by the Bible that we are to measure the philosophy of men.
A word of caution, if I may. Pay attention to how your pastor/teacher breaks down sermons into Principles or Philosophies (even this blog post). As long as the principles/philosophies are being taught from the scriptures, then there is Truth to be revealed by God the Holy Spirit. However, there is a danger when the philosophies and principles being taught draw their origins from men, their ideas or their experiences, even their dreams/visions.
Finally, what remains are the open deception of self-seeking false teachers, prophets, and christs (anointed ones). These religious con-men have always existed, and will always be a plague on the Body of Christ. The Apostle Paul had to deal with what he called “so-called super apostles” who had deceived many in Corinth.
2 Corinthians 11:7-15 (ESV) 7 Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached God’s gospel to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches by accepting support from them in order to serve you. 9 And when I was with you and was in need, I did not burden anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied my need. So I refrained and will refrain from burdening you in any way. 10 As the truth of Christ is in me, this boasting of mine will not be silenced in the regions of Achaia. 11 And why? Because I do not love you? God knows I do! 12 And what I am doing I will continue to do, in order to undermine the claim of those who would like to claim that in their boasted mission they work on the same terms as we do.13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.Their end will correspond to their deeds.
The Apostle Peter also had something to say about such false teachers.
2 Peter 2:1-3 (ESV) 1 But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
This problem is most notably (thought not exclusively) present in the Televangelist, Faith Healer, and Megachurch scene. If ever you hear a preacher link the giving of money with the favor of God, His promises, or His blessing, run. RUN away. Should we give to the work of the ministry? Absolutely, but in the same light as performing good works, they flow from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and are not a pre-requisite in any light. As servants of the Most High God, we belong to Him and are but humble stewards of His Gospel. As such, nothing we own is ours, yet He has blessed us with every good thing that is Above, with the Hope of eternal life in the resurrection of Christ. And this gift of Grace came by faith, and that faith by hearing the Word of God. Who then, dare proclaim to you a different gospel that compels you to give them money so that they can serve as your advocate to Our Heavenly Father? Only a false teacher. If you remember from our first discussion of Ephesians, Paul’s final farewell to the Elders of the Ephesians.
Acts 20:28-30 (ESV) 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
Pay careful attention. If the message, the proof, and commandment all point to the individual preaching, then it is not of God. Remain in the Word of God, study, and take every thought or opinion captive, subjecting it to the Authority of the Word of God. I pray that this has been an encouragement to you. It was longer than I had anticipated, but I enjoyed this study very much.
Jude 1:24-25 (ESV)| Doxology
24 Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, 25 to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.
In Christ Jesus,