Alive in Christ, Colossians 2:1—3:4

You can’t read Colossians without noticing the preeminence of Christ. Above all things, people, power, and all knowledge is Jesus Christ. Because of the greatness of Christ, the Colossians and all believers, should easily be able to put their full faith and confidence in Him. Christians should have nothing to do with worldly philosophies and false teachings; they just can’t compare to Jesus.

Paul was speaking out against the popular heresies of his day which had infiltrated the church at Colosse. Christians then and now obsess over false teachings; we seem fascinated by them; we run after them. Things like festivals, mindless rituals, special diets, and physical asceticism. But Paul uses clever arguments to show the difference between the shadow and the Body which casts the shadow, verse 17:

These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

If you can have the Body, why settle for the shadow? This is Paul’s central argument in chapter 2; mature believers find all they need for life and faith in Christ.

1. Complete in Christ, 2:6-15

A. Be steadfast in faith, vs, 6, 7

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Part of being steadfast in faith is remembering what Jesus Christ did for you and how He did it. The Colossians had received Christ as Savior in a certain way. He came to them as “the Christ,” God’s Anointed One. He came historically as their Savior; a man named Jesus really did live and walk on the Earth; He was not just an idea. And He is also “the Lord,” the Sovereign of every believer. This is important to notice because either Jesus is all of those things or He is nothing at all. It’s not enough for a person to believe about Jesus or to know about Jesus; He must become a person’s Lord and Savior, and when that happens, true learning starts.

The word “received” is aorist, meaning a decisive, once-for-all act. It was Jesus Christ who is received, not only the message about Him, and He is received one time because He came one time. His work is finished.

To “continue” in Christ is to “walk” in Him, and that simply means what verse 7 says. There are three principles here that describe what it means to walk in Christ:

  • Rooted in Him. The word for “rooted” is written in the perfect tense, suggesting this “rooted” is a one time experience; one is permanently planted in Christ.
  • Built up. This is written the present tense; being built up in Christ is to be a continuous process. Every Christian needs to be built up, all the time, each and every day.
  • Strengthened. Also written in the present tense, meaning our faith should be getting stronger all the time.

So we see that mature Christians, paradoxically, never really grow up! We are continually growing and maturing, never forgetting who Jesus was, who He is, and what He taught us.

B. Confront heresy through fullness in Christ, vs. 8—10

The problem is, there are always competing philosophies vying for the attention of Christians.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. (verse 8)

“See to it” indicates a warning is coming. The false teachers were real; their was a real danger of these Colossian Christians getting duped by them; of being seduced by their clever, false teachings. The phrase “takes you captive” was generally used of taking captives in a war and taking them away as booty. As far as Paul was concerned then, these false teachers were “soul- stealers,” at war the with Church, wanting to catch Christians and drag them away in spiritual enslavement.

The false teachings, which are described as a “deceptive philosophy,” were based on the ideas of human beings, not on the teachings of Christ. Being deceptive, they appeared to the teachings of Christ, meaning they were close, they sounded like something He would have said, but they were, in fact, based on the “elemental spiritual forces of this world.” In other words, these false teachers were teaching a kind spirituality based, not on Christ, but on nature or on worldly things; man-made things. It’s hard to imagine a believer falling for this kind of false teaching, but when we don’t have a grasp on the teachings of Christ; when we don’t understand Christian doctrine, we will be fooled by false teachers who look genuine and sound genuine. After all, Christians want to believe the best about people.

Mature believers are able to confront this kind of heresy by be complete in Christ, that is, by having a solid, functional understanding of His teachings.

C. Live in fellowship and freedom, vs. 11—15

So then, maturity in Christ is measured by our fullness in Christ.  But, how deeply in fellowship with Him are we? In this group of verses, Paul explains that our fullness in Christ was achieved in three ways.

  • Spiritual circumcision, verses 11, 12. This is a “putting off” of the “sinful nature.” The picture in verse 11 is that of a person throwing away an article of dirty clothing or worn out clothing. Our sinful nature—the desires of the flesh—refers to the sum total of those desires. Through Christ, our corrupt natures were done away with.
  • Forgiveness of sins, verses 13, 14. Our forgiveness is based, not on anything that we have done, but on what Christ did for us. Without it, there is only death; life comes through appropriating what He did for us on the Cross. What He did for us is spelled out in verse 14: He canceled out our debt of sin. “Debt” is a way to looking at sin because we all know how good it feels when a debt is paid off. We never paid off our debt of sin; it was canceled by God on behalf on account of what Jesus did on the cross.

Christ is the propitiation for our debt. Our debt was nailed to the cross along with Christ. “Nailing” is aorist, indicating a completely finished work. His work of forgiveness is forever done. Nothing can be added to the work of Christ, either by man or deity. Christ’s work of forgiveness is done. All sinful man has to do is lay hold of His work.

  • Victory over evil, verse 15. Although the meaning of virtually every word in this verse is disputed, the simple meaning of it is clear. Christ’s death is our death, symbolized by baptism. His victory is our victory. Christ is personally personally responsible for our redemption. He conquered all evil forces at Calvary and the tomb. This was the final battle between the forces of good and evil, and good prevailed. His victory is ours.

Mature believers understand that Christ’s victory is ours.

2. Dead to legalism, 2:16—23

A. Shadows and reality, vs. 16—19

The false teachers at Colosse had prescribed a series of strict rules with regard to eating and drinking and the observance of the religious calendar. In light of the fullness of Christ, why would Christians look for satisfaction anywhere else? Freedom comes from a relationship with Christ, bondage from legalism, so why would free Christians willingly surrender that freedom for bondage?

All of the man-made regulations are but a shadow of the reality, Jesus Christ. The thing that Paul is teaching is this: why settle for the shadows when the reality has come, He is here, and you can have Him instead?

They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. (verse 19)

Paul is likely referring here to members of the Colossian congregation that have fallen for the false teaching. They have severed their connection to Christ, the head of the Church, as well as the Body of Christ, the Church. Do you see how powerful false teaching is? It has the power to decapitate a Church.

B. Inadequate worldly principles, vs. 20—23

Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (verse 23)

Paul wanted his Colossian friends to put into daily practice what they experienced when they first came to Christ. All Christians must be taught; they must learn; and they must develop and grow. Even though salvation happens in an instant, the “new life” is a day-by-day process; it involves how we live, the things we do and the way we do them.

All false religions and false teachers are really false or inadequate interpretations of Christianity that place Christ in an inferior position while elevating their own ideas and philosophies. But for Paul, Christ is all and in all (3:11). Any Christian that runs after false teaching is acting foolish and immature because they are choosing second best.

3. Risen with Christ, 3:1—4

As far as the the Colossian controversy was concerned, Paul was finished with it at chapter 3. Having established the undeniable fact that man-made rules and regulations are of absolutely no value in taming human nature, Paul makes it clear that the only cure for man’s continued attraction to sin is found in his experience of union with Jesus Christ. This union is demonstrated by how the Christian lives and acts; he is quite literally “dead to sin.” This means that the believer lives with a completely different world-view. How does the Christian do this?

  • Set your hearts on things above, verse 1. Literally, Christians are to seek after and to strive for godly things. We need to make sure that our main interests are centered on Christ, and that our attitudes and our whole outlook on life are determined by our relationship to Christ and His relationship to us. The verb behind “set your hearts on” is a present imperative: “Keeping on seeking,” in other words.
  • Set your minds on things above, verse 2. This means “think on” godly things. This doesn’t mean that the Christian should withdraw from society, but it does mean that the first thing that pops into his mind is NOT a worldly thought. It means that his thinking is generally in a heaven-ward direction.
  • Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature, verse 5. This is something nobody can do for you. The action of “putting to death” sin can only be done by the believer himself. We are dead to sin, thanks to the work of Christ, but since sin is not dead to us, we have a responsibility to keep our base natures in check. This we do for ourselves, with the Lord’s help.

Mature believers understand the truthfulness of verse 3:

For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.

Our security is in Him. We are protected by Him. What a motivating factor in living for Him! Paul is teaching that since Christians have died with Christ, all that is foreign to Him should be foreign to them.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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