Go Forward in Christ (sermon resource for 7/24/22)

Note: This post exegetes Colossians 2:6-15, drawing on multiple sources including commentary from Warren Wiersbe (Bible Expository Commentary) and Peter T. O’Brien (New Bible Commentary).  

Christ the Ruler of the Universe (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Introduction 

Paul writes to the church at Colosse that, sadly, is falling prey to false teachers. In the section of his letter covered in our epistle reading today, Paul exhorts the Colossian Christians to hold firm to Christ, staying far away from the enemy, and to go forward in and with Christ, confident in our Lord's victory.  

Hold firm to Christ (Col. 2:6-7) 

6 Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Here Paul uses multiple images to make his point about holding to firm to Christ. 

Continue 

This is a picture of pilgrimage. Paul has already encouraged his readers to “walk worthy of the Lord” (Col 1:10, KJV), and will do so again (Col 3:7; 4:5). We are to walk in Christ the same way we originally received him—by faith. The false teachers wanted to introduce “new truth” that was supposedly necessary for Christian maturity. But Paul disagrees, stating in effect that they having started with Christ, must continue with Christ. Having started with faith, must continue in that faith. This is the only way that they will make spiritual progress. 

Rooted 

This is an agricultural picture. The Greek means “once and for all having been rooted.” Christians are not to be tumbleweeds with no roots that 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 in the faith of Christ, there is no need to change the soil! The roots draw up the nourishment and the tree grows. And these roots give strength and stability. 

Built up 

This is an architectural picture. It is in the present tense: “being built up.” In Christ, we have a firm foundation on which we grow in grace. Strengthened...as you were taught This is an educational picture. Through learning God’s word, we are strengthened in the faith. Epaphras had faithfully taught this truth to the Colossian believers (Col 1:7), but false teachers were undermining their understanding. Christians who study scripture and become established in the truth of the gospel are hard to deceive. 

Overflowing 

This is a picture that suggests a river overflowing its banks. Through the Spirit, we drink by faith the water of life which Jesus has put within us. And that “river of living water” (John 7:37–39) should grow within us and flow out of us deeper and deeper. The image of the river flowing from the sanctuary (Ezek. 47) getting deeper as it flows, probably is what Paul has in mind here. And a principal fruit produced by this abundant water in a believer’s life is that of thankfulness. When we abound in thanksgiving, we are making spiritual progress with and in Christ. 

By reviewing these pictures of holding firm to Christ, we see how we as Christians are protected from the enemy and not led astray. If our spiritual roots are deep in Christ, we will not want any other soil. If Christ is our foundation, we have no need to move. If we are growing in his word, we will not be easily enticed by false teaching. And if our heart is overflowing with thanksgiving, we will not even consider turning from the fullness that is ours already in Christ. 

A grounded, growing, grateful believer is not easily led astray—so let us go forward with Christ! And as we do, let us keep our eyes wide open… 

Beware the enemy (Col 2:8–10) 

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. 9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. 
Here Paul uses a military image that has this warning: “Beware lest any man carry you off as a captive” (literal translation). The false teachers did not reach out with God’s love to the lost—they took captive existing believers (sheep stealing). How could believers succumb to this tactic? Because they lost sight of the fullness that is in Jesus. Rather than staying focused on him, they become fascinated by “new truth”—esoteric philosophy that is, in truth, only empty delusion. 

When a person does not know the core doctrines of the historic, apostolic faith, they are easy prey to false teaching that is “hollow and deceptive” (v8) for two reasons: 
  1. For all its esoteric attractiveness, their teaching is mere “human tradition” and not God’s truth. The word tradition means “that which is handed down.” While there is a true Christian tradition, the issue here is one of origin: Did this teaching come from God or from man? Paul’s answer? “From man.” 
  2. Their teaching involves, “the basic principles of this world.” The Greek word translated “principles” (“rudiments,” KJV), basically means “one of a row or series.” It had several meanings attached to it: (a) the elementary sounds or letters, the ABCs; (b) the basic elements of the universe, as in 2Pet 3:10–12; (c) the basic elements of knowledge, the ABCs of some system as in Heb 5:12. But in ancient Greece, the 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 false teachers believed that the angels and heavenly bodies influenced people’s lives. Paul’s warnings to the Colossians about “new moons” and other religious practices determined by the calendar (Col 2:16) may be related to this, though the Jewish people also carefully watched the calendar (Gal 4:10). One thing is certain: such teachings about demons and angels were not a part of true Christian doctrine. 
Though the false teachers were not seeking to remove Christ entirely, they were seeking to remove him from his rightful place of preeminence. And Paul offers the sure antidote, which is the true knowledge that all fullness is in Christ, and we have been made full in him. We don’t need anything else!” (see Col 2:9–10). 

The word “fullness” is pleroma in Greek. It means “the sum total of all that God is, all of his being and attributes.” This word was used by the false teachers, but they did not give it the same meaning as did Paul. To them, the source of pleroma was the multiple spirit “emanations” through which men could come to God. The highest point in their religious system’s experience was sharing in this pleroma. But there are no secret emanations from God yet to be discovered, nor are any needed. The gulf between heaven and earth was bridged fully and already in Jesus. He “Emmanuel, God with us” (Mat 1:23). 

Jesus, in himself, is God’s fullness toward man—a fullness that dwells continually and permanently in Jesus “in bodily form.” Here Paul is refuting the false teacher’s doctrine that matter was evil and that Jesus did not have a human body. Jesus Christ, the second person of the Holy Trinity, “became flesh” for us (John 1:14)—became one of us (fully), lived for us, died for us, rose victorious for us and ascended (still in the flesh, now glorified) and now, with Jesus (the God-man), we are seated in the “heavenly realms” (Eph 2:6). 

After his resurrection, Jesus was careful to assure his disciples that he was the same person in the same body; he had not become a ghost or a spirit. Indeed, there is a glorified man in heaven who includes us all in his communion with the Father and the Spirit, and continues to dwell with us on earth through his Spirit. This God-man, Jesus Christ, embodies the fullness of God! 

The stunning truth is this: Jesus shares this fullness with all of us by grace: “You have been given fullness in Christ” (Col. 2:10). The tense of the Greek verb indicates a permanent experience. In union with Jesus, we have all we need. And our progress in the faith is not a matter of addition, but of nutrition. As we “feed” on Christ’s fullness, we are “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:19, TNIV). What more do we need? 

The “acid test” of any religious teaching is this: “Where does it put the person and the work of Jesus?” Does it rob him of his preeminence—his fullness? Does it deny either his deity or his full and continuing humanity? Does it call believers to some “new experience” to supplement their life with Jesus? If so, that teaching is wrong and dangerous. Beware! But also be confident in what you have in Christ… 

Go forward confident in Christ's victory (Col. 2:11-15) 

The false teaching that threatened the Colossian church was a combination of multiple elements: Oriental mysticism, astrology, philosophy and Jewish legalism. It is the latter element that Paul deals with here. Apparently, the false teachers insisted that their converts submit to circumcision and other regulations of the Law of Moses (including observation of Holy Days and food laws) in order to become part of a “spiritual elite.” But Paul makes it clear that Christians are not subject to any of the stipulations of the Law of Moses, and that submitting to them does the believer no spiritual good. 

Jesus alone is sufficient for our need, for all of God’s fullness is in him. We are identified with Christ because he is our head and Paul here explains that we have a fourfold identification with Jesus, which makes it not only unnecessary, but sinful for us to be involved in any kind of legalism: 

Circumcised in him (v. 11) 

In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, 
Physical circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant with Israel (Gen. 17:9–14). It is not necessary Christians to submit to physical circumcision as a religious rite, because Jesus was circumcised in the flesh for us, and we have spiritual circumcision in him. When Jesus died and rose again, he won complete and final victory over sin and death. He not only died for our sins (salvation), but He “died unto sin” (see Rom. 6:10ff). What the Law could not do, Jesus accomplished for us. The old nature (“the sinful nature”) was put off (circumcised)—rendered inoperative, so that we need no longer be enslaved to it. The old sinful nature is not eradicated, for we still sin (1John 1:5–2:6), but its power has been broken in Christ—and that power is ours as we yield to him, walking in the power of his Spirit.  

Buried and resurrected in him (vv. 12–13) 

12 having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 
Here Paul used the illustration of our baptism. 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 people of Israel were “baptized unto Moses” when the nation 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 who was the mediator between God and Israel. 

Paul uses 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 our participation in Jesus' death and resurrection—it pictures our inclusion, our identification, in what Jesus did for us, to us and with us. 

Because Jesus is God (Creator and Sustainer of all things, humans included), and fully human, what happened to him, happened to us all. When he died, we all died with him. When he was buried, we were all buried with him. When he arose again, we arose with him—and we left the grave clothes of the old life behind (Col 3:1–14). 

In our water baptism we are picturing our personal identification with (faith in) Jesus and all that he is and has done for us. But it is not our faith that saves us, rather it is what Jesus did “in the power of God” (Col. 2:12). It was the power of God, operating in Christ, that saved us, not the power of our faith or of baptismal water. In union with Christ—a union forged within the person of Jesus—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 here is clear: since we are in union with Christ, and he is the fullness of God, what more do we need? We have the fullness of God in Christ, so why turn to the deadness of the Law to “add” to our experience? 

Freed from the law in him (v14)

having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 
God, in Christ, not only forgave our sin (which meant cancelling the “debt” we owed), but also destroyed the very document that established the debt. “Written code” in Greek is cheirographon, which means an ‘IOU’—a note that refers to a debt written in one’s own hand as proof of legal obligation. The Jews had agreed to obey the Law of Moses and Paul assumes the gentiles had an obligation to the moral code of their conscience (Rom. 2:14–15). The obligation (“debt”) to this law had not been paid by either group so it stood opposed to them. Jesus not only paid the debt, but cancelled the IOU that established the debt by nailing it to the cross where he died. Thus the debt and the law which established it has no further claim on us. Paul’s conclusion is that it thus makes no sense to take upon ourselves some of this invalidated law’s regulations. To do so would be to deny the fullness of Christ. 

Victorious in him (v. 15) 

He disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it. (NRSV)
Jesus not only dealt with sin and the law itself 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
  1. Jesus “disarmed the powers and authorities,” stripping Satan and his army of whatever weapons they held. Satan cannot harm the vigilant believer. It is when we cease to watch and pray (as did Peter) that Satan can use his weapons against us. 
  2. Jesus “made a public spectacle” of the enemy, exposing Satan’s deceit and vileness. In His death, resurrection, and ascension, Christ vindicated God and vanquished the devil. 
  3. Jesus' victory is a 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 a “triumph” in which the conquering general (here Christ) leads a parade that includes his defeated enemies, now enslaved. Jesus won a complete victory, and returned to glory in a great triumphal procession (Eph. 4:8ff). In this, he disgraced and defeated Satan. Because we share in Jesus’ great victory over the devil, we need not concern ourselves with 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! 

Conclusion 

What wonderful position and provision we have in our Lord, Savior and High Priest, Jesus Christ! All the fullness of God is in him, and in our union with Jesus, that fullness is ours. What more could we possibly need or want? Dear friends, do not fall prey to those offering “higher” spirituality. It is yours already in Christ! Go forward in him and with him. Amen.