Colossians 2:6-15

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

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. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 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, 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. 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, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

Understanding And Applying the Text

Paul encourages the Colossians he taught them. By implication, we are to continue in the faith as scripture teaches us. Paul goes on to state, we are to walk in Christ. That is, we are to live our lives in Him. We do not own ourselves. Christ owns us. 1 Corinthians 6:19b-20a, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” The only way to live in Christ is to know Him. The only way to know Him is to know His words, i.e. the scripture.

We should be careful not to be led astray by unbiblical ideas. It does not matter if they are religious, philosophical, or something else. They can all sound good. They can appear sound. But it is Christ and His word to which they must conform. Often we make it the other way around.

Many have claimed Paul is speaking out against philosophy. That is not an incorrect understanding of what Paul is saying. Paul is talking about opinions men have developed from their own understanding. So in using the term philosophy, Paul condemns all thoughts not grounded in the word of God. The reason is everything that follows is vain deceit.

Paul points out exactly the type of vain deceit and philosophy he has in mind. “According to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” Man is religious by nature. We seek out ways of being religious. But religion is from man. All forms of worship of God, built around what we enjoy are foreign to Christ. The worship of Christ is spiritual and according to Christ’s rule not our preferences.

In Christ, the fullness of the deity dwells in bodily form. It is perfect. It is impossible to add anything. God has revealed Himself to us perfectly and fully in Christ. In Old Testament times God revealed Himself by power and symbols. Here are some examples. The plagues in Egypt, the flood, the burning bush, the cloud in the wilderness, the temple. But now God has revealed Himself fully in the body of Jesus. And as John states “Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also.” (1 John 2:23)

Then Paul says we have been “filled in Him.” The perfect deity, which is Christ, has filled us. We, through Christ’s indwelling, are perfect in Him, Christ. Paul does not mean Christ’s perfection is transfused into us. Rather He fills us so that nothing may be wanting to us. We then can be at peace and rest satisfied in Christ alone. When we do not rest, we both detract from God’s glory and are ungrateful. We detract from God’s glory by desiring something other than His perfection. We are ungrateful because we continue to seek what we already have.

In the rest of this passage, Paul deals with the problem of confusing the law and the gospel. First, he addresses circumcision. We have been circumcised by Christ. Because we have been buried with Christ in Baptism, we share in His death. Paul declares that we obtained this circumcision through Baptism. So, Baptism is a sign of that which is presented to us. Which, is foreshadowed by circumcision.

The Colossians were gentiles. Being Gentiles they were not circumcised. They were not circumcised to convert to Christ. They bypassed the ceremonies of Moses. Those ceremonies were symbols of the promise of Christ. Paul uses this to point out the absurdity of, leaving the gift of God to return to the shadow of the gift. Where the covenant of grace is not there is only perversion and ruin. But God has called us, the uncircumcised, to himself.

God does not only forgive our sins, He reconciles us to Himself. This overthrows all forms of religion and practices that come from men. Man-made religion is work-based righteousness. Christianity is a gift. It is based on the work of Christ.

The Law of Moses was a law of condemnation. Ceremonies did not save us from God’s wrath. Ceremonies of the law were reminders of that condemnation. The ceremonies of Moses did not provide redemption. They did not reconcile us to God. Instead, they acknowledged our guilt. The washings were an admission of pollution. The sacrifice of a lamb or goat was a substitute for their death. Substituting an innocent animal is a confession we deserve death. The ceremonies of the Old Testament sealed our condemnation. But Christ has abolished them. We are no longer under the law but under grace. Christ triumphed over the devil. The devil accuses us before God. Now we are no longer accused before God. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1)

I have visited churches claiming to be Christian. Whenever I meet with the pastor to ask about the church, I hear about how friendly the church is. I hear about the church programs. If I were younger and had children at home I am sure I would hear about the wonderful children’s program. I have never heard about the doctrines and teachings of the church until I ask about them.

I have observed all types of so-called worship. Their services vary from the pure emotional to the very formal and strict.

Churches today are trying to be relevant. They are trying to understand what would attract people to the church. What is it that people are looking for? What is the secret formula to make their church grow? What people want is emotional support and comfort plus entertainment. And let us not forget a dynamic children’s program. So churches today work hard at trying to provide those things.

They market themselves as a friendly place where you can fit in and feel comfortable. The sermons are around things such as: How to raise a family; How to have a happy marriage; and How to manage your money. How to overcome depression; How to be the champion you are meant to be. The sermons intend to encourage and motivate.

They do not preach that we are wretched sinners. That we deserve eternal punishment in a hell intended for Satan and his angels. They do not preach that Christ paid the penalty for our sins. They do not preach God saves us by grace alone, through faith alone. They do not preach Christ Jesus reconciles to God.

One pastor told me he could not preach the gospel every Sunday. What if an unwed pregnant 17-year-old girl were to walk into church? She would need help and support. That is right! She does need help. She needs to understand that she is a sinner. Then she needs to hear the gospel. That is what I need. And that is what you need as well. And we need it every Sunday.

They claim noble motives in doing church the way they do. They point out you have to get them here before you can tell them about Christ. That the reasoning seems sound. But it is contrary to the word of God. (Matthew 28:19-20). “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.” We are listening to marketing experts rather than the word of God.

The wrong question is being asked. Rather than asking what can we do to make the church grow, we need to ask, “How does scripture say we should do church?” When we create a product the world wants we are turning from God. “For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:7-8

The church can try to attract the world by providing the world with what it wants. But in doing so the church is only another form of entertainment or a social outlet. It is no longer the Christ’s church.

Here are some warning signs that your church is being taken “captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”

  1. Is it all about the style of music? Is the music chosen because people like it or because it glorifies, edifies, and instructs? A few years ago I was attending a church where one of those music wars broke out. Some felt hymns were the only way to go. Others thought we needed to sing contemporary Christian songs. The style of the music was the discussion. Neither side communicated a biblical reason for their position. It was purely personal preference. Trying to point out the ridiculousness of their argument and how we were off-topic. I maintained I thought the style of music should be country. Then I found out there was such a thing as Cowboy Churches where they sing, you guessed it, country music.
  2. What solution is presented to various problems? I can tell you what it should be, Christ and Christ alone. I visited a church about a year ago where the pastor did an excellent job of communicating how one of the churches in the Book of Revelation failed. The concluding sentence to the sermon I remember to this day because of the despair it left. “Let’s not be like that.” Say what!?! Where is the cross? Where is the forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to God? You mean to tell me I have to do it on my own!?! That is not good news that is the worst possible news. This is the case in most churches teaching moralism. “Just stop sinning. Work harder at it.” Their version of the good news is, “You can do it! Just keep trying.” We need to hear about the grace and mercy of God and the forgiveness of sin. We need to hear the true gospel.
  3. Are sermons based on life topics, or do you hear the message of law and gospel, sin and grace? Pastors find their biggest attendance when they do a series on marriage and family. But do you know what makes the best marriage in the world? Christ! Do you know how to be the best parent, Jesus? All the other stuff is decoration.
  4. Is the Lord’s Supper served regularly? Are those who share in the supper a part of the body of Christ? Or is it simply passed out and everyone encouraged to partake? After all, we do not want to embarrass anyone. And after all, they are just symbols of Christ’s blood and body. The idea of the bread and wine only being symbols did not develop until the late 16th century. Any church that treats the bread and wine as only symbols shows arrogance. They think they are so much smarter than all those who lived during the first 1600 years of Christianity. Of course, the Eucharist can become only an empty ceremony as well. Realize we are consuming the blood and body of Christ Himself. It is a reminder of His coming again according to the scriptures.

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