I was born in a Christian home. My parents were Nazarenes and that is what I identified as. I really didn’t know what that meant but none the less that was my childhood. One of the distinctions of being a Nazarene is that Nazarenes was part of the “Holiness” movement in the early 1900’s. They branched off from Methodism and into a more Pentecostal and Armenian viewpoint. So naturally my view of salvation was that I could receive Christ but unless I achieved “Sanctification” I could literally lose my salvation and thus having to start over again. Well I grew up in the 70’s and 80’s during the time of the Cold War and nuclear arms race between Soviet Russia and the United States. I was frightened that during the night while I was sleeping World War III was going to break out. So I had a plan. I knew that I was sinful and if you knew me as a child you would agree. My plan was that as soon as I heard the bomb sirens going off I had roughly thirty minutes to say another salvation prayer to guarantee my passage into heaven. It wasn’t until I had joined the Navy to realize that there was another way to look at this thing called salvation. Except I could not rationalize science and evolution into the Gospel and since I could not rationalize it, I ignored the issue. The philosophy didn’t fit.
As you are turning to the book of Colossians chapter 2, I want to give you a little background. Paul wrote the book of Colossians while he was in prison. He was combating a heresy that was creeping into the church. It was known as the “Colossian Heresy”. In order to grasp some of the points Paul makes in his letter, a rudimentary understanding of the basic tenets of Gnosticism is required. Gnosticism wasn’t a separate religion; rather, it was a philosophy that was blended with components of existing religions. Apparently, elements of Judaism/Christianity were combined with Gnostic beliefs soon after the Church began; creating the heretical teachings that Paul combats in his letter to the Colossians. The basic belief was that all matter was evil and since Jesus came as a human. He was both not fully human and only “seemed” that way, OR, he was just an appearance. So Paul starts the letter to them right away by explaining that he truly is writing to “the Saints of Colossae” (v. 2). He then describes that they have already heard the gospel and received it. So we know that they are Christians and they heard the Gospel and that they know who Jesus is. However, there was a philosophy that was being spread around and that was this syncretistic Gnosticism.
In chapter 2, Paul gives one of the best Christological passages in the entire Bible. In the text tonight we will see the warning that Paul gives the Colossian church. Then we’ll see the reminder of who Christ is. And then we’ll see the benefits of being “In Christ”. Let’s start reading in verse 8 and continue until verse 15.
Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ. For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, and you have been filled by Him, who is the heads over every ruler and authority. You were also circumcised in Him with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the Messiah Having been buried with Him in baptism, you were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And when you were dead in trespasses and in the un-circumcision of your flesh, He made you alive with Him and forgave us all our trespasses. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it out of the way by nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; He triumphed over them by Him.
When I was going through Combat Rescue Swimmer School we had instructors that would tasks the class with seemingly impossible feats. One such was that we were running on the beach in full fatigues and boots and one sailor just happened to glance over at a dried up old dead fish. Naturally the instructor yells “Circle around!” So we circled around staying in formation and he holds up the crusty creature and hands it to the first person in ranks. “We are Rescue Swimmers gentleman! This fish could have lived if we were on time. Now it’s up to you to make this fish live!” he exclaimed. He then tells us that we cannot stop running until the fish showed signs of life. The lesson we learned that day was that we as Rescue Swimmers save lives at the risk of our own being taken. It was in a sense a warning. That is why we received “Warning Orders” when we went on deployments.
In verse 8, Paul is giving the church a “Warning Order”. He is essentially saying that the church has been put on alert. Look at what he says there, “Be careful that no one takes you captive”. This is not a suggestion! To be put on alert is like saying that this is happening and it is real! This active voice that Paul uses is calling not just for the elders of the church, who in fact should know better, but for every Saint to have this discerning attitude as habit.
Be on alert for what? Be on alert so that no one takes you captive as in being taken hostage! Paul is warning them to be careful because they are being taken hostage and they don’t realize it.
How can someone be taken hostage without knowing about it? It’s very subtle and discreet. Paul tells them it’s by philosophy and empty deceit. The philosophy that Paul is referring to is that “Heresy” I told you about earlier. But then he tells them what the basis of this philosophy was. He gives us three marks to which to look for and this can apply to anything.
First, Paul says that it was based on human tradition. The Pharisees were known for their traditions. Jesus referred to them and the traditions. One particular was the washing of the hands. Nothing inherently wrong with washing hands and you should do it often. I am an avid watcher in the bathroom in restaurants, especially, toward servers. I educate those who do not heed the sign that clearly says “Employees MUST wash hands”! But the Pharisees took the washing to another level and brought it in with the rituals. Paul is telling the Colossians that the philosophy they were hearing is not a new philosophy and that they were adding it to the Gospel just like the Pharisees.
The second mark was that it was based on demonic influence. These “elemental forces” were understood to mean demonic. In Galatians 4:3, Paul says that we were “children in slavery under the elemental forces of the world.” The language Paul uses here is more in military terms and literally means “things lined up in a row, such as in an army of soldiers in ranks in a hierarchy.” Naturally our armies do not line up as described here, such as the evolution of war. But the Romans and most ancient armies would take their army and line up in a long line. This was a very intimidating sight. Especially if the numbers were great and that was the idea behind the formations. If you were on a battlefield and saw how many people you had to fight it would affect you. If it worked right it would persuade you into giving up or fight scared.
The third mark was that this philosophy was NOT based on Christ. You can always spot a cult or false teaching by the way it views Christ. “Evil always focuses on demoting Jesus”. I’m sure you can probably think of a few right now that demotes or change the work of Jesus. Maybe you are thinking of one that says that Jesus is only one of the ways. Or, perhaps you might be thinking of one that says that Jesus was only a man and never claimed to be God. I stand here to tell you that Jesus IS who He Says He is. C. S. Lewis once said that Jesus was a lunatic, a liar, or Lord.
Remember, Paul is writing to Christians here. They already know who Jesus was. It is the sly lies that have infiltrated into the church that Paul is warning them about. So, the scene Paul is giving the church of Colossae is that they are being put on warning because this philosophy that has crept into the church. After he warns them of what they are facing he reminds them of who Christ is.
First, we must remember “entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ.” Look at verse 9. When we think of the “fullness” of God we must think of the essence and nature of God. Jesus was, by this statement, FULLY or 100 percent God and FULLY or 100% man. You may say “How is this mathematically possible?” I do not like it when people say “I’ll give it 110%!” That is impossible! You cannot give more than what you can give. My instructors in RSS understood that but required 100% one-hundred percent of the time. Never-the-less Jesus was and IS both wholly God and wholly man.
It is important to know this because if He is “filled” with God’s nature and essence we are “complete” in Him. In verse 10, Paul says that they have been “Filled by Him.” The word used here for “filled” is a nautical term meaning that the ship is “ready for the voyage”. In other words the ship needs nothing else to be able to set sail. There is nothing else we need for salvation! Jesus has already provided it all.
Jesus is the “fullness” of God and we are “filled” by Him because, look what it says there at the end of verse 10, “everything is under Christ’s authority.” This is known as the “Continual Headship of Christ” He is the “Head” over everything! This is another military term Paul uses and it gives the emphasis of the Chief as in rank. Earlier in Colossians 1:16, Paul says that “all things were created by Him and for Him.” If they are His creation He (Christ) is the authority over all.
So now we have been warned. We have been reminded of who Christ is. Now we turn our attention to the benefits of being “In Christ”. Let’s look at the benefit of the “Fullness in Christ.” In verses 11 and 12 Paul tells the Colossian church that they were “circumcised with a circumcision done without hands” and that they were “buried with Him in baptism.” These were two seemingly conflicting that give the same conclusion. Circumcision was first given to Abraham as an assurance that God would fulfill His promise and Baptism was an act that reminds others that God will fulfill His promise. But if we look closely we see that the picture that Paul was giving was that in circumcision was the symbolic of the “cutting away” of something that is useless! Only he describes it as a spiritual circumcision “done without hands”. It was a circumcision of the heart. When Jesus was crucified, the sin that he assumed on our behalf was removed or cut away and discarded. In Romans chapters 5 and 6, Paul says something similar in that we are dead to sin through this circumcision.
While the circumcision stands for the death of Jesus and the cutting away, baptism stands for our new life. Baptism always is described as “walking in newness of life”. Being baptized we are symbolizing our new life to those who are observing. Spiritually, it is the work of the Holy Spirit in imparting new life from Christ. It is the new life, being born again, and also described as a new creature and being in the “FULLNESS’ of Christ.
Paul reminds us that not only are we to remember the benefits of the fullness in Christ but also remember the benefit of the Forgiveness in Christ. Verse 14 is perhaps the plainest anyone can give the gospel. First, the condemnation is removed. Romans 6:23 we see that the earnings we receive for our sin is death. We have all sinned and we all are going to pay for that sin. Death is the ONLY payment acceptable. In the Garden of Eden after Adam and Eve partook of the fruit they noticed that they were naked. This disobedience was sin. By this act sin entered the world and death followed. The Bible records that Adam and Eve tried to cover their sin but it wasn’t good enough. God Himself had to kill an animal and shed its blood so that Adam and Eve’s nakedness was covered. What a great foreshadow as to what Christ did. Picture that every one of us has a certificate of debt. According to what Paul says here is that God took that certificate and everything that comes with it and nailed it to the cross. That, my friends is FORGIVENESS!
Paul is telling these Colossians that if they have been circumcised and baptized experiencing the “fullness” of Christ and if they remember the “forgiveness” they received because of Christ they can experience the Freedom “In Christ”. Look at the last verse of our text. He, Jesus disarmed these rulers and authorities. These are in reference to the “elemental forces of the world” or demonic powers in verse 8. Again Paul is using a military term here. He is describing something that the Romans would do when they defeated an army. When the battle was over, they would march the captives home. Then, in all pomp they would parade in a show leading with the Generals and leaders who thought up the tactics. Then the brave soldiers would be next with the bravest in front. Then lastly, the defeated would be forced to parade in front of the crowd. It wasn’t done to humiliate the captives as much as it was to show the citizens that they no longer had to worry about the enemy. They are defeated!
What a great picture Paul ends this thought with. First, the church of Colossae was infiltrated with a false teaching. And Paul barely and indirectly addresses the Colossian Heresy. What he does is much like the Secret Service who is responsible for detecting counterfeit currency. They don’t study fake money to be able to spot it. Instead they study the real thing. In fact they study it so well, that if a fake is briefly flashed to them, they could tell it. Imagine, if we study the Word of God like that, we can spot a false teaching quickly.
In this passage Paul spent a considerable amount of time on the person of Jesus. Have you noticed the marks of a false teaching in what you believe? Do they take away or add to the person and work of Jesus? Or, perhaps you now understand that you can do nothing for your own salvation and you are still holding on to your certificate of debt. You are waiting on something else. Don’t wait! Let God nail it to the cross.