This week, we are blessed to hear from one of our study members. She has been invaluable in discussion times and this teaching is all the more appreciated.
Before we get started I have a question for you all to think about. If someone were to ask you how can you grow spiritually what would you tell them? Would you tell them to pray, study God’s word, fast, and attend church? Take a moment to think about that question and what your response would be.
This week we made it to our theme verses in Colossians. Since they are the theme verses for the whole book, we shouldn’t be surprised that they are important to this entire passage as well. I have broken this passage into three points. The first point basically summarizes the whole passage, while points two and three further explain the first point.
- Since we have received Christ as Lord we are to walk in him instead of according to the world’s wisdom. (v. 6-8)
Verse 6 starts with “therefore.” Which means we should look back at what the previous verses say. In 2:1-5 Paul explains how he longs for the Colossians to be encouraged, knit together in love and to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ. So Christ is the main point of their assurance. With that in mind look at verses 6-7
“ 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.”
From verses 6-15 we see the words “in him” (him being Christ) 7 times. The phrase “in him” speaks of our spiritual union with Christ that begins at the time of our salvation. Since the phrase “in him” is repeated so many times it clearly must be important. What does it mean to be “in Christ” and what does it look like? Let’s take a look at these verses and what they mean.
- Verse 6 the Colossians are told to “walk in him”
- Verse 7 they are told to be “rooted and built up in him”
- Verse 9 they are told that “in him all the fullness of deity dwells”
- Verse 10 they “have been filled in him”
- Verse 11 they “were circumcised in him”
- Verse 12 “in him you were raised up”
- Finally verse 15 “triumphing over them in him”
So what does it mean to be in him? It means to live a life that reveals that Christ is your everything and that you rely on him instead of on your own strength. If all that we know about Christ, from his word, is true, then why would we pay any attention to rival ideas or philosophies when we are so fully complete and lacking nothing in Christ.
In verse 8 Paul switches from talking about how the Colossians are to live their lives in Christ to warning against being taken captive by the philosophies of this world. There is a lot of debate over exactly what the Colossian heresy and philosophy was. I found ideas from many theologians, but I don’t think there is a need to go into all of them. The main things we know, from verse 8, about these “philosophies” as Paul calls them, is that they are empty deceit which are according to human tradition and elemental spirits of the world. When Paul says elemental spirits of the world he is basically saying that the root of this heresy originated with demonic powers. It is important to remember, that Satan and his demons are still very present and active today. Much of our own culture has been affected by these “elemental spirits of the world.” Aside from the demonic or satanic influence of the heresy, the main issue with this false teaching, is that it is not according to Christ and his gospel.
This is a great reminder for us. Since we received Christ we are to walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith. If we do these things with thanksgiving we should be able to say no to other philosophies that present themselves.
- When other ideas or “philosophies” as Paul words it, are presented to you are you tempted to be led astray from the truth? Do you think that if you do not “feel” close to God or have some special emotional experience that you aren’t really a good Christian? Or do you think you have to become a better person before you can come to God? These are all ideas that I know a lot of people can wrestle with.
- Or are you so established in Christ’s truth that you clearly know the difference between truth and deceit?
- If you are often confused or almost taken captive by deceit what can you do about it?
- What should you have established in your life to keep you “in Christ”?
The second point that I will talk about helps to explain the answer to the question, How do we remain “in Christ” instead of being captive to deceit?
- Remember that the work Christ has done disarmed the rulers and authorities. (vs. 9-15) (Say 2x)
Verses 9-15 present us with the gospel. As we are so often taught here at Hinson, we must constantly be preaching the gospel to ourselves and asking others to do the same for us. When Paul talks about a circumcision without hands he is metaphorically speaking about a spiritual circumcision. In order for the jews to be set apart the men practiced circumcision. A spiritual circumcision, which is a circumcision of the heart, is removing your sin which is what separates you from God. Therefore just as the jews were set apart by a physical circumcision, Christians are set apart by a spiritual circumcision. Then Paul further explains what Christ has done for us by using the illustration of baptism. “Paul says the Christian rite of baptism represents an identification with Christ in his death.” (ESV Study Bible) “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.” (v.13) I love the picture described in the next couple verses. When the Romans would crucify people they would nail their record of debt to their cross showing why they were being crucified. Jesus took our record of debt and the legal demands that went with it, which was the penalty of death, and died in our place! His death on the cross didn’t just save us, it also disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame. The language used here is also used in Ephesians 6 when Paul talks about the armor of God and that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers and authorities and the powers of this dark world. Jesus’ death on the cross, followed by his resurrection, put Satan and all of the demons to open shame. The cross made it clear that no one could thwart God’s plan for salvation. Praise God! What an amazing God we serve! Even Satan’s plan to thwart God’s plan for salvation God was able to use for good!
To go back to my earlier question, how do we remain “in Christ”? We do so by remembering the gospel. We need to remind ourselves and our brothers and sisters in Christ of the gospel message each and every day. We never outgrow our need for the gospel. We need to constantly be reminded of where we started and what we have been saved from. We serve a God who sent his only son to die in our place. We were dead because of our sins, but Christ makes us alive when we repent of our sins and believe in him and make him Lord of our lives. Not only are we now saved from our sins, but we get to glorify him forever.
Verse 13 makes it clear that we are saved by God, not because of anything we have done. Which leads to our third and final point.
- Spiritual growth comes from the head, not from the condemning rules of the world. (vs. 16-23) (Say 2x)
For this last point we will now further take a look at the false teaching being taught in the Colossian church. As I mentioned earlier it is not totally clear all the aspects of the heresy going around the Colossian church, but Paul encourages the Colossians that since they have been saved through Christ, and therefore they are “in Christ” they should not let anyone pass judgment on them. In verse 17 when Paul says “these are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” he is explaining that the mosaic mandates about food, drink, festivals, new moon and sabbath were all in place to foreshadow, or point people, to Christ and his coming. Since Christ has come, the reasons for those former observances have been fulfilled in Christ. Therefore, now that they have Christ and are “in Christ” there is no need to continue following the rules set prior to Jesus’ coming. (ESV study Bible)
Another thing we learn about this heresy, from verse 19 is that the false teachers were trying to disqualify the Colossian Christians from spiritual growth since they were not practicing asceticism, worship of angels and having visions. For any of you, who like me, didn’t know what asceticism means it is severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons. First off, if you look back at Colossians 1:12 Paul uses the language of qualification just like here in verse 19. In 1:12 he says that “God has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.” Therefore if God is the one who qualified you, why would you think that mere man could disqualify you? Paul explains that these ideas of only growing spiritually through your own religious practices are ridiculous! Relying on these works only leads to pride and arrogance! Christ, who is the head of the body, the church, is the one who nourishes and grows the body with a growth from God; a spiritual growth. (vs. 19) In verse 20 “elemental spirits of the world” can also mean fundamental principles of pagan religion. When the Colossian christians died with Christ in his death they also died to these false principles, therefore there is no need for them to continue living as though they belong to this world. As I mentioned earlier, the mosaic laws were put in place to point us to Christ. Now that Christ has come they are not necessary. When people, such as those in the Colossian church, insist that you must continue with the mosaic laws to grow spiritually, it encourages self reliance and arrogance instead of humbly relying on Christ. The main issue with the Colossian heresy is that Christ seems to be out of the picture, instead of right in the middle of it all like he should be. Instead of encouraging a heart change they were looking simply for behavior modification, which in turn leads to pride.The law is only condemning and to follow as if you are saved and refined by your own works only rejects the very person the law is pointing man to; which is Jesus. So ultimately by considering yourself bound to the law means you are rejecting the very gospel of Christ Jesus. No wonder Paul was so clear in pointing out the error in this teaching! As good as it may sound and feel to do extreme religious acts, when it eliminates a dependance on Christ, it is false and destructive and must be confronted!
- Are you ever tempted to think in this way as the Colossians were?
- I think these next questions would be especially good to think about in your groups. Think about your own heart as I ask these questions. Do you rely more on yourself for spiritual growth rather than on Christ? How are you taking glory away from God? Have you become proud in your good works such as: how involved you are in church, how many people you are discipling, how often you fast, instead of realizing that the ability to even do anything good is by the grace of God. We must rely on him for growth instead of thinking we can do it on our own. Self reliance only separates us from God instead of drawing us closer to him.
- Do you make a spiritual “to do” list that helps you feel better about yourself instead of dealing with the deeper issues going on in your own heart?
- What about in your discipling relationships whether it’s with a peer or your own children? Do you take the time to help them figure out the heart issues going on in their lives or do you simply encourage them to modify their behaviors such as: read your Bible, be kind to others, go to church and pray.
This is where my original question comes in. How do we grow spiritually? Obedience of course is important. As I mentioned earlier, not only do you believe the good news of the gospel, but that should change our hearts and transform our lives so that we desire to study Gods word, to be involved in a local church, to love others well and to pray. But if we just do a list of “christian” or “religious” tasks and don’t rely on Christ for our spiritual growth aren’t we falling into the same problem that the Colossians found themselves in? It can be easy in our attempts to live lives that glorify and honor God to become rigid and legalistic. We don’t want to point others to ourselves and the good things that we do, we want to point other to Christ and what he has already done. Praise the Lord that we have freedom in Christ! He has freed us from our sin and from the rules of this world.
If you look back at verse 3 of chapter 2 Paul says “in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” We cannot live life on our own! We need Christ. My prayer for all of us here is that we would remember what it means to be “in Christ.” To remember what we have been saved from and that in order to grow in godliness we need to rely fully on the head of the church which is Christ himself. May God give us the strength and wisdom to refuse to rely on our own strength, which would be the world’s wisdom, and instead to fully depend on Christ for spiritual growth.