El Shaddai: The Colossians Study (No. 4)
Words by Lexy Sauvé // Images by Candice Hackett
In this study so far, we have looked at how Paul encouraged the Colossians to think correctly about Jesus’ total sufficiency. At this point in his letter, H. Wane House says Paul has now “affirmed the association between correct theology and correct living.” In the following verses we will see a transition as Paul begins to prescribe how our theology should overflow into living faith in practical life. This section addresses how Christians should react to those with unbiblical schemes of how we earn and maintain righteousness.
“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 the 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, but 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. Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a deistical or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together though its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do not submit to regulations—‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’ (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:6–23)
Paul carries on by saying, because you have received Christ, this sufficient Christ who has qualified you and saved you (1:12), who is the very imprint of the God of the Universe (1:15), and who is able to produce fruit and growth in you (1:6, 10, 29), walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith (v. 6). He’s essentially saying, “If this is true, sink your roots in deep because there is no other ground which you will be able to find so dense in the nutrients needed for stability and growth in maturity.”
Now that Paul has repeatedly reminded the Colossian Christians of what to do, his letter will turn and explain what they are not to do as a result of being established in Jesus Christ.
The two things Paul says not to do are: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit,” and, “let no one pass judgment on you. . . . Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism” (v. 8, 18).
Being held captive by something means you are made a slave to it. Like it or not, we are all slaves to something, be it diet, how we parent, or a trendy philosophy of life (“Less is more!”). Paul’s desire is that, because of the goodness of Christ, we would repent of these idols and entrust ourselves to God as we turn our hearts to him. I believe Galatians 5:1–6 explains to Christians how we are to respond to man-made religions, traditions, and teachings that are heaped on us, a weight of law that is disconnected from faith. We pick up this load ourselves just as much as we try to put it on the backs of others. The passage says:
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.”
Paul’s prescription to the grounded Christians facing persuasions of many philosophies? “Do not submit!” (5:1). These words written to the Galatians should be startling and of utmost importance to believers! Paul says we are actually severed from Christ and that we have fallen from grace if we put our hope and trust in additional philosophies and man-made traditions.
For the Colossians, what did these philosophies and forms of asceticism look like? Honestly, not much different than what they look like today. Paul says they were related to, “questions of food or drink, or with regard to a festival or new moon or a Sabbath” (v. 16).
If we’re transparent, we can all admit we’ve mocked a friend in our heart when we see them hand their child a third and fourth piece of candy. We smugly smile when our child is sleeping through the night at six weeks of age, but our worried and exhausted sister in Christ just can’t seem to get her baby to sleep for more than forty minutes at a time. We feel holy when we announce in a group of friends that we’ve chosen as a family not to celebrate Halloween. These burdens that we insist each other and ourselves carry have no root in Christ, so it causes us to be “puffed up” (v. 18) with pride. We become reliant on our own works instead of what Christ has richly provided for us. We measure up according to a list of to-dos instead of acknowledging that Christ alone measured up.
But these aren’t issues of Gospel, are they?
They certainly are when you begin to measure other people according to your invented definitions of righteousness. Righteousness no longer looks like Jesus. To you, it may look like the Ergobaby-wearing, on-demand breastfeeding, vegan, hippie mama next door who only homeschools until 10 a.m. Or for others it may look like the minimalist home, complete with a pine-wood kitchen table and potted succulent centerpieces, a six-digit salary in the city, and globe-trotting vacations every six months. Or still, to another it may be the chaos of five or six unkempt children, running around a disorderly house with no true direction for your family life or marriage because, “Hey, we’re free in Christ! Don’t put a yoke on me!” Self-righteousness shows up in many shades, but none of them matches the true color of Christ.
But we won’t be able to withstand submitting to these philosophies that constantly bombard us unless we have solid evidence against them. So Paul goes to explain to us why we shouldn’t submit when he says, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity of the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (v. 23). Asceticism and severity of the body—or in other words, law—says to reform the evil desires of the flesh. Formulas and systems are created to suppress the vile flesh, starving it with the hopes that it will no longer demand its fill.
Instead, Jesus, through grace and the cross, put our flesh in the grave (Gal. 5:24). Through him we can sever the flesh completely! What good news this should be to us! He took care of our evil, insatiable desires, not by suppressing them, but my fully cutting them off through “a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh” (v. 11). Our old selves are not only put to death at the cross when we come to trust in Christ as our Savior, but we “were also raised with him through faith,” not our attempts to suppress our sinful nature “in the powerful working of God, who raised him [Jesus] from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of you flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, but 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” (12–15).
We are alive in Christ as brand new creations (2 Cor. 5:17), fully equipped to, “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:10). The power of our sinful flesh and Satan no longer need to control our every desire and action. Sin and death cannot have the final say over re-born creations. Alternatively, they are completely disarmed in the battle, themselves ruled over and put to shame by the victorious Lion of Judah!
Questions to consider:
What definitions of righteousness have I invented that don’t align with the correct, biblical definition of righteousness, found alone in Jesus Christ? Is this a standard I hold others to unfairly? What about myself? If so, pray about confessing this to others and asking their forgiveness. If you do this, 1 John 1:9 says Jesus is faithful and just to forgive you of this sin and cleanse you.
Do I believe I am a new creation, fully capable of turning from my sin because Jesus broke the dominion it had over me? Do I believe I have all the help needed to do this in Christ, with his grace?