Part 6 in our Sunday Night Study Series in Colossians
As we have noted so far in our Study Series through Colossians, Paul’s prison letters have a different tone and tenor than his earlier letters. Paul was well aware he was facing imprisonment when he went to Jerusalem for the final time. As I pointed out last week, he was also aware that false teachers were going to come to the Gentile Churches once he was effectively out of the way. His final words to the elders at Ephesus recorded by Luke in Acts 20, tell us that the Spirit had revealed to Paul that these things would take place.
Acts 20:22-30 ESV
And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.
There is very good reason to believe, based on our text from this week, Colossians 2:6-23, that false teachers were already there, and that they were having a measure of success. Let’s take a closer look.
Colossians 2:6-23 ESV
 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.
 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival 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 through 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 you 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.
Before we begin a close analysis I need to also make Colossians 2:4 part of our discussion.
Colossians 2:4 ESV
I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments.
Ok, so four times in this chapter he warns them. What exactly does he say?
that no one may delude you with plausible arguments vs 4
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition vs 8
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath vs 16
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 vs 18
Paul is not speaking into a vacuum here. He is very specific about the ideas he is combating. There are two major false teachings that have entered the early church at this time. One is a natural extension of the Gospel first being preached to the Jews. There is a group of Jews, known as Judaizers, who are having a very difficult time accepting the Gentiles as part of God’s Kingdom people without first making them physical Jews. Listen to the things Paul talks to the Church at Colosse about,
Baptism as the “circumcision of Christ” vs 11, 12
Christ takes away the “Legal demands” (Ceremonial Law) vs 14
Food and Drink (Dietary Laws), Festivals, New moon, Sabbath(s) vs 16
Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch (clean and un clean) vs 21
In verse 20 we find the reason that I said it appears these false teachers are having a measure of success in Colosse.
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations?
There are folks apparently buying into the Judaizers seemingly “plausible arguments” enough to submit to their teaching and begin the process of returning to Old Testament ceremonies such as circumcision, festivals (like the Feast of Trumpets or the Feast of Booths), New Moon celebrations (monthly celebrations), physical patterns of clean and unclean, and keeping ceremonial sabbaths. These things Paul says were a ”a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ”.
In other words, these things preceded Christ like an actual persons shadow, but once Christ came these things were taken away because the Truth they were meant to convey had come to fruition in Jesus. Just like a wise homeowner who uses electric light bulbs to light his rooms at night, but when the sun rises he turns them off, because 100 watt light bulbs are of no use in the face of the sun. The ceremonies of the Old Testament are candles, and Christ is the fully risen noonday sun. Therefore these things have lost their usefulness, Christ having removed the curse of the Old Testament by His cross.
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.
A great passage to help us understand how Jesus removed the enforcement of the Old Covenant Law against us is Romans 7:1-6
Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
“Once we join ourselves to Christ by faith God considers Christ’s death, our death. Since we then have died in Christ, fulfilling the debt required by God of all law-breakers or sinners, we are free to enter into a New Covenant relationship with God, one in which God can shower us with favor and sonship.”
Which is why the Gospel of the Judaizers is no Gospel at all, and why Paul is concerned enough to send a letter from prison to help the believers at Colosse navigate the dangerous ideas introduced by those claiming to be followers of Jesus. You know, the Judaizers are not much different from many modern Christian groups teaching that what we need is Jesus plus something else. We need Jesus plus baptism, or, we need Jesus plus the Lord’s Table. When those things meant to communicate God’s love for us in Christ become actions we take in order to please God, or remove the guilt of our sin, or sustain our place among God’s people, we have left the Gospel and become Judaizers.
I wouldn’t judge the Judaizers to harshly as we all have their DNA stamped into our moral fiber. How many of us have felt that God was disappointed in us because we didn’t pray today (or this week even), and our not having prayed makes us feel guilty thus keeping us from approaching God because we feel (even though theologically we may not think it) that God doesn’t want to hear from sinners like us.
Friends, what we do, is what we believe. Are you basing your interactions with your Father on His grace available in Christ Jesus, or on your own ability to keep or not keep certain forms that make you acceptable in your sight. I expect I have hit a nerve or two, at least in my soul, so I am going to stop here. But take some time to evaluate your hope, is it in Jesus offered to you in the Gospel, or is it, in some misguided way, in you?
If you find yourself struggling in the ways I describe, a great old book on the subject that would be helpfulto read is, “The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence. Later this week I will be writing an article describing the second group of false teachers dealt with in this passage, the Gnostics. Stay tuned…