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Bible: What Does Colossians 2 Teach Us About Christian Truth Versus Pagan Philosophy?
The Doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ
Paul continues to emphasize that he has had to struggle and suffer for them (and for other believers elsewhere) in order to see spiritual growth among them (v. 1; cf. 1:24, 29; Phil. 1:30; 4:3). He desires that his efforts to unite them into a more intimate group would enable them to understand fully how spiritually wealthy they are because they know Christ, God’s mystery (v. 2). As a transition into his discussion of human philosophy’s opposition to this knowledge, the apostle asserts that Christ is the repository of all wisdom and knowledge, a fact he offers as a safeguard against their succumbing to the teachings of any Greek “sage” who would seek to dissuade them from following the Lord (vv. 3-4; cf. v. 8).
[The apostle laid the foundation of his doctrine about Christ’s full deity in the first chapter, and he continues to build upon it in this section)].
The Cross of Christ
Although he cannot be with them physically, Paul still maintains genuine interest in their spiritual welfare through reports and prayer, demonstrating joy when he “sees” their self-discipline and their persevering faith in Christ (v. 5). Acknowledging that they have trusted (“received”) Messiah Jesus as their Savior, Paul exhorts the Colossians to continue to conduct their daily lives (“walk”) according to their belief in the Lordship of Christ. He wants them to be thankful for the teachings (“the faith”) which have attached them firmly (“rooted”) and are growing them deep into the rich, fertile soil of Christ (vv. 6-7; cf. Eph. 3:17).
[In a similar epistle, the apostle also includes the idea of being built up as a holy temple in the Lord (cf. Eph. 2:20)].
By what philosophy do you attempt to live your life?
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Having fixed their minds on the blessings they have in Christ, Paul next warns them not to allow paganism (“philosophy and empty deception”) to captivate their hearts. The apostle informs them that these philosophers base their thinking on human tradition and “the elementary principles of the world,” a tradition that excludes Christ (v. 8).
[Ryrie provides an extended explanation of this Colossian belief system, calling their basic principles “the cosmic spirits of Hellenistic syncretism.” Their “theology” seemed to be a mixture of astrology and angel worship (362)].
Paul spends little time explaining what these false teachers espoused; instead, he centers the Colossians’ attention on both the full deity and the undiminished humanity of Jesus Christ (v. 9; cf. 1:19), and on spiritual wholeness (“in Him you have been made complete”): the benefit derived from being united to Him, the One who rules the angelic hierarchy [v. 10]. [Do not worship the angels; worship the One who rules the angels].
The Colossians have also received a spiritual circumcision and Spirit baptism in which Christ separated their old, sinful nature (“the body of the sins of the flesh”) [illustrated by the physical rite of circumcision] from their regenerated spirit, and the Spirit of God identified them with Christ in His burial and resurrection when they believed that God raised Jesus from death [illustrated by the ordinance of immersion] [vv. 11-12]. God positionally resurrected (“made alive together with Him”) and forgave the sins of the Colossian believers—a people whose transgressions once spiritually separated them from Him (“dead in your transgressions”) in their unregenerate state (“the uncircumcision of their flesh”) [v. 13]. Paul pictures God’s forgiveness of trespasses as His cancellation and removal of “the certificate of debt” of believers by nailing it to the cross of Christ (v. 14).
[Ryrie understands this document as illustrative of the Mosaic Law—principles everyone fails to obey perfectly, thus putting everyone in God’s debt (362)].
By eliminating this debt of sin, God takes away all of the spiritual weapons that demonic forces could use to destroy true believers, and displays His opponents as defeated and humiliated enemies (v. 15).
[These adversaries still wage war against the Church, but they can never ultimately defeat her. Believers need to remind themselves that Christ has fully paid their sin debt].
The Spiritually Blind
Having refreshed the Colossians’ mind as to their position in Christ, Paul now instructs them not to allow false teachers to force them to observe fasts and religious feast days—rituals and observances that were merely shadows of “things to come.” The life and work of Christ, on the other hand, are the “very form of things,” the “substance” (vv. 16-17; cf. Heb. 8:5; 10:1). Nor should the Colossians let these heretics rob them of their reward for faithful service to Christ by foisting upon them a belief system that included imaginary mystical visions, asceticism, and angel worship, but does not exalt the Lord to His proper position as the Head which supplies the body with all it needs to grow (vv. 18-19; cf. 1:18; 2:10). Given the fact that they know that their union with Christ separated them from adherence to pagan philosophy, Paul asks the Colossians why they continue to submit themselves to and follow ritualistic, man-made rules which “concern things destined to perish with the using” (vv. 20-22). He points out that while this ascetic religious philosophy appears wise, it, in reality, provides no power to overcome the lusts of the “flesh” (v. 23).
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