Colossians 2:6-15 (Week 5)
“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.“
This passage marks a turning point in the entire letter. It is very common for Paul to start his letters heavy on theology and then move on to practical action. This pattern is even more obvious when you analyze the original language.
You may have heard preachers talking about the difference between “indicatives” and “imperatives,” so let’s take a minute and explain this and why it’s important in Bible study.
First off, these are grammatical terms. An indicative is a statement of reality, examples: “He is the image of the invisible God,” and “He has delivered us from the domain of darkness.” And an imperative is a command, examples: “Walk in Him,” and “Watch out.” See what I’m saying? And logically, we have these calls to action (imperatives) following from the truths of the Gospel (indicatives). What we see in this text is a transition from indicatives to imperatives. Because of this amazing Gospel that we have proclaimed, you should act in such and such a way. Are we clear?
The book of Colossians has 27 imperatives. This is important because these are commands that God is calling the Colossian Church to do in obedience (and by extension to us). One more small caveat: “imperative” is a grammatical term, but Greek doesn’t always function the same way that English does and will often have commands that aren’t strictly imperatives, grammatically. I say that to say that if you are going to say this is an “imperative,” then you need to make sure that it actually is. Ok, enough about that. Paul has been filling us (and the Colossians) with some awesome, Gospel truths and now he is going to tell us what to do in light of it.
Spoiler alert: it is still going to involve good, solid teaching.
Because Jesus Christ is totally supreme and preeminent over all of everything and because you have been filled with Him, you should walk in Him, that is, in light of these truths. Because you are a Christian, you need to live like one. To do this, you need to find your identity in Him and be on your guard for opposing truth claims, all the while remembering that Jesus is victorious.
WHAT IS THE TEXT SAYING?
WALK IN HIM – INSTEAD OF HERESY
Here we see the first of five “therefores” in the letter along with the first imperative. You will notice that every one of the “therefores” is followed (logically) by an imperative. The reason for this is clear, Paul is not just giving us isolated commands willy nilly, but he is basing them on what he has said before. In this case, it is the totality of everything he has laid down already in the letter. Everything that he has said about them and the prayer that he has prayed for them culminates in the command to “walk in Him.” It’s really interesting because it looks like he summarizes the whole of what he’s already said with the phrase, “as you received Jesus Christ as Lord.” What does this mean exactly? Let’s make sure that we don’t just skim over words in the Bible. Jesus is the Messiah (the Christ, the Anointed One), but He is also the Lord, God. Don’t forget the NT often uses “Lord” to translate the OT covenant name of God, Yahweh. His point is clear if you have received Jesus as your Lord, then you must walk in Him. That is, you need to live your life in every way so that it is for, in, and by Jesus Christ. If He is your Lord, then your life should point towards that fact.
However, this isn’t something that you can do on your own. This is a work of Jesus inside of you. He points this out with the participles that he uses to reinforce this command. Interestingly, he uses four participles here that seem to parallel the four participles that he used in his prayer for them.
First, is that we have been rooted in the faith. Here is an analogy that is drawn from the world of agriculture. It’s like we have been planted by God into the soil of faith. We are now to grow in Him.
Second, he says that we are built up in Him. This is a different picture from the realm of architecture. We are built up like a building on the foundation of Jesus.
And third, he says that we are strengthened by Jesus. This he qualifies with the phrase “as you were taught.” He is reinforcing what he has already mentioned about Epaphras being a faithful minister. Paul isn’t changing the message that Epaphras preached to them; he is building on it.
Lastly, he echoes 1:12 and helps us understand that if we are living in Christ, we will be abounding in thanksgiving.
WATCH OUT! – FOR FALSE TEACHING
The second command in the text is to watch out, or as the ESV says, “see to it.” I like the connotations that come with “watch out” more, in light of this being a call to be on our guard for false teaching.
Specifically, Paul is telling them (and consequently us) not to be carried off or taken captive by false teaching. This word is only used here in the NT and carries with it (no pun intended) the idea of being kidnapped or carried off as the spoils of war. What a powerful word picture!
You need to be on your guard so that you are not taken captive by false teaching. He explains further that we need to make sure that we are not taken captive (or captivated…same root) by human philosophy, or empty, vain deceit. These find their origin both in human tradition (which might refer to a past Judaism) and in false gods. Time out, is he saying that it’s possible that some of our false teachings come from evil spirits? Yes… so watch out!
Instead of being captive to these things, we need to be captive to (and captivated by) Jesus. It is only in service to Jesus Christ that we can have true freedom.
Plus, all of the sufficiency that we desire is in Jesus. Folks can often get derailed by lofty human education and look down condescendingly on Christian teaching, but that’s because they have never been exposed to good, solid, biblical teaching. All of the fullness of God-ness is in Jesus. That is anything but shallow and boring. And not only that, but if you are “in Christ,” then He is in you. All the fullness of divinity is in Him, and you have been filled in Jesus. This involves a complete identification in Jesus.
This is also where we can find our security because of Jesus Christ in charge. Paul pauses here to remind us that this same Jesus, who is filling us, is the head of all rulers and authorities (This is the second time that we have seen these two words paired together. (The first time was in 1:16, and he’ll do it again in 2:15). It is clear that Jesus created and is in control of all things).
It looks like the main reason Paul is writing this to the Colossians at this time is that they are faced with false and heretical teaching. Whatever heresy that’s working its way through the Church in Colossae is fundamentally perverting the truth about who Jesus is. And the best way to confront this false teaching is to elevate Jesus. We need to hear this as well. Any time we are tempted to drift away from Christian truths either because of tradition or false teaching, we need to come back to the Bible to find our roots in Jesus.
Next, Paul moves into two different pictures to help provide a broader foundation for why we are to walk in Christ. The two pictures are circumcision and baptism.
The OT understanding of circumcision was instituted to set apart the Jewish people and to signify that they were holy before God. Circumcision was always intended to point towards a true circumcision (Deuteronomy 30:6… a circumcision of the heart). Here Paul tells us that the Colossians (who are mostly Gentiles) have been circumcised by/in Christ. This isn’t a physical circumcision. This is the spiritual circumcision that the OT was always pointing towards. This is a circumcision that wasn’t done physically (by hands), but spiritually (made without hands). And it’s really interesting because there is a double meaning to the words that Paul uses. He says that this is a circumcision that involved “putting off of the body of flesh” however he isn’t using “body” or “flesh” in the physical sense (like OT circumcision) but that if we are in Christ, He has put off our sinful, fleshly nature. This is what he means by the circumcision of Christ.
But then how is this accomplished? Here is where Paul brings in the second-word picture, baptism. We no longer are bound to live out our sinful flesh because that flesh has died and been buried, and our new self has been raised to life in Christ. Now, see how interesting this is? In baptism, do we actually die, get buried, and rise again? Of course not, it is a picture of this. When we put our faith in the One who raised Christ from the dead, then we are also made alive with Him. This is another really cool word in the original language and is only used here and in the corresponding passage in Ephesians 2:5 (even when we were dead in our trespasses, (He) made us alive together with Christ— by grace, you have been saved).
We were dead. We sinned against God and were still bound to our sinful flesh. But God made us alive together with Jesus. This is huge! Who is the active agent here? Us? Nope, we were dead. What can dead people do? Nothing. God is the One who made us alive. How did He accomplish this? By forgiving us from all our sins.
VICTORIOUS CHRIST – NAILING OUR SIN TO THE CROSS
If you’re not excited yet, buckle up because here it comes. So there we were dead in our sins, with a sentence of condemnation written out against us damning us to eternal hell, separated from God, without even a glimmer of hope in the world. But Jesus Christ took that court order for our execution and nailed it to the cross where He died. He took our just condemnation on Himself. In doing so, He wiped it away and removed the penalty from us. How awesome is that?!
These “rulers and authorities” that are still vying for our allegiance have been defeated by Jesus at the cross. It says here that He made a disgrace of them openly. This word is only used twice in the NT. The other was when Joseph refrained from disgracing Mary for getting pregnant without a husband (Matthew 1:19). Jesus did not have the same regard for the enemies that stood hostile to Himself and us. He put them to open shame by triumphing over them. In His death, burial, and resurrection, He is leading a triumphal procession in victory and has called us into that victory with Him.
What Does This Mean for Me?
- Are you living your life as if Jesus Christ is your Lord?
- How are you preparing to answer false teaching and false truth claims?
- Can you actually back up what you believe, and consequently, how are you living from the Bible? If not, you need to either change what you believe or how you are acting.
- How much validity are you giving to the role of tradition in your life? Let’s specifically think about this in light of “Christian tradition.” Sometimes traditions are harmless or even beneficial, but we need to make sure that we are not holding our traditions up to the same level as Scripture.
- Have you internalized the fact that you have been filled with Jesus? You are rooted, built up, and confirmed in Him. All the fullness of God is in Him, and He is in you… How do your thoughts, motivations, and actions need to change in light of that?
- Are you actually on your guard against false teaching? Pay attention. Watch out!
- Are you finding your identity in Jesus? Do you really believe that you have died, been buried, and raised with Him? If so, does your life reflect it?
- Are you still living in bondage to your sin? Don’t you know that if you are in Christ, you no longer have to?
- Do you still feel condemned? If you are in Christ, He has taken your punishment and nailed your sin to the cross.
- When was the last time you were humbled before God and praised Him for the victory He has accomplished on your behalf?
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