By Sam E. Stone
If you had lived in first-century Colossae, you would have seen much similarity to today’s world. Competing pagan religions and philosophies battled for the souls of the residents. A Christian should stand out in such a society. For this reason Paul wrote them this letter of encouragement and guidance.
Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him. Paul here combines two early confessions—”Jesus is the Christ” (Mark 8:29, NIV, 1984) and “Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9)—to emphasize cardinal points of the gospel that were being questioned in Colossae. Believers are being built up in him, the one in whom they were rooted. There is no other way for them to be strengthened in their original beliefs. Our faith must remain on the rock-solid foundation of Jesus himself. Then we will be overflowing with thankfulness. J. B. Lightfoot said, “Thanksgiving is the end of all human conduct, whether observed in words or works.”
Paul warned them not to be taken captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy. Such false teachings are based on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. His call to vigilance is in the present tense, suggesting constant watchfulness on their part, lest they be led astray (Herbert Carson). Be careful that you don’t base your faith on any manmade teaching, no matter how deceptively and seductively it may be presented. While Christian teaching is called “the word of truth” (Colossians 1:5), worldly philosophies are characterized by empty deceit. In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. Paul had emphasized this earlier (Colossians 1:19). Nothing can be added to Jesus. Indeed, it is Jesus who brings fullness to all who belong to him.
Many years before this, God had commanded Abraham to circumcise all of the males in the camp as a sign that they belonged to him (Genesis 17:10-14). Through Christ, however, there is a new circumcision. “Even in the Old Testament, the symbolical character of circumcision was emphasized; what God really desired was not the external sign for its own sake, but the ‘circumcision of the heart’—an inward purification,” notes F. F. Bruce (see Deuteronomy 10:16; 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4).
This new circumcision is not marked by the removal of flesh, but by the removal of sin itself. God grants believers forgiveness for their sins, even as he removes the power of sin in their lives. This new circumcision is pictured by baptism—a burial in water—signifying the death of the old man of sin and the rising of a new creature (see also Romans 6:3-7). Those who come to faith and repentance are then ready to share in this powerful reality (Matthew 28:19, 20; Acts 2:38).
Michael R. Weed explains, “In the act of baptism the believer participates (with him) in the circumcision of Christ. That is, the one baptized is incorporated into Christ and his self-giving death; he died in baptism to the carnal and sensual nature which is stripped from him. . . . Paul also asserts that the one baptized has been raised with Christ.”
The apostle reminds the Colossians that when they were still dead in their sins, God made them alive with Christ. Elsewhere Paul speaks of going from being “dead in your sins” to being “dead to sin” (Romans 6:11). After describing their moving from death to life, he adds other dramatic pictures to explain the greatness of salvation.
Our legal obligation can be thought of as our “I.O.U.” to God. The cost is more than we can afford. No one can pay the price. The law brought condemnation because, even though the Jewish people embraced it, they could never live up to it. All sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). We owed a debt we could never pay. In his ultimate power and mercy, God accepted the sacrifice of Christ as full payment for all the sins of all the people in all the world through all these many years! Jesus was our willing representative when he died on that cross (Hebrews 10:10).
The indictment that stood against mankind was not only erased, but removed. No longer do God’s people have to try to pay for their sins. Be grateful! Jesus has taken all our sins away, triumphing over them by the cross.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.