What parent has not said, “Enough already!”? This exclamation is usually given when the parent has one frazzled nerve left, and the children are standing on it. Some childish behaviors just need to stop. That is true of spiritual childishness, too.
Paul told the Colossians what they needed to believe about Jesus but also how they needed to behave in Jesus. The Colossians needed to stop sinning (John 5:14; 8:11; 1 Corinthians 15:34). They also needed to stop turning activities that were not sins into sins. The mysticism in the Colossian heresy showed up practically as legalism and asceticism. Seth Wilson used to say, “All of our efforts to control people show our failure to convert them.”
Of the Fullness of Christ There Is No Limit
If fullness (a special term in the Greek mystery religions) in life is found uniquely in Christ, then it is not found in religious systems, legal codes, earthly philosophies, human commandments, or self-imposed worship. By being rooted, built up, and established in Jesus (Colossians 2:6, 7) Christians keep from being duped by worldly philosophies (v. 8). Unfortunately for the Colossian believers, these had crept into the church through the heresy. Paul took them back to the fundamentals of their faith.
There is no limit to the fullness of Christ since the fullness of Deity lives in bodily form in him. Jesus needed nothing added to his person, and nothing can be subtracted from his work. When believers experience conversion they receive that fullness in Christ since Jesus is head over everything (1:18). From Christ’s fullness the believers received at least two things. First, they received a new and spiritual circumcision. This sign of the covenant in the Old Testament was done by human hands. But the sign of the new spiritual covenant was realized in immersion, wherein the believer experienced a death and resurrection similar to that of Christ.
Second, and certainly resulting from our active faith demonstrated in our baptism, forgiveness of all sins was assured. The word forgave is the verb “graced.” God graced us in Christ when Jesus died on the cross. At that moment our sins were canceled (smeared or rubbed out). Our sins had created God’s legal indebtedness (a handwritten legal notice) against us. Our sins were taken away (taken up) when Jesus was nailed to the cross.
How complete was this spiritual circumcision and forgiveness of sins? It was totally complete. In fact, what happened on Calvary’s cross was much larger than things done to us personally. In the cross, Jesus disarmed (stripped off) the demonic powers and authorities in the heavenly realms. In an ironic phrase Paul affirmed that Jesus made a public spectacle of our sins triumphing over them by the cross. The Romans used crucifixion as a means of publicly humiliating their captors. But Paul turned the phrase around by saying that Jesus actually “exposed” our sins on the cross by winning the victory over Satan (see 2 Corinthians 2:14). This phrase is rich in what it affirms about Jesus’ atoning death. There is no limit to the fullness of who Christ is and what he did.
Of the Making of Rules There Is No End
People often want to add to Jesus. They want to “help him out.” But the Christian experience is not about rules but about the Ruler. We discern some of the main tenants of the Colossian heresy by reading the paragraph in between the verses of our printed text (16-19). Evidently the heresy promoted a strange mixture of Jewish backgrounds and Greek religions. Food, drink, festivals, ascetic practices, worship of angels, and visions were all part of the “rules” of the heresy.
Paul reminded the Colossians (and us) that when they converted to Christ they died to the elementary spiritual forces of this world. This phrase translates from one very important Greek word. It has to do with rudimentary things like the ABC’s. Here it refers to the basic things of the universe like earth, water, air, and fire (see 2 Peter 3:10, 12). Sometimes it refers to former Jewish religious practices (Galatians 4:3) or first principles of believers (Hebrews 5:12).
Relationship with Christ takes us to places where rules can never take us. The rules are always temporary, they are humanly contrived, and they look spiritual. In reality though they never get us home. In fact, as good as they look, they can be little more than false modesty (which is really pride), and they do not really restrain sinful behavior. The way to a sin-free life is not more rules but an embrace of the fullness of the Ruler.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Lesson study ©2018, Christian Standard Media. Lesson based on The Lookout’s Scope and Sequence ©2018. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.