STUDY THREE: PAUL’S CHALLENGE TO THE COLOSSIAN BELIEVERS

Paul’s challenge to the Colossian believers is based on the true and full deity of Jesus Christ and on the incredible and complete salvation that God has given to the believer in Jesus Christ.

Because the false teachers in the Colossian church had an inadequate concept of Jesus Christ and an inadequate concept of the salvation the believer has in Jesus Christ, this affected their understanding of, and their attitude towards, a number of significant issues:

      • truth
      • assurance of salvation
      • the significance of the believer’s actions
      • judging other believers
      • classification of believers into different levels of spirituality
      • rules and regulations.

To those who were being impacted by, or about to be impacted by, the false teaching Paul gave a number of stern warnings:

2:4 I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments

False teaching, at least false teaching that deceives people into accepting it as genuine, is always fine sounding. Usually it has a Biblical sound to it. Jesus himself described its prophets as wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matthew 7: 15 ). They look like God’s people. They do Christian things. Yet Jesus said that he never knew them (Matthew 7:21 -23). So deceitful are they and so clever their deception that, if it were possible, they would deceive even God’s chosen people (Matthew 24:24).

Study the references from Matthew in the above paragraph. Identify the ways in which false teaching appears so good that it convinces people it is genuine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul’s point in Colossians is that all that there is to know about God and his saving purpose is revealed in Jesus Christ: therefore any teaching that would take us beyond or beside Jesus Christ is false teaching. No matter how good it sounds; no matter how Biblical it sounds; no matter who teaches it: any teaching that points us beyond or beside Jesus Christ to additional or alternative revelation and knowledge of God, or to a relationship with God based on someone or something beyond, or additional to, Jesus Christ, is false teaching. Any teaching that promotes a plus beyond Jesus Christ is false.

Identify examples of contemporary groups or teachers who claim to have received revelation from God or knowledge of God, additional to the knowledge of God we have in Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2:6 Just as you received Christ Jesus as lord, continue to live in him

The false teachers were enticing the Colossian believers away from faith in Christ. With their add-on gospel they were teaching the necessity of

[1] additional knowledge or revelation of God from sources beyond Christ.

[2] additional requirements for maintaining salvation - all to be provided by the believer.

Simple faith in Christ was considered only the first step in knowing God and getting saved. But Paul confronts the Colossians with their original response to the Gospel and calls them back to it:

[1] Their original salvation occurred when they received Christ Jesus as Lord. Through this faith they were saved. Through this faith they found forgiveness, reconciliation with God. Through this acknowledgement of Christ they then enjoyed all the blessings that were theirs in Christ.

[2] Now the false teachers are saying they must leave that initial step behind and progress to further revelation and add their own efforts to Christ’s to secure and maintain their salvation. To this Paul says: just as ... continue. Just as in the beginning you received Christ Jesus as Lord continue to live in him. Don’t stop trusting in him and start trusting in your own efforts to maintain your life with God. Originally you depended on Christ for your life in the presence of God: don’t change now. Live in the presence of God always, ever, only, in him.

Rooted in him - he is the only sure foundation and ground of acceptance with God.

Built up in him - anything else, anything you yourself add, is worthless. There is building, but it is with the same stuff as the original foundation - Jesus Christ.

Strengthened in the faith as you were taught: never depart from that original focus of faith. You were saved (restored to a right relationship with God) by faith alone in Christ alone on the day you were originally converted: the same is true today and every day of your lives: today and every day you relate to God only, always and ever by faith alone in Christ alone. Believers never again relate to God as isolated individuals standing in the presence of God on their own two feet with their own paltry little offering of righteousness in their hands.

Overflowing with thankfulness : only possible when we trust not in ourselves but in Christ for our on-going relationship with God, for only when we trust in him alone for our moment by moment relationship with God can we have any assurance of salvation. As soon as we give significance to our own performance as maintaining or enhancing our relationship with God we end up in either pride or despair; neither of these allows us to overflow with thankfulness.

In contemporary false teaching, Jesus Christ is replaced by a range of different factors as the basis of each of the above aspects of our Christian life and growth. Identify what contemporary teachers tell us, in contrast to the Paul’s command that we live our whole lives grounded in Christ alone.

Instead of being rooted in Christ they tell us we need …

 

 

 

Instead of being built up in Christ, they tell us to ask God for …

 

 

 

Instead of being strengthened in our original faith in Christ they entice us to believe …

 

 

 

Instead of being thankful for all we have in Christ, they make us discontent by …

 

 

 

2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ

Paul has reminded the Colossian believers that in Christ they have redemption. He has told them that God has rescued them from the dominion of darkness. Both of these images speak of release from bondage. In 2:8 Paul warns them against returning to a state of captivity. False teaching inevitably produces bondage: look at all the major world religions, look at all of the pseudo-Christian cults: invariably you will find that they do two things:

[1] Their concept of ‘god’ is different from the God who is the Father of Jesus Christ. In the case of pseudo-Christian cults the Jesus they present is less than the Jesus of the Gospels: he is robbed of his deity. In watering down the Biblical Jesus they also water down his authority as the final revelation of God and his power to give us complete salvation.

[2] Their concept of salvation is man-centred rather than Christ-centred. The religions of man - from the theism of Judaism to the ardent atheism of secular humanism and evolution – all tell me that I must do something, that I am responsible for my ultimate destiny, whether that destiny be heaven, or being right with God, or finding the god within, or achieving self-fulfilment, or whatever. In making me responsible for my own destiny false teaching holds me captive. I must do this or that in order to be saved, whatever salvation might be.

Here in Colossae the false teachers reduced Jesus Christ.

This meant that the believers could no longer put their full confidence in him. If he did not fully reveal the Father, if there are further steps to knowing God, further revelations of God to which they must aspire, then they are trapped in a constant quest for more, they will never be satisfied, they will never be content. (Yet Jesus himself said ‘he who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35). Those who know Jesus Christ know the truth: the light of the knowledge of the glory of God has been revealed in him (2Corinthians 4:6), and those who follow him never walk in darkness but have the light of life (John 8:12 ).

Study the references in the above paragraph. How do they teach us that all we need to know of God, and that all we need for our spiritual life is found in Jesus Christ alone?

John 6:35

 

John 8:12

 

2Corinthians 4:6

 

 

Also here in Colossae the false teachers had reduced the salvation we have in Christ.

As do all false teachings, they placed the responsibility for securing and maintaining salvation (positive relationship with God) on the believer. Instead of teaching the believers to look to Christ and his righteousness and there find permanent joy and peace with God (Romans 5:1; 8:1, Philippians 3:1-11) the false teachers taught them to look at themselves and their own supposed righteousness, and on those actions of obedience to various Biblical and man-made rules and regulations place their assurance of salvation. The false teachers held them captive in a constant obligation and need to perform in order to see themselves as right with God. They had to perform in order to be seen as spiritual. They had to perform in order to be accepted. They had to perform in order to be seen as Christian. They had to perform in order to maintain their salvation. It came to depend on them and not on Christ.

So Paul says: see to it that no one takes you captive.

Rather than having anything to do with the real Gospel, Paul sees the false teaching as

      • - Hollow and deceptive philosophy : Empty. Untrue. Misleading. Deceiving.
      • - According to human tradition. Not from God. Not God’s idea.
      • - According to the basic principles of this world. Its source and its orientation was the world’s thinking: false teaching thinks the way the world thinks: it relates to God on a tit-for-tat basis - ‘I have to do this for God so he’ll do that for me’. The world operates on a merit basis. The Gospel of Christ operates on a grace basis.

 

Look at your own Christian life. In what ways have you been ‘taken captive’ by teaching that has put on you the heavy burden of maintaining your relationship with God by things you have been told you must do in order to be right with God? [Note: things like this may be said openly, or may be subtly inferred by unspoken expectations or perceptions in your particular Christian group.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2:16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you ...

Paul has just told the believers

      • You are complete in Christ
      • You are buried and raised with Christ
      • God has made you alive in Christ
      • He forgave us all our sins
      • He cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us
      • He took it away
      • He nailed it to the cross
      • He disarmed principalities and powers ... triumphing over them by the cross.

In the light of all of this he says do not let anyone judge you –

- in terms of religious rules and regulations about food and drink

- in terms of whether or not you keep rules and regulations about various religious festivals and Sabbath days.

Our relationship with God is neither gained nor maintained by our performance of such things. Indeed such things are Old Testament prophetic shadows of the New Testament reality which is Christ himself. To give saving significance to them is as ludicrous as staying at the ‘Bus Stop’ sign once the bus has come, or standing in the shadow of a plane and expecting to arrive at one’s destination.

Do not let any judge you - How often we do just that, and how often we ourselves judge others - on the basis of performance of religious rules and regulations, relating to God and others on a basis on which God no longer relates to us.

In the box below list instances in which you have allowed people to condemn you in relation to their religious expectations and perceptions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2:18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize

The false teachers were characterized by

        • delighting in false humility
        • worshipping angels
        • going on and on about and preoccupied with their visions
        • unspiritual minds (minds of the flesh)
        • excessive (and empty) pride

 

There is the appearance of humility and spirituality in the false teachers; both were false; yet they tried to impose both on the Colossian believers. In so far as the believers did not have them the false teachers held them to be disqualified. Rather, they would be effectively disqualified if they gave in to the false teachers: don’t let them disqualify you, Paul urges. He states clearly: these false teachers have lost connection with the Head (Jesus Christ) and it is only in connection with Christ that the body of Christ, the church, grows and strengthens.

What Paul is saying here is: don’t let these false teachers - with their reduction of who Jesus is, their exaltation of angels, and their man-centred, performance based ‘gospel’ - cut you off from experiencing the joy and peace of the true Gospel.

Identify the ways in which the apparent ‘spirituality’ of others [their reports of how long they pray, or how many people they have ‘saved’, or their ‘spiritual gifts’, or how ‘God spoke’ to them personally, or their ‘visions’, etc] has made you feel inferior or guilty, or has made you feel that you are not qualified to be accepted by God or to serve God?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2:20 Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules ... ?

The ‘basic principles of this world’ refers to that principle by which all world religions and all false cults operate: the principle that ‘if I’m good I’ll go to’ whatever is the ultimate destiny in that religion or cult. The basic principles of this world make me focus on myself and my religious performance as though what that performance is the most important thing, the thing that determines my ultimate destiny.

Paul here reminds the believers of what he has taught in 2:11 -14: they have been identified with Christ their substitute in his death. In that death the handwriting that stood against them was nailed to the cross. As he says in Romans, Christians have died to the law (Romans 7:4,6) and because of that are released from the law (Romans 7:6) as a means of obtaining and maintaining acceptance with God. As we saw in Colossians 2:8 this is the way of the world, the way of the flesh, not the way of the Spirit, not the way of grace.

Why then, says Paul, are you still submitting to all of these rules by which the world thinks it can make itself right with God? About these sorts of rules he says:

      • they are temporary
      • they are based on human commands and teaching
      • they have an appearance, or reputation, of wisdom:
          • - self-imposed religious service/worship
          • - false humility
          • - harsh treatment of the body
      • but lack any real power or value.

As Paul points out in Romans: the Law does not make us spiritual. All the law can do, all the Law was meant to do, was to make us aware of our sin (Romans 3:19 ,20) and thus to lead us to the salvation which is found in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:23 -25). If God’s Law has this limitation, how much more are man-man rules and regulations unable to make us right with God, or keep us right with God. They cannot do it. Only Jesus Christ can do that.

3:1,2 Set your hearts on things above .... Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things

Paul bases these two commands on three facts:

[1] the believer has been raised with Christ, who sits at the right hand of God;

[2] the believer has, in effect, died. His life is now hidden with Christ in God.

[3] when Christ, who is the believer’s life, appears, the believer will appear with him in glory.

Paul sees the Colossian believers running around with an earth bound mentality, focusing on their own spiritual performance, busy trying to store up some merit of their own, trapped in a rules and regulations substitute for true Christianity, duped by the false teachers into belief in a watered-down Jesus and a milk-sop salvation - as though Jesus Christ had not died their death.

Don’t focus on these things he says: set your hearts and minds above: Christ is there. His death is your death. It is done. It is finished. He is your life. You are complete in him. There is nothing left for you to do to secure and maintain your salvation. Christ has done it all. Your relationship with God does not depend on what you do and what you are but on what he has done and who he is. Focus on him. This is what the Gospel is all about. This is the Gospel.

Summing up:

Identify current false teaching which reduces the significance of Jesus Christ by teaching that there is more truth and knowledge of God beyond Jesus Christ

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comment on the validity of getting directions and/or knowledge from sources such as dreams, visions, or ‘words of knowledge’

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comment on the teaching that the Gospel can’t make inroads in a city or town unless believers by their prayers first bind the evil powers or demons assumed to be in charge of that city or town

 

 

 

 

 

List any teaching (spoken or written), or attitudes of other Christians, or ideas of your own, that you have experienced in your Christian life so far, that have made you feel you were a second-rate, or unspiritual, Christian, or perhaps made you doubt that you were even a Christian.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In your perception, what rules and regulations do you have to keep in order to feel accepted

a) by God

 

 

 

b) by others in your Christian group

 

 

 

 

Now ask yourself ‘What would Paul say to me about my response to [4] ?