LIFE IN CHRIST Colossians 2
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness” (Col. 2:6–7).Understand life in Christ and we won’t be taken in by substitutes for true spirituality.
It is essential to know Christ (2:1–5) and live in Him (vv. 6–7). Christianity offers union with Christ, and this brings life (vv. 8–13) and releases from the burden of Law (vv. 14–15). Disciplined submission to rituals and rules may make a person look pious but is no route to spiritual reality (vv. 16–23).
Understanding the Text
“For all who have not met me personally” Col. 2:1. The spirit of prayer breathes through all of Paul’s letters. Yet perhaps we sense his commitment to prayer most clearly here. Paul prayed not only for churches he founded, but for groups of Christians “who have not met me personally.” Actually, this habit is an easy one for us to develop! Every night on the news we hear of people in tragic situations. How easy it would be to turn to God, and ask Him to bless or comfort them. We read Christian magazines, and listen to Christian radio. Again and again we hear of believers who face great difficulties. How simple it would be to bear them up, and ask God to be with them in power. We talk to a friend on the phone, or chat over a Coke. How easy to pray briefly for that person as we hang up or walk away. Paul cultivated the habit of praying for others as he heard about them. A week of serious effort to cultivate just such a habit might very well transform our prayer lives! “Encouraged in heart and united in love” Col. 2:2. If you want to know Christ better, get to know your brothers and sisters better. Paul said this before (cf. Eph. 3:15–18). If we are to have a complete understanding of Christ, we need to deepen our relationships with others. Perhaps one reason is suggested in the phrase “encouraged in heart.” As we draw close to others, we sense God at work in their lives, and become more and more confident that He can work in us. Faith grows stronger as we see the reality of Jesus through His impact in those we love. The most important thing you can do to encourage another believer may be to share what Christ is doing in your own life. “All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” Col. 2:3–5. The promoters of the heresy corrupting the Colossian church claimed to have access to a “hidden” or special wisdom through a series of angels who were supposed to exist in ordered ranks between Christ and God. Paul said that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are “hidden” in Christ. Here “hidden” does not mean concealed. It means stored up. God has a warehouse full of riches—and He has given us the key! Christ. In Him, we have access to all God has and is. Many Christians are honestly hungry for deeper spiritual experiences. Some are so hungry that they will follow any seemingly pious route that others suggest. “All you need to do is pray an hour daily—preferably at 4 A.M., to show God you’re really serious.” “Meditation techniques will make all the difference.” “Just fast until God gives you a special filling of the Spirit.” “Follow this list of do’s and don’ts, and be in church three times a week.” Paul dismissed all such prescriptions as deceptive. God has stored everything we could possibly need in Christ. We will find spiritual fulfillment in Him, and in Him alone. “Continue to live in Him” Col. 2:6–10. To say that Christ is the warehouse in which all God’s treasures of wisdom and knowledge are stored sounds right. But it also sounds mystical, or obscure. How do we obtain these riches? If Christ is the key, how do we use it to open the door? Paul tells us. “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord,” he said, “continue to live in Him.” How did we receive Christ? By faith. We rested the full weight of our hope on what Christ has done for us, and trusted Him completely. This, Paul tells us, is the way we unlock the treasures of the Christian life. Live in Christ just as you received Him. Rest the full weight of your hopes on what Christ will do in you, and trust Him completely. We can’t count on early morning prayer, on meditation techniques, on fasting, on keeping lists of do’s and don’ts. We can’t rely on anything we do. We must rest our full weight on Christ, and trust Him to work as we live our lives in Him. Live each day for Jesus, and because you live in Jesus, His wisdom and power will express themselves through you. “Hollow and deceptive philosophy” Col. 2:8. Paul’s approach to spirituality is deceptively simple. In contrast, the rigorous approach of the Gnostics sounded both “religious” and reasonable to the folks at Colosse. But it was hollow and deceptive for three reasons. It depended on “human tradition,” the various pagan philosophies current during that day. It depended on the “basic principles” of the world. The Greek word may mean “the ABCs,” and thus an elementary rather than an advanced understanding of the universe. But it may mean “elemental power,” and refer to demonic evil forces. Most decisively, however, it does not depend on Christ. Any system promising spiritual advancement that replaces complete dependence on Christ with anything at all is “hollow and deceptive.” “All the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” Col. 2:9–12. The safest thing you or I can do is set out to live godly lives, and rely completely on Christ to make it possible. Why is this so safe? Because all Christ is flows into us as we live for Him. This is the implication of Paul’s statement, “You have been given fullness in Christ, who is the Head over every power and authority.” The Christian life isn’t like the pump that stood on the back porch of my uncle’s cottage on Cedar Lake. I had to run down to the lake, get a can of water, prime the pump, and then pump the handle up and down endlessly until a trickle of water flowed. The Christian life is more like a fireman who connects his hose to a city hydrant, turns it on, and struggles to hold on as the water surges powerfully out! You and I are connected to Jesus, who is Himself a reservoir of endless power. Simply open yourself to God by total reliance on Jesus, and His power will flow into and through you. “In Him you were also circumcised” Col. 2:11–13. The circumcision promoted by the corrupters of the faith in Colosse physically cut away the flap which covered the end of the male penis. It was a symbol in Old Testament times of covenant relationship with God. Paul reminded his readers that the New Testament symbol of covenant relationship with God is spiritual circumcision. God, not man, cuts away and discards not a mere flap of skin, but man’s sinful, bodily nature itself! How was this done? Through our union with Christ in His death and resurrection! We who were dead in sins and the “uncircumcision of your sinful nature” have been made alive in Christ. That is how Christ’s power can flow through us. We are alive in Him now. We are united to Him. No wonder we can rely completely on Him. We are channels through which the vibrant, surging life of Christ is now ready to flow. “Canceled the written code” Col. 2:14–15. The word translated “written code” was used in ancient times of an indictment drawn up against a prisoner. Paul, clearly referring here to the Mosaic Law and its regulations, viewed the written code as a devastating charge list, signed and entered in court, proving us guilty. Yet in Christ all our sins have been forgiven, and the code that condemned us has itself been canceled. Again, Law in itself is holy, just, and good. But in terms of its impact on a sinful humanity, Law was “against us” and “stood opposed to us.” Any demand that we “do” is an instrument of condemnation. That is why our life in Christ is not weighted down by Law or demands. Understanding this, every New Testament call to obedience, and every New Testament exhortation to live a holy life, is transformed. New Testament commands are not laws, demanding that we “do.” They are promises, explaining what Christ will do in us as we respond in faith. “Having disarmed the powers and authorities” Col. 2:15. The Cross freed us from Law. And it marked Christ’s triumph over hostile spiritual forces. Like a conquering general who displays his defeated enemies to all, Christ has made a public spectacle of every enemy. What possible reason should you and I have not to rely on Christ the Victor? We live our Christian life not by self-effort, but by faith in Him.
Find Reality(Col. 2:16–23)
How do we find reality in our spiritual lives? Folks at Colosse had answers that still appeal to those who see a need for strict and rigorous self-discipline. Follow dietary laws (v. 16). Keep holy days (v. 16). Submit to various rituals and regulations (v. 17). Concentrate on mystical experiences (v. 18). Live an ascetic life of self-denial (vv. 21–23). Follow rules designed to make you a disciplined person. We can almost see Paul shake his head as he completed this list. These aren’t avenues to spiritual reality. They are detours away from reality in our spiritual lives. A life marked by rigorous self-discipline may “have an appearance of wisdom,” Paul said. But such “false humility” and “harsh treatment of the body” has no value at all in “restraining sensual indulgence.” Paul was saying that rules that measure spirituality by externals look holy, but tend to make a person contemptuous of others internally! And inner sins are just as much “sensual indulgence” as gluttony or sexual promiscuity. Paul wants us to experience spiritual reality. He didn’t want us to just appear holy but to be holy. And we find the secret of being holy only in Christ, not in trying to follow lists of do’s and don’ts. In fact, Christ is reality. We experience reality only as we experience Him. So let’s rest every hope in Him, and trust Christ to live out His life in us as we take daily steps of obedience to His Word.
Don’t rely on self-effort. Let Christ make something of you.
“If you make a great deal of Christ, He will make a great deal of you; but if you make but little of Christ, Christ will make but little of you.”—R.A. Torrey