Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Putting Christ First: Colossians 2

Theme: You should put Christ first

1) Reasons
     F. Because He completes all believers (1:24-2:15)

2) Ways
     A. By avoiding empty philosophy (2:8-23)

Not only should the believer understand His completed position in Christ, but He should put this knowledge into practice (6-7). But how? First, by staying free from philosophy (8-23). "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ" (8).

Several ideas about the meaning of "elementary principles of the world", appear. Some see it as a reference to angelic beings, and hence doctrines which come from demons (James 3:15 refers to a wisdom which is "earthly, sensual, demonic"). Others see a connection to the worship of angelic beings and astrology, perhaps because of the reference to "worship of angels" (Col. 2:18). Although these interpretations have some support, the context of the chapter seems to give the best clues.

These "elementary principles" refer to "deceptive", "empty", systems of wisdom ("philosophy") rather than the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Christ (8a; 9; cf. 3). They are according to "the tradition", "commandments", and "teachings of men" (8b; 22), rather than Christ, as revealed in the Bible (8c; cf. 1:23 - 2:6). They judge people by the shadow of the OT Law, rather than the substance of Christ (17). They come from the imagination and reasonings of over-inflated, fleshly minds (18), rather than the true head, which is Christ (19; cf. 10b). They include commands such as "Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (21), promote self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence (23).

Galatians also describes this kind of philosophy, when it mentions "elements of the world", in reference to governors and tutors who instructed children till they came of age. It uses these as an illustration of legalists who persuaded the Galatians to add OT Law (such as observing religious days, and being circumcised) to faith in Christ, as a way of completing their salvation (3:3; 4:1-9; 5:2-6). In chapter 3, Paul said it is foolish to try to complete, or make perfect (sanctification), your salvation in the strength of your flesh, since it was begun in the power of the Spirit (justification). Chapter four goes on to illustrate that you cannot help, or bring God's salvation to completion through the physical realm, or by adding your efforts. Chapter five shows that the only way to bear fruit for God is by yielding to the power of the Spirit in your life. "Elementary principles of the world", i.e. man made systems of wisdom, and of attempting to complete salvation through the flesh, is "another gospel", which results in eternal damnation (1:9). This is the kind of persuasive argument and "wisdom" from which believers should stay free (Col. 2:4; 8).

Verses 9-11 summarize the truths about Christ which prove you don't need man's philosophy to be complete. 1) All the fulness of Deity dwells in Him in bodily form. 2) In Him you have been made complete; 3) He is the head over all rule and authority; and 4) in Him you have been spiritually circumcised.

1) In contrast to such "empty" philosophy (empty because it is of no value in delivering someone from the penalty, power, or presence of sin), "all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form" "in Christ" (9; cf. 1:27). 
2) Christ is full God in the flesh (cf. 1 Tim. 3:16), since He dwells in believers (Col. 1:27), and since knowledge of Him offers complete salvation from sin (1:14-23; cf. 1 Cor. 1:30), believers are complete in Him (9), and do not need human philosophy to be complete, or to deliver them from any aspect of sin (cf. 1 Cor. 1:30).

3) Further, Christ is head over all things, including angels, principalities and powers (2:10, 15, 20-23). Therefore, one need only follow the instructions of Christ as set forth in the Bible, to hear everything which is necessary to equip them for bearing fruit and doing every good work (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16). One should not submit themselves to decrees of human philosophy, such as "do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!" (21). Self made religion, self abasement, or severe treatment of the body, are of no value in completing your salvation from sin (23). It is the understanding, knowledge, and wisdom of Christ alone, Who is the head from whom the entire body is supplied, held together, and grows, which makes the believer stable, complete, and free from the need of man-made philosophy.

4) Romans 7 teaches that our "flesh" (not our physical bodies, but our depraved sin nature) is at enmity with God. It cannot keep the commands of God, but only rebel against them. As such, when the believer attempts to keep the Law, he should see that he cannot live up to God's Holy nature, and that he deserves the curse of the Law, which is death. Galatians 3:13 says Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the Law by hanging on a tree. Since the curse of the Law was death, Christ takes the believer's place, and frees him from obligation to the Law as a way of becoming or staying right with God (Gal. 3).

The Spirit, however, baptizes, or places believers into Christ. This so unites them to His death and resurrection, that they have died to sin (11b), and been raised to newness of life along with Him (12; cf. Romans 6:1-11). This constitutes a spiritual circumcision of the heart(11a), that is, a putting off of the old man ("flesh"; cf. Romans 7:18, 23; 8:4-11), and a putting on of the new man in Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 5:17). This is the believer's position "in Christ", and God's basis for delivering him from the power of sin in his daily life. You know your position in Christ (i.e., you have died to sin and been raised to newness of life in Christ), you count that position to be true, and then you yield your members as instruments of righteousness to God (Romans 6:1-11), who bears the fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit (cf. Gal. 5). Through Christ alone, and not through circumcision, or any other man-made religion, or system of philosophy, does a believer become a child of God, or gain victory over sin in their daily life. You should put Christ first by staying free from philosophy.

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