Series on Colossians, I The Mystery of Christ, C The Regulation of False Teachers, 2 Words, Text: 2:8-15, Title: Full Deliverance


In Christian circles there has always been a tension between tradition and Scripture. In some circles tradition has won the day, but like the award winning musical “Fiddler on the Roof,” traditions are perilously perched on the roof, ready to fall. In the Russian village of Anatevka, Tevya, the patriarch wants to marry off his daughters according to tradition, but they wish to marry men not chosen according to tradition. In some ways this is a satire on the folly of tradition. It preserves the bad long with the good. The Pharisees that opposed Jesus were traditionalists. Their exorbitant devotion to the hundreds of commandments they had deduced from the law of Moses blinded them to the grace of God. Traditions die hard. Many of the “worship wars” in churches spring from the refusal to change tradition. In the Russia of Tevya in 1903 the czar noticed a sentry posted for no apparent reason on the Kremlin grounds.  Upon investigation, he discovered that 125 years earlier Catherine the Great found the first flower of spring in that spot. "Post a sentry here," she commanded, "so that no one tramples that flower under foot!" Paul faces the false traditions of men directly and forcefully. He is not like Linus in Peanuts. In the Peanuts comic strip, one day Linus and Charlie Brown are walking along and chatting with one another. Linus says, "I don't like to face problems head on. I think the best way to solve problems is to avoid them. In fact, this is a distinct philosophy of mine. No problem is so big or so complicated that it can't be run away from!" The Apostle is not running. He faces down the traditions of men with the truth. Thus we see here in this text the traditions, the transformation and the triumph.

I The Traditions

The problem Paul identifies in verse 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. The form of the expression in the original shows clearly that hollow and deceptive, or more literally “empty deceit,” describes the “philosophy” which Paul is bidding them beware of. They are not two things, but one. It is like a blown bladder, full of wind, and nothing else. In its lofty pretensions. It is a strange heterogeneous conglomerate of Jewish ceremonial and Oriental dreams the false teachers in Colossæ were preaching.  Philosophy is hollow speculation unless it is backed up by revelation from God. The philosopher Robert Zend said it well. “Being a philosopher, I have a problem for every solution.” The source of these hollow and deceptive philosophies is tradition and the basic principles of this world. The basic principles of the world is the philosophy of serving things rather than God. Traditionalists often do this. Paul says in Romans 1:25, They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. Tradition is continuing to do the same things although they no longer have meaning or significance. A devout Christian who had a cat used to spend several minutes each day at prayer and meditation in his bedroom. As time went on his prayers became longer and more intense. He had a cat who would cozy up to him, purr loudly, and rub her furry body against him, ruining his concentration so he put a collar around the cat's neck and tied her to the bedpost. This didn't upset the cat, and the man could meditate in peace. Years later his devout daughter realized how much his devotional time had meant to him. She began to establish some routines and decided she should do as her father had done. Dutifully she, too, tied her cat to the bedpost and then proceeded to her devotions. But time moved faster in her generation and she couldn't spend as much time at prayer as did her father. The day came when her son grew up and wanted to make sure that he preserved some of the family traditions which had meant so much to his mother and his grandfather. But the pace of life had quickened all the more and there was no time for elaborate devotional proceedings. So he eliminated the time for meditation, Bible reading, and prayer. But in order to carry on the religious tradition, each day while he was dressing he tied the family cat to the bedpost. Tradition without truth is empty and deceptive. It is easy to see how far we have fallen.  When Elvis Presley died one lady drove a thousand miles to Graceland, stood at the shrine and said, “O my God, it was prophetic.” Another visitor said, “There is so much Elvis spirit around here I could not sleep if I wanted to. One of the handwritten testimonials said, “Elvis, you liberated our souls.” What a vacuum is created by our worshiping the creation and the creature more than the Creator.

II The Transformation

The way to prevent the deceit is like all other things found in the Christ of the Scripture. It is His transforming grace that will deliver us as we read in verses 9-12, For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. In the words of Jeremiah 2:13, like Israel of old, the Colossian Christians were in danger of committing the folly of hewing out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that could hold no water. The heretics’ teachings are shivered to pieces. Their dreams of angel mediators and mystical knowledge are branded as folly along with every attempt to learn truth and God anywhere else but in Christ. “In Christ” is placed with emphasis at the beginning, and implies “and nowhere else.” The fullness here is the entire essence and glory of the Godhead, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As we read in 1:15,  Christ is the image of the invisible God. He is the concrete expression and full realization of the Trinity. Anything “not after Christ” is obviously wrong, and to be avoided. The truly amazing thing here is that as believers we share in that fullness. The triune God dwells in His temple the church and therefore in each individual part of that church. John 1:16 says, Out of his fullness we all receive grace upon grace. Jesus said in John 14:23,  Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. In that same chapter, verse 16, Jesus had already told them that the Holy Spirit would come and dwell with them,  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever. Believers participate in the fullness of the Triune God. Our passage tells us this is achieved by two things, release and renewal.

A Release

Circumcision was a major part of Old Testament Judaism. much of Paul’s teaching revolves around his insistence that Gentile followers of Jesus did not have to be circumcised. This was a stumbling block to the Jews who believed that you could not be a true follower of Jahweh unless you bore the sign in your flesh. In the preparatory Old Testament ritual it is true that circumcision was more than a sign. It was a seal and sacrament of the person’s inclusion in the people of God. In the New Testament this became void, because a new and greater circumcision was wrought by Christ in believers. The rite had always symbolized cleansing from sin, the escape from our fallen human nature and was not just an external sign, but represented the abandonment of the old life and the old ways. Now says Paul Jew and Gentile alike are circumcised in Christ, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ. There is a new sign replacing it, but the sign of water baptism is merely a picture of the baptismal cleansing that has taken place spiritually in Christ. This occurs with our identification with Christ in his death and burial. We are released from the chains of sin and death in Him.

B Renewal

In place of the old life comes a new one because we are raised with him through our faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. Jesus Himself spoke of this resurrection in John 5:25, 28 and 29, Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live...“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. The reason we call the entrance to the Christian life, being born again, or born anew is that a new life has commenced for those who repent and believe. Parenthetically, the practice of immersion is not taught in these verses. The burial in view is in the ground. How the waters of baptism are administered matters little. It is what they symbolize that matters, and they symbolize new life.

III The Triumph

We might call this the triumph of grace because it was accomplished solely by the mercies of a covenant God. Thus we read in verses 13-15, When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. Who made you alive? Who forgave you and cancelled the sanctions of the law against you and took them away? Who made a public spectacle of the powers of evil and triumphed over them? It was Jesus, of course. Salvation is by grace from start to finish. As Paul puts it in Romans 8:28-30, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. You will search in vain for your part in all of this. Of course you repented and believed, but you did so because you were predestined and effectually called. You died and rose again in Christ because He willed it and you chose because you were chosen. Let’s face it, your condition was sinful, impotent, and therefore hopeless. The realization that the only channel of grace and forgiveness is opened to us in Christ should make us, as well as the Colossian believers, flee from the deceit that there is any other way to God. We should eschew every attempt of false religion to lead us into mysticism, traditionalism, works or ceremonialism.