8. Remaining Free In Christ (Colossians 2:8–15)Related Media
“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. 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. 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” (Col. 2:8–15).
How can we remain free in Christ?
Scripture clearly teaches that he who the Son has set free is free indeed (John 8:36). As followers of Christ, we were set free from slavery to sin, the world, and the devil. We are not the same; there was a very real change at our conversion. He who is in Christ is a new creation, old things have passed away, all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17).
However, Scripture also teaches that it is entirely possible for a Christian to again come under a yoke of slavery. Romans 6:16 says,
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?
A Christian can be enslaved to some sin or addiction by continually obeying the urges to do it. Paul even says that a Christian can be taken captive by the devil. Second Timothy 2:25–26 says,
Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
Some believe this is referring to unbelievers, but the reality is that unbelievers are already children of the devil (1 John 3:10) and sons of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). There is no need to capture them. They are by nature followers of the devil. Paul seems to be clearly referring to believers.
A person can even be enslaved to an object like money. Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
Whomever you submit to, you can become enslaved to, either to God, someone else, or something else in the world. Certainly this is true of false teaching as well. A Christian can be deceived and become enslaved to various forms of false doctrine or the person teaching false doctrine. Paul said,
They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak–willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth (2 Tim. 3:6–7).
It is possible for a believer to be brought back into a state of slavery to sin, the world, the devil, or even false teaching. The only difference between the slavery of an unbeliever and a believer is that an unbeliever is a slave by nature (cf. Eph. 2:1–4), but the Christian is a slave contrary to nature because he is truly free in Christ.
A believer can become a prisoner of war—a POW. There are many POWs in the church: slaves of lust, depression, or anger. However, the primary slavery Paul is referring to in this text is false doctrine. Look at what he says: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy” (Col. 2:8).
The Colossian church was being attacked by a cult who had an especially dangerous form of false teaching that was enslaving the people. Paul essentially says, “Watch out!” The word “captive” is a picture of somebody being taken into slavery against his will. As mentioned previously, people who are drawn into cults are often slaves to the doctrine and slaves to the leaders of the cults.
Christ warned about this a great deal in his teachings. He pictured false teachers as wolves in sheep’s clothing who would steal away sheep from the flock. Listen to what he said:
Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit (Matt. 7:15–17).
In fact, Paul teaches that the very function of pastors and teachers in the church is to help protect believers from deception and therefore slavery. Ephesians 4:13–14 says,
Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.
We must “see to it that no one takes us captive.” This is very important, especially since a new cult is born almost every day. Someone will always claim to be the messiah. Someone will always claim to have the truth and that everyone else is wrong. These cults are very much like the Gnostics claiming some new revelation and calling people to follow it.
How can we be protected from the spiritual slavery that many Christians commonly fall into? How can we protect others? In this text we will learn principles about how the church can be protected from becoming enslaved to false teaching. Moreover, many of these truths can be used to help bring freedom from any type of slavery or bondage a believer may be in.
Big Question: How can the church remain free from slavery to false teaching or anything else that would seek to control the believer?
The Church Remains Free By Understanding The Characteristics Of Secular Wisdom
“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” (Col. 2:8).
Interpretation Question: What is philosophy and how has it affected the church negatively?
Here, Paul warns the Colossians not to be taken captive by the false teaching that was attacking this church. He describes the teaching as hollow and deceptive. He calls it philosophy based on human tradition and the basic principles of this world. We will look at human philosophy and the aspects of it that can enslave a believer.
What does Paul mean by describing this teaching as “philosophy”? Nothing is wrong with philosophy itself; the word simply means “the love of wisdom.”1 Philosophy answers questions like “How did we get here?” and “What is the purpose of life?” Philosophy is only a problem when it tries to answer these questions apart from or in contradiction to the revelation of God.
Philosophy alone is simply man’s wisdom. Paul in 1 Corinthians said that man’s wisdom kept many from coming to God. He said the Greeks were pursuing secular wisdom and therefore the gospel was foolishness to them (1 Cor. 1:22–23). Many Gentiles would not accept Christ because he did not fit into their secular understanding of the world. Listen to what Paul said:
For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles (1 Cor. 1:19–23).
The part of the Greek philosophy that affected the Colossians was the belief that the body was evil and the spirit was good.2 This led to gross extremes in their religion. Some became ascetics; they would starve themselves, beat up their flesh, and allow themselves no pleasures, while others would say it doesn’t matter what you do with the body because the spirit is all that matters. This led to antinomianism—living with no law.
This philosophy seemed to affect many of the people’s understandings of Jesus. They would say “How could Jesus be God if he was human? The flesh is evil.” Therefore, they came up with many additions to Scripture or “secret knowledge” in order to make it fit with their philosophy. The Gnostics believed one needed new knowledge to be saved and to understand Christ.
Philosophy is still a stumbling block to many in the church today. Many cannot accept a God who miraculously created the earth. That doesn’t fit with their secular wisdom, so they try to merge secular wisdom into the Scriptures. They do this to understand creation, or to understand the deity of Christ, or even the sovereignty of God. How can Christ be fully man and fully God? How can God be in control of all things at all times?
Historically, many have tried to merge philosophies with Scripture to better understand complicated doctrines. Some have tried to merge evolution into the Genesis narrative. Some have tried to say God does not know all things because then this would affect man’s free will (Open Theism). Certainly, people try to use Scripture to support these beliefs, but many times it is just secular wisdom being forced into the Word of God.
Another good example of this is seen in the attack on the inerrancy of Scripture. The natural conclusion of looking at the Bible, which was written by man, is to think it must include errors. However, Scripture clearly teaches that it is inspired by God and without error. David said the law of the Lord is perfect (Ps. 19:7). Christ proclaimed that God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). He said that not a jot or tittle would pass away until heaven and earth passed away (Matt. 5:18). Paul declared that God cannot tell a lie (Titus 1:2). Therefore, Scripture clearly teaches its inerrancy—that it is without error in its original manuscripts, and therefore we can trust the copies of it.
However, many liberal churches have accepted secular wisdom over the revelation of Scripture. This often includes not believing in miracles such as the resurrection of Christ or the virgin birth. Paul said to be careful lest somebody take you captive by philosophy, i.e. secular wisdom. Man’s wisdom, if not guided by Scripture, is a stumbling block to truly being free in Christ and truly knowing him.
We can see the conflict of man’s wisdom with many truths in Scripture. Scripture says, “Give and it shall be given unto you” (Luke 6:38). Many people are kept from receiving the promises of God because secular wisdom says that doesn’t make sense. “I’m struggling financially, but you’re saying I should give to God and he will meet all my needs (cf. 2 Cor. 9:6–8)? Isn’t it more prudent to hoard what I have?”
Scripture says the way to be the greatest is to be last and the servant of all (Mark 9:35). But, the world says do whatever you can to be on top. Jesus, contrary to man’s wisdom, came to the earth as a poor servant and died on the cross, and therefore God has given him a name above all names (Phil. 2:9–11). Many people are kept from this sacrificial life—this life of servanthood—because to them it doesn’t make sense.
Scripture calls for men to be the spiritual leaders of the home and the church (Eph. 5:22–24; 1 Tim. 3:2). But this comes directly against what secular society teaches, and for them this teaching is archaic, ignorant, and chauvinistic. They will not accept it. It does not make any sense.
Many in the church are caught and enslaved by man’s wisdom. It keeps them from accepting the revelation of God. Paul says beware of secular wisdom; it will trap you and keep you from knowing God. Look at what Paul said about the natural man:
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor. 2:14).
To the world, Scripture is foolishness. Because they are without the Spirit, and therefore confined to secular wisdom, they cannot accept the things of God. However, even though the church has the Spirit of God, we still have the possibility of becoming enslaved to secular wisdom and for this reason we must be careful—we must watch out.
Observation Question: What are some of the dangerous characteristics of philosophy or secular wisdom as seen in Colossians 2:8?
1. Secular Wisdom Is Deceptive.
Paul says that philosophy is deceptive. False teaching typically has enough truth in it to lead people astray. Sometimes it is downright logical. However, the problem is that it doesn’t fully agree with Scripture and therefore leads to bondage.
When Satan said that Eve would be “like God” by eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, there was an aspect of truth to it. Because Adam and Eve would know more, they would, by necessity, be more like God. The problem was that Satan implied that this was best for them and that God did not have good intentions.
Be careful of secular wisdom because it is prone to deceive, especially the spiritually immature.
2. Secular Wisdom Is Hollow.
Paul says that philosophy is hollow. This means that it boasts great things, but it really has no depth and therefore no true power in it (Col. 2:23). Jude said something similar when describing false prophets.
These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead (Jude 1:12).
He calls them shepherds who only care for themselves. They do nothing of true benefit for those they lead. They are like clouds with no rain. They may seem daunting and look like they will produce rain, but there is really nothing coming. They are like trees that produce no fruit.
In the same way, philosophy apart from revelation is hollow. It may get everybody excited, but it lacks power. It may taste good, but it is really unhealthy. One person called it “cotton candy theology.” It may taste good, but if you eat too much of it, it will leave you sick and malnourished. We must be careful about man–made teachings for they are deceptive and hollow.
3. Secular Wisdom Is Based On Human Traditions.
Paul also describes the philosophy attacking this church as based on “traditions.” What does Paul mean by tradition? The word “tradition” simply means, “that which is handed down.”3 This cult was trying to enforce human traditions. Now, there is nothing necessarily wrong with traditions; some traditions are good, like Christmas. I personally really enjoy Christmas, but Scripture does not command us to practice it as a special day. It is a tradition.
Some traditions, however, become idols or distractions and actually hinder the work of God. Look at what Jesus said to the Pharisees:
‘You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.’ And he said to them: ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!’ (Mark 7:8–9).
The Pharisees let go of the commands of God and instead held to the traditions of men. They had let go of God’s words in lieu of man’s words.
One of the questions we must ask ourselves as we look at the things we practice in church is whether they are from God’s Word or man’s word. If we do not distinguish between what is of God and what is a tradition, we can become enslaved to traditions.
Application Question: What are some common traditions we see in the church, and how can people become enslaved to them?
Let’s look at a few examples:
Historically, the wearing of certain religious clothing is one tradition commonly practiced in churches. In fact, the Pharisees would wear extravagant garbs to declare themselves as religious professionals. Jesus said, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces” (Mark 12:38). Jesus also said they made their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long (Matt. 23:5).
Nothing is necessarily wrong with this. The problem happens when the clothing is meant to bring glory to man rather than God, or when we declare implicitly or explicitly that God ordained the clothing and exclude others from serving based on these traditions. Many churches today have similar attitudes towards their clothing traditions. We must be very careful of becoming traditionalists, following a tradition instead of God.
In some churches, one of the traditions that have become exalted, and therefore divisive, is forms of music. In many churches the traditions in music that have been passed down for years become exalted as the only way to worship God. Even worse, sometimes other forms of worship music are looked at as demonic. Some churches may exclude guitars, drums, etc. Now, certainly worship songs should reflect the Word of God and biblical principles, but besides that, Scripture would not exclude worship songs based on any other standard.
What’s another common tradition in churches?
Another tradition that has become almost a law in most denominations is attending seminary in order to be a pastor. Now is anything wrong with attending seminary? Absolutely not; it’s a very good thing. I have several seminary degrees.
However, has God said that the only way to be a pastor is to attend seminary? Many qualified men of God are kept from following God’s call to serve as a pastor because their denomination said they didn’t have the acceptable form of education, even though they had the qualifications of Scripture (1 Tim. 3:1–7).
Billy Graham was not seminary-trained and therefore had to switch his denomination to be ordained for pastoral ministry. He, undoubtedly, has had a ministry that would rival almost anybody’s. Some of the biggest churches in the world are run by people without seminary training.
The “church” has developed many traditions, and some have taken the place of God’s commands. Man-made traditions have disqualified many men who have been called by God. This is unacceptable.
Many people are trapped and enslaved in traditions that have nothing to do with Scripture. These traditions are commonly exalted as “words from God.” In order for the Christian to be kept from becoming a slave to tradition, they must always ask, “Is this clearly taught in Scripture? Or, is this something passed down by men?” It’s OK to honor traditions, but they must be subservient to Scripture—God’s law.
Be careful of traditions.
4. Secular Wisdom Is Often Based On Legalism.
Next, Paul pointed out that the teaching attacking the church was dependent on “elementary principles” of the world. What does this mean? Many disagree over the meaning of this phrase. “Elementary principles” is literally translated “things in a row” and was used of the letters in the alphabet.4 Paul could simply be saying that the cult, even though they claimed supernatural wisdom, was actually very rudimentary or basic, like all worldly religions. We may get a picture of the rudimentary nature of this cult in Chapter 2. Paul says, “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: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (Col. 2:20–21).
This cult may have been focusing on basic aspects of almost every religion. Don’t eat this, don’t touch that, and don’t do this. Look at what he says in Colossians 2:23:
Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self–imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.
Though these basic regulations had the appearance of wisdom, they really had no power to restrain the flesh. Essentially, Paul declared it was not supernatural revelation from God as the cult claimed. There was no power in it; it was very rudimentary, like the ABC’s. They were man-made laws—only forms of legalism.
Legalism can come in all different shapes and sizes. I was raised in a church where women could not wear pants, and we were told not to go to movie theaters. Obviously, they did this to protect men from lust and to help the church not become worldly, which is a good thing. But, are these commands of men or are they clearly taught in the Word of God?
These are fine commitments if God so moves upon one’s heart, but they become “legalism” if we tell everybody they must practice them. The rich man was told to sell all (Matt. 19:21). This was a personal command given to him by Christ. However, if we teach that everybody should sell all, then we have stepped over into legalism. Many Christians are enslaved to man–made laws, and they have lost their joy and peace. They lost them because they are slaves to laws not given by God, and therefore God gives no grace to follow them.
5. Secular Wisdom Is Often Based On Spiritualism.
The phrase “elementary principles” can also be translated “elementary spirits.” This cult probably believed in some form of “spiritualism” that included the worship of “angels” (Col. 2:18). Some commentators even believe this refers to using the zodiac since the Gnostics believed the angels and the stars influenced people’s lives.5
Many contemporary churches are actually becoming “enslaved” to spiritualism as well. They are becoming very new age. I read recently how some churches are practicing eastern meditation. They are calling for people to “open their minds” and “clear their thoughts” so they can experience “the Spirit.” This comes from eastern philosophy and is not biblical at all.
Biblically, Christians are actually called to “fill their minds,” not empty their minds. God called us to be a thinking people. He says, “Let us reason together” (Isa. 1:18). God calls us to love him with our whole heart, mind, and soul (Deut. 6:5). Paul said,
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things (Phil. 4:8).
In the article, I read that these “Christians” who practiced eastern meditation started to experience spiritual phenomena such as stigmata. They experienced the piercings of Christ’s crucifixion in their hands and on their heads. This is happening in churches. Instead of seeking to worship God and know his Word, people are becoming enslaved to elementary spirits masquerading as the Spirit of God.
We even see this happening in many charismatic churches. They are accepting phenomena that have nothing to do with God’s Word, which equips us for all righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16–17). These spirits are causing people to bark like dogs, roar like lions, and causing gold dust to float everywhere. People are enslaved by seeking these types of experiences instead of God. Again, as with human traditions, Christians must weigh everything against the Scripture. If it’s not in the Scripture, throw it away. Get rid of it.
Paul says “Don’t be taken captive by it. Don’t become a prisoner of war in a church that is promoting anything not clearly confirmed in his Word.” We cannot underestimate the importance of believers being thoroughly acquainted with Scripture. For how can they discern if a teaching or experience is counterfeit if they themselves do not know the Scripture? Brothers and sisters, grow your roots in the Word of God!
Application Question: How have you seen or experienced worldly philosophy, which includes traditionalism, legalism, or spiritualism, in our churches?
The Church Remains Free By Understanding Christ’s Deity
“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” (Col. 2:9–10).
In what other ways can the church be protected from enslavement to secular philosophy/false teaching?
Paul in the next few verses makes the argument that Christ is enough and we do not need any extra revelation. He teaches this in several ways. First, when we understand who Christ is, it keeps us from slavery to false teachings. He says: “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” (Col. 2:9–10).
Paul says, “In Christ the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form.” The word “lives” can be translated “dwells.” It has the meaning of, “to dwell as a permanent resident” or “to be at home with,” instead of dwelling as a visitor. “The present tense indicates that the essence of Deity continually abides at home in Christ.”6
This was important because the Gnostics believed that many emanations came from God and in them was the fullness of God.7 Christ was not fully God but simply an emanation from him—a part of God’s fullness. Paul corrected this view by teaching that Christ is not a lesser God or an emanation from him. He is fully God because the “fullness of God” dwelled in him. We see this taught throughout Scripture.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).
The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word (Heb. 1:3).
Jesus is fully God, unlike what the Gnostics were teaching, and also unlike what many cults teach today. John in his epistle warns us to test teachings by considering what they say about Christ. Look at what he says:
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world (1 John 4:1–3).
We can know if the spirit or a teaching is not from God based on orthodox Christology. What does this new teaching, belief, or denomination say about Christ? Does it believe that Christ was fully human? Does it believe that Christ was fully God?
Any church or ministry that does not have an orthodox Christology is not of God. This is the failure of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Scientology, Mormons, and other cults. They teach that Christ is not God or has not always been God. This is how we identify the spirit of the antichrist. The antichrist will come in the end times and deny God. He will deny the existence of God. He will boast against God and even declare that he is God. We see this clearly in 2 Thessalonians 2:4: “He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.”
John said this spirit is already in the world, and it’s also in the church. We must be aware of it. If we are going to be protected from this spirit that is within the world and within the church, we must have an orthodox understanding of who Christ is.
Application Question: Why is it so important to believe in the deity of Christ? In what other ways have you seen the “spirit of the antichrist” attacking Christ in the church?
The Church Remains Free By Understanding Their Sufficiency In Christ
“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” (Col. 2:9–10).
Christ’s sufficiency is another reason we do not need the philosophies of this world to know God or be saved. Listen to what Paul says: “And you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority” (Col. 2:10).
What does Paul mean by saying we have received “fullness in Christ”? This essentially means that we have received all that we need. If a glass is full to the brim, nothing else can be added. In the same way, at our rebirth, we received everything needed for salvation. There are no new experiences needed, no new knowledge to find in order to be saved as the Gnostics taught. Peter said, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Peter 1:3).
We are sufficient in Christ. God, in his divine power, has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of him. Christ on the cross said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). It has been paid in full. All we needed to do for salvation was repent and accept Christ. All we need is in Christ.
If we don’t know our sufficiency in Christ, we will seek our fullness in other things. It may be through false doctrine, drinking, drugs, video games, friendships, dating, etc. We may seek to find our fullness in things that are not necessarily sin, but they become sin when we try to make them our fullness—essentially making them idols. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews said: “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you’” (13:5).
The writer says, “Don’t be enslaved to the love of money or things. Instead, be content with God—he will never leave us or forsake us. God is our fullness.”
How can we stay free from the slavery of things, new experiences, or false teachings? We can stay free because we have Christ. In him the fullness of God dwells and in us we have the fullness of Christ. We should be a content people, not seeking the trappings of this world, because we are satisfied and sufficient in him. Listen to what Christ said:
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them (Matt. 6:31–32).
He said the world is constantly running after things. They are always coveting—wanting clothes, food, etc., but it shouldn’t be this way with Christians. Why? Because we have a Father. We shouldn’t be seeking after these new experiences the cults claim that we are missing, and we shouldn’t be running after the things the world says we’re missing either. Why? Because we are full in Christ.
If you are not experiencing the fullness of Christ, you will chase after other things and become enslaved by them. If we are going to be kept free from slavery we must have an orthodox doctrine: Christ is God. But, we also must know and be experiencing the fullness of Christ in us. If we are full in Christ, we don’t need anything else.
Application Question: In what ways do you experience discontentment when you are not full in Christ? How can we develop this contentment in him?
The Church Remains Free By Understanding Their Deliverance From Sin In Christ
“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. 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” (Col. 2:11–13).
Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by believers being “circumcised” in this passage?
After speaking about the fullness of deity in Christ and our fullness in him, Paul begins to teach further about what makes Christ sufficient and therefore should keep us from falling into some type of slavery. Paul teaches Christ’s sufficiency in our death to sin. He says, “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” (Col. 2:11).
What does Paul mean by circumcision? Two types of circumcision are mentioned in the Old Testament. God made a covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17 that his male seed would have to undergo circumcision. The males would have their foreskin removed to declare their participation in the Abrahamic covenant and the blessings that would come under it. In one sense, it was a declaration of faith in God.
But the second type of circumcision was spiritual circumcision, which physical circumcision was supposed to represent. We see this in many verses as another requirement for Israel.
Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff–necked any longer (Deut. 10:16).
The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live (Deut. 30:6).
God required Israel to circumcise their hearts so that they could love God with their heart, mind, and soul. If Israel circumcised themselves physically and not spiritually, it would have been void. This is what Paul said:
A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God (Rom. 2:28–29).
No man was truly a Jew if it was only outward. They needed an inward circumcision of the heart. The outward ritual meant nothing without the inward reality.
In saying this, Paul was probably challenging the Gnostics who were also requiring Christians to follow the law as a means of salvation, and that included circumcision. We see that Jewish laws were a part of this cult in the following verses.
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ (Col. 2:16–17).
It seems that Paul was attacking this cult by declaring that Christians are the true circumcision (cf. Phil. 3:3). When God saved us, Christ circumcised our heart. He cut away the sin nature and delivered us from the power of the sin. We are no longer slaves of sin. Certainly, we still battle sins and the lusts of the flesh, but we are no longer slaves to it. Listen to what Paul says about this:
If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin (Rom. 6:5–7).
Paul taught that we were unified with Christ in his death. In Christ’s death, he not only took the penalty of sin for us, but he crucified our “old self”—our sinful nature—on the cross. He broke the power of sin. Therefore, we no longer have to be slaves to it. When Paul said in Romans 6:6–7 that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, he was talking about this event, the circumcision of the flesh.
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 (Col. 2:11–12).
Christ has circumcised every believer—not a physical circumcision, but a spiritual one—as he broke the power of sin over our lives. We don’t need legalistic laws or spiritualism to conquer sin because Christ is sufficient. Our old man died with him, and therefore we can start to walk in that freedom. Paul was declaring to the Colossians and to us, “Christ is enough!”
Interpretation Question: Why is understanding spiritual circumcision—deliverance from the power of sin—so important?
1. Understanding Spiritual Circumcision Should Help Deliver Believers From Slavery To Sin.
This would have been very important for the Colossians. One of the extremes of the Gnostic cult was antinomianism. They taught that because the flesh was evil and the spirit was good, one could do whatever he wanted with his body. He could live in sin. Paul experienced this thought process in the Roman church in response to his teaching on justification by faith alone. In response he wrote: “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom. 6:1–2).
Many even today think this way. They think that because they are saved, because they have received grace, they are free to live in sin. Paul says, “Absolutely not! If we died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” He says we must understand this reality to be kept from slavery to sin, addictions, secular wisdom, etc. In Romans 6:11–12, Paul said, “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.”
He says we must think about ourselves differently. We are no longer slaves of sin. We are dead to sin because of this circumcision and therefore alive to God.
I know of one Christian who was enslaved to pornography, and coming to this realization enabled him to begin to walk in the freedom of Christ. Often, in churches, we focus solely on the fact that Christ delivered us from the penalty of sin on the cross. But on that cross, Christ also broke the power of sin. He circumcised us.
When this believer began to understand that, he stopped feeling defeated by his failures to lust and it gave him new confidence to fight. He began to stand on Christ’s victory and, as Paul taught, “count” his sin nature dead.
All Christians must understand this so they can walk in freedom. Satan often lies to believers, saying they will never change; they will never break this habit or addiction. They are slaves. But, that is a lie. We are already changed in Christ. We are new creations in him. We just have to “count” it so and live out our circumcision—our death to sin.
Christ is sufficient and we don’t need anything else. We don’t need new revelation or secular wisdom because Christ is enough. He broke the power of sin.
2. Understanding Spiritual Circumcision Should Encourage Believers To Pursue God And To Serve Him.
Listen again to this text:
In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness (Rom. 6:11–13).
Paul says that we are not only dead to sin but now alive to God. We are alive to his Word, alive to prayer, and alive to one another. He says count yourself dead to sin but alive to God. Therefore, offer your body as an instrument to righteousness.
Because we are no longer slaves to sin, we should zealously pursue God and his righteousness. This should be our normal reaction. Nobody who has been set free from slavery wants to go back. They want to enjoy their freedom. We should zealously enjoy our freedom to worship and serve God. Previously as slaves, we were incapable of this (cf. Rom. 8:7–8).
If we are going to walk in this freedom, we must understand our circumcision in Christ. He broke the chains of sin so we could be slaves of God.
Application Question: How does the reality of your spiritual circumcision—the severing of your sin nature—protect you from slavery to sin on a practical basis? Have you ever thought deeply on this concept?
The Church Remains Free By Understanding Their Forgiveness In Christ
“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” (Col. 1:14).
What else serves as a protection for the saints from being enslaved?
The Christian must understand the forgiveness that God has given us in Christ. People who are drawn into cults or other false teachings are often people who are bound to sin and guilt and don’t truly know their forgiveness in Christ. Scripture declares that false teachers feast on people loaded down with sin and guilt, and they use that guilt to bring them under further bondage. Look at what Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:6: “They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak–willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires.”
Peter says the same thing about false teachers.
For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him (2 Peter 2:18–19).
These teachers promise freedom when they themselves are actually slaves of sin. If we are to be protected from cults and secular wisdom that promise freedom, then we must know Christ is sufficient. He is enough to deliver us from sin and give us complete forgiveness.
Paul visually pictures this forgiveness in verse 14. He says that because of Christ, God canceled the written code. Written code literally means “something written with the hand” or “an autograph.8“ It was used to refer to a certificate of debt acknowledging that one owed something.
The word canceled means “wipe out.”9 In those days the certificate of debt was written on parchment and could easily be wiped away after it was paid in full. Paul says that the believer’s debt has been washed away like the ink on a whiteboard.
Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.” Because of our daily sins, we have accrued a debt that nobody could pay. But Paul says that our many sins that had stored up the wrath of God against us, God, who owned our debt, has wiped it away in Christ.
Paul illustrates this complete forgiveness further. He says God not only wiped away our certificate of debt, but he wiped away the means to that debt—the regulations of the law. The reason we are in debt to God is because of his law. God is a holy God and he has given his law to his people. In the Old Testament, God gave his people the Mosaic Law with the Ten Commandments. However, at Christ’s death, God wiped away the certificate of debt each person owed and the law that was against us. God did this in dramatic fashion by nailing it to the cross.
In ancient times when a person was taken to the cross, his crimes were nailed above him. We saw this with Jesus; on the cross it said “King of the Jews.” He was not crucified for any sin he had committed but because he claimed to be the messiah—the coming king.
In a similar way, God has forgiven us by getting rid of the two things that stood against us. He nailed all our sins to the cross that were on our certificate of debt, and he also put our accuser on the cross—the law. Christ paid the penalty for our sins and abolished the law and its decrees against us. Look at what Paul said in Ephesians 2 about the law:
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace (Eph. 2:14–15).
Paul says Christ abolished the law with its commandments in his flesh. When Christ died he wiped out every accusation against us and every accuser. Romans 8:33–34 says,
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.
Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? No one. Christ died for sins and was raised to life. Christ’s resurrection was proof that God accepted his sacrifice for us. When Christ said on the cross, “It is finished,” it literally meant “paid in full.” Everything that was needed for us to be forgiven, and therefore saved, was taken care of on the cross.
Now does this mean as Christians we are not under any law and free to sin? Absolutely not. Though the believer is not under the jurisdiction of OT law, he is still under the law of Christ. Look at what Paul says: “To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law” (1 Cor. 9:21).
We have been taken from under the jurisdiction of the OT law and placed under Christ’s law, which refers to his teachings and that of his apostles and prophets in the New Testament (Eph. 2:20).
The believer is completely forgiven from his sins and that should keep him from being enslaved by something or someone promising forgiveness or freedom. Listen to some of these promises:
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us (Ps. 103:11–12).
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1).
Consider Martin Luther’s experience of this dramatic forgiveness in Christ.
Martin Luther experienced the reality of this truth in a dream in which he was visited at night by Satan, who brought to him a record of his own life, written with his own hand. The Tempter said to him, ‘Is that true, did you write it?’ The poor terrified Luther had to confess it was all true. Scroll after scroll was unrolled, and the same confession was wrung from him again and again. At length, the Evil One prepared to take his departure, having brought Luther down to the lowest depths of abject misery. Suddenly the Reformer turned to the Tempter and said: ‘It is true, every word of it, but write across it all: “The blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses us from all sin.”‘10
There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ. The believer must know the difference between condemnation and conviction. Conviction pulls us towards Christ for restoration from sin while condemnation pulls us away from Christ, away from the Word, away from church and toward sin. The enemy of our souls will use condemnation to draw us from our sufficient one.
Understanding our complete forgiveness in Christ will protect us from Satan’s enslavement. Many Christians are enslaved by Satan’s lies and condemnation. He keeps them out of church, he keeps them from reading their Bibles as he continually reminds them of their sins, and he draws them into something else that promises relief but only brings bondage. In order to remain free, believers must know their complete freedom and forgiveness in Christ.
Application Question: In what ways does the enemy condemn believers for their sins, and how does that condemnation lead to worse sins? How do we walk in and experience Christ’s daily forgiveness and therefore freedom?
The Church Remains Free By Understanding Our Victory Over Satan In Christ
“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Col. 2:15).
Another thing that will keep believers from being enslaved to sin and the philosophies of men is understanding Christ’s victory over Satan. These believers were being tempted to submit to elementary spirits and the worship of angels. This was very common in paganism. Pagans lived in fear of demonic spirits and would offer sacrifices and perform religious acts to pacify them. Paul said Christ disarmed and triumphed over all these spirits. All these powers are in submission to Christ, and therefore we should not be enslaved to them.
Christ “disarmed” the powers and principalities. The word “disarmed” literally means “stripping him,”11 like a soldier being stripped of weapons. Satan no longer has power over the believer because he was stripped by Christ. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews said:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death (Heb. 10:14–15).
Christ stripped the devil of his power over believers, including the power of death. The disciples fled in fear at the prospect of crucifixion right before Christ died, but after Jesus’s resurrection all were willing to die and give their lives for Christ. They had been freed from the power of Satan through Christ’s death and resurrection and therefore were willing to die.
John taught the same thing about Christ: “He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). Christ came to destroy the works of the devil.
This victory over the devil was prophesied from the very beginning in Genesis 3:15. God prophesied that a seed would crush the head of the serpent, Satan, and this happened at the cross. The work of the cross defeated the enemy and his demons (powers and authorities) and made a “public spectacle” of them.
Interpretation Question: What does Paul mean by a “public spectacle”?
Paul was using the terminology of a conquering Roman general. After a victory, a conquering general would take the spoil from the enemy, take captives, and go through the streets of Rome in a parade.12 This Roman general would sometimes even distribute gifts from his victories to the dignitaries. Christ did this in his resurrection. Ephesians 4:8 says, “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men.”
At the Lord’s resurrection, Satan and his demons, figuratively, marched with their heads bowed low as a conquered foe as Christ gave spiritual gifts to his saints. In Ephesians 4:11, Paul describes these gifts as people with the spiritual gifts of pastor, teacher, evangelist, prophet, and apostle. (The only time people are listed in Scripture as gifts.) Our victorious general gave these to build up the church. Christ is our victorious general; he defeated sin and the devil.
This would have been particularly important for Gentile Christians in Colosse who had probably come out of demonism and idol worship. They were now victorious in Christ and had nothing to fear from “elementary spirits.” This picture of Christ conquering Satan also specifically rebuked the Gnostics who were worshipping angels (cf. Col. 2:18).
Application Question: In what ways can we apply Christ’s victory over Satan and his demons to our lives and ministry?
1. Christ’s Victory Over Satan Means That We Must Abide In Christ To Walk In That Victory.
Before Christ went to the cross, he told Peter and essentially the disciples that Satan wanted to sift them like wheat. He then told them that they must pray for an hour to not fall to the temptation (Mark 14:38). This happens to believers all the time. We cannot have victory over Satan in ourselves, but in Christ. Therefore, we must abide in him through prayer and time in the Word to walk in that victory.
A Christian who does not abide can still be taken captive in some area of his life. Look again at what 2 Timothy 2:25 says:
Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.
2. Christ’s Victory Over Satan Is Very Important In Ministering To Those Who Are Demonically Oppressed.
Many times believers can stumble in some area of their lives, which opens the door for the enemy to oppress them. In ministering to them, we must help them understand their victory over the enemy in Christ. And, sometimes we may have to declare this victory over them in the name of Christ.
We see that the apostles would use Christ’s name to minister to those under demonic oppression. Acts 16:18 shares the story of how Paul cast out a demon using the authority of Christ’s name. It says,
She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her.
Our weapons are not carnal but mighty in God for casting down strongholds (cf. 2 Cor. 10:3–5). Our general has stepped on the enemy’s head, and we must walk in that victory and help others do the same.
Application Question: In what ways have you experienced spiritual warfare? Have you ever ministered to those under spiritual oppression? How can we walk in victory by understanding and applying Christ’s victory over the enemy?
We must be aware that though a believer is free in Christ, he can still be taken captive by the enemy. The enemy often will attack through philosophy—secular wisdom. If we are going to be kept free from the trappings of false teaching, we must understand its characteristics and our sufficiency in Christ.
Moreover, our sufficiency in Christ will also keep us from becoming a slave to many of the other traps of the enemy. Many are captives to pornography, insecurity, anxiety, depression, etc. In this passage, Paul teaches us how to be kept free from slavery.
- The church remains free by understanding the characteristics of secular wisdom. It is deceptive and hollow. It is often based on traditionalism, legalism, and/or spirituality.
- The church remains free by understanding Christ’s deity. Christ is fully God. Cults can be discerned by their attacks on the person of Christ.
- The church remains free by understanding our sufficiency in Christ. We have the fullness of Christ because he indwells us. Therefore, we don’t need anything else: no special knowledge, no second experience. If we don’t understand this, we will be led astray by seeking fullness elsewhere.
- The church remains free by understanding our deliverance from sin in Christ. At the cross Christ circumcised us. He crucified our sin nature. Therefore, we must not go back to slavery to sin but instead enjoy our freedom of worshiping and serving Christ.
- The church remains free by understanding our forgiveness in Christ. Because of Christ, God took our certificate of debt and wiped it away. He also got rid of our accuser in the law. We are forgiven and free from condemnation in Christ.
- The church remains free by understanding our victory over Satan in Christ. Christ came to destroy the works of the devil. Christ defeated Satan on the cross, and therefore we can walk in victory over him and his demons.
Copyright © 2015 Gregory Brown
1 R. K. Hughes, Colossians and Philemon: The Supremacy of Christ. (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989), 68.
2 J. F. MacArthur Jr., MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 101.
3 W. W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 2:125.
4 J. F. MacArthur Jr., MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 101.
5 W. W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary. (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 2:125.
6 J. F. MacArthur Jr., MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 101.
8 J. F. MacArthur Jr., MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 111.
10 R. K. Hughes, Colossians and Philemon: The Supremacy of Christ. (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1989), 78-79.
11 J. F. MacArthur Jr., MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Colossians. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), 111.
Related Topics: Christian Life