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Colossians 2:8-23comment (0)

February 16, 2012

By Joseph F. Scrivner

Related Scripture: Colossians 2:8-23

Bible Studies for Life

Assistant Professor of Religion, Department of Religion, Samford University

Center of My Belief

Colossians 2:8–23

The Bible repeatedly points out religious people’s tendency to lose their focus and drift away from the most important aspects of faith. In the Old Testament, the prophets consistently call on their fellow Israelites to return to a faith that combines right belief with right practice (Isa. 1:1–31; Jer. 7:1–15; Amos 5:18–27; Micah 6:6–8). In the New Testament, we see a similar pattern. Paul is frustrated when believers in Galatia are tempted by teachings that turn the focus away from Christ (Gal. 1:6–10). Though the specific issues differ, Paul’s main point is essentially the same in his letters to the Romans and the Corinthians (Rom. 12–15; 1 Cor. 13). We see this point again in his Epistle to the Colossians. 

Choose Fullness Over Emptiness (8–15)

The core issue for Paul is that Christ is the source of all things, from creation to salvation. Thus he rightly resists any teaching that diminished Christ’s position. Specifically, when someone claims that there are certain additional steps one must follow for a fuller Christian life, this inevitably implies that something is lacking in what Christ provides for salvation and sanctification.

Paul refers to such teaching as “empty deceit,” based on “human tradition” and “elemental forces” (8). The corrective for this false teaching is that in Christ, “the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily, and you have been filled by Him, who is the head over every ruler and authority” (9–10). Thus, if one has faith in Christ, then one has all the spiritual resources needed for full maturity. In Christ, the believer is spiritually circumcised, resurrected, forgiven and delivered from every spiritual power (11–15).

Choose Substance Over Shadow (16–19)

If the believer is complete in Christ, then there is no need to fight off spiritual forces with additional rituals and rules. Consequently he or she should not be judged “in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day.” These things may have their place in God’s economy of salvation and Christian worship, but their ultimate purpose is to point to Christ. They are the shadow; He is the substance. In addition, the believer should not be swayed by those who claim to have unique spiritual access through visions or other spiritual gifts. 

Of course, this still happens in many Christian churches. The obvious examples are Christians who spotlight spiritual gifts, particularly Pentecostal and charismatic believers. Yet this also occurs in Baptist churches, especially where a minister presents himself as the unquestionable, authoritative interpreter of God’s Word without due attention to the priesthood of all believers. The Preamble to the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message says it this way: “Baptists emphasize the soul’s competency before God, freedom in religion and the priesthood of the believer. However, this emphasis should not be interpreted to mean that there is an absence of certain definite doctrines that Baptists believe, cherish and with which they have been and are now closely identified.”

Choose Relationship Over Rules (20–23)

Paul emphasizes that the believer misunderstands his or her standing in Christ when he or she falls prey to those emphasizing regulations. Submitting oneself to such teaching would be similar to a college graduate returning to first-year introductory courses. That time has passed. Move on to maturity.

Moreover an emphasis on such “elemental” things does not deliver what is promised. They do not help with sanctification. As Paul says, “Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value against fleshly indulgence.” As he will go on to say in Colossians, the most important thing is how one relates to others, from immediate family members to fellow believers to one’s neighbors in society (Col. 3:1–4:6). “Above all, put on love — the perfect bond of unity” (Col. 3:14).

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