Colossians 2:8-23 “Do you want to be empty or full?”
8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.
16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. 18 Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.
20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— 21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” 22 which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
Introduction: We live in world which has lost its traditions and values, where everybody does what they want. If you want to find a philosophy or religion or idea, just go on the internet, and somebody will be promoting it. Even within the same family, people adopt different philosophies and religions and ideas, so that everybody does what they want, and there is no unity in families.
The people in the New Testament times were in the same kind of situation. The Roman and Greek gods were still worshipped by some, but there were many philosophies, and oriental religions had entered the region, so there were many ideas floating around, some true, but many far from the truth. So the Apostle says, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” He is warning us of exactly this situation: there are many people trying to sell you on their philosophies, but he accurately calls such ideas “empty deceit.” The reason these philosophies are empty is because they are not based on Christ, and do not come from God. They may seem to be complex and smart, and you can build a life around them, but in the end, they are empty, because they are not consistent with the real world the way that God has made it. And yet, people accept them as if they were absolute truth. I remember one time I was in a Spanish class at UCLA, and I mentioned that I don’t believe in psychology, and it was like I had said that the world was flat. The commitment of the students and teachers to psychology was so strong, that for me to even mention that I doubted its validity was offensive to them. But that’s exactly why the Apostle warns us to watch out for such empty philosophies, because they take people captive with their ideas. And, in doing so, they cheat us, because they are offering something which is false, and while it may appear to have substance, there is nothing there at all.
And that is why he presents to us that which is real, as he says of our Lord Jesus Christ in verses 9 and 10, “For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.” You need to pay close attention to what he is saying. On the one hand, he is declaring that “all the fullness of the Godhead” is in Jesus Christ. He is sufficient, he has all the power, all the holiness, all the wisdom, all that is necessary to save us. But sometimes people think that God is great, and Jesus the Lord is great, but that’s it. And it’s not it. Because Jesus is God, we are complete in him. All that we need, all that is missing in us, can be found in Christ Jesus. The fact that Jesus is God is not just something we look at from afar, but something which changes our lives, for we are made complete in him.
En verse 11, he explains how this happens, using Jewish terminology. He says, “In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ.” Although these words may seem strange to us in the modern Gentile world, to the Jewish people these words meant much. Circumcision was the symbol of being included in the people of God, but many people thought that just because they had received the outward symbol, that their salvation was guaranteed, just like today many people think that just because they are baptized and are members of the church, that they are saved. That’s why they’re told in Deuteronomy 30:6 “And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live.” You see, both circumcision and baptism were meant to be outward symbols of an inward reality, that the hearts of the people had been changed, and so they underwent the outward. But people had abused them, thinking that if they just had the outward symbol, they did not need to be concerned about the change of heart that it should symbolize. And this is what Christ had done for us who are born again—he has circumcised our hearts, making us new people.
And so he says in verse 12 that we were “buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him.” That is, we died in Christ when he died, and we rose with Christ when he rose. And this came about, “through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.” That is, the same God who raised Jesus Christ our Lord from the dead, is the one in whom we have faith. The two are connected, so that to believe in the resurrection of Christ from the dead is to believe that he can save you. And, if you deny that Christ can save you, then you have denied his power to be raised from the dead.
At this point, some evangelists would say that it is up to us to choose Jesus as our Savior, by an act of our free will. So, the Apostle at this point makes it clear that it is not so. We are not saved because of something good in us, or because we have made a good decision. Instead, we read in verse 13, “And you, being dead in your trespasses." When Christ came to us, we were dead. Not physically, but spiritually. He even uses a mixed metaphor to describe this, for he says that we were in “the uncircumcision of your flesh.” This doesn’t seem to make sense at first, but what he is saying is that even as uncircumcised people, lacking not only spiritual life, but even the outward symbol of circumcision, Christ Jesus has saved. He says, “He has made alive together with Him.” When Christ rose from the dead, all those who would believe in him rose from the dead. This is an amazing thing. Thousands of years before we were born, Christ died for us, and we were made alive in him—not just in some general sense, but in the particular sense that he died for your sins. And this work was absolute and complete, for we read at the end of verse 13, “having forgiven you all trespasses.” Some people look for exceptions to this rule. They say Christ died for all of our sins except for the unpardonable sin, or the sin of rejecting him, but I find no evidence of this here or anywhere else in God’s words. He could have said we were forgiven of our trespasses, but he says, “having forgiven you all trespasses.” All of your sins are forgiven in Christ, and to say anything else is to demean and diminish the work of Christ Jesus.
To emphasize this point, he says in verse 14, “having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. God had written his law that we might know of our need for salvation, but when Christ Jesus died on the cross, all of these requirements were wiped away. God did not simply say “you’re forgiven”, but he looked upon the work of Jesus Christ on the cross, and declared that our sins had been paid for in full by the death of his Son. As he says at the end of verse 14, “And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Who was nailed to the cross? Christ Jesus was nailed to the cross, and when he was nailed to the cross, he took our sins upon himself and paid for them completely.
And that we might appreciate the full extent and completeness of the work of Christ, he adds in verse 15, “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.” “Principalities and powers” is the term used most often to refer to spiritual powers, and in this case, I believe he refers to those spiritual powers that opposed Jesus Christ. They thought that they had triumphed over him when he died on the cross, but instead, Christ refused to remain defeated, and he rose from the dead, and in doing so, declared by that action his victory over death, and sin, and all spiritual powers.
What follows, at least at first, doesn’t seem to follow, and yet it does. He says in verse 16, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths.” There were, even in the church, people who did not understand the completeness of the work of Christ. They thought that they still needed to keep the ceremonial law which pointed to the coming of Christ. But the Apostle makes it clear in verse 17, that these things “are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” In the Old Testament, God had declared that the people should do many things that taught them of the coming of Christ. Just one example is the Passover Feast. The people of God were to kill a lamb, and spread its blood on their doorposts, to remind them of the first salvation in Egypt, and of the coming salvation. But when Christ came, he was the true Passover lamb, and so we keep the passover by trusting in him and following him [1 Corinthians 5:7]
But, he also warns us not to fall into the trap of man-made religions. He says in verse18, “Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.” There are those who call themselves Christians, but they add things to the simplicity of the Gospel. They say they believe in Jesus, but then they add self-denial, or angel worship, or mysteries that are not revealed to us, as if the work of Christ and faith in him is not enough. The words of condemnation that the Apostle has for them are strong, for he says that they are not holding fast to the Head. That is, in departing for these minor things, and emphasizing them as they were of great importance, they have departed from Christ. But this is not possible, for it is from our head Jesus Christ “from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.” There is no growth, no life, apart from our head, Jesus Christ. It’s like a man who loses his head. You can survive, although disabled without your eyes, or ears, or hands, but without your head, well, you’re dead. So we, the body of Christ, grow up together in him, and without him, we’re dead. But in him, we work together as well, with each part doing their part, building each other up, for it is God who causes us to grow.
That’s why he says, Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—“Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle.” [verses 20-21] These man-made religions seem good, for such people who abstain from fleshly pleasures seem to be superior to those who do not. But the things in themselves are nothing, for he says, “which all concern things which perish with the using.” That is, no physical thing can make you better or worse. To abuse physical things, like a drug addict or an alcoholic, is sin, and to refuse to use them at all, like these people he is describing, is refusing the good things that God has given. Such rules are “according to the commandments and doctrines of men”, and have no power. As he says in verse 23, “These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” That is, such things are a religion in themselves, but they do not change our hearts.
And this is what Christ came to do. Not just change our habits and customs, but change our hearts, to make us who were dead alive in him. To offer anything else as a substitute for the work of Christ is to detract from that work, and say that it is insufficient, or defective, or needs completion. But, he tells us that we are buried with Him and we were also raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead, and we were dead in our trespasses and He has made us alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our sins. Amen.