Today we continue Paul’s letter to the Colossians, particularly looking at Paul’s warning to be on guard against empty philosophies and traditions. Instead, Paul urges us to rest secure in the fortress of forgiveness because Jesus is enough forgiveness.
Summary of the Text: Paul has already alluded to the possibility of “enticing words” (2:4), but now he’s zeroing in on his point. The Colossians have received Christ and all of his treasure (2:3, 6), but Paul warns them about being robbed of those riches through philosophy, empty lies, traditions of men, and the basic elements of the world (2:8). Instead of those things, they ought to be taken captive completely by Christ (2:8, cf. 2 Cor. 10:5, Rom. 6:16ff). While Paul is less direct in Colossians (than say Galatians), he knows that the Judaizing heresy is in the air (e.g. Col. 2:11, 16). But this concern could include all sorts of political, social, religious pressures exerted from any direction: the “traditions of men” and the “rudiments of the world” (2:8). And Paul gives basically three reasons why they are safe in Jesus. First, Paul reiterates that Jesus is God and rules over all the powers (2:9-10). They are not missing any information, lacking any crucial practice, or vulnerable to their attacks. Second, Paul insists that the fundamental practice Jesus commanded to identify with Him was baptism (cf. Mt. 28:18-20), and if they have been baptized, they have been joined to the fulfillment of the Jewish sign of circumcision (2:11-12). Finally, Paul explains that the fundamental reason they can be confident that Jesus is enough is because they have been forgiven all their sins (2:13-15). And this forgiveness has accomplished three things: it raised them from the dead, destroyed the condemnation of the law, and disarmed the principalities and powers (2:13-15).
When Adam and Eve sinned they brought down upon themselves and their children three things: they were plunged into moral death that included physical death (and cursed creation) (Gen. 2:17, 3:19) – moral consequences; sin brought shame, exposing human weakness, vulnerability, and failure (Gen. 3:8-10, Rom. 3:23) – social consequences; and finally, though the seed of the woman would ultimately triumph over the serpent, there would be a great war with the seed of the serpent exercising power and inflicting pain on the human race (Gen. 3:15, Lk. 9:1, 10:18, Rev. 12) – circumstantial consequences. Piecing this together, we see that forgiveness is much bigger than just an “apology accepted” sort of thing. Sin disrupts relationships because of what it does to the perpetrators, the victims, and the witnesses. Sin even causes the whole creation to groan (Rom. 8). But Paul assures us that Jesus dealt with all of it: He dealt with the moral consequences by raising us from the dead, assuring us of physical resurrection as well (2:13). We don’t have to sin anymore. He dealt the social consequences by nailing the accusations against us to the cross (2:14). We don’t have to be ashamed anymore. He dealt with the circumstantial consequences by taking away the only weapon Satan and all other authorities have to threaten us with: death (2:15). We don’t have to be afraid anymore.
It’s important to note how Paul reasons: He starts with Jesus, reminds them of baptism, and ends with forgiveness. These three things need to always be held together, and together, they are powerful assurance. Baptism is the objective promise of God, and forgiveness is what happens when that promise is received in faith (2:12). And since faith is a gift from God, and God frequently gives that faith in the very proclamation of His promises, it’s fine to speak in short hand about how baptism “washes away sin” (Acts 22:16) or is the “laver of regeneration” (Tit. 3:5) or even “saves us” (1 Pet. 3:21). But it’s also perfectly fine to point out how it actually works (by faith, 2:12), by an answer of a good conscience toward God (1 Pet. 3:21). And this is all because of the death and resurrection of Jesus (3:11, Acts 2:38). And all three of these realities point to one another, but if we leave one out, doubts naturally creep in. All three point to persons of the Trinity as well: Jesus is at the right hand of the Father, baptism is our union with the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the comforter, our peace, who assures us of forgiveness.
Completely in Him
And this is all possible because Jesus is God and bears the full authority and power of God (2:9). And this fullness of God in Christ sets Christianity apart from all “works righteousness” religions. If Jesus is not “very God of very God” then we cannot be sure that He rules over all powers, and if He is not God we cannot be sure that He can reconcile us to God. Without this certainty, people always fall back on “doing their best.” The incarnation was not God sending a messenger (though He had done that). A messenger might bring a true message and point us in the right direction. But the fundamental problem is our alienation from God Himself. So long as we have rumors of reconciliation (at best) we are still unsure, afraid, guilty (Heb. 10:1, 10:16-18, 11:39-40, Rom. 8:3), and therefore still left with “trying harder.” This wasn’t a defect in the law; it only goes to show how lost we really were. Only God in the flesh offering Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sin frees us to draw near in “full assurance of faith” (Heb. 10:22). A mere man could not offer the perfect sacrifice for sin, assure us of forgiveness, and bring us back to God. But Jesus does all three.
Notice that Paul’s argument assumes that our vulnerability is directly connected to our assurance of forgiveness in Christ. In 2 Timothy, Paul warns Timothy to watch out for dangerous men who have a form of godliness but who deny it’s power (2 Tim. 3:5). And he says that they specifically like to creep into houses, and lead captive gullible women laden with sins, led away with diverse lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 6-7). Again, notice the connection between being gullible and burdened with sin. People burdened with sin are frantic. They may not know why they are hurting, frantic, restless, but they will tend to try anything. But Jesus came to set the captives free, and in His cross, your sins are forgiven. And His forgiveness is a fortress that cannot be shaken.
Parish Group Questions
- What does guilt feel like? What have you experienced in your own life or seen in other’s lives? How do people tend to act when they’re guilty? (For an extreme example, review Edgar Allen Poe’s short story Tell Tale Heart). What does forgiveness feel like? How does it change relationships, families, homes?
- What are the philosophies, vain deceits, traditions of men, rudiments of the world that Paul is warning the Colossians about? Read Col. 2:11, 16, 18, 20-23 to get some ideas. How are modern Christians tempted in similar ways? What are your family, friends, unbelieving neighbors really in to?
- In this section, (Col. 2:9-15), what are the three things that Paul points to in order to assure the Colossians they aren’t missing anything vital (2:9-10, 11-12, 13-15). How do those three things give us assurance of forgiveness? How is forgiveness a fortress, protection against the philosophies, traditions, etc.?
- Paul describes the death of Jesus as the “circumcision made without hands.” Compare that description to Daniel’s prophecy of the stone that becomes a great mountain and fills the whole earth (Dan. 2:31-45). Since circumcision is fulfilled in baptism, what does that tell us about the Great Commission (Mt. 28:18-20)?
- What are at least three ways in which sin has disrupted the world and human life? How does the death of Jesus deal with all three of those aspects of the curse (Col. 2:13-15)?