6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Legalism and Its Opposite
This is the passage that covers the ‘philosophy’ which the Colossians were facing. It is definitely influenced by Judaism and may even be a legalistic form of Judaism. There are those who thought of this philosophy as a Gnostic cult of the day, but the New Moon Festivals and religious rites are central to Judaism. In the book of Acts we read about people traveling from town to town to undo the evangelism that was done by Paul. The most enthusiastic members of this group was the Jewish people who thought that their faith was being compromised.
The outside influencers are probably trying to persuade the church that because they have not been circumcised and officially entered Judaism, they are not right before God. This was not the case. Ritual purity was meant to be a mark that an internal change had happened. However, Jesus starts from the inside and changes a person in sincerity. The legal demands have been met by Jesus and he has cancelled our debts. All has been taken care of and his followers are pure. They are not pure because they have followed the ritual laws of the Old Testament. They are pure because the one who stood in their place is purity incarnate.
It is therefore an insult to this sacrifice that many of us try and prove ourselves worthy of this sacrifice. We can prove no such thing. All our efforts to justify ourselves after the fact are as fruitless as the efforts of the unsaved to earn their salvation. Many of my students were saved by grace, but they live like they are not kept by grace. Somehow they are kept in good-standing with God because of their hard work. This is not the gospel.
The gospel is centered around the cross of Christ and his empty tomb. We still live in the freedom that the cross purchased for us. We perform good works because it is the outworking of being in Christ. We pursue the one we love. We do not fear his rejection. Rejection is impossible for the bride of Christ to experience. We nestle into his chest and we breathe deeply. We do not need to worry or stress. We are always at home.
Oh God. We love your chosen people, the Jewish people, but let us not go back to the rules and regulations. Let us not think that our behaviours trigger a deeper relationship. Be close to us and let us know you. May we nestle in your chest and smell the fragrance of your nearness. May we feel your embrace when we are discouraged. Let us rest in your arms and remember that life does not depend on us. Live our new life in us and let the lies of self-loathing recede and wash away.
- What words describe the philosophy that challenges the Colossian church?
- How is Jesus described in light of this philosophy?
- What do you think the philosophy might have been?
- How would you describe the legalism that saps the joy of so many Christ-followers?
- How is today’s legalism best challenged?