Colossians 2:6-15 Legalism and Its Opposite

Legalism In The Bible

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

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. 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.

Prayer

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.

Question

  1. What words describe the philosophy that challenges the Colossian church?
  2. How is Jesus described in light of this philosophy?
  3. What do you think the philosophy might have been?
  4. How would you describe the legalism that saps the joy of so many Christ-followers?
  5. How is today’s legalism best challenged?
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About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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17 Responses to Colossians 2:6-15 Legalism and Its Opposite

  1. Christa Larsen-Sorterup says:

    1. What words describe the philosophy that challenges the Colossian church? Captivating, empty, deceitful, human-dependent, against Christ
    2. How is Jesus described in light of this philosophy? Christ is described as being fully divine in light of this earthly philosophy; He is the one with all authority and power, who redeemed the Colossians from the lies of this empty philosophy
    3. What do you think the philosophy might have been? I am not completely sure what the philosophy might have been. I think that the legalistic Judaism presented in this devotional makes sense and certainly was true in the first century of the church when this letter was written
    4. How would you describe the legalism that saps the joy of so many Christ-followers? The legalism that Christians often face makes the believer think that they are reliant upon themselves rather than upon Christ. It puts them back to their old independence without Christ and encourages them to believe that they can make it on their own, that they are somehow redeemed by who they are and what they do rather than by the grace of God and sacrifice of Christ to whom they are united
    5. How is today’s legalism best challenged? Today’s legalism is best challenged by the truth of the gospel; in the gospel, we find grace not only for our salvation but for our lives

  2. Words that are used to describe the philosophy that challenges the Colossian church are “human tradition”, “empty deceit”, spirits of the world”, and not according to Christ”. Jesus is the one who holds together full deity and He has saved them from the lies of earthly philosophy. The philosophy might have been an extreme and legalistic form of Judaism. In today’s Christian community, legalism tells a Christian that they are responsible for their own salvation and that their works make them holy in God’s sight. Legalism today can be best challenged by the truth of Scripture, that Jesus is the one and only sacrifice which ha brought salvation to those who believe.

  3. Michael McCardle says:

    1. What words describe the philosophy that challenges the Colossian church?
    empty deception, tradition of men and elementary principles.
    2. How is Jesus described in light of this philosophy?
    Fulness of Diety and head over all rule and authority
    3. What do you think the philosophy might have been?
    Salvation through works or possibly that Christ was just a spirit.
    4. How would you describe the legalism that saps the joy of so many Christ-followers?
    Rather than living in the joy, love, grace and fullness of life in Christ, christians who practice legalism slowly kill themselves as they try to earn their salvation rather than fully living it.
    5. How is today’s legalism best challenged?
    By destroying the American notion of “I Can” (self-dependent people).

  4. Megumi says:

    1. The misleading philosophy of the Colossians is described with such phrases as: “human tradition” and “empty deceit.”
    2. Contrasted with the legalistic philosophy of the Colossians, Jesus is described as sufficient for salvation and sanctification.
    3. The philosophy of the Colossians was likely some version of the age-old legalism formula: “Jesus + works = salvation.” It seems proponents of this philosophy supplemented the gospel of grace with rituals from Old Testament law, but Paul emphasizes the sufficiency of Jesus Christ.
    4.The “legalism that saps the joy of so many Christ-followers” is probably evidence of either: 1) fear that doubts the unconditional love of Christ, or 2) pride that believes one should be good enough to deserve love, or 3) a toxic combination of both.
    5.Legalism likes to hide behind virtue. It seems, then, that legalism is best battled by revealing it is as a sin of either pride or fear. Strip it of the façade of goodness, and it is no longer attractive. I remember the effectiveness of Mr. Worrall’s pronouncement to my class that, “Perfectionism is a sin.” After hearing that, how could I take pride in perfectionism? It was a simple statement that contributed to an unmasking of ugly pride hiding behind the virtue of diligence.

  5. Andrew Moore says:

    1. What words describe the philosophy that challenges the Colossian church?
    Philosophy, Empty deceit, according to human tradition, not according to Christ.
    2. How is Jesus described in light of this philosophy?
    Christ is the head and has authority, and is fully God within human flesh.
    3. What do you think the philosophy might have been?
    Early Jewish believers in Christ often struggled with going back to old Jewish traditions, as well as placing a greater emphasis on personal works than is healthy. It is likely that these believers struggled with similar challenges.
    4. How would you describe the legalism that saps the joy of so many Christ-followers?
    Legalism that saps joy is often found in the belief that our own personal works our enough to merit our own salvation.
    5. How is today’s legalism best challenged?
    Legalism is best challenged by having a true understanding of what Christ has done for us and knowing that his sacrifice is worth so much more than anything we could ever accomplish on our own.

  6. Kimberly W. says:

    1. Empty deceit, human tradition, and elemental spirits of the world describe the philosophy that plagued the Colossians.
    2. Jesus is described as having the fullness of deity in Him and as being the head of all rule and authority. He forgives our trespasses and cancels our record of debt.
    3. This philosophy seems to be about legalism: to receive salvation, the Colossians were falsely believing they needed to believe in Jesus and do good works. Specifically, it seems that they were still requiring circumcision and other aspects of Mosaic law.
    4. Legalism comes in so many forms today! It can involve dressing in a certain way or requiring specific hairstyles for men and women, it can be striving to be the absolute very best at everything and never making a mistake, it can mean requiring others to act in a certain way. Legalism of today says “We are saved by grace” but what those who struggle with legalism mean is that they are given grace or earn salvation based on their works.
    5. Legalism can best be challenged today by returning to some of the basic tenets of Scripture. Jesus came to call sinners, not the “righteous” (Mark 2:17). The two greatest commandments are about love, not about good works. Scripture is more than an adequate way to challenge legalism.

  7. Maelynn says:

    1.”Empty Deceit” and “according to human tradition.”
    2. The whole fullness of the deity dwells bodily in Jesus; he is the head.
    3. Being saved by their own good works. Seeing themselves as their own “gods.”
    4. It is bondage. It is self-sufficiency rather than seeing Christ as fully sufficient.
    Ac5. Seeing themselves and Jesus through thr perspective the Bible gives. We are nothing without Him! He is our righteousness!

  8. Christina W. says:

    1. Empty deceit; human tradition; and according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
    2. Jesus is described as having the whole fullness of deity dwelling in him and he is the head of all rule and authority.
    3. The philosophy may have been the idea that works can save you and it is all about what you do on the outside that is pleasing to God. Do you follow all of the rules and traditions prescribed?
    4. It keeps so many believers in captivity and stuck in the mindset that they need to do it all on their own. They sometimes feel that their salvation is contingent on them and what they do.
    5. Legalism today is challenged by truly remembering that the work of Christ is enough. We do not need to do anything to earn our salvation or make us better people in the eyes of God.

  9. Emmy R says:

    1. Empty deceit and elements of the world.
    2. Jesus is the deity and authority over all.
    3. The philosophy was probably a form of Judaism
    4. Legalism is a guilt led relationship with Christ.
    5. It is best challenged when we understand and fully accept the love of our Father.

  10. 1. The following were used to describe the philosophy challenging the church: “empty deceit”; “according to human tradition”; “according to the elemental spirits of the world”; and “not according to Christ”.
    2. Christ is described as the One in whom “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”. He is also described as the “head of all rule and authority”.
    3. I think the philosophy centered on the law or at least relied upon it in some part for relationship or salvation. Whatever it was, it was tempting the Colossians to add in their works in addition to Christ which contradicts the message of the gospel.
    4. Legalism saps trust from the church. It places responsibility in the hands of the person rather than in the hands of Christ. While that certainly might appeal to our flesh at first, it tires us out continually and drives us into fear because we are not resting in Christ’s perfect love for us. If we are not resting in His love and trusting in His care for us, we cannot live consistently in His joy.
    5. Legalism is challenged by the gospel. It nothing that we have done, but it is His grace. We need to continually be reminded of the implications of Christ’s death and resurrection. Just because we are saved does not mean that we should stop listening to the beauty of the gospel message ourselves. We need to continually live out of it daily.

  11. Molly says:

    1.“According to human tradition.” and “Empty Deceit”
    2. Jesus is described as having the whole fullness of deity dwelling in him and he is the head of all rule and authority.
    3. This seems to be about legalism: to receive salvation, the Colossians were falsely believing they needed to believe in Jesus and do good works.
    4. Legalism says this is what I can do and what I can accomplish not, this is what Christ has done and is doing in me. Legalism keeps you from peace, joy and freedom that is found in Christ.
    5. Legalism today can be best challenged by sensitivity to the Spirit and what he is telling you. Too often people use Scripture to excuse their “legalistic ways” (I mean….look at the Duggars :/ ) But if you listen to the Spirit he will guide you in the way you should go.

  12. Maria T. says:

    What words describe the philosophy that challenges the Colossian church? The philosophy is described as “empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
    How is Jesus described in light of this philosophy? Jesus is the whole fullness of the deity in bodily form, the one who has all rule and authority.
    What do you think the philosophy might have been? I think they were believing that Christ was not enough, probably because they did not view the Incarnation as Christ truly taking on our humanity and making a new way. This was demonstrated by their legalism in following the rules of the flesh.
    How would you describe the legalism that saps the joy of so many Christ-followers? We can’t believe that Christ truly became a man and made us new, so we try to save ourselves and fall flat on our faces.
    How is today’s legalism best challenged? My own legalism is best challenged with the truth that Christ became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God.

  13. 1.Legalism, captivity, deceit, worldly
    2. “The head of all rule and Authority”
    3. The philosophy that God wants us to work and prove that we are good, because since he did so much for us by dying for us-we ought to do him the favor and not sin, because God will be upset with us when we sin.
    4. Deceit. We are deceived into thinking, being good-love. Because we are often taught that at such a young age, if you are well behaved -you get positive reinforcement which can sometimes be mistaken for love and acceptance.
    5. By those who admit and confess sins-but leave it there and don’t agonize over and over how horrible of a person they are. But, they are honest and “fess up”- repenting and living by faith.

  14. Jung Kim says:

    1) Empty deceit and according to human tradition are the words that are described.
    2) Jesus is the head of all rule and authority, and in him, there is “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily”.
    3) An extreme and legalistic form of Judaism. The fact that the Colossians were not believing Christ fullest in His deity and divine power, they were falsely beliving in Jesus.
    4) Legalism speaks of what a person must do and must not do by NOT allowing God to be in the authorship. Rather than bringing joy to us, it brings discontentment, lack of freedom and joy,
    5) Today’s legalism can be best challenged through the gospel and faith alone. By recognizing God as the controller of our lives, we must get rid of “I can do this everything” idea but properly include “I can do everything THROUGH HIM who gives me strength”.

  15. Olyn says:

    1. Philosophy and empty deceit, human traditions of the world
    2. The whole fullness of deity dwells bodily
    3. Taking legalism too far, thinking they had to do things to earn or keep their salvation
    4. An unnecessary burden that is born of pride, which the enemy uses to try to weigh down believers with the idea that they must somehow perform well enough to earn their salvation
    5. By exposing what a lie it is-if you could not gain your salvation in the first place, what makes you think its up to you to keep it?

  16. Nate Silvieus says:

    1. Empty and deceptive that depends on the traditions of this world.
    2. Christ is the head over every power and authority and we rest in triumph over the powers and authorities which he displayed through his work on the cross.
    3. The Philosophy was most likely that the people still needed to follow and obey the Jewish traditions and laws for salvation.
    4. Overwhelming. If we had to make up for our sins and atone for them ourselves, we would eventually give up.
    5. The truth of the gospel penetrating hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit.

  17. 1. The philosophy Paul is talking about is empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
    2. Jesus is described as our ruler and ultimate authority.
    3. I would assume that philosophy would have been legalism.
    4. I would describe the legalism as unsatisfactory. We might find pleasure in trying to obey all the laws and rules, but it will never truly satisfy us the way Christ does.
    5. Legalism today can be challenged by the countless examples in the Bible and by drawing closer to Christ and finding true freedom in Him.

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