Paul was not in Colossae, he had never met many of them, but he needed them to be encouraged to mature in Christ together and conform to His image. They were inundated with people teaching them the rules of Judaism as well as myths and false teaching that were clearly not biblical. If they took these false teachings seriously they could not mature into the full assurance of understanding and knowledge of God because they would be filled with the knowledge of a false god, carefully constructed to mimic the One True God. Verses 1-5 read,
“For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.”
Paul encouraged the church to know God, to pursue Jesus, the Truth, the Way, and the Life and so strengthen their faith and not to adulterate the Gospel with lies.
I recently watched a film with a story which took place in 16th century England. The story was largely about the struggle between the Catholic Church at the time ruling Europe and their difficulty accepting a Protestant monarch. The Vatican’s response to anyone who did not follow what they called the one true church reminded me of the Pharisees response to the first Christians and the world’s response to Christians today. In the film, the Catholics had such an ardor for their religion they lost the ardor for Christ. As I reflected on that, I realized that many people begin with a zeal for Jesus that develops into a fervor for Christianity and then into a fanaticism for rules. It is an easy slope to slip down and one we must be rigorous about keeping clear of. If we fall off the path of following Jesus and begin following religion, we will not conform to the image of Christ, we will conform to the image of the Pharisees.
Paul did not want this to happen to the church at Colossae and he knew that it could happen because people were preaching rules rather than Christ to them. He was not with them in person, but they belonged to Christ and had the same Spirit he did. He appealed to them to let The Holy Spirit lead them and not people teaching anything other than Jesus. That does not happen by accident. It is a persistent and deliberate choice. Verses 6-10 read,
“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.”
Receiving Christ is not the entirety of faith; it is the first step of a walk. Accepting Jesus places us on the path to follow Him, but following Jesus means actually making Him Lord, taking steps and walking with Him, not merely calling Him Lord and standing at the foot of the path. Jesus is God, all of Him, not part of Him. In Him dwells the completeness of God and you and I have been filled in Him, Jesus our Lord!
Do you get that? The Holy Spirit is inside you. He is the fullness of God and He indwells you! He has become an elemental part of you. Indwells means to possess, inhabit, and exist within. Synonyms are: built-in, complete, connate, elemental, inborn, intrinsic, and utter. He dwells in you. It is not impossible to follow Christ because the same power that raised Him from the dead is in you! Romans 8:10-14 encourages us that we can walk with Jesus.
“But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”
You don’t need anything more! You have the fullness of God in you! It is He who changes you from sinful to righteous. It is not rules and rituals that change you. It is The Lord who conforms you to Christ’s image. Verses 11-15 read,
“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 canceling 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.”
Jesus willingly laid down His life for us. We willingly give Him the sins of our past, present and future and put our old selves to death with Him. But Jesus raised from death and with His Resurrection we are given new lives. God did that work! No work we do has anything to do with our salvation. God died on the cross, God resurrected, God chose us, God saved us. Our debt of sin is cancelled, it is erased. We can’t pay for something we do not owe! The enemy tries to throw guilt in our faces and tries to get us to think we ought to be following a long list of rules in order to make up for all that sin, but he and his minions were put to shame when Jesus rose from the dead and conquered them forever.
The enemy will keep trying to discredit us. People will accuse us of hatred and hypocrisy. They will accuse us of not doing enough pious acts. But the Law of God was fulfilled in Jesus (Matthew 5:17). There is nothing more we must do to be saved. We humbly hand over our sins to Jesus, make Him Lord over us, and believe He is the Risen Christ and He does the saving (Romans 10:9). Jesus did give us some commandments; love the Lord with our whole selves (Matthew 22:37), love one another (John 13:34), take the Lord’s Supper (Luke 22:19), and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). These commandments are not about being delivered, but rather about living out love. Obedience is the result of our faith (Romans 1:5). It strengthens our faith it does not create it. Ephesians 2:4-10 reads,
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
People will do the job of the enemy and accuse us of not being Christian enough, of not following the rules of the church, and of not following the myths they believe we ought to follow if we call ourselves Christians. But we do not call ourselves Christian, Christ calls us His own! (1 John 3:1). We don’t pray to saints or angels, bow to men, or hate any people. We worship The Lord, the One True God, we obey Him, and we love His people. Don’t let the accusations of the enemy lead you to try and save yourself by your own works. Verses 16-23 reads,
“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
No matter how hard you punish yourself, no matter how many rules you follow, you cannot stop the desires of the flesh. Resisting temptation makes you want to satiate those desires all the more. With every self-flagellating strike you only confirm the desire you try and beat out of yourself. With every crack of the whip you repeat the condemnation, “do not lust” and increase your craving. Why punish yourself? Jesus already took the punishment! Does His sacrifice mean nothing? When you take on the work of God and try and save yourself, you exalt yourself and minimize The Lord. Galatians 2:17-21 reads,
“But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
The same passage in The Message puts it this way,
“Have some of you noticed that we are not yet perfect? (No great surprise, right?) And are you ready to make the accusation that since people like me, who go through Christ in order to get things right with God, aren’t perfectly virtuous, Christ must therefore be an accessory to sin? The accusation is frivolous. If I was “trying to be good,” I would be rebuilding the same old barn that I tore down. I would be acting as a charlatan.
19-21 What actually took place is this: I tried keeping rules and working my head off to please God, and it didn’t work. So I quit being a “law man” so that I could be God’s man. Christ’s life showed me how, and enabled me to do it. I identified myself completely with him. Indeed, I have been crucified with Christ. My ego is no longer central. It is no longer important that I appear righteous before you or have your good opinion, and I am no longer driven to impress God. Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.
Is it not clear to you that to go back to that old rule-keeping, peer-pleasing religion would be an abandonment of everything personal and free in my relationship with God? I refuse to do that, to repudiate God’s grace. If a living relationship with God could come by rule-keeping, then Christ died unnecessarily.”
Believer, are you trying to save yourself? Are you following rules and rituals to please a religion instead following Christ? Are you working hard make yourself good instead of delighting in the rest of the Lord? Go back to the gospel. Jesus saves. He, the fullness of God is in you! You do not need anything more than Him.