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Overview of Earlier Colossians Bible Studies
Through the first eleven Bible studies of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we’ve learned of the background of the letter to the Colossians and have studied Colossians 1:1-2:10. The study called Background of Paul's Letter to the Church at Colossae taught us about the cultural, philosophical, and spiritual aspects of Asia minor that affected the Christians in Colossae and Laodicea. We learned how Paul identified himself and Timothy with the Christians in Colossae and Laodicea and helped those Christians identify with them in the Bible study titled Identification. In the Bible study called Thanksgiving in Colossians, Paul thanked God for the Christians in these cities. He continued his prayer, as studied in Glorious Might, by asking God to give the Colossian and Laodicean churches His spiritual wisdom and understanding so they would bear fruit in good works. Paul continued to intercede for the believers to God asking Him to strengthen them with power, steadfastness, and patience, and that they joyously give thanks to Him.
In Colossians 1:13-20, Paul told about God and Jesus Christ, and how Jesus’s sacrifice is enough for salvation. He taught in the study titled Snatched and Delivered that the Father is the one who rescues believers and transfers them to Jesus for salvation. Paul explained Christology in Colossians 1:15-20. Jesus is the exact embodiment of the Godhead, Paul informed them, as written about in Superabundant Peace. The study titled Attaining Hope covers Colossians 1:21-23 and shows how Paul used if… then clauses as a teaching tool. With this technique, he explained who the Christians were before their salvation by Jesus and then what Jesus would do if they exercised the faith God gave them. If the people would believe in Jesus, He would save them from their sins and death. Paul continued speaking about God in Colossians 1:24-29. In this passage, he told of his calling by Jesus and his stewardship to God. Paul explained that Jesus told him to proclaim the “mystery of God,” Jesus Christ is for all people, not just for the Jews. Jesus died to cleanse people from their sins and give salvation from sin and death to each person who trusts in Him. Paul taught God calls to people with gentle persuasion. Later he would contrast the way and purpose of God’s calling with the false teachers’ method of proclamation. The study titled God's Power and Gentle Persuasion teaches about Colossians 1:24-29.
In Colossians 2:1-5, Paul returned to a favorite topic of his, rejoicing while or because of suffering. In this passage, he showed his pastoral care and concern for the Colossian and Laodicean Christians as noted in the Bible study titled Rejoicing During Trials. Paul encouraged the Christians to stand strong and unified in love so they would attain “to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, Jesus Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3 [NASB]). He taught this so the false teachers would not trick the Christians with persuasive arguments and would not delude them about the surety of their salvation and their hope of glory. Paul continued to remind the Colossian and Laodicean churches of their salvation by Jesus through faith in Him. In Overflowing Gratefulness, He told these believers that because they trusted in Jesus and received salvation from Him, they could know they were rooted firmly in Him. Paul told them that though their salvation was in the past, they were to continue being rooted in Christ, being built up, and being established in their faith. These present continuous verbs showed growth as a Christian happens throughout a person’s life and comes from an active staying in a close relationship with God. Salvation happens at a point in time, but growth and sanctification should be the continuous aim of each believer.
With Colossians 2:8-10, Paul taught more about the “mystery of God” of which he wrote in Colossians 1:26. He taught in depth about the philosophical thoughts the Christians of Colossae and Laodicea faced in Colossians 2:8-10. Paul taught that the false teachers proclaimed human, empty, and deceptive philosophies that came from the elementary principles of the world. He contrasted them with Christ’s teachings that came from His full divinity and made believers complete. Paul wrote Jesus Christ is head over all rule and authority. The Bible study called Freedom from Deception teaches about this passage.
The Fullness of Christ in Believers
With Colossians 2:11-15, Paul explained about the completion Jesus gives. He taught in six statements what each believer receives through the fullness of Christ when He completes him or her. The surety of salvation through and power from Jesus, through His indwelling Spirit, gives each Christian the ability to reject teachings of philosophy from men and women that offer nothing compared to the superabundant fullness, the completion and perfection, that comes from Christ.
Spiritual Circumcision occurs by Jesus Christ
“… and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision (performed by) of Christ.” (Colossians 2:11 [NASB])
This verse written by Paul speaks of one law Moses gave to the Israelites, the circumcision of a son on the eighth day of his life. Paul brought this up to highlight two important things about the Colossian and Laodicean Christians and each Gentile believer; they were not Jews. They did not have the privilege of sonship or daughtership of God under the Mosaic law. Gentiles are not part of the people of God because of their non-Hebrew lineage. From this, the Gentile people understood they were outside the law and outside God’s old covenant. Twice in chapters one and two, Paul told them of the mystery he received from God to proclaim the Gospel to the Gentiles. In these two Bible passages, people can understand the salvation from Jesus is for each person born in and outside the people of Israel.
When we look at the Greek words of this verse, we realize Paul meant, “In Christ, you also received the sign of circumcision from Him that shows your dedication to Him, your eradicating the fleshly desires with His power and strength, and His removal of your sins. God, not man, does this circumcision. Instead of the foreskin being removed, God removes the from the body the human nature that alienates each person from Him.” Each Gentile experienced alienation from God in two ways, by non-Jewish birth (covenant) and by fleshly sins (law). Yet, Christ, by His death and resurrection, made a relationship with God possible for each person who lives. Because Gentile Christians had not received circumcision by human hands, that did not mean they needed it when they became Christians. Paul said their God circumcised their hearts when they trusted in Jesus Christ, as the Son of God.
Jesus, with His death and resurrection, broke down the two walls between God and Gentiles, the walls of ancestry and sin. His death and resurrection provides the circumcision each believer needs to be in a covenant relationship with God. God gave the Mosaic law to lead people to Him. The Messianic covenant provides access to and relationship with God through salvation and reconciliation. The Mosaic law did not reconcile people to God. Sacrifices required in it did not remove a person’s sins and empower them to avoid sin. It reminded them of their sinfulness, but they still felt guilt for those sins.
With verse eleven, Paul taught against the false teachers who reasoned that the body and all material things were evil and all things spiritual were good. To them, circumcision and uncircumcision did not matter in the long run since it occurred to the body. To say Jesus gave a spiritual circumcision was laughable to them since Jesus lived in bodily form and, in their minds, was not God.
Spiritual Circumcision is Baptism
“… having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Colossians 2:12 [NASB])
With verse twelve, Paul used a death-resurrection metaphor to explain how a believer’s spiritual circumcision is their baptism in Christ. The two actions of dying/being buried and then rising to new life relate to immersion baptism and circumcision. Immersion baptism, going down into water and then rising above it, is dying to self and rising to Christ.
When a person trusts in Jesus Christ for salvation, that person dies to him or herself, to fleshly, human desires, and rises to newness of life given through Him. This reflects Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection to life. Baptism symbolizes this death and new life. The spiritual circumcision Christ gives is His removing the sins of each person, those who die to his or her right to him or herself, from the sin-hardened heart. That reflects the dying to self and gaining new life in Christ when He removes the hard part. The removal of sins from each believer allows a right relationship with God. Jesus reconciles that believer to God.
Each person knows he or she sins. He or she carries the guilt of it. When the person faces his or her sinfulness, the guilt weighs on him or her. A person’s recognition of his or her sin and feeling the weight of that burden separating him or her from God is the way a person shares in Christ’s suffering on the cross. Jesus carried the weight of each person’s sins. The believer bore the weight of his or her sins. Jesus’ death took the weight of sin away and the person’s repentance, getting right with God, took the weight off him or herself. (Galatians 2:20 speaks of Paul’s understanding of being crucified with Christ and living his life with Christ living in him.) This reflects the initial part of baptism and circumcision, carrying of the weight of sins, realizing one’s separation from God.
Paul taught repentance and dying to self is a person’s burial together with Christ. The next part of immersion baptism, going down into the water, reflects repentance and giving up one’s right to his or her life to God for His purposes. Spiritual circumcision of the heart conveys the same thing. Only Jesus can do both actions-spiritual baptism and spiritual circumcision. He will not demand them, but only does this upon a person giving his or her life to Him.
Jesus’ resurrection expresses another part of baptism and circumcision, the arising. With baptism, a person must rise from the water after being immersed in it. This rising up is rising to new life in Christ. Just as Jesus came back to life after bodily death, a believer comes to life after being dead because of sins. The spiritual circumcision Christ gives to each believer is the removing of the hardened skin from his or her heart that occurred because of sin and gave a hardened heart. With spiritual circumcision, the heart can beat with God’s heart and will.
Both spiritual baptism and spiritual circumcision express the new life Christ gives by His victory over sin and death. Jesus victoriously reigns and gives each believer this victory upon repentance and death to his or her old way of living. The Christian lives a new life in God’s will with His wisdom, knowledge, power, and strength through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Spiritual circumcision and spiritual baptism are synonymous. They express death to the old way of living and resurrection to new life in Christ. This Christian life continues throughout the person’s lifetime. It begins at the moment in time when a person trusts in Jesus as Savior and repents of his or her sins. It carries on throughout the person’s life as he or she lives growing to know God more and become made more in the image of Christ each day. Christ will perfect the person upon entrance into His kingdom upon the Christian’s death. Until then, each Christian has the fullness of Jesus available to live each day walking with Him and growing to be more like Him. Paul made sure Gentiles knew Christ died for them, too, by his declaring the mystery of God, salvation for all people through Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection.
Paul taught that the false teachers of that time did not understand bodies could return to life. They considered bodies evil. These false teachers thought each person’s goal was to rise to a state of spirituality. Bodies were unable to be spiritual. Since this was impossible, in their reasoning, Jesus could not save people from death or sins. Paul taught otherwise when He said God raised Jesus from the dead and His death and resurrection allows His followers to have resurrection life.
Covenant Relationship comes by Jesus
“When you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him (Christ)…” (Colossians 2:13a [NASB])
Once again, Paul returned to what had been the Colossian and Laodicean Christians’ obstacles to having a relationship with God. They were not Hebrews, and they were sinners. Paul said, because they had these two barriers between themselves and God, they were dead. This “dead” Paul used means spiritually dead and not devoted to God, but to sinning. From verses eleven and twelve, we understand the Colossians and Laodiceans were not Jews before becoming followers of Jesus. They were uncircumcised Gentiles. Because of that, they were not in a covenant relationship with God. These Christians were dead because of their sins and uncircumcision before they believed in Jesus Christ. They had been hostile to God because they and separated themselves from His divine influence. Yet, God had a plan. He made them and each person who believed in Jesus alive through Christ.
Nothing the Gentiles were able to do would earn them a reprieve from their just punishment. Nothing could make them Jews. They had a double strike against them. It seemed to obstruct any possible relationship with God. Those human issues did not stop God. He loves each person. God had a plan to reestablish a relationship with each person since before He created the world.
With this verse, Paul aimed at the false teachers in Colossae and Laodicea. As stated earlier, they did not believe in bodily resurrection. These teachers also did not believe God intervened in the lives of people. He was too distant from humanity. For them, God was always transcendent, never imminent. Yet, Paul taught God wants a relationship with each person, about which the Gnostics scoffed. The Christians in these two cities received this reminder from Paul so they would stand strong in their faith.
Assured Forgiveness comes through Christ
“… having forgiven us all our transgressions, having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” (Colossians 2:13b-14 [NASB])
In this verse, Paul wrote of two things Christ gives superabundantly to His believers. Christ gives assurance of forgiveness and He gives freedom from the law. Jesus forgives a believer of his or her sins. He cancels the debt certificate of sin. Jesus Christ erases the judgment against the Christian the law requires.
The separation from God for the Christians in Colossae and Laodicea had occurred because of sins and ancestry, Paul said. God’s plan made a way for that to change because He loves each person. Did this plan involve people doing certain things to receive forgiveness? Did sacrifices make a person clean from sin forever and remove the guilt from those sins? Can a person do enough good things to erase the rebellious actions he or she has done? Nothing any person can do will ever be enough to erase his or her sins and remove the guilt to provide a sinlessness that will allow him or her to be in the presence of holy God.
Paul explained how God made Christians alive with Christ. For each person who trusts in Him, He raises them to new life without sin. God forgives the transgressions of each person who believes in Jesus Christ. This forgiveness Paul spoke of comes from the Greek word charizomai and means to favor, pardon, and show grace. Because God wanted renewed relationship with each person and holy God will not be where sin is, just as light cannot be where darkness is, He freely showed His favor to people by granting forgiveness upon their belief and repentance of sins. God knew nothing a person can do can erase the judgment for sins, so He showed His favor towards people. Paul explained this to the churches in Colossae and Laodicea. God favored them and showed them grace.
Jesus’ love enacted through His sinless life, excruciating death on the cross, and resurrection provides total forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with God. Paul said, though ancestry and sins alienated the Colossian and Laodicean Christians from Him, God’s love made a way for them to have a saving and righteous relationship with Him. Their deadness due to sins and ancestry kept these people from life. Yet, their death to sin by faith in Christ made them alive.
This forgiveness of sins by Jesus’ death and resurrection “canceled out the certificate of debt comprising decrees against” them, Paul said. Just as when a person promises to pay a financial debt and signs it, so a moral debt causes a decree of judgment against a person unless repaid. Yet, a person cannot repay moral debt because no sinless person exists to pay the sinner’s debt. Nothing any person can do, say, or think is good enough for repayment because it would come from a sinful person. Paul explained this in Romans 3:23 when he said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” [NASB]. Anything a person offers to repay the sin debt is tainted by sin. For these debts, decrees (laws) declare the guilt of people, just as the Mosaic law did. These decrees are against every person. They declare his or her sinfulness. No person can be sinless in his or her own strength. But God, in His love, forgives each person and cancels (erases, obliterates) the certificate of debt against each person who trusts in Jesus Christ. Though God meant for the Mosaic laws to lead people to Him, they reminded each person of his or her sins. People carry the guilt since they are unable to be sinless in their own strength.
Jesus Christ did not just erase the debt of sin; He nailed it to the cross. Christ caused their sins and guilt to die. He carried the sins of all people to the cross. Jesus bore the burden of those sins in Himself. He canceled the sin debt for each person who would believe in Him by dying to him or herself. A believer’s dying to him or herself is dying with Christ in His sufferings. That person puts off the old fleshly ways of living and rises with newness in Christ. He or she rises with His power to defeat temptations and His cleansing to be in relationship with God.
For the Christians Paul wrote to in this letter, he taught them they can know they have forgiveness of sins and a relationship with God because Jesus the Christ walked on earth, died, and rose from the dead. His death canceled their sin debt. The decrees that held them in debt, bondage to this life, no longer had a hold on them. Jesus victoriously rose from the grave and broke those bonds. He paid the judgment penalty for each person’s sins, so sin and death no longer would have hold on them.
Paul wanted the Christians in Colossae and Laodicea to know the empty and deceitful philosophizing by men held no weight. This philosophizing was wrong because Jesus was a man and is fully God. His body did not stay in the grave, but defeated death, sin, and earthly decrees so that each person who trusts in Him would have a relationship with God. The Gnostics thought of God only as transcendent. They taught people are unable to ascend to the level of God and have a relationship with Him. Paul taught God always wanted a relationship with people. Ancestry and sin do not thwart His plans and desires. Jesus Christ gave the Colossian and Laodicean Christians, and all who believe in Him, access to God, as Romans 5:2 and Ephesians 2:18 say. The Gnostics taught sins occur because all material things are evil, including the body. Instead, a person can try to rise to the spiritual plane, they reasoned. These Gnostics taught that God did not interact with people. Paul taught that God loves people very much and wants to have a relationship with them. God made this possible through His Son, Jesus the Christ.
Freedom from Demonic Powers comes from Christ
“When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.” (Colossians 2:15 [NASB])
In this verse, Paul wrote of another thing Christ gives superabundantly from His fullness to His followers. Jesus Christ gives His victory over demonic powers to Christians. In the first part of verse fifteen, Paul said Jesus “disarmed the rulers and authorities.” With His death and resurrection, Jesus proclaimed His victory over demonic powers. This means He defeated demonic rulers and authorities and completely stripped them from people He claims for Himself. Jesus emphatically denounced these rulers and authorities before God and other beings. Christ claims the lives of each person who trusts in Him. He makes His power available to them so they can have victory over these rulers and authorities. His victory came in other ways, too. As part of the Godhead, Jesus created all things. As Creator and Redeemer, He is the most powerful of all beings. These demonic powers (rulers and authorities) have no ultimate power over each person who believes in Jesus Christ. Jesus gives the ability to defeat demonic powers from His fullness to His people so they can stand against rulers and authorities. God’s fullness for us is more than visible, tangible things like food and wealth. It includes spiritual power, surety, and victory.
Paul continued in this verse by saying Jesus made a “public display” of these rulers and authorities. He paraded them, as an example, in front of witnesses. Consider the young man who had many demons living in him. Jesus cast the legion out of him into a herd of swine (Mark 5:1-17). Jesus has and makes available to believers the ability to resist demonic powers. Through Him, Christians can have victory over them. Jesus took it a step further and said his public display of these demonic powers included a triumphal procession, a parade, celebrating God’s victory over them through His death. He conquered them as their supreme head and Creator and as the Redeemer of humanity.
The Colossians and Laodiceans had Christ’s victorious power available to them to defeat the demonically influenced teachers. Jesus gave it to them from His superabundance, from His fullness. Jesus will make Christians perfect when they get to heaven. They will have fullness on earth now because Jesus already has the victory over all beings, including evil powers. The Gnostics taught a spiritual lesson contrary to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. These false teachers allowed Satan to confuse and convince them of the rightness of this philosophy. They did not exercise the faith God gives each person to believe in Jesus. Instead, they took the rational way because of Satan’s deception. These false teachers philosophized and taught this deception, hoping to lead people away from Jesus and gain followers for themselves. The Christians in Colossae and Laodicea could have Christ’s strength and victory over these false teachers. They could proclaim triumphantly with Christ of their freedom from sin, the law, and demonic powers.
Thoughts to Consider
Paul warned the Colossae and Laodicean Christians in verse eight about the trickery of the false teachers’ lessons concerning spirituality. Do not fall prey to secular wisdom, he told them. With verses nine and ten, Paul reminded these Christians, with a more focused lens, about Jesus having all the fullness of the deity. Because of that, Jesus makes perfect each person who believes in Him. He gives from His fullness, just like He gives His wisdom, knowledge, strength, etc. Jesus Christ gives from His fullness to make each person full (perfect/complete) and keep them growing toward perfection. The perfection the Gnostics taught was not true perfection. Only Jesus can make a person complete because He reigns over all rule and authority and is the Creator of everything that is. Because of who Jesus is, Christians can know with absolute certainty that all the fullness of Christ is available through the Holy Spirit to them. This means circumcision by human hands does not give salvation. God makes spiritual circumcision available for all people for those who believe in Jesus Christ, repent, and die to themselves. All other teachings and proclamations come from human reasoning and do not provide salvation or a relationship with God. Believers in Jesus Christ can know they are part of the new covenant with God. Because of this covenant with God, Christians realize they have forgiveness of sins and freedom from the law. Jesus canceled the sin debt certificate and judgment against each person who believes. He is supreme head, Creator, and Redeemer, He disarmed the rulers and authorities, the demonic powers. Each person who trusts in Jesus has this same power of Jesus through the Holy Spirit dwelling in him or her to combat these beings who teach and go against God’s truths. Christ’s fullness is available to each believer through the Holy Spirit to teach what each needs to know and to remind of all Jesus said.
- Is there a teaching you have heard that keeps you from believing in Jesus?
- If not a teaching, what keeps you from trusting Jesus Christ as the Savior who died for your sins and offers you eternal life in a right relationship with God?
- As a believer, do you feel you are fighting a losing battle? Remember, you have the fullness of Jesus Christ, the Conqueror of rulers and authorities, available for you to stand strong against those demonic beings.
- If you are a Christian, what keeps you from telling other people about Jesus, the One who died so all humankind can receive cleansing from sin, cancellation of sin’s debt, and relationship with God?
For next week, re-read all of Colossians 2 and pay close attention to verses 16-19.
“Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize…” (Colossians 2:18a [NASB])
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