It’s all about Jesus: “Attacking the Center” – Colossians 2

There are times the problems of life seem to be dropping like bombs on us.

We are out of coffee. The stove breaks and we can’t make our breakfast eggs. No worry, we rush out the door and think, “I will take care of the stove later and stop at the market for more coffee.” As we unlock the car door, we see the interior light is very faint and was left on all night. You turn the key, and… you guessed it! The car won’t start. The battery is dead. That late night dash out to the car to get the cell phone that dropped on the floor cost you a live battery, because you forgot to shut the overhead dome light off. Now you are hungry and don’t have a way to work, and it isn’t 7:30 AM yet.

Life on a fallen planet in a body that doesn’t always work is by its very nature unpredictable and hassle-filled. Not every day is that way, but far too many are. As it works at home, so it works at the job. Problems may assail your company. They may press your community and certainly fall like rain on our massive government. The area many forget to recognize as problem susceptible is… their church. Even your local body of believers experiences a steady stream of challenges.

By the way, that isn’t new. Shortly after the birth of the church recorded in the Book of Acts, the church faced members that told lies, authorities that pressed them to shut down and people with opposing views that tried to silence them. The Apostle Paul knew all about those efforts, because he led them before he met Jesus. After he was trained by Jesus in the desert as a young believer, he returned to a church under siege. It wasn’t only challenged by temple authorities in Judaism, but by Roman officials of the government.

In Colossians 2, Paul addressed three tests the local church was facing. He wrote to them to encourage them, but also to make sure they understood how to navigate through the issues. All three of the stated challenges were presented in the letter as the problem stated and a solution offered. Though the problems varied some, the solution always seemed to be the same: recognize Jesus as He is. Colossians 2 challenged the believers to recognize one truth…

Key Principle: The key to staying on the path of our faith is keeping Jesus at the center of all we believe and do.

Three words appear in the text of Colossians 2 that set the outline for the three problems. Note 2:4, where the word “delude” appears. Now drop your eyes down in 2:8 and note the word “deceive.” Go even further down in the text to 2:18 and mark the word “defrauding.” Do you see them? Apparently, some of the people at Colossae were facing a faith that was being obscured (deluded), while others were being pressed by deception, and still others were being handed a faith that wasn’t real to replace the authentic one (defrauded). Take a few minutes to look at each situation that was captured in the text as a lesson to us.

Deluded Faith

First, consider the problem of deluded faith. Paul opened with the words:

Colossians 2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love, and attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. 5 For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.

The Apostle offered three specific concerns related to a possible delusion in Colossae:

First, Paul’s struggle was that he didn’t have a personal relationship with some of the people of the region (Colossians 2:1). It is hard to effectively pass what a relationship with Jesus looks like from a distance. Christianity is much more caught then taught.

Second, He heard that some had come to faith, but was concerned they didn’t have a complete understanding of Who Jesus truly is (Colossians 2:2-3). The most dangerous form of faith is the one that has severe knowledge gaps that get filled in by untrue ideas. In the case of the Savior, when His life and work aren’t completely grasped, it is easy to take the massive volume of information and insert other ideas that obscure the truth of why He came and what He accomplished. Let me offer three examples I have personally observed in my years of ministry:

• Jesus the Good Example. There can be no doubt that Jesus did things that modeled honesty, helpfulness, servanthood and integrity. Even the most severe critic of our faith seems careful enough when it comes to critiquing Jesus’ behavior as it was made clear in the Gospels. There are exceptions, but they are relatively rare. People who emphasize, “He went about doing good,” (Acts 10:38) tend to press the point that Jesus was a helper. They don’t emphasize the more offensive things He said to people who thought themselves to be leaders at the time. Jesus can sound, when you listen to these folks, like an ancient loafer-wearing Mister Rodgers, building a happy neighborhood of moral sock puppets.

• Jesus the Social Revolutionary. Akin to the “good example” group are those who use Jesus to back their agenda for social change. These folks emphasize the way Jesus made startling remarks that shook His day for truth. They tend to be short on details on how Jesus didn’t set up His own soup kitchens and community centers, but they picture Jesus as One Who came from Heaven to fix the neighborhood with activism and community participation.

• Jesus the bringer of Wealth and Prosperity. One of the groups that emerged in my lifetime were those who found TV a perfect medium to offer the hope of a happy filled wallet life in the name of Jesus. They posited that Jesus came to bring “abundant life” and that was meant as a promise to multiply our bank accounts.

All of these groups “preached Jesus” without really making clear what Jesus was really all about. They emphasized an agenda they had and used Jesus’ face like a celebrity endorsement. Paul may not have faced these groups, but he had his own version in his own time. The ones he faced caused him deep concern. Paul expressed he felt some were being pulled away by someone arguing against their walk with Jesus (Colossians 2:4-5). Note the term “persuasive argument.” This wasn’t simple questioning of the main ideas of the faith in Messiah; it was a deliberate and well-constructed argument against their faith designed to pull them from it.

Paul made the point in verse three that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Jesus – not in other places. The basic delusion seemed to be that Jesus shouldn’t be the center of the faith. His work for us in salvation and His walk with us in daily life somehow lacked fullness as the basis for our faith. This can be simply called the “Jesus plus” delusion. It is the notion that you need something more than Jesus to be complete in your faith-walk before God. For some people it seems to be some gift you must pull from the hands of God. For others, it is some participation in a practice unique to their fellowship.

Paul wasn’t making a call to toss out the Bible and sit on a rock and wait to “experience Jesus” apart from the instructions of His Word. What he was saying was there was nothing that needed TO BE ADDED beyond belief in Jesus and His work to the essentials of our faith. In a sense: Deluded faith here is diluted faith.

For Paul, personal faith in Jesus and His completed work was enough. He made it clear when he answered a straightforward question: “How should they respond?” Paul took the people back to recognize anew the Jesus Who saved them:

Colossians 2:6 Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.

• Note from Colossians 2:6 that in order to be a part, one must receive Jesus (Colossians 2:6a). You don’t walk in Him until you have received Him.

• Second, watch carefully as Paul commanded them to show they were a part of Jesus by walking daily with Jesus (Colossians 2:6b). The Christian life isn’t simply a worldview, but it produces one. It isn’t simply a list of things we do, but we do end up living a list of chosen actions. It isn’t just a moral code, but it does yield one. The Christian life is the conscious act of knowing, loving and inviting Jesus daily into the course of our life, allowing Him to lead us through the day.

• Third, note that Paul made clear their walk with Jesus was based on deeply rooted truth that encourages us and keeps us stable (Colossians 2:7a). The Gospel doesn’t get re-invented based on issues of social change. Jesus saves people in every walk of life on every corner of the globe the same way.

• Finally, note that he called upon them to have their walk with Jesus characterized by following His instructions in the Word while gushing with gratitude for Him (Colossians 2:7b)!

Deluded faith is avoided by so filling ourselves with Him, there is little room for another to be poured into our life. When we celebrate Jesus and His work for us, we don’t seek another solution for our sin – because we recognize what we found. You stop looking for your keys when you find them. You stop looking for a way to God when you know Him.

Deceived Faith

Next, Paul mentioned deceived believers when he wrote:

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.

The heart of the deception point seems to have related to the words “traditions of men” and “elementary principles of the world.” Don’t let those words slip by you or you will draw false conclusions about both the problem and the solution.

Some conclude the passage is speaking of the sacrificial system and its entry requirement, circumcision.

Some hold Paul was referring to the Torah, the Law of Israel. They connect the phrase being “under the Law” in Gal. 3 with “under the elementary principles of the world” in Galatians 4.

Others support the notion that Paul referred to demons which originated the false teachings which Paul refuted. The terms “the elementary principles” were sometimes used in extra-biblical literature to refer to the spirits and Paul later spoke of “the worship of angels” as part of the heresy associated with the “the elementary principles.”

When you step back and look at it, there seems to be a mixing of two things: some commentators don’t seem to keep a line between what God said and what men added to what God said. Be very careful about your criticisms, because the same can be said for MOST Christians that cannot separate between the Bible and the rules of their denomination or fellowship.

• Let me be very clear. Men didn’t command circumcision to access the place of atonement (Tabernacle or Temple) – God did.

• Men didn’t invent the Atonement Laws that required the killing of animals in the sacrificial system – God did.

• Lumping the Law into “traditions of men” is not correct.

The issue seems to be the rabbinic rulings that added to the Law, not the Law itself. After all, God didn’t say atonement sacrifices were permanent, even in Leviticus where they are instructed. The use of the term “forever” is quite limited in that book!

The fact is that atonement law offered animal blood to temporarily abate the wrath of God (turn Him away from holding sin to an account). Sacrifices were NOT mere “ritual” even though they were temporarily in place. The issue was this: Atonement Law was fully replaced by justification. To go back to the atonement sacrificial system (as offered by the temple authorities of the time) could only lead to slavery.

In Messiah, all foreshadows lost their significance and needed to be discarded.

Let me say it this way. You took a trip to Hollywood and wanted to walk along the areas where celebrities were celebrated. By a newsstand, there was a life-sized cardboard cutout of your favorite movie actor or actress. You rushed over to get a picture taken as you stand posed beside the cutout. While you are standing there, that very actor walked out of the shop and was standing there watching you get your picture taken. When you realized the actor was there, you abandoned the cutout for the actual human being. To walk away from the actor and go back to the cutout would have been ridiculous.

Paul wanted people to walk with Jesus, but abandon their sense of need for the atoning sacrifices that were a cardboard cutout of Him.

By Messiah’s death, He brought total justification to us (wiping clean our account before God without any act performed by us beyond the acceptance of His work). He offered a “once for all” offering that forever replaced the need for atonement sacrifices. However, it is demeaning to lump “Old Testament” and “ritual,” not to mention “traditions of men” together when referring to the Law God gave to Moses.

Rabbis that made the temporary into the permanent added to the Law given to Moses.

The term elementary principles actually meant “what belongs to a series.” In 2 Peter 3, the Apostle referred to the physical elements of the universe set for destruction by the Lord at the end of the age. In Hebrews 5:11, the author used the term for the “basic truths” of the oracles of God the people needed to hear. In Colossians, it appears to be “things added to God’s Word.” These things are enumerated later in the passage as:

• Various rules about what a Colossian could eat or drink (2:16a). God commanded Israel not to call some animals food, but it was the rabbinic courts that sought to add that restriction to Gentiles.

• Rules about how and when to celebrate various calendar festivals, including Sabbath (2:16b). Again, God instructed Jewish people to meet Him at appointed times, but never included the Gentile world under the command. Men added that.

• Rules about “giving things up” in self-discipline of rules made by men (in 2:18a, 21-23). God called on Israel to walk in holiness, but the specifications of HOW were largely written by men.

• Rites that included worship of angelic beings (2:18b). Some cults and practices of the first century called for mystical rites common to the Roman world. Men made those up.

• Regulations of the behavior of other believers based upon personal spiritual visions (2:19). Men claimed a vision and then told everyone else their word held the authority of God’s Word.

When you argue that something must be added to trusting the work of Jesus for salvation, the basic composition of saving faith changes.

• For some, it is the continual return to the “Mass” to be among the saved at death.

• For some, it is whether or not you were baptized after you were saved that guarantees eternal salvation.

• For some, it is whether or not a priest offered you “last rites” at the time of your passing that secures the way.

• For others, no one who exhibits any behavior that should drop away as one matures will be in Heaven.

• For one group, anyone who worships on a day not Saturday cannot claim to be one of God’s people.

• For another group, only those who keep the festivals and feasts of the Lord truly understand what salvation means.

There are a ton of “Jesus plus” options out there. Paul’s admonition was simple. Keep Jesus at the center. He simply told them to stand in Jesus as the total answer.

Colossians 2:9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, 10 and in Him you have been made complete, and He is the head over all rule and authority; 11 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 of Christ; 12 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.

He also told them to look at the judgment postings at the Judicial Dias.

Colossians 2:13 When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, 14 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.

Because this refers to Roman customs, it may take some explanation…The illustration was from Roman law. Based on their writings, it seems Romans believed they were destined to bring law and order to the chaotic world. Virgil wrote in the Aeneid:

But you, Romans, remember your great arts; To govern the peoples with authority. To establish peace under the rule of law. To conquer the mighty, and show them mercy once they are conquered.

Because Paul was a Roman, he knew that if he was to make sense to Romans of his time, he had to make a legally structured argument.

Consider what he was saying as a Roman would have heard it.

In Rome there were juris prudentes (men wise in law who formed the judex), and advocati (men summoned to one’s side) and causidici (speakers of cases), who, argued the cases themselves for their clients (after C2 BCE).

In most cases, a magistrate defined the dispute, cited the law in question and referred the problem to a judex, a reputable authority in the community. The judex (with some advisors) listened to the arguments of the causidici, weighed the evidence and pronounced the sentence. Roman authorities posted the judicial notice on a board beside a platform known as the JUDICIAL DIAS where the words revealed how the judex settled their case.

Paul called on the people to go to the board and see what it said.

• He told them Jesus cancelled their debt.

• He wanted them to celebrate that Jesus took every charge against them away!

Then, without a breath, Paul changed the metaphor from the dias and called the people to another Roman image. This one found in a parade called a “Triumph.”

Colossians 2:15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

When Rome subdued a neighbor, it held a massive victory celebration – The Roman Triumph. In the city of Rome, the procession wound its way through a series of victory arches. In a procession, there was an order:

• State officials and Roman Senators usually preceded the parade, followed by trumpeters.
• The spoils of the war (i.e. The Menorah, local shields, etc.) were displayed.
• Pictures of the conquered land, models of ships destroyed, and citadels captured were set on floats and paraded.
• A white bull was usually publicly sacrificed.
• The captives walked behind in chains: enemy princes, generals and leaders to be executed.
• Roman Lictors: minor officials bearing fasces (bound rods) who cleared the way for the person(s) to be honored.
• Behind him were musicians, and priests carrying censers of perfume.
• Finally, the general was drawn in a chariot by 4 horses. He wore a purple tunic with gold palm leaves and over it a purple toga with gold stars. He led his family and some key soldiers of his army wearing their decorations and shouting “Lo triumph!”

Beside the triumph were a line of soldiers holding flowers and soldiers holding urns of burning incense. The aroma would be sweet to the victors, but signal death and enslavement to the captured.

Paul called the Colossians to walk the triumph of their Savior, and recognize His victory for them!

Defrauded Faith

Finally, Paul warned them they may have a defrauded faith. They may have WON, but been told they did not. He wrote:

Colossians 2:16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, 19 and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God. 20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.

Paul wrote thirteen epistles (at least) and wasn’t afraid of telling people what God wanted them to do. He didn’t hate rules. He wasn’t calling people to a “free for all” walk with Jesus. What he WAS doing was making a point: the Gospel is settled. Jesus paid for your sin. Any call to follow Jesus plus was a call to get control of your life in the hands of some power-hungry group.

The key to staying on the path of our faith is keeping Jesus at the center of all we believe and do.

He was sixteen when he came to Jesus. He had some baggage in his life. His girlfriend was not a Jesus follower. His music selections left something to be desired in the purity department. His hair was too long and his mouth was often foul. When he came to Jesus, he wasn’t sure what was going to happen. At first, he started to read his Bible and pray. Soon, religious leaders told him he needed to get rid of his albums, cut his hair and join a Bible study group. By seventeen, even his family couldn’t recognize him. He was clean cut, well-spoken and… a Pharisaic legalist. He preached to everyone he saw. He picked on their clothing. He derided their immoral way. He offered condemnation with every sentence. The sweetness of grace and the message of Jesus were buried under a pile of religious requirements. A few years passed. He was cut out of the lives of virtually all of his former friends. Even his family dreaded having him at holiday seasons. Then something happened. On the job, he tried his tough words on a Jesus follower who was mature and happy in his walk with Jesus. At first, the young man’s words were harsh, but after a while in desperate need of friends, he settled down. The older and more mature believer pulled the young man to his office and sat him down privately. He gave him only one piece of advice – but it changed the young man’s path for the rest of his life. He told him, “Stop following a list and start inviting Jesus to walk with you every day. You were right to trust Him for your salvation. Trust Him for your daily walk. Read His word with thankfulness for what He has done. Ask Him to challenge you, rather than using His name to challenge others.”

I met that young man years later. He was one of the key men who helped to mold my life to follow Jesus. I am glad he listened and put Jesus at the center of all he wanted to do.