This exposition covers the lessons for the next two Sundays, October 31st and November 7th.
I. Paul indicates that experiential maturity holds that same faith through which a believer first received Christ. Maturity will involve an expansion of the mastery that such a faith has on the entire life but will not differ qualitatively from the point of reception. (6-8)
A. At the point of reception, faith attributes all to Christ and consents to absolute dependence on his atoning work and drawing grace. Bound up in this faith, resident within it, and worked out in the providences decreed for us by God, we discover the power of increasing assurance and progressive conformity to Christ. – “As you received, walk.”
- Paul gives this same thought in Galatians 5:16, 24, 25. In speaking of the work of the Spirit, Paul wrote, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” Then in continuing the discussion he wrote, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” To belong to Christ is to be joined to him by faith. Then Paul continued, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” We have been brought to belong to Christ and have life in him by Spirit-wrought faith; we should continue to walk in that same faith. “As you received, walk.”
- In 1 John 1:7, John looks at the Christian life all concentrated in the walk: “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us from all sin.” To have saving faith is to be cleansed from sin by the blood of Christ and such faith determines the manner of life that we live. “As you received, walk”
- In 1 Peter 1:3-9, Peter sets forth the new birth as the origin of faith in all of its persevering traits. God’s preserving power operates in the context of faith—a faith that manifest its Spirit-wrought nature in that it endures trial. In the end the outcome of such faith is “the salvation of your souls.” “As you received, walk.”
- In 2 Peter 1:3-8, Peter again dissects faith to reveal its inner components as evidence of its origin in divine power. When one has faith, in its inner parts it begins in love and contains brotherly affection, godliness, steadfastness, self-control, knowledge, and virtue (or moral excellence). All of these component elements of faith will become evident through the Christian’s life. “As you received, walk.”
B. Their complete maturity and growth in the true knowledge of God is implied, in fact, embedded, in their reception of Christ.
- Paul emphasizes that one’s initial grasp of the gospel in faith provides the foundation for all future growth. In receiving Christ, one becomes “firmly rooted.” The believer is given a legal union with Christ so that his death constitutes the paying of our debt; his righteousness is credited to us. He is given a “vital union’ which means that his life, through the ministry of the Spirit, flows into the believer for the purpose of transformation.
- This root system produces progressive conformity, being “built up in Him.” Having been justified by faith, we stand by that faith in a grace that transforms all of our experiences into sanctifying events. Even in tribulations, we exult for the effects of tribulation in this life include perseverance, character, and hope. Hope is the growing anticipation of the glorious return of Christ in which we finally are “built up in him” and made like him. This hope does not disappoint. In this life it looms ever more dominant and transforms each day into an investment in eternity; in eternity it bears the real fruit of Christlikeness (Romans 5:1-5; 1 John 3:1-3). Being “built up in him” is the precursor to and of the quality of “We shall be like him.” Paul has given a preview of this in writing of “the hope laid up for you in heaven” (1:5).
- To be established in the faith means that we learn to think truthfully. When Paul says, “established in your faith just as you were instructed,” he refers to the apostolic doctrine that they learned from Epaphras. He has used words and phrases that emphasize the heavy cognitive load that is in the gospel and into which the believer’s faith is placed: “the word of truth; you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth; you learned it from Epaphras” (1:5, 6, 7). “All Scripture is inspired of God and is profitable for doctrine for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). If a minister of the gospel wants to grow strong Christians, God-glorifying Christians, mature believers with a strong hope, then immediately at hand is the means of instruction in the faith of the Scriptures.
- All of which prompts a constant flow of gratitude (cf. 1:12). The more that a Christian learns of the gracious ways of God toward him, the more will he be “overflowing with gratitude.” There is nothing for which we should not thank God. If we glory both in tribulations (Romans 5:3) and in the hope of eternal life (Titus 1:2; 3:7), then those poles and all in between present an occasion for gratitude.
C. Because of the fullness of Christ himself and all that the believer receives from him, any account of intellectual life or morality not centered in Christ is deceitful (8). Continual walking in Christ gives clarity to the problems that have perplexed philosophers through the ages. “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception.” Paul does not say that giving attention to the issues proposed through philosophic reasoning should not be addressed. How did the world come into being? What is evil? Why does suffering come? What is the character of the human soul? Is there an after-life? What are the defining qualities of beauty? What is virtue? All of these are natural queries that arise in a quest for truth and meaning and are fair game for Christian thinkers. The key to addressing these issues is that we give full credit to God’s revelation in Scripture and to the redemptive work of Christ as determinative in our answers. We do not get sidetracked by the “traditions of men” or by the “elementary principles of the world.” Popular opinions and musings have no stable point of reference in dealing with these issues and arise only from personal experience and not from demonstrated authority. Even so, the categories given in a variety of philosophical systems–Aristotle, Plato Socrates, Epicurus, Zeno and the Stoics–probably are the idea- generators that Paul has in mind. He had dealt with thinkers in all of these areas (Acts 17) and had seen the religious implications of their speculative musings take shape in Christian congregations (1 Corinthians 2:1-10). Divine revelation in Scripture had opened the door to the answer for all of these questions, and divine revelation all pointed to and found its culmination in Christ. Any musings that operated on human autonomy and not “according to Christ” was idolatrous and doomed to give a false and fatal answer. So far, Paul has shown that Christ is God, Creator, Reconciler, Resurrector, and undisputed Authority. Now, in light of possible challenges from ungrounded sophists, Paul revisits his exposition of the perfections of Christ.
II. He looks at the completeness of Christ’s work
A. The one with whom we are united and thus established in a saving work is the personal embodiment of deity (9). Paul emphasized that all we have, we have in him (9, 10, 11) and by him (11) and with him (12, 13).
- In his essence, even in his incarnation, Jesus is one with the Father though distinct in his person. Jesus, who was born of woman in a human body and lived his life as a man among men mysteriously embodied, not only true humanity, but fullness of deity: “In him all the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form.”
- “All” means that Jesus was not a demi-god with certain godlike qualities but inferior to deity in others.
- “Fullness” means that none of his divine-like attributes were only partial, or that he was one among many divine-like beings; but in him we find fully embodied the undiminished essence of deity. Nothing that constitutes true deity is lacking in Christ.
- “Bodily:” In the mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, Jesus had both the uncircumscribed authority and the undiminished power, within the guidance of infinitely discerning wisdom, to function in his eternal status as God the Son. In the body of Jesus dwelt the authority to forgive sins (Mark 2:5-11), to heal all diseases (Mark 1:32-34), to interpret the law and issue propositions that determine eternal destiny (Matthew 7:24-29), to be addressed as “Lord” (Matthew 7:21-23), to exhibit authority over the demonic (Mark 5:5-13), to command the natural order (John 6:11-14; Matthew 8:23-25), and to exhibit power over death ( Luke 7:11-17; John 11:38-44; John 5:21, 26-29; 6:44,54; 10:18).
- In his function, he brings to us all the working of the Triune God.
- The Father’s election and calling is in Christ. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Thus, in him, we are elect, justified, and preserved. We are chosen “in him before the foundation of the world” (Ephesians 1:3).
- The Spirit’s conviction and life-giving power and revelatory work come to us through the finished work of Christ, either in anticipation (as in Abraham – Romans 3:25, 4:1-3) or in immediate consequence of it (Romans 4:16-25). Abraham believed the promise and was justified by faith. Through him came the Messiah who would die so that all who share that faith of Abraham that he had in anticipation will be justified even as Abraham was as a consequence of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
- Our full restoration to divine favor and safety from all hostile forces is assured in Him. “He is the head over all rule and authority” (10). “Nothing in all creation is able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39). He has loved us in eternity, given his Son to us in time, the Son has accomplished everything consistent with the covenantal decrees and the historic demands of justice and thus nothing can separate us. The love of God for us is in Jesus Christ whose foreordained work is complete, indelibly written in God’s book credited to our account.
B. By the work of Jesus in his human body, the work of regeneration is effected and given personal application to dead sinners by the life-giving operation of the Holy Spirit.
- All the typology of circumcision is fulfilled in Christ (11). Paul links true circumcision to full obedience to the law (Romans 2:25-29). Our hardness of heart, however, causes us to resist the holy requirements of the law and places us under condemnation. We need, therefore, a work of spiritual resurrection to give us a heart to see the law in its goodness and power. “Circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter” (Romans 2:29).
- This circumcision by the Spirit constitutes Paul’s meaning by the phrase, “circumcised with a circumcision made without hands.” Thus, the controlling factor in those not born again, “the body of the flesh”, is removed by the circumcision that Christ has made possible by his own fulfillment of the law. The Spirit now can unite us by faith to Christ’s completed work. “We are the true circumcision who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:1-3).
- Having been regenerated and thus united with Christ’s historic, once-for-all payment for sin, the sinner’s connection by regeneration with Christ’s death, burial and resurrection is symbolized in baptism (12); The resurrection of Christ by divine power is parallel to the production of faith by divine power. The union of regeneration and resurrection in saving efficacy for the sinner finds succinct expression when Paul wrote about “the surpassing greatness of his power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of his might which he brought about in Christ, when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand. . . . [E]ven when we were dead in our transgression, [He] made us alive together with Christ . . . and raised us up with him, and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” Ephesians 1:19, 20; 4:5, 6). Here in Colossians, as in Romans 6:4, Paul looks to baptism’s symbol of being “buried with him in baptism.” All that Christ did, sealed in its success by resurrection, is ours in our union with him.
- “Faith in the working of God” could refer to the faith that the sinner exhibits toward God’s completed work in Christ; also, it could refer to the generation of faith in the dead sinner “by the working of God.”
- Since all of this occurs in the grace and power of God while we are “dead in your transgressions,” it is necessarily effectual. If Paul refers to faith in the working of God, then all the work is done outside of us for our benefit. If he refers to the internal working of God in regeneration, then he looks to the unilateral resurrection power of the Spirit in restoring us to spiritual life from which arises faith.
- This work of God is necessary because our transgressions held us under the sentence of eternal death. From a state of condemnation, he has given to believers eternal life instead of eternal death through “having forgiven us all our transgressions” (13). The wages of sin has been waived by the death of Christ.
- The death indicated in the words “uncircumcision of your flesh” (13) sets forth an image repeated frequently concerning those both in Israel and non-covenantal status of surrounding nations. (Exodus 12:48; Leviticus 26:40-42; Jeremiah 6:10; 9:25, 26; Ezekiel 44:7, 9). Stephen used the symbol of “uncircumcision” in his sermon to the Jews that were going to stone him to death (Acts 7:51). Such persons still are in the throes of spiritual death, active rebellion against God, and thus still under the verdict of eternal death. Christ’s death, by which he sends the Spirit, removes that condition of rebellion and substitutes for it, by the life-giving power of the Spirit, the condition of absolute compliance with and love for the rule of God. Circumcised in heart, we now enter all the blessings and promises of the covenant of redemption.
C. This work of Christ, in addition to establishing the grounds of spiritual awakening from death and darkness (Ephesians 2:1; 5:8-14) accomplished the necessary aspects of objective redemption – 13, 14
- By his work we have received forgiveness of transgressions because Jesus was put in our place for the punishment due to us. The transaction before God has been completed and the experiential union with Christ by faith in which forgiveness comes is the apprehension of this objective work as sinners are justified by faith.
- Though its provisions are historically and objectively prior to the new birth, justification is experientially contemporaneous with the new birth.
- One of the necessary conditions of justification came in Christ’s removal of the Law’s hostility to us – “Canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us” (14). Paul used a doubled strength word for against – Upenantion– (anti) or “hostile to;” Jesus’ historical work on the cross has removed the hostility of those “dogmas” permanently. A. T. Robertson gives the precise implication of the tense: “The perfect tense emphasizes the permanence of the removal of the bond which has been paid and cancelled and cannot be presented again.” The certificate that contained the entre list of our transgressions by which we found ourselves in debt to an infinite degree, Christ took and by his substitution offered propitiation to his Father who had sent him for this very purpose (1 John 4:10). Some theologians historically have viewed this requirement as a vengefulness unbecoming to the mercy of God that, in fact, eliminates the aspect of mercy involved in forgiveness. All that is necessary, say they, is our repentance for God to restore us in mercy; he does not require any satisfaction of just wrath. Here, among many other places (e. g. Romans 3:23-26; 1 Corinthians 6:20; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Galatians 2:18-21; Ephesians 1:7; 5:25-27; Philippians 2:8; 3:9-11; 1 Thessalonians 5:9, 10), Paul shows that with certainty and by substitution Christ has delivered us from the “wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).
- Having eliminated the justice of the verdict of death against us, Christ also has disarmed any power of accusation from the powers of darkness (15). As the writer of Hebrews stated: Christ partook of our flesh and blood so that “through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (Hebrews 2:14). Satan and his horde of fallen angels heard the threat of death upon man’s disobedience. Though he said, “You shall not surely die,” he knew that transgressors would surely die. But now, the threatened death has been executed upon a substitute qualified in every way and the “rulers and authorities” are disarmed of their power of accusation. Through the cross, the death sentence itself has been nailed into extinction, and the triumph over these angelic enemies has been rendered certain and fully accomplished.
III. Christ in his completed work has exposed and demolished the allure of Substitutes (16-23)
A. Believers may now abandon ceremonies that have been fulfilled. The types and ceremonies of the law have found their fulfillment in Christ.
- Paul mentions laws related to food and drink and ceremonial sabbaths. Such laws governed Israel as a nation and then also to special groups in Israel. The various festivals that were punctuated with sabbaths have been fulfilled and thus all the ceremonies both of positive requirements and prohibition are invalid for the believer. Christ is the high priest, Christ is the unblemished sacrifice, Christ is the altar.
- Christ is the substance of the moral law also, not by rendering obedience to it as irrelevant, but by his perfect obedience to it (Galatians 4:4). The Law in its naked power as absolute propositions curses, condemns, and brings eternal death to its breakers (Romans 3:19; Galatians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 3:7-11). As fulfilled by Christ, its righteousness, which is his righteousness, now brings life (Romans 4:5-8; Romans 5:6-11).
- The moral law, the Ten Commandments, remains the standard of holy obedience for the Christian (Galatians 5:13; 1 Timothy 1:8-11). Its curse is gone while its impetus to holy obedience remains and even allures the believer (Psalm 119:41-48). Though the ceremonial and civil applications of the Sabbath commandment no longer apply, the Sabbath as the Lord’s Day of resurrection remains. It brings to fulfillment the rest of the new creation and anticipates the eternal Sabbath rest in the new heavens and the new earth. It is a day of hearing the word of God, encouraging fellow-believers, engaging in corporate worship of the risen Lord (1 Corinthians 16:1, 2; Hebrews 10:23).
- The Colossian Christians should not allow those invasive teachers who are zealous for circumcision and other Jewish ceremonies rob them of their freedom in Christ. Such teaching amounts to more than a mere inconvenience of lifestyle but brings into question the true substance of what Christ has done These practices, revealed by God to Israel were a mere shadow of what was to come, but “the substance belongs to Christ” (17). Nothing, no matter how devoted it may seem to uninformed zeal, should substitute ceremonies for Christ (John 1:36;1 Corinthians 5:7; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Hebrews 9:11-15; 10:11-14).
B. Avoid a false supernaturalism. These are just contrivances to avoid Christ. (18, 19). Religious teachers may seem compelling with their stories of visions, false humility, and secret knowledge. The Christian should resist and finally reject any teaching that depends on a secret knowledge or revelation or vision—any attempt at doctrine or instruction that does not arise from the written word of God in Scripture. Any teaching about worship, happiness now, or assurance for eternity that does not honor the person and work of Christ as set forth by apostolic authority in Scripture is corrupt and destructive. Everything in the Christian life and for the life of the church flows from Christ. We must hold “fast to the head [Christ], from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments” for true growth in grace that comes from God (19). The necessary integration of the parts of the body that give health to the whole is a striking image of how every part of the church benefits from every other part. Paul expanded this analogy in 1 Corinthians 12.
C. Believers may abandon a synthetic, unrevealed, humanly-contrived moralism that has only an appearance of sanctity but no true power for holiness (20-23).
- False teachers, relying on mystical, legalistic, and ascetic philosophies sought disciples from within Christian congregations. A. T. Robertson observed, “The Pharisees, Essenes, Gnostics made piety hinge on outward observances and rules instead of inward conviction and principle.” Verse 21 does not give a summary of Pauline instruction for moral living but a distilled version of the useless moralisms related to perishing material things arising from the “commandments and teachings of men” (22).
- Paul recognized the attraction of an apparently virtuous and abstemious lifestyle. They have the “appearance of wisdom.” But again, they are humanly contrived rules that have no regard for the true moral virtue of the law of God. These rules, because they are completely absent of revelatory principle, arise only from “self-made religion.” They depend on the impressive nature of “self-abasement and severe treatment of the body” (23). Paul is concerned about the deeper principle of remaining sin that arises from an unmortified principle of the flesh. He outlines the manifestations of the flesh in Galatians 5:19-21. The fruit of the Spirit, those attitudes that are truly consistent with revealed truth, are listed in Galatians 5:22, 23.
IV. Contemplation for Walking
A. What could one possibly want that is not found in Christ? In him dwells the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form; we are complete in him; in him we are forgiven and given a new heart.
B. Is there any personal presence and personal ministry that is more valuable and comforting than Christ’s?
C. When we are in Christ, there is nothing in the threatening of the Law, the deceitfulness of sin, or the devil and his angels that can threaten our security of acceptance with God.
D. He has even opened the eyes of the heart that we may see the glory of the gifts that armor us for the spiritual walk of this life, fit us for a holy and righteous eternity, and will be fulfilled in the delight of undiminished love in the personal presence of the glorified Jesus.
E. A contemplation of these things should be the source of overflowing and unending gratitude.