Christianity is a miracle faith. In no Scripture passage is that clearer than Colossians 2:8-15. And in no Scripture person is that clearer than Christ.
But, first, we begin with a warning . . .
“See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (2:8).
Paul’s writing to genuine, Spirit-regenerated Christians (1:3-6). They’re in danger of being taking “captive”. The Greek, sulagogeo, is a strong word, used of being carried off like plunder in war. Sulogogeo would be unpleasant at best, but more importantly wouldn’t produce lives worthy of the Lord (1:10).
How might they be taken captive? ” . . . through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ”.
Paul warns of keni philosophy—empty, without content, futile. Also a “deceptive” philosophy. Greek apatays—fraudulent, underhanded. This philosophy “depends on/is in accordance with human tradition and the basic principles of this world . . . ”
According to Paul, this philosophy doesn’t “depend on . . . Christ” but on “human tradition” (Greek paradosis—a handing down of teachings of men from generation to generation) and on “the basic principles of this world”. Stoicheia means “elementary instructions, the physical elements of the universe or spirit beings that rule the elements” . Here, not “the basic principles of the world” but “elemental spirits” is the best translation.
Jews and pagans feared the spirit beings (stroicheia) because it was widely believed they controlled fate in daily life. They could cause sickness, effect a curse, bring poor crops, plagues or earthquakes. Pagans and Jews (and evidently some Christians) were looking for help. Most popular folk religion focused on this. Paul, then, is warning against a prevalent, popular tradition, “wisdom” for the masses that ironically would protect them from the stoicheia by stroicheia. The philosophy counters Christ. And our philosophy must depend on, literally be, “according to Christ”. In line with him.
Are there philosophies today of which we should beware? How about naturalism? By default, by keeping God out of the classroom , our children are taught God doesn’t belong in history or science or even math. God gets reserved for Sunday church. And how about hedonism–getting all the pleasure you can, short of harming someone else. In some strain or another, hedonism runs through our culture. How might naturalism affect a child in his formative years? How might hedonism affect a Christian called to serve sacrificially?
But there is another reason to beware of false wisdom and its promises . . .
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority” (2:9,10).
Here’s Paul’s reason for the church seeing to it that they are not taken captive by empty and deceptive philosophy: “in Christ all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form . . .” “Fullness” is the Greek playroma and here means “In Christ the ‘whole amount’ of deity lives in bodily form and you have been given that ‘whole amount’ of deity in Christ”. In other words, Christ is sufficient. Not only for forgiveness but pleasure.
Gnosticism (the belief behind this Christ-demeaning philosophy) held that God was too holy to create an evil creation. So from a series of angelic beings, each a little less holy than the one before, emanated one unholy enough to create an evil creation. Christ the creator was one of those.
This philosophy must be avoided, first, because it’s hollow and deceptive, but also because the fullness of all God is lives bodily in Christ–and believers have been given that fullness in him. That means again, according to Paul, Christ is sufficient. And by faith we’re actually “connected” to him . . .
“In him you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (2:11,12).
It’s not altogether clear why Paul brings up circumcision, unless this false philosophy required it be practiced. In any case, spiritual circumcision alone has religious significance.
This circumcision, was “not done by the hands of men but . . . by Christ”. How? When in baptism we were “buried with him . . . and raised with him” through our faith in God’s power, who raised Christ. In the act of baptism by faith in God’s power, our sinful nature was stripped and we were raised to live in newness of life.
This is not just a doctrine to believe. It’s the believer’s experience in union with Christ. He is sufficient to subdue our sinful nature and raise us to new life.
Paul describes the Gentile Christians’ former life two ways: they were “dead in your trespasses” and “[dead] in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature”. Physically alive but dead to the life of God in Christ. They had trespassed God’s law–crossed the line. And their sinful nature dominated them.
But somehow God connected them with the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb and made them alive together with him. Furthermore, he “forgave us all our trespasses”, not by pronouncement, but “by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross . . .” It’s as if God took the page of our sin-debt and nailed it to Christ’s cross. When he died, it died.
Finally, He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him”. The Greek, apekduomi, literally refers to stripping off clothing. Figuratively, it’s used of rendering an enemy helpless–“disarm take away the power of”. “Rulers and authorities”–evil spiritual forces–still operate and must be contended. But their judgment was pronounced dead at the cross.
Christ is sufficient.
For creating and sustaining the universe. For true and lasting pleasure. For withstanding hollow and deceptive philosophy. For putting off our sinful nature. For forgiving our trespasses. For cancelling our debt to God. For disarming the rulers and authorities. Indeed, all the fullness of God lives bodily in him.
And we have that fullness by faith in him.