The Truth War: False Religions & Regulations vs. Christ
The Apostle Paul is writing a polemic letter (defense of the truth) to defend and define the supreme nature and satisfactory works of Jesus Christ. We know from Colossians 2:1-10 that the 1st century church was under attack by Gnosticism, which is the belief that spirituality and deity is found in attaining esoteric (secret) super knowledge. They valued the revealed knowledge of God and of the origin and end of the human race as a means to attain redemption for the spiritual element in men. Being a Gnostic was to be a member of a “certain sects who claimed to have superior knowledge of spiritual matters, and explained the world as created by powers or agencies arising as emanations from the Divine.” Basically, they replaced Jesus for knowledge. Knowing the super knowledge is what saved you. This was a huge problem! It denies the incarnation of God as the Son. That means they denied the only sufficient atonement in Christ. Therefore, if Jesus is not God, He could not atone for all of mankind and we would still be lost in our sins! After Paul exposits and combats this issue by proving Jesus Christ is the plemora (Greek for ‘fullness’), the fullness of all wisdom, knowledge, spirituality, and deity, he continues to defend against the false religions and rituals that were penetrating the walls of the Colossian church and give them clarity on how to live the Christian live and obtain salvation.
The Colossian Heresy.
The author of these false teachings was the heretics. They were individuals who were very influential and persuasive who taught doctrines and decrees in opposition to the church. A heretic is a professed believer who maintains religious opinions contrary to those accepted by his or her church or rejects doctrines prescribed by that church. In the 1st Century, there were many heretics. They were in the Galatia/Phrygia region of Colossae, teaching a mixture of Christianity with Judaism, Mysticism, and Asceticism. Why did Paul have to write this letter, and why did the Colossians need to know the whole truth of the God? Simply because the heretics were teaching a mixture of truth. They were professing to be believers of ‘the Way’ (Acts 9:2). However, they were teaching doctrines that were leading people in the wrong way. There are three main religious and ritualistic teachings Paul exposes as heretical to the Gospel of Christ:
Judaism - teaching the written and oral Jewish commandments, (Misnah and Talmud), and ceremonies that should still be practiced as works of salvation and spiritual growth.
Mysticism – teaching the worship of angelic hosts and other spiritual beings in addition to or in mediation to Christ/God.
Asceticism – teaching people with the self-denial, self-mortification, and extreme self-abstinence of material pleasures and social interaction in order to have a high spiritual, moral, and holy life in union with God. Paul exposes their false teaching. He explains three things that are contrary the truth in Christ: Judaism is false works Mysticism is false worship Asceticism is false words
I. Judaism – False Works
(v.2:11) Circumcision made without hands (the work of the Holy Spirit) – In the OT, Jews were to be circumcised to bear the mark of the covenant. It was symbolic to demonstrate they are set apart from the world as God’s chosen people.
However, Jesus came and fulfilled and established the new covenant! Paul explains this new circumcision is not about the mark on the outside but the mark inside on the heart. The Spirit changes our hearts when we come to faith in Christ. We are renewed into a new creation. Being born again and having our hearts transformed from being workers of unrighteousness into servants of righteousness is the sign of the new covenant in Christ.
The mark we bear is a new heart in Christ (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Romans 2:25-29, “For circumcision has its value if you practice the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore if the uncircumcised man obeys the righteous requirements of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And will not the physically uncircumcised man who keeps the law judge you who, despite the written code and circumcision, transgress the law? For a person is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision something that is outward in the flesh, but someone is a Jew who is one inwardly, and circumcision is of the heart by the Spirit and not by the written code.”
The Apostle Paul was so bold on the fact that salvation was by grace through faith as he addressed being circumcised in Galatians 2:1-10, Acts 15:1-35. It was a common teaching in the 1st century, but it was a false work to obtain salvation or to be more spiritual. Well how about Timothy in Acts 16? Paul made him get circumcised. Why? Well it because his mother was most likely Jewish and that he took that mark so he could minister to the Jews with the Gospel with Paul because Timothy could have been seen as an apostate of the Jews. Either way, he was already saved! Therefore, circumcision cannot save you, but the new circumcision of the heart through faith in the Son of God saves your soul!
(v.2:12) Buried with Him baptism…raise with Him through faith – The identity believers have with the Lord Jesus Christ is through their baptism. Baptism means ‘immersed’. It is a way of publicly showing your commitment and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul explains to them what baptism symbolizes. When you get baptized, you are declaring to bury the old man who was an object of condemnation, and to be raised up through faith in Christ as a new man into a recipient of justification. Baptism does not save you, faith in Christ saves you!
(v.2:13) Dead in trespasses…made alive in Him – Jesus has forgiven us of all our sins. We once were spiritually dead in our sins, and when Christ came into our lives He made us spiritually alive in our salvation. We now have purpose and are no longer empty but full of life, love, and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.
(v.2:14) Wiped out – Jesus Christ emancipated, erased, and eliminated the judgmental and condemning laws that were against us by fulfilling and completing the law in His life. (Matthew 5:17-18) He literally blotted out the ink on the pages of the law that were hostile towards us by fulfilling them. Thank you Jesus!
Handwritings of requirements – these were the mosaic and jewish laws, fulfilled by Jesus in the NT.
Nailed it to the cross – In the 1st century, the criminal being crucified would have a list of the offences nailed on the cross, just as Jesus had in Matthew 27:37. Believers sins were all placed on Christ, and by nailing all our sins to the cross ultimately paid the penalty for our unrighteousness satisfying the wrath of God for the sins we committed (breaking the law of God).
(v2:15) Disarmed…made a public spectacle…triumphing over them – Through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ, he disarmed the forces of Satan and sin, because He conquered the grave! It was suppose to be a defeat, but it was initially a victory! Christ triumphantly defeated the enemy showing His principality and power over them! Roman soldiers returning from a victorious battle use to drag into town the captured enemy and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in front of all the people. Paul is alluding to this picture but that Christ has done this through His death, burial, and resurrection which defeated the enemy. Jesus Christ is triumphantly exalted and puts to shame all authorities.
(v.2:16-17) Do not let legalism lure you into a lifestyle of rules and regulations based off of Judaistic Ceremonialism. Christ fulfilled all things in the Scriptures concerning Him who was indeed a foreshadowing of the things to come through the Messiah. Therefore, we do not need to do such things to be in right standing with God or to make us more spiritual. Jesus Christ is our sacrificial Lamb and Passover, the everlasting atonement! Jesus Christ is the substance and essence of all the law and ceremonies.
II. Mysticism - False Worship
(v.2:18-19) Don’t let anyone cheat you.
Here is another unique word like in v.2:8. It only occurs once in the whole Bible. In the Greek, the word ‘cheat you’ means “katabrabeuo” to defraud or beguile of the prize of victory; a metaphor to deprive of salvation. Do not let anyone deceive you and steal your reward in Christ! False worship will lead to false reward. Worship Jesus and only Him. Heretics in the 1st century were teaching that believers had to worship other spirits and angelic beings. This completely false. We are to worship the one true and eternal God, Jesus Christ! (1 John 5:20).
III. Asceticism - False Words
(v.2:20-23) These verses point to the futility of asceticism which the the self denial and neglect of all materialism and specific resources. People in the 1st century (and in some religions today) indulge in these classic ascetic works to try and be spiritual. "I'm abstaining from eating this and doing that." There is a major problem with these false words of spirituality. It has no value against the flesh because it is spiritually powerless. "While reasonable care and disciple of one's body is of temporal value, it has not eternal value, and the extremes of asceticism serve only to gratify the flesh and see only to put on a public show of their supposed holiness." - John MacArthur
All of this deception is the work of the Enemy.
Who is behind these false religions and regulations?
The Bible says it is Satan, the ‘father of all lies’(John 8:44).
He is truly out to kill, steal, and destroy souls (John 10:10).
He deceives a few so a few can deceive many (Genesis 3).
He mixes truth with lies (Matthew 4)
This is has been going on throughout the ages of history and is predominately seen in North America with the false religions and cults of Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses, Roman Catholic Church, Christian Science, and Seventh Day Adventists to name a few. They all have their doctrines of works for faith, the worship of other spiritual hosts and beings, and have explicit disciplinary and legalistic regulations of words that are instituted by man, not God in the Bible. All these religions mix partial truths of Christianity with their religion. We need avoid such heresy. Know the word of God! Read the Bible to know what the truth declares. We need to live and tell people the truth as the Apostle Paul did 2000 years ago to the Colossians! We are in an age of deception and need to bring certainty to a world who is looking for answers of certainty.
So why do we need to avoid and defend against these types of false truths, traditions, religions, and regulations? These false teachings destroy and distort the true Gospel. It steals the joy and love for the Lord, and disgraces glory of God.
John MacArthur puts it best when he said, “Concerning such things as the riches of salvation and all the joy and blessings that belong to all who are truly in Christ; our love for the Lord; and especially His grace and glory. We need to safeguard them, because they are precisely the points of truth that are ultimately at stake in the Truth War.”
“As the truth is in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 4:21