Colossians 2v6-23: Don't be distracted from Christ - 15th February 2015 - Dave Walker

Bible reading: Colossians 2:6-23

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Just tell me what to do. Come on vicar, you’re taking up half an hour of my time: make it useful. Don’t just tell me a load of high minded things. Make it practical. Tell me what I need to do. And I’ll do it.

Anyone thought that before? Anyone thinking that now? I have. Haven’t you? So often in life we struggle to know what to do, don’t we? We want to know what to do. What should I do to make the most of life? What should I do to be a better Christian? What should I do to know God better?

But do you know, again and again the Bible responds to that not so much by telling us what we ought to do but rather by telling us what we need to know about what Jesus has already done. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but pretty much the whole book of Colossians so far has been like that. We’ve heard precious little about what we ought to do. We’ve heard lots about who Jesus is and what he’s done. Hardly anything about what we should be doing.

And today, as we reach what is in many ways the practical heart of the letter, the main command in the whole of Colossians; it’s more of the same isn’t it? That verse that began our reading, verse 6, hopefully familiar to you by now “so then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” It’s not a list of jobs is it? A ten easy steps? He says you need to stick with Jesus, you need to know him more, to trust him more. That’s how you grow as a Christian. Like James said last week: keep knowing to keep growing. Keep knowing Jesus to keep growing in him. And if you’re a ‘just tell me what to do’ sort of person you may be thinking “Aaaarrgh!”

Stay with me. Because this is the heart of today. The heart of Colossians. The heart of so much of Christianity. You need to know Jesus and what he has done so that you won’t get captured by the other empty stories which are doing the rounds. It really is all about knowing Jesus and what he’s done. Not about what you can do.

Have a look at verse 8, because here’s the crunch: “See to it that no-one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of the world rather than on Christ.” Stick with Christ. Don’t get ensnared by anything else.

You see it’s like this: Every piece of education you’ve ever received, every film you’ve ever seen, every news report you’ve ever heard, every book you’ve ever read tells a story. A big story about the world and where you fit in. Now all of these stories have a past, a present and a future – they say “this is where things have come from, this is where things are going, and therefore this is what is needed now to make things right.” Everything either tells or assumes a big story like that. The question of course, all the time, is ‘what big story am I being told here?’ When I watch this soap opera or this wildlife documentary or read this newspaper, or listen to this preacher, what big story am I being told about world? And Paul says that the heart of it is what the story depends on. Can you see that in verse 8? He says that either it depends on human tradition and the basic principles of the world or it depends on Christ. Paul undercuts all the big stories and goes straight to the root, the bedrock. He says either they’re built on the solid foundation of Jesus and what he’s done, or else all they have is the basics, and ultimately they’re hollow. And they’re deceptive: they promise wisdom and results that they cannot deliver.

Can you see what’s going on here? It’s not that Christians are meant to be philosophy-phobic, afraid of ideas or intellectuals. That’s very often the picture that gets painted of us, that we’re basically just backward and simple; afraid of engaging with new ideas, for the fear that if we do they’ll totally undermine our primitive beliefs. That’s not it at all. We know from this letter and from the rest of the Bible that Paul was certainly not afraid of thinking hard or engaging with the leading intellectuals and ideas of the day. Christians at their best have always done that. No, he’s saying that Christ is just a much, much better foundation for life. The big story of the world which is built on Jesus is the biggest and best one, and it has no real rivals. In Christ – verse 9 – is fullness. The alternatives, however good they sound, are hollow. You might be Stephen Hawking in all of his brilliance, but if you take Christ out of the picture you’ve missed the biggest and best aspect of reality. However well you understand the rest of it, you’re still only dealing with the basics, and at the heart is a great yawning hollow space. Not by any means a theory of everything.

And that will have every impact on what you think and feel and do. Of course Christians are people who will do things differently, as we’ll see next week. But at our heart we are people who have a different foundation. We are people who lean all our weight on Jesus and what he has done. We have our roots fixed in Jesus and what he has done. That is far and away the most important thing. Without that foundation whatever else we do will be doing it wrong. On Christ the solid rock I stand. All other ground is sinking sand.

So let’s have a look at why that is the case. Why it is that Jesus is such a better foundation for our lives.

1. In Christ we have it all (v9-15)

In the next few verses Paul gives us an amazing whistle stop tour of what we have in Christ. Of how Christ’s story is our story if we depend on him. In Christ we have it all. So let’s get into it:

All of God (v9-10)

Look at verse 9: “In Christ all the fullness of deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.” All of God is in Christ. So if you have Christ you have all of God. There isn’t any more of God to be had. No other philosophy or spirituality or religion is going to be able to add any more of God than we already have if we are in Christ. Because we already have the entirety of the true God. And if we’ve got all of God, we’ve got it all. As he says, you have been given fullness in Christ. Given it. Not “you must find fullness, you must achieve it”. You’ve been given fullness. In Christ. He goes on:

All new life (v11-13)

Now pay attention here because this bit on first reading sounds a bit complicated to us, but if we can get hold of it, it’s life changing. And if you can understand this you’ll get the rest of Colossians as well, because pretty much everything that follows depends upon this.

Now the Colossian Christians were worried about circumcision. And not just because circumcision is an inherently worrying thing. Don’t forget that these Colossian people were by and large not Jewish, whereas obviously the rest of God’s plan to save the world up to this point had been centred on the people of Israel. So they were being told by some that they needed to get circumcised and effectively become Israelites if they were going to be real members of God’s people. On the inside track.

Paul says no: Jesus has already done for you everything that circumcision could only illustrate. Look at verse 11: “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,  12 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.  13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ.”

You see circumcision was meant to show a new start. It was meant to show a putting off of “the sinful nature”, literally, “the flesh.” In circumcision a bit of the body is cut away as a symbol of having your old sinful self removed and being given a new start. That was what it was meant to symbolise: off with the old, a new start. But circumcision could only ever symbolise that. Jesus has actually done it.

Because – verse 12 – he’s actually died and risen. That’s what it says isn’t it? Jesus has died and risen. Ah, but, no actually – Paul is still talking to Christians here, he says you have been buried and raised. You who believe in Jesus have died and risen. How does that work?

Well, remember, this is all talking about what it means for us to be in Christ. He keeps saying “in him this has happened.” What does it mean to be in Christ? I find that this simple illustration helps. Imagine this Bible is Jesus. And this pen is a believer in Jesus. Well, if we trust Jesus then God counts us as in Jesus (place pen in closed Bible). So that When he looks at us, he sees Jesus. And what happened to Jesus counts for us. When Jesus died, we died too. When Jesus rose, we rose too. Those things count for us. So God sees us who believe as having died. Our old sinful self, our self against God, has died. It died when Jesus died, on the cross. So now we who believe have a new life. Risen, death-defeating, everlasting life. We have that. We gained it when Jesus rose from the dead.

This is the glory at the heart of the Christian message. We have an all new life because we belong to, are joined on to, are included in Jesus Christ. His death was our death, his life is our life. So now that new start that circumcision used to symbolise is reality for us. Far better than just some minor surgery, our whole old self has gone, and a new life has been given. It’s happened to us, hasn’t it? This isn’t something we’ve done. It’s something Jesus has done for us.

That’s why baptism, which gets mentioned here, is the perfect sign of what has happened. Can anyone here remember their baptism? Some of you can, others can’t. I can’t remember mine. But that’s ok, because whether you remember it or not, if you’ve been baptised it was something that happened to you. You didn’t do it. It happened to you. You were just dunked in the water, buried in the water, a ritual drowning, the old self dead; and then pulled out, raised to new life. Baptism acts out perfectly what Jesus did. That’s why it’s so important for Christians – believers and their children. It’s a perfect sign of what Jesus has done for his people who are counted as in Christ.

That was the big one – everything else flows from that:

All our sin forgiven (v13-14)

The end of verse 13: “He forgave us all our sins,  14 having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.”

How many of our sins did he forgive if we’re those who trust Jesus? Some of them? The respectable ones? The ones that happened a long time ago? The ones we’ve really really said sorry for? All of them. He forgave us all our sins. Everything. This is not just a deficit reduction plan. For those who trust Jesus, the debt has been cancelled.

How? Well in just the same way that he’s given us new life. Jesus did it when he died on the cross. It says in verse 14 that he took the record of all our wrongs and nailed it to the cross. I used to think of this like a list, you know, a long piece of paper, and on the cross Jesus took that list and he nailed it to the cross. So I would kind of envisage this list of all my sin nailed to the cross.

But actually, it’s better than that. It’s more permanent than that. Where was the record of wrongs written? Where were our sins on the cross? Not on a piece of paper that Jesus nailed up. They were written all over Jesus himself. On the cross he carried our sin. Like he was tattooed all over with the record of our sin. All our rebellion against God in all of its many forms, including the ones you feel really bad about, written all over him. He was the one nailed up there. And when he died, he took those sins away to the grave. And then he rose – clean. All gone. All our sins forgiven. Not because of anything we’ve done; because he died and rose.

And because all our sins are forgiven…

All our enemies disarmed (v15)

Verse 15: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” Jesus did it on the cross again. The evil one and his cohorts are all about trying to hold us down in our sin. The Bible word “satan” literally means “the accuser.” He loves to accuse us, to point out our failings; to revel in our inability to sort ourselves out, and our guilt and condemnation. But if the record of our sins has been extinguished, the accuser has no accusations left. He is disarmed. Weaponless. As Paul has already said in chapter 1 verse 22, in God’s eyes those who trust in Jesus are “without blemish and free from accusation.”

The cross is Satan’s undoing. Not in a vampire movie waving-a-cross-around-as-a-magic-charm sort of way. But as distorted as that image is, it’s on to something isn’t it? Because the cross is the supreme place of Satan’s defeat. It is the place where Jesus is declared to be the Lord, over all rival powers and authorities. In the most surprising way, of course. As we heard in that other reading, it looked for all the world like Jesus was not Lord, and that Satan was victorious. But all along Jesus was pulling off the greatest imaginable victory. Tearing the devil’s most powerful weapon – our sin – out of his hands.

That means we’re free, doesn’t it? Do you remember these words from the hymn ‘before the throne of God above?’ I think that when you’re feeling insecure, under the cosh, aware of your guilt, accused, these are some of the most helpful words you can hear:

“When Satan tempts me to despair, and tells me of the guilt within, upward I look and see him there who made an end of all my sin. Because the sinless saviour died my sinful soul is counted free. For God the Just is satisfied to look on him and pardon me.”

In Christ we have it all. All of God. All new life. All our sins forgiven. All our enemies defeated. All because of Jesus, only because of Jesus.

So…what can we possibly add to that? How can anything we do add anything to that? At the heart of all the big stories that the world tells, the non-Jesus-centred ones, is a great big burden of obligation. “Here’s what you need to do to make things right.” We need to resist the temptation to make Christianity just another one of those stories. Paul draws two big and helpful applications:

Don’t feel left out because of what other people have done (v16-19)

Do you see this? Verse 16: “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” The issue here was the Christians didn’t feel religious enough. They felt left out because they couldn’t join in with all the special Jewish religious occasions. They felt second class, like they needed more to become more religious. That can happen still, can’t it? Their church services look much more impressive and mystical than ours. Paul says “No!” You’ve already got it all in Christ. Those extra religious practices can’t add anything; they were only ever pointing towards Christ, and now you have the reality of Christ.

Or verse 18 “Don’t let anyone who delights in false humility or the worship of angels disqualify you from the prize.” The issue here was that the Christians didn’t feel spiritual enough. There were some people who were saying “let me tell you about the experience that I had, the vision I had” instead of telling them the gospel, and everyone was saying “wow! Listen to that!” Actually they were saying it not to encourage others but to make themselves sound spiritual. And it worked because again some Christians were feeling disqualified. Excluded. Second rate.

Do you ever feel like that? In some way disqualified, because we’ve not had the same experiences that others have. It’s easy to look at other people and think “Now that’s a real Christian. If only I had done the things they’ve done, if only I had seen the things they have seen, if only I’d had an experience like that. That would really make the difference for me. But I’ve not. So I guess I’m just a second class Christian.” Do you ever think that? Paul says you really don’t need to. Just lean on Jesus. You have it all in Christ. What more could you possibly need? Christ has qualified you. Nobody can disqualify you. Don’t feel left out because of what other people have done.

Don’t rely upon anything you have done (v20-23)

Verse 20: “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules? “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”” These Christians thought they were doing ok because they were being as moral as they could. Their confidence came from the seemingly good things that they were doing. Don’t think that it’s only stuff that’s obviously bad that can lead you away from Christ. Sometimes stuff that looks good can be much more dangerous because, well, it looks good. It looks like the real thing. It looks like you’re going places with God. It looks spiritual. But if you’re depending on what you do rather than on Jesus, it’s not doing any good. Trying to be moral, even trying really hard, can’t save you from sin and death. Only Jesus can do that.

This is a real temptation. The temptation to have confidence in what we’ve done. To base our spiritual health on what we’ve done. “I’m ok with God, I’m doing alright at the moment because, well, I’ve been resisting the bad stuff, I’ve not been to see 50 shades of grey, I’ve not got too drunk this week, I’ve not fiddled my tax, I’ve even done some good things: I’ve been to church, I’ve read the Bible. I’m doing pretty well. God must be pleased with me at the moment.” Beware. Relying on anything you’ve done or not done is shaky ground. It very quickly leads to spiritual freefall – “I’ve missed church a couple of times; there’s no way back now. I’ve missed my daily Bible reading a few times; I might as well give up. I’ve sinned again; God must hate me now.”

It’s just another story which is not built on Christ. Don’t get ensnared, don’t get taken captive by anything which is not built on Jesus. Don’t feel left out because of what other people have done. Don’t rely on anything you have done. Jesus alone is our confidence. Jesus alone. What he has done. Not what we have done.

 

Do you ever feel like a second class Christian? How might what we’ve thought about today help?

 

Do you ever feel dissatisfied, wanting more from God? How might what we’ve thought about today help?