False vs. True Faith

July 16, 2023 ()

Bible Text: Colossians 2:8-23 |


False vs. True Faith | Colossians 2:8-23
Brad O’Dell | July 16, 2023

I’d like to invite you to turn in your Bibles to Colossians 2. Colossians 2 is where we’re going to be this morning.

As I was studying this text there was an image that came to mind, a fun image, hopefully one that we’ve all experienced. Think of when you were a kid, and you were learning to ride a bike. Before you really got the balance of the bike and figured out how to turn corners and do wheelies and all the fun stuff you ended up doing on a bike—riding trails and all that stuff—there was a device that you had that was temporary. It wasn’t supposed to be there full-time, but it was supposed to help prepare you for the fullness of riding a bike. What was that? It was training wheels, right? It was these little wheels that came off; they were cheap, they were plastic. But while you were wobbling around it would protect you as you went.

Now, those were really important for a season of our bike-riding adventure, but once we’ve figured out how to ride a bike and we could take corners and all that stuff, it would have been ridiculous if I would have come up to you and said, now that you’re very comfortable riding a bike, “Hey, you know what you need to do? You need to put those training wheels back on.” You would look at me if I said that and say, “That’s ridiculous. There’s no need for that. Why would I put those things back on? They’re frivolous now, even if they were useful for a season.”

In this text today we have Paul kind of saying the same thing to these Gentile believers in Colossae. He is looking at them and saying, “Listen, this teaching is going to come along and people are going to say that some of the aspects of the Old Testament—some of the Old Testament law that was supposed to prepare you for the fulfillment of the new covenant in Christ—they’re going to say, ‘Hey, you actually need to put some of those things back into your life, and that’s the only way that you’re going to make it in this world.’” You look at someone as ridiculous who tells you to put training wheels back on your bike. He’s actually trying to get the Colossian believers to have something of that mockery in their understanding—that would be ridiculous—when someone comes and says that to us. He’s trying to get them to see things in that way as he prepares them for some false teaching that’s going to come across their way. So, let’s read Colossians 2:8-23, a long passage today, and we’ll do our best to cover it all. He says in verse 8,

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”

So our outline today is going to be:

1. The False Belief
2. The Aspects of the False Belief
3. The Truth of Christ

1. The False Belief

I need to take some time at the outset of the sermon on a bit of a technical point, but it’s really important if we are going to understand this letter. It would be a disservice for you to go through the entire book of Colossians and not spend a little more time opening up what the big core false belief is that Paul is concerned about in this whole letter. There’s a lot here and we are not going to get into all of it. But I want to just point out a few things that I do think help us understand a lot of his language in this passage, a lot of his language that we’ve encountered already in the letter, and some of his language coming up in the letter. It helps if we have a clear idea what it is that Paul is concerned about or that he’s warning the Colossian believers to avoid.

So, the two main options are that there was a mixture of Judaism in the Lycus Valley region where Colossae was, a mixture of Judaism with some pagan beliefs of the surrounding culture. And these pagan beliefs had some mystical elements to them. When I say mystical it means these heavenly visions, these experiences with angels, this higher knowledge type of thing through special revelations. And so they are saying there are some aspects of Judaism and it is mixed with this other religion.

It’s either that, or it is Judiasing proper. I say Judaising, not Judaism. There’s a difference. Judaism is the Old Testament beliefs, it’s the old covenants, all that stuff. Judaising is actually a belief system whereby people took aspects of the old covenant and added it onto the Christian faith. So it wasn’t, you have a Judaism faith or you have a Christian faith, it was, “Hey, let’s take some aspects of that Judaism and add it into your current Christian faith.” And so, really, we see this big thing all over the New Testament. Many places in the New Testament we see Judaising happening. There are these believers from Jewish backgrounds and they say, “Listen, if you are really going to be a part of the people of God you need to add in a lot of these eating requirements, a lot of these cleanliness requirements, a lot of these festival observances. All these things from the law you need to make sure you adopt if you are truly going to be a person of God.”

In fact, the first church council in all of history in Acts 15 was focused on this big issue. We have a bunch of Jewish background believers who are in Christ and who believe in the gospel, but you also have a bunch of people from a Gentile background who don’t have these rhythms, these customs, these patterns in their relationships and in their community. And we need to say, “Do we need to adopt them or not? What does the gospel of Jesus Christ demand, and actually how does this impact the truths that we proclaim in the gospel?” So, I'm going to say that it is actually Judaising proper. And I do think that helps for understanding a lot of it and it also does let us read a lot of the other New Testament letters that deal with this and see some of the situations that they are warning against then and see some of it in this letter as well.

Let me just point out a few things. I think there are some clear identifiers in the passage we just read of language that obviously refers to Judaism. Just going to rip through these quickly.

You have questions of food and drink in Colossians 2:16.
You have questions regarding festivals, new moons, and sabbaths, also in Colossians 2:16.
You have the language of regulations—do not handle, do not taste, do not touch—in Colossians 2:21.
You have the idea of it being a self-made religion.

A common thing that Jesus and the New Testament authors said about Judaism was that they followed the commandments of men that got added onto God’s law. And it became this burden for people to follow. I think all of these are clear evidence that Judaism and Judaising is in view.

However, there are some more debatable terms that people see in the passage regarding some pagan belief system that’s in view. And it’s these terms here:

In Colossians 2:8 it says a philosophy that’s coming.
In Colossians 2:8, 20 it talks about these elemental spirits of the world.
In Colossians 2:18-23 it talks about high focus on asceticism or monasticism.
In Colossians 2:18 it talks about visions and also worship of angels.

Now I think in each and every one of these terms, if you look historically, you can see some understanding of how these were applied to Judaism in the day and age and how Judaism itself actually embodied a lot of these things, often in a way that wasn’t intended by God. But it had happened over the course of time. Judaism had a corpus of teaching that went alongside the scriptures of how they were supposed to understand the scriptures. This is how a lot of these things developed.

The most confusing was probably the worship of angels. I’ll spend a little bit of time on that because it’ll also really help you with the letter to the Hebrews. Hebrews starts with a big argument of how Jesus is better than the angels. Why is that? I think in the Old Testament—this is how this developed—when God came and gave the law to Moses, God said, “You cannot see my face when I’m giving this law.” So what they would understand is that God had to communicate through an intermediary. And we get this language of the “angel of the Lord” all throughout the Old Testament. And the angel of the Lord is kind of this intermediary through whom God works and so they say, the law came by the angels. Also in Deuteronomy 33 it talks about how angels were present at Mount Sinai. And so they start to see this, and you actually see it in a number of different places in the New Testament. That as they speak to Old Testament believers or to Jewish background believers they will actually bring this up, the law given by angels. And I think they are just playing into the common understanding of that day and age.

So, the entire first two chapters of Hebrews is about how the law given through angels, so to speak, is not the same as the law that came in Jesus Christ. That the message that Jesus brings is better than the message that was brought by angels because Jesus as the Son of God is so much better than angels. And so what Paul is saying here is, he’s kind of using the mocking tone to say that they are so obsessed with this idea that their law came from angels that it is almost as if they are worshiping angels in this way. And that's kind of in his tone there. He has this mocking, sneering tone. And what he wants to do is present it as ridiculous to the Colossian believers so that when people come with these beliefs and say, “Hey, you need these to be a true Christian,” they are going to say, “Well this is ridiculous. What are you talking about?” And that’s kind of what he’s trying to set them up for.

So, why were these people vulnerable to these false beliefs? I think it’s important to know that, and then we are going to see how we can be vulnerable to some false beliefs as they come across our Christian faith.

I think they were vulnerable for a few reasons. First, they were Gentile believers. They didn’t come from the promised people of God in the Old Testament. They didn’t have thousands of years of promises related to them and God’s choosing them as a special people to pour out his revelation on and call them to himself. They were Gentile believers. They were being grafted into an existing belief. Because of that, that can create a lot of doubt. Right? They would say, “Do we have full access to God? Are we truly the people of God? Maybe we believe in this Jesus but does he give us full access to God and his blessings?” And that led to doubt.

Also, they had this background in worshiping other gods in their pagan backgrounds. They would have had a whole host of various gods that they worshiped and because they were still learning, they were still growing, and they didn’t quite know what it is to have a monotheism. You know, just one God over all and we worship him. They’re still trying to say like, “Man, does committing to this God and committing to these ways of life, and committing to this community, does it actually set us against some of these other spiritual powers and entities that might be set against us and might be trying to attack us?” And there’s a fear there that makes them a little more susceptible to hearing people come and say, “I know how you can take care of that fear,” or, “I know how you can resolve that doubt in the back of your mind.” And they’ll actually try to have them add things onto their Christian faith.

But also they are young Christians. As young believers who are still learning, they are still growing—in fact their main leader, Epaphrus, was likely in prison with Paul at this point—they are still learning. And as young Christians who are still learning they could easily be deceived by those who come in and look like they’ve got everything put together. Right? They know the Old Testament pretty well. They also, because they were young, probably had a high-felt need to grow in righteousness. A high-felt need to grow in righteousness, right? Come to find out that maybe some of these patterns from their old lives, some of these sins that they had lived in, some of these things that they confessed now, “Hey, I’m not about those things. I’m about Jesus and this life that God’s called me to but, some of these sin patterns, they still kind of come up in me and they’re stronger than I thought. And I have this high-felt need for righteousness.” And these people come around and they look very holy from the outside. And they look very righteous and they seem to have their lives very separated in this way to make sure that they are holy. They could be easily deceived into saying, “Oh, okay, maybe I need to add this on to my faith.”

2. The Aspects of the False Belief

And so, I want to see some of the aspects of these false beliefs that Paul brings our attention to. I’m going to wrap it up in these two big words that we see in Colossians 2:8. The aspects of these false beliefs are they deceive and they enslave. They deceive and they enslave. Look at Colossians 2:8. It says,

“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and by empty deceit according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world and not according to Christ.”

Elemental spirits of the world—that mostly just means these foundational ruling principles. This word is used in a lot of different ways. I think it has reference to the idea of maybe some false gods or some spiritual authorities, maybe demons. But really, it’s really just these foundational rules that govern people's lives, and with that there might be some spiritual entities that guide those. And he’s saying, “Listen, whatever it’s according to, it’s trying to take you captive and it’s trying to deceive you.”

We see in Colossians 2:4 that it presents very convincing arguments. He uses the language of these plausible arguments, right? It says in Colossians 2:23 that these have an appearance of wisdom. Indeed they do. In Colossians 2:18 it claims they even have a higher level of spirituality. This is what is wrapped up in the language of asceticism or delighting in humility—kind of this mocking, “Oh, they delight in humility,” such that they are almost ascetic in it, right? They have these angelic encounters. They have these visions. And in Colossians 2:23 it’s talking about how they look especially religious and disciplined. And this is how it can deceive them. They look like they are put together. It looks like they have something I need. They seem to really have something that’s convincing, but ultimately we see that it’s empty.

Paul describes these things as empty. Look at Colossians 2:8. It calls it empty deceit. In Colossians 2:17 he says it’s a shadow. It’s not the substance. It’s just shadows. In Colossians 2:18 he says that they are puffed up without reason. They are filled up and up and up and they seem to be big, but it’s really all just air if you were to squeeze it a little bit. There’s nothing in there.

Colossians 2:22 says that it is concerned with perishable, menial things. It’s all things that perish even as you use them—food and cleanliness things. These are all things that pass away. These things aren’t eternal. Why are they so concerned about them? And they have nothing to do with God’s teaching.

In Colossians 2:23 he simply says, “Listen, no matter what they claim, they have no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” They have no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh! You think you should turn to this? They’re going to try to convince you that this is the way to live a holy, righteous life, but he’s saying, “Listen, they don’t stop the indulgence of the flesh. In fact, maybe they actually fuel the indulgence of the flesh because they are built in their own self pride, their own self righteousness.”

More than being just empty and foolish, I think Paul also wants us to see that these false claims are destructive. And this is where the analogy of the training wheels on the bike breaks down because it usually won’t destroy you to put those back on. But here it is. To add these things onto the faith is actually to remove yourself from the true faith altogether and commit yourself to a false faith that leads to destruction of your spiritual walk in your life. It says in Colossians 2:8 it takes people captive from the life that God gives and it has this imagery of shackling them. It shackles them with these chains of self-righteousness and even self-reliance. Do you know that? That if you are relying on yourself and there’s a self-righteousness and you think, “I have it in myself to figure this out,” though it might promise freedom, deceitfully, it will actually lead to chains that weigh you down and destroy you.

It says in Colossians 2:16 how it will chain you with these burdens. It seeks to pass judgment on you. He says, “Hey, don’t let them pass judgment on you in regard to these things.” And that’s what they would like to do. They would like to come and bring a standard outside of the standard that Jesus lays out in the word, and they want to lay that on them and pass judgment on them.

Here’s how they are going to do it. They are going to highlight all of their failings. And they are going to label them as people who are unrighteous and unjustified. They are going to say, “Listen, don’t you see how much you are failing? Don’t you see how much you are in sin? Don’t you see how much you desire these things you are not supposed to desire? You are messing up all the time! You can’t be a righteous person. You can’t be justified! That can’t be true. There needs to be something else you do to make sure that you really achieve that righteousness and that justification.”

Hey, they’ve got something to say. Because we know that we fail. We can all look at our lives this week and say, “Boy, I know of a thousand ways I could fail.” And if we are captured by these people who are coming and telling us to focus on all those things, and if we are failing then it means that surely we are not the Lord’s. And we can fall into these deceptions.

But also in Colossians 2:18 they don’t just pass judgment, but they do it for purpose. And it’s to disqualify you. What does that mean? Simple. It means this, that you are not worthy to approach God and receive his mercy and his grace and his goodness and his blessings. You are not worthy. Why would you be worthy? Look at how you sin! You can’t approach the throne of grace. You’ve got to clean yourself up a little bit before you can go to God. And then maybe then he can pour out some blessings in your life.

And I know that we know that that’s not right, but man, our hearts still feel that when we are in sin, right? Don’t you still feel that, “Boy, I would love to go to God and I would just like to pray for my family this week. I’d like to pray for my day. I’d like to pray for help here. I need God's blessing. I need his provision. But I know I’ve messed up. I feel like I can’t really approach God. I feel like I can’t pray to him, because in some ways I feel disqualified.” This is what these false teachings of self-righteousness would try to make us think.

Ultimately these things are destructive because of these two statements, it says in Colossians 2:8 and Colossians 2:19 that it’s ultimately not according to Christ. It’s according to all kinds of things, but not according to Christ. And in Colossians 2:19 it does not hold fast to the head, which is Christ. And we saw in Colossians 1:15-20 this exalted passage about how Jesus is the head and the source and even the intended goal of all of creation. And not only of creation but of new creation. He is the source of all life and he is the sustainer of life. And then he’s saying, “I don’t care what they bring your way, it's not according to the head. It’s not attached to the head and therefore it cannot give you life and it cannot sustain the life that you’re looking for. Don’t give in to it.”

This is the condition that C.S. Lewis calls—and we’ve talked about this before and I think he gives a good quote for—“Christianity AND.” We see this in The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape is a demon talking to Wormwood, another demon, trying to show him how to tear down another believer’s spiritual walk. And he says this,

“What we want, if men become Christians at all, is to keep them in the state of mind I call ‘Christianity AND.’ You know––Christianity and the Crisis, Christianity and the New Psychology, Christianity and the New Order, Christianity and Faith Healing, Christianity and Psychical Research, Christianity and Vegetarianism, Christianity and Spelling Reform. If they must be Christians let them at least be Christians with a difference.”

And I know a lot of those thought patterns and ideologies are not the common ideologies coming across our paths now, but it can look a little like this—Christianity and Feeding the Homeless. That’s how I know I’m a good person. That’s how I know that I’m actually someone that God will bless and that people can respect. Right? Christianity and That. Christianity and certain Political Activism. This is how I know I’m a good person. This is how I see if others are good people. Right? Christianity and Serving in the church. Christianity and No Alcohol. Or maybe the pendulum actually today has swung all the way to the other ridiculous viewpoint, Christianity and Definitely Alcohol. Right? You see people doing that, saying, “Hey, if you aren’t drinking, are you even free in Christ? What’s wrong with you, you religious zealot?” Right? And we almost see that, but we assess people by this outside standard instead of someone’s walk with the Lord.

Now, I just want to clarify. All of those things I just mentioned, they can be consistent with your Christian faith. But, I think we can fall into error if we’re focusing so much on those things, those outward things, those outward identifiers—what we do—such that we emphasize to ourselves, “This is how I prove to myself I’m a good person, this is how I prove to others I’m a good person,” and maybe even, “This is how I prove to God that I’m really walking the walk that he’s called me to walk.” So therefore, I expect him to respond when I pray and ask for things.

We can fall into an error of judging others and disqualifying them based on if we see these outward things in their lives. Church, I know we came out of fundamentalism and we thought we left it in the dustbin of history, but it is still happening in a thousand ways in the church today. Our hearts can be prone to these things.

How do we fall into these deceptions? You know, I think most of us here don’t want to defame the name of Christ and cast him aside for something else. And I don’t actually think that’s a temptation for the Colossian believers. But I think we can fall into this “Christianity AND” deception in the hundreds of ways it can come across. It’s tough for me to identify them all because it is very individual for how these things work out. And here's why. False religion will prey upon our weaknesses. It can prey upon our pride. Right? Anytime that people gather together in some type of setting, pride has an option or an opportunity to measure you up against all those people and you can fall into just wanting to be just a little bit better. “I just want to look a little better than these people. And if I look a little bit better than these people, if my life looks a little more clean, I think I’m doing okay. And I don’t really have to think about what my spiritual walk with the Lord is like, what my conversations with the Lord have been like. If I have anything like the fruit of the Spirit that the Scriptures call me to, anything like the lifestyle of Christ, I’m doing better than the rest of these people. So, I’m okay.” And your pride can just affirm you. You see, I think, this is one of the most intoxicating forms of religion because it’s constantly self-affirming. And I think we need to ask ourselves if our primary delight in this life and in our Christian walk is a delight in Jesus or is it mostly a delight in what others think of us? If we look good in others’ eyes we actually think we are okay.

It preys upon our fears and anxieties, right? You see that in the language of the spiritual rulers and authorities, that it causes fear for them. And those might not be our fears today, I think we do have many fears and anxieties in this world. We can be tempted to add some type of ideology, some type of pursuit onto our Christian walk—some type of “Christianity AND” variant onto our lives in order to make sure we are okay. And we’ll end up actually trusting in that thing and giving our time and energy and focus to that thing above turning to the Lord and trusting in his provision and trusting in his promises and knowing we are safe because of what he has said.

It can prey upon our desire to fit in. We see this in the language of Colossians 2:8 and Colossians 2:22. It says, “...according to human tradition, according to the human precepts and teaching.” You know, the fact is, we are communal beings. We like to fit in the communities we are in, we like to go in the same flow of people. We like that to be smooth. We like to have people alongside us. We like to be alongside other people. And not that that’s a weakness in and of itself, I think it’s a gift of God, but there’s a weakness in that we can value that overly and value it over what God’s called us to and what Scripture’s called us to. And the thing is, it’s not that when these teachings come in and they’re trying to say, “Hey, add this on to your Christian faith or think of yourself in these ways in addition to your Christian faith,” it’s not that they’re so convincing in their logical appeal against the teaching of scripture, but I do think the allure of social approval can be much more compelling for us then maybe we give them credit for and that’s what leads us to this.

It can prey upon our spiritual insecurities. We have spiritual insecurities sometimes. And what is this? It’s just the reality that we don’t measure up. When you read the Scriptures, when you get in here and start saying, “Boy, how did Jesus live and I’m supposed to live the same way? What does this fruit of the Spirit actually look like?” And you are going to realize, real quick, “Man! I’m not measuring up at all. What is wrong with me? Am I even an inch toward the goal here?” We really start to build this insecurity in a lot of these things, and these false beliefs will prey on some of this.

I have on my heart here a crowd that we have a lot of in this church. That’s a lot of parents whose kids are young right now. This is just a high-demand season of life for you. And I know you’re exhausted and your brain is full of a thousand things and it feels like you’re always behind and seems like you are never out in front and you can look back on an earlier season of your life and say, “Man, I used to spend so much time in prayer. I used to love the Lord so much, and I used to learn so much and I seemed to be walking in the spirit and I was so excited about these things but now I feel like I can hardly get the energy for any of it.” And it can develop something of an insecurity about your spiritual walk.

And we know this classic quote from Murray M’Cheyne that’s supposed to help us in moments like this: “For every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ.”

You can look at yourself, you can analyze yourself, you can seek to say, “Hey, where are my weaknesses?” But for every look at yourself, take ten looks at Christ and what he has done, what he has promised, what he has promised to surely do, what he has accomplished on your behalf, and rejoice and rest in that, and then let that motivate you into whatever things you might want to work on in your life.

But instead, a lot of us, if we fall into these insecurities, we can flip that over, and for every one look at Christ we are taking ten looks at ourselves. Man, how can I get it together? Why can’t I figure this out? Why can’t I clean myself up? And as we start to do this, what we’ll do is we’ll actually start to depend more and more on the waves of our own self-motivation as it comes instead of resting in Christ’s finished work, rejoicing in Christ’s finished work, preaching home the reality that Jesus has accomplished it all, and then letting that foundation be the thing that motivates us forward and drives our spiritual activity.

3. The Truth of Christ

This is why we need to be grounded in the truth of Christ, and that’s what Paul does in a great portion of this text. The truth of Christ. That is what we really see in that whole section of Colossians 2:10-15, and a little more in some of the repetition of how he’s going over these ideas. The truth of Christ.

And I’m just going to say this. Here’s what Paul is trying to say, “In Christ you already have all you need.” And so I know that you have doubts. I know that you have insecurities. I know that you have failings in your life. I know that there are things going on, but in Jesus you already have all you need and so when these things come I want you to say, “Hey, you’re trying to get me to add this on? You’re trying to say this is what I need to achieve this?” And you’re going to look at it and they’re going to say just like those training wheels? That’s ridiculous! That’s absolutely ridiculous! I know I’ve got some growth and I know I’ve got some improvement, but listen, I’ve got everything I need in Christ, and so I’m going to dismiss that out of hand. And that’s what Paul is trying to get them to do when these teachings come.

Look at all the repetitions of “in” and “with” Jesus and also all the past tense verbs. The past tense verbs indicate that these things have already happened. Look at the list — I’ll just read them out.

Verse 10: “In him they have been filled.”
Verse 11: “In him they were circumcised by the circumcision of Christ.”
Verse 12: “Withhim they have been buried.”
Verse 12 again: “Withhim they were raised.”
Verse 13: With him they were made alive by God and are forgiven all their trespasses.”
Verse 15: “In him God has disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to shame.”
Verse 20: “WithChrist they have died to the elemental spirits of the world.”

And so, he’s just trying to say, “Listen, you already have it.” Then he brings it home a little more. Let’s just look at this language and see in what ways they already have all they need in Christ.

In verses 9 and 10 they have all of God. It doesn’t say that, it says, “For in him, the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily and you have been filled in him.” And I think Paul is trying to indicate you have all you need of God, right? This is a strange phrase, “To be filled in him.” This is not usually the way we talk. And I think as we read this alongside some passages in Ephesians that use this “filling” language, it simply indicates this—that we have been filled to fullness with all of God’s love and blessing. Ephesians 1:3 says, “We are blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” In Ephesians 3:19 Paul prays that they would know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge and that they may be filled with all the fullness of God. All of God’s love, all of God’s blessings—we are filled to fullness in it. How do they know that they have access to God—all of God’s provision, all of God’s goodness and blessings in their lives and they don’t need to look outside of Jesus for it? It’s because all of God is in him. For in him all the fullness of deity dwells bodily and we are in him. We have been filled in him.

Also, they have full redemption, verses 11 through 12. They have full redemption. See this:

“In him you were circumcised with the circumcision made without hands by putting off the body of flesh by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith and the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.”

Circumcision in that day and age for the Jewish people indicated a number of things, but I think that two things were, first of all, that it’s a kind of identifier. This is how you know you’re in the people of God and that the promises of blessings are yours. You have an identity and it’s sure. You can look at yourself and confirm it, right? And then also it is something that is the first step of consecration towards a godly lifestyle. Because you are this kind of person this is a community you’re in. This is the sort of life you are called to live. It is a consecration to a godly lifestyle.

The thing is, these people, like we said, could be deceived to think that they aren’t fully purchased and aren’t fully redeemed out of the life they come into. Am I fully in the people of God? Have I fully been purchased out of this pagan culture that I’ve been a part of and these lifestyles and brought into the fullness of God’s blessing and even to the fullness of God’s community. Is this my community? Is it sure? Is it dependable?

I think maybe this comes down to us like this. There might be some people here, I don’t know where you’re at in your spiritual walk. Maybe you’ve been in this church for years. Maybe it’s your first time walking into this building. Maybe you woke up a couple days ago and you think you need to get to church—you don’t know why so want to go figure it out. And there might come something into your mind that makes you think, “Man, I don’t belong here. I don’t know what it is. I don’t belong here. I see these people and their lives look so clean. They look so put together and that’s not me. I know my life. Do I really belong here?”

And what I’m saying to you, based on the word of God, based on the promises of Jesus, is that if you know Jesus, if you’re trusting in him, if you know that he has done the work to save you and not anything that you have accomplished or will accomplish in your life, that that’s where your trust is, then you absolutely belong here because that’s what it is to be a part of the people of Jesus. God has done the work of circumcising that old fleshly life, that old man, away from you and you only have new life in Christ.

Third, they have complete forgiveness and acceptance. Verses 13 and 14 read this:

“And you who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all of our trespasses by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.”

You see, these people were going to be deceived that they need maybe something more for righteousness, something more for God’s acceptance. We talked about this a little bit. How is it that I’m so unrighteous? Is there something else that I can put into my life besides just a simple faith in Jesus and a love and worship of him that would help me achieve this righteousness? And if I’m not righteous, am I really, truly accepted by God? Surely I must do something to be accepted by God and received. And this is the temptation.

And he’s saying, no, no, no—you have all you need in Christ. Don’t believe that. Don’t believe those things when they come and they say these things to you. Say, “That’s ridiculous! What are you talking about? I know I’m fully accepted by God in Christ because the entire debt record that I had has been canceled. It has been put on the cross. I am forgiven all of my trespasses and I will stand in that truth and I will approach the throne of grace with confidence. I’ve got work to do, but I’m going to approach the throne of grace with confidence.”

In verse 19 they have an endless source. It talks about the head from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. And these false beliefs, he said, “Listen, these are not connected to the head. Therefore they will not have the source of life and continuing vitality and sustenance. But you, if you are in Christ, you are connected to the head and therefore in all of the battles of life this week and in this season of your life and all those trials and difficulties—those difficult parts, those sticky parts of your spiritual walk that you're dealing with, right? In all of your personal weaknesses, you don’t need to look to something outside of the faith you have in Christ. You don’t need to look out to something outside of the word of God to help clean yourself up and figure it out. No, no, no. You just need to press into those things that you know have all of the source of strength and vitality and provision you need in Jesus to make it through those difficult seasons. Because I’m connected to the head, and from the head there’s a growth that surely will come from God.

There’s also a communal aspect here. When it says, “Nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments,” there’s a multiplicity there. All of us together are these joints and ligaments. Part of this is being in community and receiving these truths and people speaking into our lives regularly.

Last one—they have a total victory. Here are people whowere scared of authorities and powers and demons and they had these fears and anxieties in life. But it says in verse 10, “Jesus is the head of all rule and authority.” And it says in verse 15, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame by triumphing over them in him at the cross.” He disarmed the rulers and authorities.

This word “disarmed”—I’m not sure how your translations carry it—but it denotes the idea of a stripping off, or a kind of an unclothing or a stripping off of clothes. And connected with the triumphant imagery, it’s talking about something like you saw in ancient Rome where they won a victory. They couldn’t just send it out through the news channels or just tweet it out like, “Hey, we won!” No, no, no! The way they told people that they were victorious and the war was over is, they came marching through the city in this triumphal procession. In fact, if you go to Rome now you see these arches that are there. And these things were built with people’s names and they are depicting the images of war and they are saying this is the victory that they have achieved. They would come through this arch and they would lead a host of captives who have been stripped of all of their war clothing, all of their war gear. Maybe even stripped naked in order to shame them, to show that we are completely triumphant over them. And it says this happened at the cross.

There’s an interesting aspect there. Man, this moment where Jesus seems to be the one who’s defeated. This is what Paul’s focusing on and saying that Jesus actually is the one who is reigning triumphant and stripping those people.

Listen to this quote of N.T. Wright, and it’s a good way to wrap up. It says,

“At this point there is, I suggest, a further note of heavy and striking irony. The rulers and authorities of Roman Israel conspired to place Jesus on the cross. These powers, angry at his challenge to their sovereignty, stripped him naked, held him up to public contempt, and celebrated a triumph over him. In one of his most dramatic statements of the paradox of the cross, Paul declares that, on the contrary, on the cross God was stripping them naked. God was holding them up to public contempt and leading them in his own triumphal procession—in Christ, the crucified Messiah. When the 'powers' had done their worst, crucifying the lord of glory incognito on the charge of blasphemy and rebellion, they have overreached themselves. He, neither blasphemer nor rebel, was in fact their rightful sovereign. They thereby exposed themselves for what they were - usurpers of the authority which was properly his. The cross therefore becomes the source of hope for all who had been held captive under their rule, enslaved in fear and mutual suspicion. Christ breaks the last hold that the 'powers' had over his people, by dying on their behalf.”

And church, I don’t know what the ruling powers in your life have been—those things that have shackled you, those things that have kept you down, those things that have kept you down, those things that have buried you in shame. I don’t know what they were, I don’t know what they currently are, I don’t know what they will be as they come in from outside sources, as your own sinful heart produces these in them, but I do know this: you too, just like the Colossian believers, already have everything you need in Christ and there is victory over those powers. Jesus put them to death and he says, “Listen, you have life in me. You have a source and vitality and strength in me. You have a hope. You have a promise in me. Look to me. Pursue me. Walk with me. Worship me. Delight in me. Be shaped into my image and you surely will have everything you need to live this spiritual life that you’re called to.”

You know, this whole section that we studied today really starts up in verse 6 where Paul says this, “Therefore as you’ve received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” And that’s the repeat just like we finished last week, we finish this week. As you receive Jesus Christ the Lord, by grace through faith, so walk in him. So let’s believe in this grace of God that has been accomplished, that has been fully given, and let’s rest in that, and let’s believe by faith that Jesus is our source, that Jesus is enough, that Jesus is our hope. So that whenever deception comes, in whatever form it does in your life, and when people come into your life and when they have compelling arguments, and when they’re pretty persuasive, and they seem to have their life put together in such a way that there’s something outside of Christ you think you need to add on as well. When that comes, you’re going to see it for what it is. And you’re going to see it with the eyes of mockery. And when they try to convince you that you need this, you can say, “No, no, no, I have everything I need in Christ. I’m good. I’m going to press into him. I’m going to rest in him. I’m going to walk forward in him, because that’s my life, and that’s what God’s done in me.” Let’s pray.

Lord Jesus, thank you for your word, thank you for the encouragement week after week. We need to hear it week after week as our hearts so easily forget. Lord, I know that these things that we talked about are exciting to talk about, and especially if I raise my voice we can all get excited about it a little bit more, but we just know that our hearts struggle to grab hold. We struggle to really walk in these truths day after day. Lord, some of us, right in the forefront of our minds, we’re still focused on our failures of this week. We know we didn’t live the way we could have. We know we love the darkness rather than the light in so many ways. Jesus, would you remind us that all forgiveness has been accomplished in you and that all of our debt has been paid because it was nailed to the cross? Those enemies of our lives, though they might be still attacking us in various ways, we do have victory over them in you and we can walk more and more in that victory as we trust in you.

Lord, for those who just feel tired, beaten down, and they don’t feel like they have energy to go on—maybe they can’t even define the clear spiritual enemy, they just know they’re tired—would you pour these truths into their hearts? Would you meet them in every glance, every second they give in looking to you, would you meet them kindly, graciously? Would you strengthen them? Would you reveal yourself to them and give them strength in you for the days ahead?

We love you, Jesus. We really want our lives to be all about you. We want that as individuals; we want that in our families. We want to be a people who walk in Jesus and have his blessings radiant in our lives and who proclaim the gospel with conviction. We want that in our church. We want this to be a place where this is true and where weary souls can come and hear the good news of the grace of the gospel and have strength and a foundation put back under the feet in you, Jesus. We ask that you would give us that gift by your Spirit, and we’ll give you all the praise. It’s in your name, Jesus, we pray. Amen.