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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:Since Christ offers everything, why get taken in by what’s deceitful and empty?
Text:Colossians 2:8-15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2014
Added:2015-12-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2014 Book of Praise

Hymn 66

Psalm 32:1,2

Psalm 68:1,8,12

Hymn 46

Psalm 34:1-3

Scripture reading & text:  Colossians 2:8-15

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Saviour Jesus Christ,

Contrary to what some people believe, C. S. Lewis was not one of the greatest theologians of the twentieth-century.  He was never formally trained in theology and his daily work was not teaching theology.  He was actually an English professor at Oxford University and later Cambridge.  However, when he spoke and wrote on the Christian faith he could at times be profound.  No doubt he was gifted at making things clear for regular people.  One thing that Lewis made amply clear was the value of the gospel and the way in which human beings often just don’t see it.  In his book The Weight of Glory, he writes about the riches the gospel promises.  He notes that, when it comes to such riches, our Lord finds our desires to be not too strong, but too weak.  Then Lewis illustrates: 

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.    

Lewis is right here, isn’t he?  In Christ we are offered the greatest riches imaginable and yet we go on making mud pies in the slum.  What sense does that make?  Do you see yourself in this?  I know that I do.  I can have all the riches in Christ, and yet I’m far too easily pleased with what’s empty and deceitful. 

Our text this morning addresses this sort of problem.  It does so in the context of the Colossian church and their struggle with false teachings.  You may remember that there were false teachers troubling this church in the days of Paul.  The exact nature of this false teaching isn’t clear to us today anymore.  We can discern some of the outline, but a lot of the details escape us.  It seems to have been some kind of combination of Judaism and paganism.  There were Jewish elements like holding to special ceremonial feasts, but there were also pagan things like the worship of angels.  It’s very difficult to pin down exactly what the false teachers were saying. 

But we do know that what they were saying was dangerous.  Verse 8 tells us that the Colossian Christians were in danger of being taken captive by these false teachings.  The word that’s used there for being taken captive is a colourful one that calls up the image of someone being kidnapped.  These false teachings that could steal them away had a nickname in Colossae:  they were called “the philosophy.”  That was a lofty term and it has nothing directly to do with the discipline known as philosophy today.  They called it “the philosophy” in an attempt to give their views credibility and prestige.  But Paul didn’t buy it and neither should the Colossians.  He says that “the philosophy” is deceitful and empty.  It’s deceitful – it lies to you.  It’s empty – in the final analysis it has nothing to offer.  Moreover, it’s come from below, from human tradition.  It’s not revealed from heaven, but it’s something that people have invented.  Finally, he says that “the philosophy” is “according to the elemental spirits of the world.”  That means that the false teaching had a lot to do with the demonic forces involved in paganism.  The conclusion can only be that this teaching has nothing to do with Christ. 

That’s why the Holy Spirit says that the Colossians need to be on their guard.  If they follow these deceitful and empty false teachings, they will not be following Christ and won’t have his riches.  That’s the warning in our text.  In verses 9-15 this is followed with some positive rationale, positive reasons why the warning should be heeded.  Negative reasons follow in verses 16-19.  But today we’re focussing on the positive reasons.  These are the reasons why Jesus Christ is better than anything the world can offer, whether it’s some sophisticated false teaching or just plain worldliness or whatever. 

So I preach to you God’s Word this morning and our text can be summarized with this question:  Since Christ offers everything, why get taken in by what’s deceitful and empty?

We’ll see that we richly share in Christ:

  1. Being filled
  2. Dying and rising
  3. Being forgiven
  4. Sharing a glorious victory

If you have fellowship with Christ, you have fellowship with God himself.  That’s the point made in verses 9 and 10.  Verse 9 says that the whole fullness of deity dwells in Christ bodily.  What that means is that within Christ’s body you will find the divine nature.  His body contains deity.  Jesus Christ is God himself come in the flesh.  This is the second time in Colossians that Paul mentions this – it was mentioned already in 1:19, “For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.”  Jesus Christ is not a demi-god:  half-god and half-man.  He is fully and completely true God.

That’s why it’s so rich to consider that believers have been filled in him.  The words “in him” here refer again to our union with Christ.  We are united to him through the Holy Spirit and faith.  Because he is God, when we are united to him, we are joined in fellowship to the Almighty.  We are joined in fellowship to the one who is the head of all rule and authority.  He’s supreme over absolutely everything, including demonic forces.  They’re all under him.  And so if we are in Christ, we are filled up with the riches of being close to the LORD of hosts. 

Now I want you to notice the contrast that’s being made here.  “The philosophy” of the false teachers is not only deceitful, but also empty.  It has nothing to offer.  But in Christ, you are filled.  You are filled with blessed fellowship with God.  You are connected to him and an heir to all his riches.  This is what Christ offers.  He offers all the riches of heaven, indeed God Almighty himself.  Why would the Colossian believers fail to see that Christ is richer, why would they get taken in by this deceitful and empty false teaching that can’t compare?

For ourselves, it doesn’t take much to apply this to our lives.  In Christ, you can be filled with abundance, through Christ you have God himself as your loving Father.  Why should you get duped by anything deceitful or empty?  The thought here is along the same lines as that powerful text from Jeremiah 2:13.  In that passage, Yahweh calls the heavens to be surprised at how his people have forsaken him, the fountain of living waters, and have traded that in for their own self-made cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.  Those cisterns are empty.  Cisterns there stand for idols, for anything that we turn to as a substitute for God.  Well, here in Colossians, the substitute is the false teaching threatening the church.  God offers riches, he offers himself in Christ, so why would you opt for what’s deceitful and empty whether that’s any kind of false religious or spiritual teaching, any form of idolatry, anything at all?   What deceitful and empty things are offering themselves as substitutes for Christ in your life?  Loved ones, we can be filled in Christ, we can find lasting true spiritual satisfaction through him.   Whatever we need, what we truly need, is in Christ.  Why go anywhere else?             

That brings us to some of the most difficult verses in Colossians.  We could look at all the pros and cons of different ways of understanding these words.  That might interest some of you, but for most I’m sure I would be straining your attention.  So instead, let me just offer what I believe is the best way to understand these words.                  

As I mentioned earlier, the deceitful and empty philosophy apparently contained elements of Judaism.  The Colossian church, however, was made up of people from a mostly Gentile background, maybe even entirely.  It seems that the false teachers in Colossae told these Gentile Christians that they needed to be circumcised.  There was an emphasis on being circumcised, maybe as a way of connecting to the spirit world or something like that.  They took the Jewish practice of circumcision and somehow blended it with pagan beliefs.

Now Paul says, “You Christians don’t need physical circumcision.  Haven’t you received a better circumcision, one “made without hands”?  Hasn’t your heart been circumcised by God?  That’s what really matters.  You have received that circumcision through your union with Christ, being ‘in him.’  When he was buried, your old nature was buried with him.  When he was raised from the dead, your new nature was brought to life with him.  When you were baptized, God was giving you the sign and seal of this incredible transformation.” 

What this basically means is that in Christ, you have your old sinful nature dead and buried.  In Christ, you have a new nature which has been brought to life.  In other words, your spiritual problems before God have been entirely taken care of.  As a result, it can be said that your heart has been circumcised before God.   As a sacrament, circumcision was a mark of consecration and purity.  When a heart is circumcised, that heart is consecrated or dedicated to God and pure before him.   This was mentioned in the Old Testament already in several places.  It was one thing to be physically circumcised – the ideal was to have a circumcised heart.  That’s what God wanted for all his people.  That’s what Christ does for believers.  He offers something which the deceitful and empty philosophy of the false teachers can’t.  They could only offer an external ceremony that ultimately did nothing to bring people closer to God.  Christ offers everything:  dying of the old nature, coming to life of the new, and therefore a new and desirable status before God.

Before moving on, I want to make a couple of comments about baptism here.  Our Form for the Baptism of Infants says that baptism has replaced circumcision.  When it says that, there’s a footnote directing you to Colossians 2:11.  On the surface, it might seem a stretch to argue that Colossians 2:11 teaches us that baptism has replaced circumcision.  After all, as I mentioned, the “circumcision made without hands,” or “the circumcision of Christ” is not baptism, but the circumcision of the heart by Christ.  But there is an implication that circumcision is over and done with and baptism has replaced it.  Paul certainly is arguing that, after the coming of Christ, circumcision is obsolete.  Then verse 12 maintains that baptism is the new sacrament of initiation into the covenant of grace.  Why?  Because it signs and seals not only the promise of a circumcised heart, but also the promises of burial and resurrection in Christ.      

That brings me to the other point about baptism here.  Some have argued that the language of burial and resurrection binds us to immersion as the only proper mode of baptism.  When you baptize by immersion, the person goes under the water, just like someone is buried.  When you baptize by immersion, the person comes back up from under the water, just like someone is raised from the dead.  Now there is nothing wrong with baptism by immersion.  There’s also nothing wrong with baptism by sprinkling.  Both have arguments in favour and it may depend on the circumstances and location.  For example, it’s certainly easier to baptize by immersion if you have a river behind your church in a tropical jungle somewhere.  But my point here is that you can’t take the language here and use it to insist that baptism must be by immersion.  I say that because Scripture doesn’t only use the language of burial and resurrection for baptism.  In Romans 6:6, baptism is associated with crucifixion.  Romans 6:5 associates it with planting and Galatians 3:27 with putting on clothing.  It’s arbitrary to pick one image and then use that to argue for the way we baptize.  Why not pick one of the other images?  For example, baptism as putting on might be pictured with taking a shower, having a film of water clothing you.  So, no one should insist that immersion is the only right way to baptize, and certainly not on the basis of what we read in our text.

We’ve now come to verses 13 and 14.  Here we see how richly we share in Christ through the forgiveness of sins.  Paul first looks back at what the Colossians were.  At one point, these Christians were not Christians.  Before the preaching of the gospel came to Colossae they were dead in their sins.  The language is the same as what we find in Ephesians 2:1, “You were dead in the trespasses and sins.”  This is an important reminder that spiritual death is what characterizes unbelievers.  Unbelievers are not able to take any steps towards God out of their own strength.  They are dead in sin, not sick, not injured, not disabled.  Fully 100% dead.  When someone comes to life in Christ then, it’s not because of their effort.  It’s entirely because of the powerful working of God through his Spirit.  Just as God raised Jesus from the dead, so he also raises sinners from spiritual death. 

Now Paul says that they were not only dead in transgressions or sins, but also in the uncircumcision of their flesh.  That’s just referring to the fact that they had been Gentiles.  That was their background.  They had not been Jewish.  So they knew nothing about God from the Bible, they had no covenant relationship to God, there was nothing to distinguish them from all the other Gentiles in the world.

But now a remarkable change has taken place for them.  With Christ, they have been made alive.  Because they are united to Christ, spiritual life is what characterizes these people now.  They have been made alive through the forgiveness of all their sins.  The forgiveness that we find here is gracious.  It’s not because of anything believers have done.  We haven’t earned it – quite the opposite.  So, it’s gracious.  It’s full too:  note the little word “all.”  “All” here means “all.”  That little word is full of the gospel here:  all your sins past, present and future find forgiveness through Christ.  Moreover, “all” reminds us that every sin can be forgiven through this Saviour.  No sin is too great.     

What forgiveness through Christ really means is portrayed with a picture in verse 14.   The picture is of someone in debt.  There’s a piece of paper that shows what you owe.  In this scenario, what you owe is payment to God’s justice.  His law demands that you be perfectly obedient to him.  That’s the legal demand.  When you are not perfectly 100% obedient all of the time, you put yourself in debt to God’s justice.  Payment must somehow be made.  Your debt is huge.  Your resources are non-existent.  You have nothing with which to repay your debt.  It looks grim.  But then someone steps in to help you out.  Someone pays your debt for you.  In this scenario, that someone is Jesus.  He suffered and died on the cross in your place.  Having done this, verse 14 says that we can imagine God taking our record of debt and nailing it to the cross of Christ.  With this action, he says, “Paid in full.”  The debt is cancelled, wiped away.  You are fully and freely forgiven all your sins!  That’s good news.   

The philosophy of the false teachers had nothing to compare with this gracious forgiveness.   With his work on the cross, Christ offers what no one else can.  There is no other religion in this world that offers the gracious forgiveness that we find in the gospel.  There is no other form of spirituality in this world that offers complete forgiveness of all your sins before God.  No idol that you might worship can bring you peace with God.  No substitute for the gospel that you try to create will ever be able to offer the riches that we share in Christ.  Brothers and sisters, why even bother looking?  You have everything in Christ already!  Don’t get taken in by what’s deceitful and empty.  Instead, believe in the One who is true and full of riches towards you.

But there’s more riches and we find that in verse 15.  This is where we read about the glorious victory of our God in Christ:  “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”  There’s a long background to this verse.  It starts in the very beginning, right after the fall into sin.  God says to the serpent in Genesis 3:15, “I will enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”  The Old Testament tells the story of how this develops.  We see constant struggle between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent.  What we call the antithesis is everywhere.  But, finally, after millennia of struggle, there is a resolution.  The resolution comes at the cross.  Satan thought he was winning at the cross.  He had entered the heart of Judas and he did what he could to bring Jesus to the cross because he thought it would be the end of him.  Satan said, “Check,” but God said, “Checkmate.”  And it was game-over for Satan.  The cross marked his defeat, not Christ’s. 

At the cross, God disarmed the “rulers and authorities.”  That’s not referring to government officials, but to demonic powers, the kind of powers that were at play in the false teaching threatening the Colossian church.  These “rulers and authorities” are explicitly Satanic.  Now Paul writes that they were defeated at the cross.  God put them to open shame, he publically humiliated them all.  Moreover, in Christ he triumphed over them.  The word that’s used there for “triumphed” is the word that describes a Roman general marching in a triumphal procession after coming home from a war.  In that triumphal procession would be the prisoners of war.  They would march through the victors’ city and be shamed and humiliated.  And at the end of the triumphal procession, the losers would be publically executed while the crowds cheered.  That’s the picture being painted here for us.  These demonic powers are defeated, they have lost their power, and they will be destroyed eternally.  This is all because of what Christ did on the cross.

That’s what the gospel offers.  That’s what Christ does.  What could the false teaching built on human tradition offer?  Could it really offer victory over demonic forces?  If anything, it probably played right into the hands of those demonic forces.  This is why Paul says that “the philosophy” was “according to the elemental spirits of the world.”  If you follow the false teaching, you’re vulnerable to demonic forces.  If you follow Christ, believe in him, and receive what he offers, you have victory over everything demonic and Satanic.  You have that because you are united to the Christ who was victorious. 

That might seem a bit far removed from our world.  We don’t usually think in terms of demonic forces.  However, if we have a worldview shaped by the Bible, we should take these things seriously.  There are not only angels, but also demons.  Satan and his forces are real and they can and do cause havoc in this world.  They are defeated, but they’re like the Nazis in the Netherlands in late 1944 and early 1945.  Even though D-Day had happened in June of 1944, the Nazis were still in control of parts of the Netherlands for quite some time.  They furiously resisted their inevitable defeat.  For example, as the Allies were making their way north late in the war, there was a Nazi massacre in Amsterdam.  The Nazis mowed down 29 people in cold blood after one of their intelligence officers was killed by the Dutch underground.  Similarly, Satan knows that he is defeated, but to this day he furiously resists the inevitable.  He kicks up a fight and he can and does oppress God’s people in the process.  He can’t possess us if we belong to Christ, but he can oppress us, just like he oppressed our Saviour.  But there’s good news.  What our passage tells us is that in Christ, we have victory over Satan and all his forces.  You need not turn anywhere else -- you should never turn anywhere else.  Don’t trust anyone or anything else to deal with evil.  Since Christ offers everything, why would you go anywhere else?

Loved ones, this passage really gets us back to that strong emphasis of this letter:  the all-encompassing sufficiency of Jesus Christ.  That’s something we need to be constantly reminded of, isn’t it?  Our situation is different in many ways from that of the Colossians.  But we have this in common with them:  we’re easily distracted and led away from Christ.  We’re all afflicted with spiritual attention deficit disorder.  If you’re honest with yourself, you know it’s true.  God’s Word is here again this morning to draw us back to Christ.  His Word is here to remind us that anything other than Christ is just making mud pies in the slums.  Hear the call of his Word:  why would you ever play with mud, when you can have eternal riches in Jesus Christ?  AMEN.   

Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

We confess that we have everything in Christ.  We confess that sometimes we lose sight of that.  We are easily distracted and far too easily pleased with what is deceitful and empty.  Father, our desires for Christ are often really weak.  But we want to see that change.  Right now, we see things clearly and we see that Christ offers everything.  We want what he offers and we want to keep our eyes fixed on him.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit to do exactly that.  Help us to see that in Christ we have you as our God.  Help us to see that in Christ, we have the death of our old nature and the coming to life of the new.  In Christ, we have forgiveness and we have victory over all the forces of evil.  Thank you Father, for all this good news.  Please work in our hearts so that we genuinely believe it and treasure it today and every day.  We pray in the name of Christ our all-sufficient Saviour, AMEN.                                                          




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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