You Aren’t Adding to Your Holiness (Colossians 2:10-15)
Thus far, Paul has used an indirect approach in addressing the errors promoted by false teachers in Colosse. His introduction reminds me of the way the nurse introduces the shot. She sets it on the table next to me. She opens up several of those alcohol swabs and wipes. She sort of thumbs the spot. She addresses it with the alcohol wipe. Then comes the big stick. Ouch!
We all know what is coming, and by the time the alcohol wipe touches the skin, we know that it is coming soon. We know why it is coming, and why we need it, and we are quite sure it will help. But we can’t help wincing a bit when it finally comes. Consider this the final wince before the shot. The shot comes in verse 16. But meanwhile, we’ve got that alcohol wipe, and it is high time we applied it.
Between the Gnostics, the Essenes, and the Judaizers, the believers at Colosse were confused. Before they were saved, when they were dead in their sins and the uncircumcision of their flesh, they understood that they were in bondage. It didn’t always feel like bondage, but once they converted, they understood that it really was bondage. Because of false teachers, however, they were really beginning to feel that they were in more bondage than before. The rules and restrictions and ‘can’t’ lists seemed to grow exponentially. They had to be circumcised, they needed to respect all these new holy days, they had to stop eating food they enjoyed, they had to keep the sabbath, they had to “touch not, taste not, handle not.” Every time they turned around, there was a new rule. Basically, they found that they had to give up everything they enjoyed, and replace it with all sorts of things they did not enjoy.
I find no evidence in the book of Colossians that these believers were resentful of this new kind of bondage. If they were chafing at the rules or thinking about turning back, Paul gives no indication. From all appearances, they were ready and willing to go along with the form of ascetic Christianity being taught by false teachers. For this, I believe that they deserve a little credit. But here is the point when Paul steps in to reverse the trend and send them back in the right direction…
You are in Christ, and in Christ dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. Being in Christ then, you are filled (complete – v. 10). How complete are you? Well, you are already circumcised. What’s that, you say? You’ve never been circumcized? But you are, though. You are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands. The body of the sins of your flesh are put off by the circumcision of Christ. You are in Him, remember?
Would you repeat that question? You were asking if that means you don’t need to be circumcised after all? That’s correct. You already are, remember? With the circumcision made without hands.
That’s not all either. You are buried with Christ also. You are buried with Him in baptism by immersion (sprinkling doesn’t picture burial). So, you don’t need to give up life and living. What’s that you just asked? You wanted to know if ‘living’ would get bad stuff on us, the way dirt makes us dirty? You wanted to know if we aren’t supposed to die to the things of this world, and stop enjoying things?
Wait, wait… one question at a time please. Yes, I have heard that definition of Puritanism — the haunting fear that someone, somewhere may be happy. But that is really just a slander… No, you don’t have to fear pleasure and lawful enjoyment. No, you won’t need to die to pleasure, that’s what I am saying. You are buried with Christ already.
How’s that again? Yes, exactly… this means that you already died with Christ (see Romans 6). Not only that, but you are risen with him through the faith of the operation (the Greek word here is energeias – energy) of God, who raised Christ from the dead. You see, you were dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh. But now you are risen with Christ. He has quickened you together with Christ. The word is sunzōpoieō, and it indicates that you are not made alive by yourself, but that you are joined together with Christ in being made alive. So, yes, you are free to live, because you are alive with Christ.
Jesus Christ died, buried, and revived. He quickened you together with Himself when He saved you. In quickening you, he forgave you all trespasses. He also did something else for you, something that the false teachers like to ignore so that they can plunder you of your liberty in Christ. When Christ quickened you, forgiving you all trespasses, he also obliterated the bondage of the law. As a matter of fact, you know how those Judaizers and pseudo-religious leaders are always harrassing you about your need to be circumcised and to submit to the ceremonial law? Well, let me tell you about them. You see, when Christ was nailed to the cross, they thought that they had triumphed over Him. But in fact, He was triumphing over them. When He gave up the ghost, He shocked all their sensibilities, for He prayed, “Father, forgive them…” He shocked their sensibilities even more, for He ripped the veil of the temple in two. And then, on the third day, He made a show of them openly in that He arose from the grave.
Now, they want you to think that holiness is found in keeping yourself from touching so-called “defiled” things. They want you to believe that you become more holy by keeping all of their feasts and holy days and sabbaths. But you should understand that your righteousness and holiness is not in yourself. It is found in Christ. Be holy, for sure. You must, because you are in Christ. We’ll be getting to that shortly. But for right now, understand that you can keep all of their laws, but you aren’t adding even one speck to your holiness. Your holiness (forgive me for repeating myself) is all wrapped up in Christ.
Some final thoughts…
I know of a church that requires Christians, before they can join the church, to sign a covenant with the church promising that they will not have a television, that they will not watch professional sports, that they will not participate in any team sport, that they will not watch any movie with a rating above a “G,” that they will turn down commercials on their radio, that they will only listen to one of the two radio stations approved by the church, that they will never skip family devotions, that their ladies will never wear cullottes, that their men will never wear shorts, that they will never go to a restaurant on a Sunday, and that they will not drink Coca-Cola. If they will not promise all of these things, they cannot join.
I believe that Paul’s point in Colossians 2 would reject this sort of thing. God has quickened us together with Christ, and He intends that we would live.