Subtle Seduction - Colossians 2:6-23

This is a sermon by Nathan Buttery from the evening service on 26th March 2000.

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The 15th April 1912 is a date that will be forever marked in the annals of world history. For on that cold morning in the mid-Atlantic at 2.20am, the Titanic began its horrific plunge 2 miles down to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Just hours before, hundreds of people had been enjoying the food, the dancing, the music and laughter. No-one would ever have guessed the terrible fate they were about to suffer. The ship was the biggest and most luxurious ever built to that time. And she was said to be unsinkable. For that reason she had enough lifeboats for only half the people on board the ship. And as she set sail from Southampton docks a few days before, everyone said, "No danger, no danger." When the captain received warnings of icebergs ahead, he said, "No danger, no danger." And even as the ship began to take in water after its fateful collision with one of those icebergs, still people said, "No danger, no danger!" No-one could believe the unsinkable would ever sink.

Well we’re looking at the second chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians this evening and Paul has some very sobering words to say. He’s saying, "Danger, danger!" The little ship of the Colossian church is in danger of sinking with all hands if they do not heed Paul’s warnings. Over the last few weeks we’ve seen that some false teachers had infiltrated the church and were peddling their own brand of Christianity. It was in fact what we might call "Jesus +". They were saying something like this. "Well it’s great that you’ve accepted this Jesus. But in order to be really super Christians you need to be doing a few extra things like circumcision, and going on special food diets, and having the odd extra ritual here and there, a few extra spiritual experiences. Yes that’s what you need." It sounded very attractive. A better spiritual life? Great let’s have it! Wouldn’t you leap at the opportunity if someone offered that to you? In effect they were offering a short cut to spiritual maturity. But Paul writes to them and says, "Yes you’ve started very well, but there’s danger ahead if you’re not careful. The ship of your faith might easily be shipwrecked if you are not careful." Paul calls this false teaching in verse 8 a deceptive philosophy. Yes it looks attractive on the outside, but it’s actually very deadly indeed. Like a beautiful flower which is deadly poisonous. And throughout chapter two Paul is firing warning shots across their bows. Verse 8: "See to it that no-one takes you captive." Verse 16, "Don't let anyone judge you." Verse 18: "Don't let anyone disqualify you." Yes says Paul this is serious. The false teachers may be saying "No danger", but Paul is saying "Danger, Danger!" And we’ll look at Paul’s teaching under three headings, three commands to the Colossians and us. Because we’ll see that though the teaching is 2000 years old, it is still bang up to date. The danger still applies.

1) Continue with Christ (vv 6-8)

2) Trust the Cross (vv 9-15)

3) Don't be Disqualified (vv 16-23)


1) Continue with Christ (vv 6-8)

Look at verse 6: "So, then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him." Now these are the key verses of the letter to the Colossians. And if you learn nothing else this term from these evening studies in the letter, then remember these verses. They sum up the very heart of Paul’s message to the Colossians. You’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Saviour. Well don't move away from him. Instead grow in him. Notice that Paul actually makes the point twice in these verses. He says, "Just as you have received Christ" and in verse 7 "strengthened in the faith as you were taught". They are not to move beyond what they have been taught from the first through Epaphras. They have received the true gospel from a true gospel minister, so stick with it. Don’t get side tracked. Continue with Christ. But that doesn’t mean we stagnate nor does it mean there isn’t more to learn once we become Christians. See what he goes on to say. "Continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught and overflowing with thankfulness." He uses four different metaphors for growth. There’s the tree which puts down it’s roots into good soil and grows accordingly. There is the house which is built on a solid foundation; there is the legal document in verse 7 that is strengthened and confirmed and there is the jug that overflows with wine. Each metaphor shows that the Christian life is an ongoing walk of faith that moves on with Christ, but does not move away. As Paul puts it in his prayer in chapter 1 we grow in the knowledge of God.

And if you’ve been a Christian a while I trust you will have seen that growth in your own life. It’s the sign of a healthy Christian. Someone whose desire it is to read the Bible and understand more of God’s will. Someone whose desire it is to meet with other Christians and to encourage them in preparation for Jesus’ return as we saw in our studies on Wednesday. Continuing in Christ does not mean finding some new revelation or wacky idea. It means growing in what God has already said in his word. So is Bible reading your daily diet along with your Weetabix and coffee. Without it we fail to nourish ourselves. It was interesting what Raymond Brown said a few weeks ago at the NBA that daily Bible reading is a dying habit. And what about here in this church, a church which is well known not just in Hull but in Britain as a church which seeks to take God’s word seriously. If we were to take a straw poll of daily Bible reading how would we fare? It may be slightly embarrassing. But we’ve got great resources. Never before in the history of Christianity have we had so many resources to help us. No doubt many of us have more than one Bible in our houses. And yet there are parts of the world where there is just one for a whole village and they are crying out for it. Well Paul says we need to continue in Christ, strengthened in the faith as we were taught. We can’t be strengthened if our biblical diet is next to nothing. Maybe it’s time to take stock again tonight and commit ourselves to reading God’s word again regularly, even if it’s just for a short while each day. Something is better than nothing.

You see it’s both sad and very dangerous not to grow. It’s a bit like a story I read recently about Duckland. One Sunday morning in Duckland all the Ducks came dutifully out to church waddling down the aisle and to the pews where they squatted down. When they had sung a few songs, the duck minister got up and opened the Duck Bible which said, "Ducks you have wings and with wings you can fly like eagles. You can soar into the sky! Use your wings." It was a brilliant piece of duck scripture and so all the ducks gave a hearty "Amen". Then they plopped out of their pews and waddled home!

Well just like ducks who never learn to fly are Christians who never grow. And stagnant Christians are ripe for being caught out by subtle and dangerous philosophies. Any kind of false teaching that comes our way offering quick fix spirituality will sweep us along like leaves on a windy day. We’ll be blown around and lost for good. No says Paul don't let anyone take you captive. Literally don’t let anyone kidnap you. Well let me ask. Are you prepared? Do you know what is right and wrong. Well the way to know is by continuing with Christ, growing in love and knowledge of him every day. That’s Paul’s first command. Continue with Christ.


2) Trust the Cross (vv 9-15)

Well our second command is "Trust the Cross". Paul’s already said that we are to continue with Christ. Now he goes on to talk about the cross. The way to resist false teaching is to trust in the work of Christ on the cross. You see the problem of the false teaching was that it was based says Paul in verse 8 on human traditions and the basic principles of this world. Now that last phrase, the "basic principles", most likely means the spiritual forces of evil which are at work in the world. To put it starkly, false teaching is demonic. And it depends on human traditions. I like to call it DIY religion, Do It Yourself religion. It was a human way of getting closer to God. As we have seen they were advocating a sort of rules based or experienced based religion, which was Jesus +. Do all these things on top of believing in Jesus and you’ll get really close to God. Now let me ask, how close do you feel to God at the moment? It maybe that you feel pretty distant, maybe it’s been hard sitting in church this evening when it all just seems to wash over you. Well these false teachers were offering real closeness with God, and the Colossians were tempted to jump at the opportunity. Wouldn’t you? But Paul says some amazing things in these next few verses. We won’t be able to look at everything but I hope the gist will be clear. And that is that if you are a Christian then you cannot be closer to God than you are now. If anyone comes to you offering a deeper spiritual experience or a quick fix solution to getting close to God, then they are wrong.

Paul explains why in verses 9 and 10. He says that in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form. He’s referring back to what we saw two weeks ago in chapter 1 vv 15ff. Jesus is God in the flesh. He is fully God. Now that is mind blowing in itself, but then read on. He says that we have been given fullness in Christ. Fullness may have one of the false teachers’ catchphrases. But Paul says that we have it in Christ. Now let’s think, if we are full in Christ, then what else could we possibly want? Nothing! We have it all in Christ. Every possible spiritual blessing you could want or need is in Christ. He’s already told us that in verse 3. In Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. We cannot possibly need anything or anyone else.

He goes on to flesh it out. If the false teachers are saying you need to be circumcised in order to be closer to God, then that’s rubbish too. Because you’ve already undergone a spiritual circumcision in Christ. Circumcision was an OT ritual that showed whether you were part of the people of God or not. Paul is saying in verse 11 that we have been circumcised in Christ, not with a circumcision done with the hands of men, but with the circumcision done by Christ. It involved literally in verse 11 the body of the flesh. Paul is probably referring here to Christ’s own death. It was his body that was stripped off figuratively speaking on the cross. He was cut off, what happens in circumcision, from God. He’s experienced that cutting off from God for us. He’s died the death we should have died. So we have died to our old way of life with him. Not only that, but we’ve been buried with him spiritually and we’ve been raised with him. That’s what happens when we become Christians, and it’s all wonderfully signified in baptism. We gone down into the water as if we are dying with Christ, and then we are raised up out of the water with him. We are new people. So you don't need some poxy physical reminder of that to make you closer to God. Jesus has done the hard work.

He goes on in verse 13. We’ve been made alive in Christ and he has forgiven our sins. And how has he done that. They’ve been nailed to the cross when Jesus was nailed to the cross. Verse 14 he has cancelled the written code that was against us and stood opposed to us. He took it away nailing it to the cross. Paul is here referring to all the ways that we have broken the law. It’s as if there is a huge IOU that we owe God. Just imagine that every thought and action and word of yours was written down and recorded over the next week. And next week we were going to read it publicly in church. And there are lorry loads of files just for this weeks’ sins. All those thoughts and actions and words recorded to the minutest detail. Very embarrassing. And that’s just one week. It would be grim reading wouldn’t it. Well the brilliant news for us if we trust in Jesus and have received him as Lord is that that IOU list has been destroyed. It was nailed to the cross and left there when the nails pierced Jesus’ own hands. He took it away says Paul nailing it to the cross. And not only that but Jesus has defeated the powers that held us. He’s triumphed over them and they are utterly crushed. They have no hold over us now. Jesus has defeated them.

Now is there any better news than that in the world today. That every sin you have ever committed, every ounce of guilt that you feel has been paid for. It’s gone, dealt with on the cross. We’ve been brought as close to God as we can possibly be. Nothing else we can do will bring us closer. So why listen to these false teachers offering closeness and extra experiences. You don't need them says Paul. Trust the cross. The price is paid.

Imagine if this week that I received a letter from the Queen to visit Buckingham Palace. She’d heard about my footballing exploits on the pitch on Thursday afternoons and wanted me to give the young princes a bit of coaching. So I pack my boots and get the train to London. And as I approach the gates of the Palace I start fishing around in my wallet for the cash to pay the man at the turnstile to buy a ticket to go into the Palace. And then I stop myself. What am I doing? I don't need to pay. I’ve received a personal invitation. I can walk straight in. And the problem with DIY religion is that we think we owe something to God when in fact he’s done it all. We think there’s still a bit left to do. But he’s done enough to bring us back to him. There is nothing we can do to get us closer. And if we start to try and do things our way, then we are not trusting the cross. No says Paul that is very dangerous. Don't stop trusting. Don't be kidnapped into human traditions and rules. Trust the cross.


3) Don't be disqualified ( vv 16- 23)

Well so far Paul has told us to continue with Christ, and to trust the cross. And it’s in these final few verses that Paul really goes to town on what the false teachers were peddling. And it really falls into two categories. Again we’ve not the time to look at all the details, but the main points are clear. First there are special laws that they want the Colossians to follow. Verse 16: "Don't let anyone judge by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a new moon celebration or a Sabbath day." Do these they were saying and you’ll be real, full Christian. Or in verse 21 other rules concerning food, don't handle, don’t taste, don't touch. All these were rules and regulations that the false teachers were wanting to impose on the Colossians. But Paul shows they are flawed from the start. To begin with they are only shadows says Paul in verse 17. These regulations were in the OT but they only looked forward to the time of Christ. He fulfils them. He is the real thing. Why are you going back to shadow lands? It’s a daft as speaking with someone’s shadow and not the real thing. Don't be fooled says Paul. Don't let anyone judge you. They are passed now. They’ve been fulfilled in Christ. Furthermore says Paul in verse 20, those rules and regulations are part of the old way of life. You’ve died to that way. He’s already said that in verses 11-16, hasn’t he? They’re as close to Christ as possible. And then to cap it all in verse 22-23 he says that actually at the end of the day they just don't work. They look so wise, but it’s human clap trap. It doesn’t help a jot when it comes to dealing with sin. It’s like taking an aspirin for appendicitis. The real problem still remains.

And then there’s the experiences they were offering. Verse 18. "Don't let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize." Now no-one is quite sure what is going on, but it’s possible they were saying, "Join us with the worship of the angels. We can get right into the throne room of God with our dreams and experiences." But says Paul, "Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions." The false teachers are proud and puffed up. In fact it’s worth comparing Paul’s attitude when he has his own legitimate spiritual experiences which he describes in 2 Corinthians 12. But what does he do? he doesn’t breath a word. He stays silent because it’s between him and God. And yet these false teachers were bragging about their ecstatic experiences. And do you know the worst thing says Paul. They claim to be better aquainted with God but in verse 19 they’ve actually lost connection with God. They are off the wall. Instead of continuing with Christ, who is the head, they severed themselves from him by their DIY religion. And to make things worse you’re in danger of going that way with them, says Paul. They are in danger of disqualifying you, of leading you away from the Christian life. Don’t be disqualified, says Paul.

Well you’re probably wondering how all this applies to us? How are we likely to fall into the DIY religion mode. Surely that trap isn’t around today? Irrelevant, you think? I don't think so. DIY religion is alive and well. You only have to think of the different numbers of so called Christian sub groups and cults who get you into their group and then inflict all sorts of rules and regulations on you. I was approached by one in London. They look so attractive- the friendships, the belonging. It’s great. But beware. They are very dangerous. They will leave you severed from the head and your faith ship wrecked. And there are others who would put Christian experience on a higher pegging than the Bible. I’ve experienced something, they say, therefore it must be true. It’s not that experince in itself is bad- Paul will teach authentic Christian experience in the next chapter. But if it is elevated above God’s word, then we’re into the realms of DIY religion. But it would be a great shame if we went away from this passage without it impacting us. It would be easy to go away and say, I’m not in danger. I can spot a cult, or wacky Christian teaching at 100 yards. I’m all right.

But dare I say it, is not DIY religion alive and well in evangelical churches like ours as well? You see any Christian activity which we take pride in is very dangerous. We are in danger of not trusting the cross and being disqualified. How about in the area of Christian sacraments, like communion and baptism. Do we think that simply by doing them God will be impressed. Just because I’ve taken communion today, is God any closer to me? You see we’ve taken what is good and right and twisted it into something we do to get in touch with God, when in fact communion represents what God has done for us in Christ on the cross. Or how about good things like Bible reading or church or prayer. They too can easily become an ego trip. God will certainly bless me if I’ve been to church today. I’ll feel better when I’ve ticked off the reading for today. Its very easy to fall into the trap of kidding ourselves we can earn God’s favour by what we do. Maybe our particular act of service at church whatever it is. God will be impressed, we say. Please don't get me wrong. I’m not knocking any of those good and right things. They are wonderful gifts of God. We’ve already applied continuing in Christ to Bible reading haven’t we? But like any gift it can so easily be manipulated and we can fall into the trap of DIY religion. No we serve him and seek to get to know him better because of what he has first done for us. The initiative is with God. He’s paid the price, he’s bought us back. Let’s not kid ourselves we can impress him or think we can get into his good books. Rather let’s serve him joyfully and freely, not living under the crushing weight of pressure of thinking I’ve not done enough today. God’s done enough for us in Christ. It’s done. It’s paid for. And do you see why DIY religion is so dangerous? It stops us trusting in the cross, it puts the focus on what I am doing for God, and it can easily lead us away from Christ. And do you notice how Paul deals with the problem? Throughout this letter he point us back to Jesus and his work on the cross. And if we are at all guilty of DIY religion to whatever extent, then that’s where we should go. Don't be disqualified.

In the late seventeenth century in Southern France a girl named Marie Durant was brought before the authorities for nothing more than believing the gospel. She was fourteen years old, bright, eligible for marriage and attractive. All she was asked to do was renounce the faith. Simple. But she refused, so she was imprisoned with thirty other believers in a tower by the sea. For thirty eight years she refused to give in. Instead of the words "I renounce", which she was asked to say, she scratched on the window frame the word "Resistez", resist. It’s still there to this day, a living testimony of one woman’s testimony to continue with Christ despite the consequences. Yes there’s still danger, there will always be people peddling DIY religion, and it’s easy for us to do it too. So will you continue with Christ and keep trusting the cross?

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