Sunday – March 26, 2017
Read: Colossians 2:6-15
Focus: vss. 6-7
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him,7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
We love symbolic things that represent so much more. As Christians we like to wear crosses in the form of necklaces, earrings and a host of other forms to announce to the world that we follow Jesus. We put fish symbols on the backs of our cars and we place all sorts of religious symbols in our homes. And on Ash Wednesday we even put ashen crosses on our foreheads as a symbol of our faith and devotion. Now, before you the get the idea that Christians are just obsessed with these sorts of things, you should note that the rest of Humanity does the same thing. Jewish or Muslim or Atheist, human beings like to tell the world what they stand for with their symbols. We like to announce our self-identity to the world so the Christian signs of devotion are pretty a normal thing to do.
In Genesis 17:10-14 God gives Abraham the sign of circumcision as a part of the covenant He was making with him. He Says, “This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised. Every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he who is born in your house and he who is bought with your money, shall surely be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.” Circumcision was a permanent symbol that signified the children of Abraham were also in covenant with God and was codified into the Jewish law in Leviticus 12:3. All who came after, in his line, were to wear the same permanent symbol.
Outward signs do not necessarily point to an inward reality. Crosses are often worn by those who are not walking in the faith and have no devotion to it. This sign of circumcision was always meant to be more than an outward sign. Even in the Old Testament it’s not very long before we see a new concept emerge regarding circumcision when God begins talking about the necessity of a circumcision of the heart (see Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 4:4 and 9:25-26; see Jeremiah 6:10 for circumcision of the ears because they did not listen to God). If we jump to the New Testament we see this concept married with the Christian faith. In Galatians 5-6 Paul is battling against the idea of circumcision for the very reason that it is outward only and it obligates new Christians to the old Jewish law that God’s grace now covers. Galatians isn’t the only place where Paul talks about this. In Romans 2:28 he says, “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” And in Philippians 3:3 he says, “For it is we who are the circumcision, we who serve God by his Spirit, who boast in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh.”
In verse 11 of our passage in Colossians Paul says, “In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self, ruled by the flesh, was put off when you were circumcised by Christ.” Ours is a circumcision of the heart. It’s a spiritual circumcision meant to set us apart for God and His service. Outward signs are not enough for God has always prized the inward changes that can only come from an indwelt God.
At the beginning of this Lenten season we talked about the Way of the Cross that requires a total sacrifice as we walk behind Jesus. The next week we talked about the Living Hope of salvation that warms our souls on the weary road of this life. Last week we took the next step in the Way of the Cross as we came to understand God’s call to become ambassadors for Him, sharing in the ministry of reconciliation as we share our faith. Today, we’ve been talking about our walk with God. Verses 6-7 of our passage says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him,7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” The Way of the Cross is never walked alone for the Way of the Cross is one we walk inwardly even more than one we walk outwardly. Circumcised in the heart, we are guided by the Holy Spirit who dwells within us and He will always be with us. We walk this way with God.
In the beginning Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden of Eden (see Genesis 3:8). This close relationship was lost when sin entered the heart of Man. The circumcision of the heart changes all this and restores our relationship with God. This is the ministry of reconciliation we talked about last week and it enables us to walk with God now. As we walk the Way of the Cross we are “rooted and built up in him” as God dwells within us. I love this imagery.
Colossians is written, primarily, to offer a strong defense of Christian theology in the face of some specific false teachings the Colossians were facing. Given the themes that Paul discusses we can say that the Colossian heresy was probably Gnosticism – a mysterious religion with its foundations in Jewish and Christian theologies. Nobody knows how long it was around but it taught that Christ was considerably less than what Christianity taught. He wasn’t God but rather an angel, so to speak, who came to help us find knowledge that will save us. You see, for the gnostic, all material came from a single divinity somewhere out there in the cosmos. This material was, at best, accidental but it contains a bit of that divinity surrounded, even imprisoned, by flesh. Flesh, therefore, is something evil and it must be treated poorly in order to discover the divine spark within each one of us and set it free to return to the divine. I know, it’s nuts. Jesus couldn’t be the son of God because that doesn’t make sense. Instead, he would be an angel of sorts with a saving purpose. But, since flesh is evil, Jesus couldn’t really be God incarnate. Instead, he was a spirit that was housed in a human body that left shortly before his body was destroyed on the cross. There is your 2 minute summary of the heresy of Gnosticism.
So, back to the idea of being rooted and built up in Christ, Paul is commending the Colossians to stay rooted to the foundational beliefs they first heard from Epaphras, a man Paul led to Jesus during his ministry in Ephesus and who went home to plant churches in the neighbor towns of Colosse, Hierapolis and Laodicea. The image Paul gives is one of a tree that sets its roots deep into strong soil so that it can withstand the storms that are sure to come. In this case, to stand strong against the gnostic heresy being spread by, primarily, one false teacher there. This is why Paul goes on to tell the Colossians to see to it that they are not taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophies. Paul’s admonition, then, is to walk with God and stay rooted in Him.
You and I face hollow and deceptive philosophies all the time in this world. We live in an age where the Church is struggling to stay relevant in this world and is being pushed to give up solid and timeless biblical principles in order to be accepted by the world. We’ve got to stand strong, even when we lose brothers and sisters in this battle or are treated badly by the world. We may well be at a crossroads in America and our path will determine the very future of our nation. The Way of the Cross is not always a popular way – in fact, it rarely is. It’s the hard narrow path but it’s also the path where you can walk with God. Remember this point from today’s message: The Way of the Cross is the way where God walks with us. We must put down deep roots in order to stand against the hollow and deceptive philosophies of this day.
Allow me to give you some basic ways to put down deeper roots. First, talk to God every day. Pray early and pray often. God is with you, you don’t need to wait until you get to church on Sunday. Second, go to church. Worshiping alongside fellow believers will strengthen you in ways I can’t hardly describe. Don’t miss it any more than you have to. Third, hide God’s word in your heart. Read your bible and dwell on what it has to say to you. Get together with other believers and study it together. It will help you understand the harder things and it will be worth it. Finally, don’t give up. Keep up your faith and be patient as God will make things clearer over time. Trust is the key. If you have doubts, frustrations or just plain questions – share them with believers you trust. There are enough of us on this road with you to help carry you through the rough times. Keep walking with God. He won’t let you go.