Theme: A Complete God means a Complete Believer
One of the first major doctrinal attacks upon God’s Church was the uprising of Gnosticism. Gnosticism comes from the Greek word for knowledge. As a religious belief it is a mixture of several different religions of both Western and Eastern influence. Gnosticism was around even before Jesus came to earth but it reached its height in the late 100s AD, just as the Christian Church was also growing and coming into its own.
According to Gnosticism, the greatest evil in the world is matter. Salvation consists in separating oneself from matter. According to Gnosticism, evil entered the world when wisdom entered the world and created a union with matter that gave birth to a Demiurge, or lesser god. To Gnostic teachers, this demiurge was Jehovah, the God of the Old Testament. According to their beliefs, Jehovah claimed to be the only divine, but was really ignorant of the greater truth that He was simply in charge of this fallen realm. Here’s where the main connection to Christianity comes. Gnosticism teaches that through Christ, the chosen one, redemption came. This chosen one entered Jesus at His baptism and left Him at His death. Christ was the Gnostic Savior in that He taught true Wisdom while He was on earth, not that He died for sins. For Gnosticism, the great evil of matter was conquered through the spiritual wisdom. Not surprisingly then, Gnosticism denies both the true humanity and true divinity of Jesus. To them, He was simply the vessel through which their chosen one revealed wisdom. In fact, it was taught that Jesus’ own body served as insulation against the true chosen one coming into contact with evil matter.
What we see under this carefully crafted and complicated lie is a direct attack against our Savior, leveled against God’s Church at a time when it was extremely fragile. The lies of Gnosticism continue to be promoted today in various forms. Therefore, let us not take for granted the precious truth that our Savior Jesus is both man and God, and in that way is our only perfect Savior. Against the backdrop of this context, consider the words of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, from chapter 2, verses 6-10.
Colossians 2:6-10 As you have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving. 8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
This is one of those portions of Scripture that reminds us, having the true God is so important. But that’s not what we often hear today. We hear, “Be a good person, that is what really matters.” We hear, “Correct doctrine is not what saves a person, don’t be such a stickler.” We hear, “Don’t judge others or even dare to tell them they’re wrong, let each person believe what they want.” We don’t often hear, at least from world, “I believe that Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, is my Lord.”
Suppose your next-door neighbor was Gnostic. The brief overview I gave of that religious belief probably sounded quite outlandish. If not much of it made sense, hopefully you at least gathered that a Gnostic denies the true Jesus. So, suppose your neighbor believed this. Would you say anything to them? Suppose the majority of people in our community, in our nation, believed it. Would you stand firm against it? Would you defend Jesus, knowing that it is a direct attack against Him? The right answer is abundantly obvious, of course we would take a stand; absolutely we would tell others the truth.
But, there’s a great temptation in desiring to conform, no matter how ridiculous the majority opinion is. Our actual culture is currently filled with equally dangerous beliefs, things that are not hypothetical for us but reality. As we think of the beginning of the school year it reminds us that the evolutionary tale and the sinful lifestyles that develop out of it are taught and promoted widely to young children in our nation. Kids are learning that they are not made in the image of God but rather are highly developed animals.
We are all know how easy it is to hasten after riches in this life instead of invested our time in spiritual treasures from God’s Word. God’s truth is that neither success nor happiness is measured in material terms. Everyone knows this, yet so many continue to fall into the same trap.
The world tells us to despair if our surroundings and circumstances don’t give us pleasure or make us happy. That it must be someone else’s fault if things don’t go our way when we pursue our dreams. But, God says our own personal goals are not the measure of our fullness. These examples are all real beliefs that shape our culture today, yet is substance they are just as foolish and dangerous as Gnosticism.
The point here is that when you are rooted and established in the truth, you will overflow with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving gravitates toward service, and in our Christian lives that means service to God first and foremost. And to God, the greatest service you can offer is to obey His Word. The circumstances you are in do not determine the reaction of faith, rather the substance of your life determines the reaction.
The early Christians had to endure the danger of Gnosticism, and much more. The religion of the majority was based on the mythical false gods of the Romans. At this time, there was intense physical persecution, which lasted longer than the United States of America has currently been in existence. Think of that, a period in which the authorities sanctioned, and even promoted mistreatment and murder of Christians that was longer in existence than our own nation’s history. On top of this, a direct attack on the core teaching of the Christian faith, on the very central figure of the faith. These early Christians, including the Colossians, were up against a lot. We are today – in different ways. And we share the same hope – the person of Jesus Christ.
Despite all the hardship against the early Church, by the time Christianity was legalized in the 300s AD, over half the population of Asia Minor, Greece, and Egypt confessed Christ. No wonder the early historians said that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church. No wonder Martin Luther remarked that the ability to endure persecution is one of the necessary traits of a believer. The Church flourished despite these perils because their hope was never about themselves, or about the circumstances they were in. Their hope was that they were complete in Jesus, who is a complete God, and nothing could separate them from this.
The main theme of our section is that Jesus is a complete Savior and therefore those who believe in Him are complete Christians. The same word is used in our text to describe Jesus being fully (completely) God (v.9) and Christians being full (complete) in Him (v.10). This pertains to more than just redemption though. It contains a message for today, as well as for eternity. In Jesus we are completely restored, forgiven, and cleansed of sin. But, it is also in Jesus that we find the most complete measure of who we are. Because He is who He is, we are who we are.
Therefore, we see an inescapable connection between the person of Jesus and our lives. If He is not God, we have no hope. If He is not man, we have no hope. Paul is as clear as possible when he says, For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. In that simple phrase we have everything about the person of Jesus. We see the lie of Gnosticism exposed. Jesus is man, with a body. He came and took flesh. He assumed matter as part of His existence, not as a barrier to cover up who He really was. But, He is also the fullest, most complete expression of God.
It’s all there, but remember also the very first word, “For…” Paul stated this not as a simple point of fact, but as a reason for what he said in the prior verses. We could also say, “Because in Jesus dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” What was Paul defending? The Colossians’ hope, that they would be firmly rooted and built up in Christ. Both of these thoughts are metaphors for faith and both were taught by Jesus too. The idea of being rooted makes us think of the image of Jesus as a vine and believers as branches. Only through Him can we bear fruit. Only through Him does that fruit mean anything. Being built up is another thought of growth, a construction term. We think immediately of Jesus’ saying that the wise man builds his house on the rock; that rock being the teachings of Jesus. Suddenly, despite what the world tells us doctrine starts to matter quite a bit. Again, we see a hole exposed in Gnosticism and any other belief that exalts itself against Christ Jesus. True wisdom is in God’s Word, not in a conglomeration of man’s opinions.
Paul used the plant and construction imagery to state the positives of faith. But, the humanity and deity of Jesus also serves as a warning about the negatives. Verse 8 reads, Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. The basis of Paul’s warning here is that if the Colossians did what verse 8 describes, they would be in danger of losing Jesus. You see, Jesus does not rise and fall in the gospel portions of the Bible alone. So often, we set up this imaginary scenario that we can think less of or even ignore certain parts of God’s Word, as long as they’re not the gospel. We think that somehow that attitude won’t be quite as dangerous. But here Paul says that any philosophy opposed to God, any empty deceit, any tradition of men, any basic principle of the world could directly threaten what we have in Jesus Christ.
The idea of “cheat” in verse 8 is to literally carry something away captive. The warning is to avoid becoming the world’s slave by letting it control your thinking and dictate your faith. The phrase “empty deceit” is also interesting. Why would Paul feel the need to qualify deceit? Wouldn’t warning against deceit itself be enough, we know that’s not a good thing. Why does he warn about empty deceit? Well it’s a difference between perception and reality. Another way to think of deceit in this sense is pleasure. Don’t we often seek pleasure because it’s enjoyable, even if it’s something that is sinful? Aren’t we often encouraged by the world to think that pleasure isn’t all that bad, that we’re designed and programed to have it so we shouldn’t say no?
Of course, if something is sinful it’s never good for us. That’s the bare truth. But, we tend to convince ourselves otherwise. The Holy Spirit knows this, so he takes this deceit, which the sinful flesh longingly desires to be innocent, and he qualifies it. He calls it empty, vain, worthless, just so we know exactly what we’re dealing with. No matter what the world calls it. No matter what mental gymnastics we might do to convince ourselves it’s okay, the Spirit tells us clearly, it’s worthless – stay away from it.
The last warning of verse 8 deals with what is called the “basic principles of the world.” Think of this as describing the building blocks of knowledge, the ABC’s of why we believe what we believe. The point here is that the little things matter. Every evil starts somewhere. The kinds of philosophies that lead away from Christ are based on tons of tiny beliefs. Even the littlest of things that would detract from Jesus matters. We have to constantly heed this warning because that compendium of beliefs that serves as the foundation for world-based philosophy is always changing. There is no fixed truth for unbelievers; they will change their beliefs and follow whatever they feel like. Not so for us. Our faith has always been the same and always will be the same. It never changes because the One it is based on never changes. Hebrews 13:8
Everything that Paul addresses here in this context comes back to one thing – the complete Jesus: True Man and True God. It is because of this central truth that he states both the positives and negatives that we should be thinking about in our lives. The truth about Jesus matters, not because it is some obscure fact in history, and not because our faith is measured by our correctness. The truth about Jesus matters because it is the very source of the truth about ourselves. Just as He is complete so are we. If we fracture His nature, it will fracture ours.
The early Christians were confronted with a serious threat on this front right away. Through the Lord’s guidance and by relying on His Word of truth, they prevailed. Jesus Christ, true Man, true God, crucified for our sins – becoming matter and flesh for us, so that we could become more. But, Satan’s arsenal is simpler than you think. For generation after generation he has waged the same battle is different forms. The singular goal is this – to destroy Jesus in your heart. That can happen in several ways. For today, let us be on guard against this one in particular – changing who He is and what He did.
It is fact that He is man and God. It is fact that He needed to be both to win salvation. It is fact that our completeness, both here and in eternity, is contingent on His. May we never change those truths for the mere sake of personal convenience in this temporary world. And may God’s Spirit continue to root us and build us up with thanksgiving, in our blessed Savior. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.