From verse 13, the apostle Paul continues to answer the problem of Judaistic teachers among the believers. Their insistence that the law must be added to the cross for salvation is completely refuted by the teaching which follows from his pen. In these verses, the cross has nullified three problems in relation to sin. In verse 13 the guilt of sin is dealt with; in verse 14 the Lord has cleared the debt we owe because of sin; and in verse 15 the dominion of sin has been overcome through the greatness of the work of the Lord Jesus on the cross.
Verse 13: The Guilt of Sin
The Colossian believers’ past is recalled when, like the Ephesians, they were “dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph 2.1). They were not only dead morally, but also nationally, for he speaks of “the uncircumcision of your flesh” (Col 2.13). As Gentiles, they had no claim upon God at any time, but now God has imparted to them life and liberty. We, too, have life, in that He has quickened us, and liberty, since He forgave us our trespasses. The life is in association with the Lord Jesus, for we are “quickened together with Him.” To ‘quicken’ is to ‘make alive’, and the same Greek word is used in Ephesians 2.5 where the same truth is set forth; the emphasis there being on union with the Lord Himself. We must notice that Paul is here speaking of Gentiles, for he says “you”.
Verse 14: The Debt by Sin
When we come to verse 14 the focus changes, for Paul now refers to “us”, and so includes the Jews with the Gentiles. It was to the Jewish nation that God gave the law, and Paul emphasises that, rather than it being a blessing, it was contrary to them. Strong’s Concordance1 defines the meaning of “contrary” as “one who is an opponent - an adversary.” There was a need for the law to be dealt with, rather than followed (as the Judaisers were advocating). The Lord finished with it at the cross, smearing it out and wiping it away. Instead of being a blessing to the Jew, the law was against them as a legally binding debt that had to be paid in full. Thank God, that which was hostile as a taskmaster over them was taken out of the way for, when Christ died, the law was also nailed to His cross, and terminated.
Verse 15: The Dominion of Sin Destroyed
So, we see that as far as the Gentiles were concerned, they were dead (v 13), and the Jews were disobedient; not able to keep the law (v 14). Now, in verse 15, we find that the devil is defeated. Keeping the cross in view, we are brought to another aspect of Calvary that is not revealed in the crucifixion scenes recorded in the Gospels. Unseen to human eye, there were events that occurred at Calvary that would still be unknown, but for divine revelation. In Hebrews 2.14, we see how that the devil’s power was annulled when the Lord Jesus died. The word “destroy” in that verse (Gr katargeo) means ‘to annul his power’, or ‘to render inoperable, idle or useless’. In Ephesians 6 we are to stand and withstand the devil, but we must remember that we are on the side of victory: the battle has been won at the cross. As a result, the devil must now flee from the believer who resists him (Jas 4.7). Here we discover that not only the devil, but also all his hosts, were spoiled, that is, ‘exposed to public shame’, just as the prophets of Baal were exposed by Elijah at Carmel (1 Kgs 18.19-40). As far as the demonic world is concerned, Calvary was like a Roman triumph, as the Lord prevailed over them, exposed them, and led them away in triumph. The expression “triumphing over them in it” (Col 2.15) brings the victory of the cross before us.
Verses 16-19: The Sham of False Teachers
Having set out the implications of the doctrine of these false teachers, and having established the truth of what we have in Christ, Paul can now appeal to the saints not to give heed to them. The desire of these men to impose Jewish law upon the believers is evident when we see that they urged them to keep the daily, weekly, monthly, and annual feast days. This implied that their diet, and keeping of feast days, were both necessary for their salvation. But these feasts were simply pointing to a coming day, when all will ultimately find their fulfilment in Christ’s millennial Kingdom. They cast a shadow regarding the future glories of the Lord Jesus. The feasts of Jehovah recorded in Leviticus 23 are particularly in view, as they depict the programme that God has ordained for this world. It is a remarkable study of divine truth.
Having dealt with Jewish legality in verses 16-17, Paul now turns his thoughts toward pagan philosophy. Again, he warns that these are the efforts of men to beguile, that is, to defraud the saints of future reward that will be given at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Sadly, many of us may find that attention to doctrines that are set forth by men, yet are completely contrary to Biblical teaching, may cost us dearly when we stand before the Lord after the Rapture. We may be disqualified, and found unworthy of the crown that is set before us. Many doctrines have an appearance of being in accordance with the mind of God, yet are far removed from the teaching of His Word.
Some would take delight in devoting themselves to the teachings of Gnosticism,² and profess that it is in all humility that they follow such doctrines. But the false teaching revealed in verse 18 shows that they are intruding into what is unseen and unrevealed. They manifest intellectual pride while, at the same time, they gratify the flesh (cf v 23). Ultimately, all false doctrine affects the relationship we have with the Lord Jesus; it takes away from His authority, and belittles the work of grace in a believer’s life. Such is the warning by the Spirit in 1 Timothy 4.1.
Verses 20-23: The Solution
The truths that have been set before us in verses 12-13 are now brought to bear, in order to emphasise the practical implications of doctrine. Doctrine is given for a purpose, and Paul is teaching that, since we have died with Christ (and in our baptism we acknowledged such), false teaching can have no hold upon us, as we are now dead. As we have seen, these teachings, as with all false doctrine, are associated with the rudiments of the world. A professing believer who follows such errors would indicate that they are still very much alive to this world, since these errors are the practise of the ungodly.
Well might Paul expose the reality of not being a true follower of the Word of God. These false teachings are exposed as the dogmas of men; the word “ordinances” (Gr dogmatizso) (v 20) means ‘to prescribe a statute’. They are not mere foibles, but are destructive, and detrimental to the faith of any who desire to be obedient to the truth of God. It is sad when so many who have been instructed in truth place themselves under the doctrines of men, and cannot see the sad consequences, resulting in their eternal loss of reward. Many put themselves under a one-man ministry that is totally against Biblical teaching concerning the gifts of the Spirit. With it they usually discard the woman’s head covering as if it has no value today. We could cite so much that is contrary to the Word of God, and is merely (as these verses indicate) the doctrines of men, which will “perish with the using” (v 22).
Paul sought to keep the Colossian saints from these Jewish impositions, and insisted that they must neither be clung to, nor should the believers fasten themselves to them. Are they not all to perish with the using, being all destined for corruption? All they do is magnify and gratify the flesh, making a show of humility, in which there is no honour.
¹ James Strong, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible.
² ‘Gnosticism’ became a prominent heresy in the 2nd century AD, but was developing long before that. As a false religious philosophy, it taught that the material world was evil because it was created and governed by a lesser divinity known as the demiurge, and that Christ was only an emissary of the supreme divine being. Gnostics taught that an esoteric knowledge (Gr gnosis) of the Christ was necessary for the redemption of the human spirit.
(To be continued …)