Colossians 2:16-4:5 by Robert Dean
All believers are engaged in a cosmic spiritual battle. The conflict may not be within the obvious spheres of personal or physical enemies. Satan is our arch-enemy and inculcates his false system of thinking on the human race in various guises. At the core of Satan-promoted thinking is an assault on God’s authority. However, Satan is the master counterfeiter and disguises his false religions and philosophies with the robes of righteousness and light. This makes these systems attractive to our sin nature. Learn in this lesson the commonalities and dangers of Satan’s worldly thought systems that sabotage our reliance on the all-sufficiency of Christ and our spiritual growth.

The Spiritual Strip and Dress Commands. Overview - Colossians 2:16-4:5


We come to a new section in Colossians and we need to take the time for an overview of where the apostle Paul is going from 2:16 down through 4:5. The main body of the epistle actually began in 2:6 with the command "as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, {so} walk in Him." It is that primary command that really governs everything from that verse all the way down through 4:5 and all of this is designed to help us to understand how we are to "walk in Him." And we must remember that there are different elements to that walking metaphor the Scripture uses. It focuses on the fact that it is a conscious effort, something that we think about step by step. It is not running in Christ, not leaping in Christ, not sleeping in Christ; it is walking, day-by-day, moment by moment conscious dependency upon Christ. Another element of this is the fact that this term "walking" was an idiom often used in the ancient world to describe a way of life, how a person lived. We are to walk "in Christ" and that command brings into focus for us that this is something that is based on our positional reality in Christ, who we are in Christ.  So Paul begins the main body of this epistle with that command to walk in Him, and that really was grounded in what we have just finished covering in vv. 11-15.

One of the things we will see as we go through this section is that Paul uses a series of interesting commands all built off the same word that is often used to describe putting something on or taking something off. It is the removal of clothes and putting clothes on, so it is the spiritual strip and dress commands. They are really the key here to understanding the Christian life and understanding how that abundant, rich, full life of happiness and peace that God promised us at salvation is realized in our experience.

Colossians 2:6-8 really lays out the foundation with the positive command in verse 6 to walk in Him, and then a negative warning in verse 8 to "see to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception." So it begins with a reminder of what we have in Christ and the emphasis that Paul brings out in this chapter, in this section, is on the forgiveness that we have in Christ. Colossians 2:13 NASB "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions." The Greek word translated "forgiven" here is charizomai [xarizomai] which is a word that is based off of the root meaning grace, and literally would mean to be graced out or to receive grace, to be acted upon by grace. It has the idea and meaning of cancelling out a debt as well but it focuses not so much on the act as upon the motive behind it, which is grace. And it is important to understand vv. 11-15 because this is the very foundation of being able to understand everything else that is in this epistle.

Paul was writing this epistle because a group of false teachers espousing a popular teaching in Colosse had infiltrated the church in some way, and some of the teachers within the church were teaching this somewhat syncretistic false religious system. We can say a few things with certainty about this teaching. It had a Jewish component to it. It wasn't necessarily the result of Judaizers but it definitely had borrowed from a mystical element that was found in first-century Judaism. It was the sort of melting pot of metaphysical and religious philosophical ideas that was threatening the spiritual health of that congregation. This is why, along with commanding them to walk in Christ, Paul then turns around in verse eight and in just a summary statement he says, "Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit." He doesn't mean philosophy in the more technical sense that we use it where we would restrict it to maybe the writings of the Platonists or Aristotle or modern philosophy, he is using it in a much more broad sense in that everybody has some sort of philosophy of life, some sort of idea of what their ultimate reality is, want happens after death, basis for right and wrong; and in this sense the term "philosophy" would encroach upon what we often refer to as "religious."

This false religious system is a theft of our spiritual wealth, the riches that we have in Christ. Ultimately, in terms of our future destiny, in terms of our inheritance that we have in Christ, if we fail in terms of living the Christian life today then what happens at the judgment seat of Christ is when we see the reality of the loss of those rewards, the loss of that future destiny that could have been ours if we had stayed the course, stuck with the Word of God, and been faithful in our study and application of the God's Word.

In verse 16 we will see something similar stated. It is at this point from v. 16 to v. 23 that Paul expands a little. And this is the only place where we have any idea what this false teaching emphasized. He says in v. 18, "Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize"—the idea of theft. It is something that is ours in Christ and it is stolen from us simply because we choose to operate on a false system of thought rather than on the Word of God. Then there are some clues given in terms of this religious system. That is, those who would cheat us take the light in a pseudo humility and a worship of angels—"self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on {visions} he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind." In contrast [19] "and not holding fast to the head …" They fail to implement the sufficiency of Christ in their life. Instead they are looking somewhere else for the solution.

Asceticism and legalism go together. Asceticism also crosses over to the other side in terms of mysticism, but asceticism and legalism when played out to their logical conclusion produce a moral degeneracy. Most people think of degeneracy in terms of immorality but the Pharisees clearly depicted a moral degeneracy where their arrogance, their own self-righteousness and morality, were hostile to anybody who was against them. So morality can produce its own measure, and that morality can be based on any number of different systems of ethics. In our world today there is a pseudo morality on the Left as well as on the Right. Political correctness is a moral degeneracy of the Left, just as often a moral self-righteousness is found on the part of the Right, especially among many so-called evangelicals. Those who have a trend toward asceticism and legalism are often very good in terms of human good and it produces a moral degeneracy, but it has an impact and a corollary in terms of how they think. Someone who is ascetic and legalistic has a tendency toward rigid systems of thought. So this plays itself out in terms of thinking and in epistemology, in rationalism and empiricism, creating rigorous systems of thought in order to come to truth.

On the opposite end we have licentiousness—taking advantage of God's grace, which everybody does as some point or another. Lasciviousness is related to physical, sexual lust. Antinomianism is just a large word for being against the law, any kind of rules or regulations. That leads to moral degeneracy which many people have a good idea of, and this produces a counterpart in terms of knowledge, in terms of mysticism. Mysticism just seeks to throw off any restraint from revelation—because God is going to speak to me and that may give me new insights that are apart from the Word of God. It rejects the foundations and the boundaries that are given in terms of the Word of God. These come together, so there is also a cross-pollination of legalism with mysticism; and that is exactly what we see in the problem in Colosse, a cross-pollination of legalism and asceticism in some areas with mysticism in terms of knowledge. 

But what is being established here is the foundation that we have in Christ. This comes out when we get to two key verses, 2:20 and 3:1. Colossians 2:20 NASB "If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world …" That phrase "died with Christ" is specifically related to what Paul taught in Romans 6:3ff, referred to as the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit where we are identified at salvation with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Colossians 3:1 NASB "Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ…" That is the other part of that baptism by the Holy Spirit. We are identified with His death, burial and resurrection to newness of life. That new life is directly related to what happens at the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Colossians 2:11 NASB "and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ." Here's the first word used for removing clothes—"removal" of the body of the flesh. That speaks of something that happened positionally at salvation. The power of the sin nature got stripped away. Its presence is still there but the power was stripped away in relation to the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit. "…in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; [12] having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead." It is the ongoing walk by means of the Holy Spirit that describes the Christian life.

Romans 6:3 NASB "Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? [4] Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life." We have to understand what that newness of life is comprised of. In Colossians 2:20, 21 we have the first reference to that. NASB "If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees [legalistic regulations], such as, 'Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!'" In the second "if" clause he says, Colossians 3:1 NASB "Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ …" Now he is going to focus on the significant part of this in terms of our newness of life. That is what the resurrection has to do with. The death and burial has to do with solving the sin problem in terms of our regeneration and being given new life. The resurrection relates to the new life we have in Christ—a rich, full life characterized by joy, peace, stability, happiness, a sense of fulfilment in life and meaning, because we understand God's plan. It is a reality to us that transforms our day-to-day existence. No matter what the circumstances may be it has revolutionized by our understanding of that plan of God. Colossians 3:5 NASB "Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry…. [8] in contrast, "But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, {and} abusive speech from your mouth."

We have to look at the distinction between the fact that he says that we have already put off these things in Christ and now we are to put them off. There is a distinction between our positional reality and the reality of our experience in Christ—living out and walking by means of God the Holy Spirit. Colossians 3:10 NASB "and have put on the new self …" That has happened positionally. We put on the new man at the instant of salvation but we still are involved in a process of stripping off the residual elements of the sin nature in our life.

The putting off/removal in Colossians 2:11 occurred at the instant of salvation. That is our positional removal of the power of the sin nature. Something also happened with regard to this at the cross. Colossians 2:15 NASB "When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him." Jesus is said to have disarmed principalities and powers. As we have seen, this is not a word that is used in a military context outside of Scripture. It is a word, though, that is used in removing somebody's trappings of power. That is what occurred at the cross in terms of the forces of Satan, the fallen angels. Then we get down to 3:9, 10 "Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its {evil} practices." Since the power of the sin nature is broken he says, "Stop lying." You have a new life in Christ, live characteristically of that. "… and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—" We are new creatures in Christ but the new creature is going to starve to death if he is not taking in the Word of God so that the new man is properly nourished and grows to maturity. Then in 3:12 a different form of the word is used again, and this refers to experiential reality. NASB "So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience."

All of this section builds to a crescendo at the end of verse 17. It ends with three commands: verse 15, we are to let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts; verse 16, we are to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly; verse 17, we are to do all things to the glory of God in the name of the Lord Jesus. That describes this new life that we have, that as representatives of Jesus Christ everything that we do reflects upon Him.

Then in verse 18 down through 4:1 Paul is going to take all of this and apply it to all of our different relationships—marriage, wives and husbands, husbands and wives, children to parents, parents to children, slaves to masters and masters to slaves—concluding that with Col 3:23, 24 NASB "Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve." Notice the future focus. We get cheated of that inheritance if we get into the false philosophies and false religions.

Then as he wraps up the main body of the epistle he goes back to prayer. Colossians 4:2 NASB "Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with {an attitude of} thanksgiving; [3] praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; [4] that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak." Then he goes into his final conclusion. [5] "Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. [6] Let your speech always be with grace, {as though} seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person."

This gives us an overview. What he is talking about is that Christ is sufficient because of what happened transactionally in terms of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. But it is not just some abstract doctrine and something that happened but it so radically transforms our relationship to our sin nature that we don't have to do what it says anymore. And that puts upon us a demand to live differently. But we can't do that in the flesh; we can only do that of we are walking by the Spirit. And only through the Spirit are we able to truly overcome the flesh which is what Paul describes in Galatians 5:16ff. As we get into this we are going to come to understand the dynamics of the threat. The Colossian threat had certain manifestations but generally speaking we have similar threats. We need to understand the dynamics of those threats and then we understand the solution, which is our position in Christ, and how that applies on a day-to-day situation whenever we face temptation and the battle. But the bottom line is that Christ is sufficient.