We live in a world of substitutes. A substitute teacher can explain, answer, and instruct but they can’t change the syllabus or change your grade. Diet drinks serve a purpose, but like the old commercial used to say, “Can’t beat the real thing!” Paul wrote the book of Colossians to warn against false teaching and false teachers. There is nothing new under the sun. The New Age teaching is nothing more than old age lies. Every cult and heresy is addressed and answered in this passage.
Colossians 2:8-10 says, “Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elements of the world, rather than Christ. For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ, and you have been filled by him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.” Philosophy is not wrong in and of itself. The word means to love wisdom. The book of Proverbs teaches wisdom comes from God. But we have to watch out for those who elevate human philosophy and tradition over Christ. Why trust in empty philosophy of man when we have the fullness of God in Christ? Secular reasoning apart from Christ just makes one an educated fool. Education by itself is a trap. We are going to see in a moment that experience alone is a trap. We have the fullness. He is the head.
Paul continues, “You were also circumcised in him with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of Christ…” (v. 11). There is nothing wrong with rituals. Marriage is a ritual. But you have to be careful that you are not deceived into thinking marriage can save you or complete you. Only Jesus can save you! Only Jesus can complete you! Here Paul mentions an Old Testament ritual called circumcision. A physical operation or cutting of the flesh cannot save. Jeremiah 4:4 says that God wants to circumcise our hearts. The New Testament ritual of baptism is mentioned next in verse 12. It is a good ritual. Jesus was baptized and commanded all of His followers to be baptized. It is a picture of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. But being dunked in water cannot save you! There are food ritual, rituals of holidays, etc. Rituals cannot save. On the cross Jesus paid our sin debt and disarmed the enemy and delivered us from the law.
“Let no one condemn you by delighting in ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm. Such people are inflated by empty notions of their unspiritual mind” (v. 18). False teachers were saying the Colossians needed more than Christ. They claimed they needed visions, dreams, new prophecies, and contact with the spirit world. New Age teachings teach you need someone to channel for you. The Bible says there is one mediator between God and man. What you need is to be part of the body (v. 19), the church. The way to grow spiritually is to get in community. An unchurched Christian is malnourished.
The last heresy Paul covers is that of regulations. “If you died with Christ to the elements of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: ‘Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch’? All these regulations refer to what is destined to perish by being used up; they are human commands and doctrines. Although these have a reputation for wisdom by promoting self-made religion, false humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence (v. 20-23). Don’t be deceived by the self-denial of the body or pleasure. Jesus came to set the captives free. Jesus gives life and liberty. Rituals, rules, and regulation bring legalism and choke out the life of Christ. John MacArthur said that legalism is the religion of human achievement.
Secular Reasoning is man trying to think his way to God. Spiritual Rituals is man trying to observe his way to God. Special Revelation is man trying to feel his way to God. Strict Regulations is man trying to work his way to God.
Dead Religion Cannot Satisfy
Pictures represent the real thing, but they are not the real thing. The Bible gives us many pictures: circumcision, baptism, dietary laws, etc. They were pictures but not the real thing. This does not mean they are not important. If you ever have a house fire you will find out what you value most. We have. People, pets, and pictures…in that order. You don’t get the pictures of the baby out first, or the dog. You get the people! The problem spiritually is when people want to hold on to pictures of Christ instead of holding on to Christ. Colossians 2:17 says, “These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is Christ.” Can you imagine family members welcoming their loved one in the military home by running past them to their shadow? If your religion is based on reasoning, rituals, rules, revelations, and regulations you are in the shadows. Spiritual shadows and substitutes will not satisfy.
Dead Religion Cannot Sanctify
Likewise, you are not sanctified by what you do. For example, what you eat or don’t eat. Diets can make you more healthy, but they cannot make you more holy (see 1 Tim. 4:1-5). “Food will not bring us close to God. We are not worse off if we don’t eat, and we are not better if we do eat” (1 Cor. 8:8). Don’t let anyone put you back under the Old Testament dietary laws or tell you we have to worship on Saturday Sabbath.
Dead Religion Cannot Save
Paul said in Galatians you can mutilate yourself, but circumcision will not save. You can get baptized so many times that your entire body shrivels up, but it will not save. Only the cross of Jesus can save. Salvation is explained in verses 13-15. “And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive with him and forgave us all our trespasses. He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them in him.” People tend to think that sin is being a bad person. It is worse than that. You were born dead spiritually. Self-help, self-righteousness, or self-denial will not save. You cannot think your way to heaven by reasoning. You cannot observe your way to heaven by rituals. You cannot feel you way to heaven by revelations or work your way to heaven by regulations. Salvation is a gift. Christianity is not spelled DO but DONE. Jesus paid the debt. Salvation, satisfaction, and sanctification are only found in a relationship with Him.