by Mike Ratliff
I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. (Romans 16:17-19 ESV)
The visible church is overrun with false teachers and their doctrines. There is a mindset in the Church right now that is actually part of the problem in that it ostracizes and attempts to isolate and silence those who, in their obedience as watchmen, reveal the truth about certain false teachers and why their doctrines are unbiblical. Some of these wolves in sheep’s clothing are very popular in the visible church to the point that their supporters are more than willing to “give them a pass” when they err biblically because they have been ministered to by them in the past. However, this very thing simply promotes the environment for “tolerance” of error. This mindset contains a lie that those who discern these things, warn the body, and expose the false teachers and their doctrines, are the ones being divisive, unloving, and unChristlike. Thankfully, we still have God’s Word, and in it, we learn that we must always be on guard against false and deceptive teaching. One of the helpful things it teaches us in this battle is the knowledge of the believer’s new identity in Christ. This knowledge helps us resist the arguments of false teachers as we walk before the face of God for His glory alone.
For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ. (Colossians 2:1-5 ESV)
1θελω γαρ υμας ειδεναι ηλικον αγωνα εχω υπερ υμων και των εν λαοδικεια και οσοι ουχ εορακαν το προσωπον μου εν σαρκι 2ινα παρακληθωσιν αι καρδιαι αυτων συμβιβασθεντες εν αγαπη και εις παν πλουτος της πληροφοριας της συνεσεως εις επιγνωσιν του μυστηριου του θεου χριστου 3εν ω εισιν παντες οι θησαυροι της σοφιας και γνωσεως αποκρυφοι 4τουτο λεγω ινα μηδεις υμας παραλογιζηται εν πιθανολογια 5ει γαρ και τη σαρκι απειμι αλλα τω πνευματι συν υμιν ειμι χαιρων και βλεπων υμων την ταξιν και το στερεωμα της εις χριστον πιστεως υμων (Colossians 2:1-5 WHNU)
Paul confessed that he had a great struggle for the believers at Colossae and Laodicea. The term great struggle in Greek is ηλικον αγωνα, which literally says, “how much struggle.” Αγωνα, struggle, implies force or violence, strife, contention, contest for victory or mastery such as in some sport. Paul used αγωνα that way, but he also applies it to the struggles in the Christian life. Paul was stressing here how he prayed and implored the Lord to work in these churches that they come to the correct knowledge, “to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ…” The words full assurance is the Greek word πληροφοριας, means “perfect certitude, full conviction, fullness, completion of understanding.” In other words, Paul’s prayer for these and all believers is that their knowledge of who they are in Christ should be grounded in a complete understanding of who Christ is and in this their πληροφοριας will grow and become deeply rooted and complete.
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. (Colossians 2:6-7 ESV)
6ως ουν παρελαβετε τον χριστον ιησουν τον κυριον εν αυτω περιπατειτε 7ερριζωμενοι και εποικοδομουμενοι εν αυτω και βεβαιουμενοι τη πιστει καθως εδιδαχθητε περισσευοντες [εν αυτη] εν ευχαριστια (Colossians 2:6-7 WHNU)
As (ως) then (ουν) you took to yourself (παρελαβετε) the (τον) Christ (χριστον) Jesus (ιησουν) the (τον) Lord (κυριον), in (εν) him (αυτω) walk around (περιπατειτε), having been rooted (ερριζωμενοι) and (και) being built on (εποικοδομουμενοι) in (εν) him (αυτω) and (και) being confirmed (βεβαιουμενοι) in the (τη) faith (πιστει) just as (καθως) you were taught (εδιδαχθητε), exceeding (περισσευοντες) in (εν) it (αυτη) in (εν) good favor (ευχαριστια). (Colossians 2:6-7 word-for-word translation from Koine Greek to English)
The ESV translates παρελαβετε as “you received.” Παρελαβετε refers to one associating self in an intimate act of relation. Paul is saying, in the same way that believers παρελαβετε the κυριον ιησουν χριστον, the Lord Jesus Christ, they must also in Him walk, εν αυτω περιπατειτε. Περιπατειτε, walk or deport oneself, in v6 is in present tense, imperative mood, and active voice. This is a command to the reader or hearer to do something continuously, or as a way of life. In other words, Christians are to live or walk in this life intimately related to Christ Jesus Himself. That means Christians are not free agents living any way they please and it does not matter. No! No one becomes a Christian outside of repentance, turning from self-rule to Christ as Lord and Saviour. The same way we received Him as Lord and Saviour we are to live. What does this look like? Paul answers that in v7.
The genuine believer walking in Him as a way of life does so “rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith…” This is Paul describing for us that genuine Christians are deeply rooted in and are being built up in Christ who is their firm foundation. This is done according to the good doctrines from God as we abound in thanksgiving. The Christian life is not one of defeat or continual doubt and despair fretting over whether enough good works or obedience is done in order to be acceptable to God in the Kingdom. No! That was all settled at the Cross. All in Christ are in Him and He is their firm foundation that never fails. This realization of who we are in Christ causes us to abound in thanksgiving. In this, we are able to withstand all false teachers and those who attempt to derail us with their false doctrines. We understand that our security is based in Christ, not us. We also know that it is all about God’s glory not ours. He is everything; we are nothing. He is Lord; we are His slaves. In this we must come to understand that the deeper our full assurance is in Christ and who we are in Him, we will also have a fuller understanding of the Truth War and what our part is in it.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him. (Colossians 2:8-15 ESV)
Before salvation, we were dead in our trespasses and the uncircumcsion of our flesh. However, when God saved us, he made us alive together with Him, having forgiven us our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This is both our rebirth, our regeneration, and our justification in which God imputed Christ’s righteousness to our account. Luther understood that our justification does not make us sinless. We still sin. He called this Simul Justus Et Peccator or “Righteous and the same time a sinner.” We are sinners saved by grace and so we are in a tremendous battle in this life as God perfects us through the testing fires of sanctification.
In this battle, we will also have come to bear on us great enemies who will attempt to take us captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. The Greek word translated in v8 as “takes you captive” is συλαγωγων, which was used to describe the plundering actions by pirates or kidnappers. Paul is warning us that false teachers, those who use philosophy, empty deceit, human tradition, and are controlled by demons (elemental spirits of the world), do this very thing. They attempt to capture people to gain a following.
The warning is to not allow this to happen. How? It will not happen if we have correct doctrine and have that πληροφοριας, that full assurance in who we are in Christ and who He really is. If we struggle with believing in the deity of Christ or if our salvation is secure in Him because He cannot lie and is sovereign then we could very well become captive to these false teachers. If our faith is weak or shallow then we are in serious trouble when these liars attack. This is why we must learn the truth of who Christ is, and who we are in Him. Carefully read this passage my brethren. When these truths become the very essence of our understanding as we walk in Christ in all we do, say, and think, then we are in a very secure place. These great enemies of our faith may rant and rave and rail and threaten and attempt to deceive in all sorts of ways to move us from the path God has us on, but if we are solidly grounded in these truths in Him then we will not be moved.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Addendum: There was something I intended to share in this post about the Greek word αγωνα from Colossians 2:1. This is the source of our English word “agony.” This should show us how our Saviour agonizes over us as He did through Paul for these Christians. He prays for us continually for our perseverance and spiritual growth. Isn’t that comforting my brethren?