Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.8 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. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11 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, 12 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. 13 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, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
Paul here encourages the church in Colossae to continue to live according to a sound and solid understanding of the gospel, as they have been taught. “Walk in Christ Jesus the Lord,” he says. That is the gospel that they received, that made them firm and solid and caused them to grow.
He also warns them against attacks. It is one thing to simply lose what we’ve got through neglect, but there are enemies, too, who would rob us of our faith and hope. “Do not be taken captive by philosophy and empty deceit,” he warns. Human traditions are insufficient for, as Calvin said, tradition is a good guide, but a poor master. Elemental spirits are useless as guides because to follow them is to worship the creature, not the Creator. Both would compromise the gospel and the authority of Christ.
The best argument Paul makes, though, is one he has already made. Instead of offering criticisms of his opponents’ attacks, he just holds Christ that much higher. “In Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” he says, “and you have been filled in Him.” “Jesus Christ is utterly God,” he is saying, “and He is in you.” What attraction can human tradition and elemental spirits have by comparison? Christ is the head of all rule and authority and, like the Colossians we are united with Him. What encouragement is this! Paul uses the Old Testament image of circumcision, that of permanently and definitively cutting off a portion of flesh as a symbol of the removing of sin. He also uses the New Testament image of baptism, that of being buried with Christ in His death and raised with Him to new life by faith. The two images together are powerful. What is old is dead and gone, and you are Christ’s now, wholly and completely. Where we were once spiritually dead and under sentence of eternal death, now we have been forgiven, our debts erased, and we have been raised to life.
Finally, Paul informs his readers that the rulers and authorities who govern the people who are trying to misguide them have themselves been conquered by Christ. Christ’s victory is a done deal, and so is the defeat of His opponents.
So like the Colossian church, let us be encouraged, hold fast the gospel delivered to us, take heart—and walk in Christ.
Biblical Reflection by Tom Hoffman