Colossians 2:20 – 3:17
- The Double Remedy for the Believer: Death and Resurrection with Christ (2:20 – 3:4)
- The Practical Transformation of Our Lifestyle (3:5-17)
The Double Remedy for the Believer: Death and Resurrection with Christ (2:20 – 3:4)
Implications of Our Death and Resurrection with Christ. In the following verses, Paul reasons from the fact that the believer is identified with the death and resurrection of Christ. Our death with Christ delivers us from the elements of the world; i.e. ordinances. Our resurrection with Christ brings our thoughts up to heaven where Christ is. The positive side of this truth gives us an object; Christ in heaven. The practical effect of our death and resurrection of Christ is profound. Most Christians do not want to accept the meaning of this, because it means separation from the world, from man’s religion, and from earthly pursuits, which we naturally want to cling to. As a result, this section of Colossians is largely unknown or at least mysterious to many believers. The reality is that there is a great difference between a believer who grasps merely the death and resurrection of Christ for us, and our death and resurrection with Him. This is pictured in the difference between the two and a half tribes of Israel who passed through the Red Sea, but refused to cross the Jordan, and instead settled in the land of Gilead to the east of Jordan. This illustration can be further studied in the Altar of Ed (Joshua 22).1
As Dead with Christ, do not Occupy with Ordinances (2:20-23)
- A List of Rules. First, ordinances tend to become a law governing the outward behavior or appearance. They are either proscriptive (forbidding, “do not handle, do not taste, do not touch”) or prescriptive (requiring, “harsh treatment of the body”, etc.). Human nature gravitates toward law-keeping for a number of reasons, but one is that following a list of rules is perceived as a “shortcut” to godliness. The more restrictions you have, the more godly you are perceived to be. This is of course false. And this focus on man is entirely contrary to true Christianity, which fills the soul with the enjoyment of Christ.
- Focus on temporal, earthly things. The things we touch, taste, and handle, are “things which are all for destruction in the using of them”. That is, eventually they will degrade, rot, or completely disappear. In contrast, the true doctrine of Christianity centers around things that are for eternity, and which cannot be destroyed! Yet this is not to say that the believer should touch, taste, and handle whatever pleases him. The Bible is clear that we must avoid anything that is immoral, or even associated with evil.
- Rest on the word of man. Although many religious ordinances are based on some part of scripture, they go beyond what scripture warrants, and therefore rest on the authority of man’s word rather than God’s Word; “according to the injunctions and teachings of men”. A simple example of this is seen in the Pharisees, who valued a separate set of “traditions” (man’s word) equally or superior to God’s Word (Matthew 15:3).
- Have an appearance of super-godliness. Ordinances brought into Christianity give the impression of super-godliness, but underneath the soul is at a distance from God. The Jewish-philosophy that Paul was decrying brought in the “voluntary worship” of angels. This had “an appearance of wisdom… and humility”. It appears to be humble to pray to a mediator, but it really dishonors Christ. Often these ordinances tended toward asceticism, which looks at the physical body as a vile thing; “harsh treatment of the body, not in a certain honour”. This is a core element of Gnostic doctrine; the body and matter in general is evil. Paul especially refutes this error, showing that God does honor our physical bodies, and will one day redeem them and transform them “like unto His body of glory” (Phil. 3:21). But this is the tendency of legality. Even Martin Luther would thrash himself with a whip before he understood grace.
- Are satisfying to the flesh. These ordinances, if kept even for a time, become a source of pride and self-satisfaction to the individual; “to the satisfaction of the flesh”. This gets extended to others, when the leaders in a legal system force these ordinances on others, “that they may glory in your flesh” (Gal. 6:13). Man loves a law because it allows him to feel good about himself, and to look down on others, while controlling them.
The Practical Transformation of Our Lifestyle (3:5-17)
Mortify your Members, Having Put Off the Old Man (3:5-9)
Having Put on the New Man, Now Put on Christ’s Character (3:10-17)
- Psalms are about the wilderness experience (e.g. "O Jesus, Friend unfailing", "Though dark be our way", "Though in a foreign land").
- Hymns are addressed to a divine person (e.g. "Father, Thy name our souls would bless", "Thou Art the Everlasting Word", "Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour Thou").
- Spiritual songs are songs about the truth of God (e.g. "Amazing Grace", "We joy in our God, and we sing of that love", "How good is the God we adore").
- There is in many Christians the entire overlooking of this truth either as a privilege for enjoyment or as a reality for practice. To them it is a mere mysticism, the idea of being dead and risen with Christ, which they are too humble and reverent to look on and think about. Let me add that it is not the same thing as having life in Christ, for this was of course ever true of believers before there was or could be such a standing as that of being dead and risen with Christ. After the death and resurrection of Christ, such was the great change in this respect that then came in. – Kelly, William. The Epistle to the Colossians.
- Suppose a person to be engaged in business; is he not to attend to it? Surely; yet not to set his mind on it, but simply to go through all as a duty to the Lord. Ought he not to do it better than another man who has not Christ? I am assured that such would be the fruit of looking to the Lord, while the same single-eyedness and faith would preserve him from the snares of covetousness, as well as vain glory. The Christian thus taught and walking has an object before his soul which alone is adequate to raise a man above self and the world. – Kelly, William. The Epistle to the Colossians.
- The new man is renewed in knowledge, or in other words made new for knowledge. – Darby, J.N. Notes on the Epistle to the Colossians.
- It has been well remarked that in Ephesians Christ is never spoken of as the image of God; He is so, very expressly, in Colossians. If we may discriminate, what we have in Ephesians is more Christ showing me what God is — not His image, but His moral likeness reflected in Christ. Hence it is said, "Be ye imitators of God, as dear children, and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us." It is more the notion of resemblance than representation. Still, although you can say of Christ, He is the image of God, He is never said to be in the likeness of God, just because He is God. In Colossians we hear repeatedly of the image of God. Here, for instance, the new man is said to be "after the image of him that created him"; as in the first chapter Christ is said to be the image of the invisible God. The two ideas of likeness and image may often be confounded in our minds, but not so in Scripture, where likeness simply means that one person resembles another; image means that a person is represented, whether it be like him or not — both of course may be together. - Kelly, William. The Epistle to the Colossians.
- J.N. Darby explained it this way: love “gives a divine character to all the qualities that have been enumerated”. – Darby, J.N. Synopsis of the Books of the Bible.
- Dennett, Edward. Expository Jottings I. Keeping the Word of Christ.