Bible Studies in Colossians
Col 2:8-15 Worldly Wisdom or Complete in Christ
by I Gordon
Last time we looked at Colossians 2:5-8 and called the sermon 'Firmly rooted or strangely deluded?' Delusion and deception were afoot in the city of Colossae. Today we will carry on with Colossians and while the thought of deception and delusion is in this text, Paul focuses more on the answer. And that answer is found by focusing more on what we have 'in Christ'... That we are complete in Christ! We'll look at a complete salvation, a complete identification and a complete forgiveness. Let's have a read.
Deception is rife in our world. And I'm not talking about spiritual deception... well, not yet. But just in the normal everyday world people are out to deceive. People are fleeced of their savings in this world all the time. Each day people enter Ponzi schemes through so-called honest, plausible sounding men. Each day desperate people are tricked into buying bogus sure-thing health products through clever sounding cons. Each day people are fooled into entering their bank account usernames and passwords into fake websites.  Deception is this world abounds and spiritually speaking it is no different.
'See to it that no one takes you captive' is Paul's command. The Greek word for captive is interesting and has the thought of being kidnapped or taken hostage. Hopefully you live in a country where this sort of thing doesn't happen to Christians physically. Not all are so fortunate but hopefully you don't have to live with this fear. But wherever we live we can still be robbed, kidnapped and taken captive mentally or spiritually. You probably know someone that this has happened to. You've probably seen people held captive by thoughts or teachings and have seen that the result can be just as difficult to escape from as if you were physically held hostage.
What is the means by which we can be taken captive? Paul says 'See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception' (NASB).' A quick word about the latter first...what is empty deception?  Empty deception is something that promises so much and delivers nothing. Well, actually, in the spiritual world it can be worse than nothing. Paul also said not to be taken in by philosophy. Philosophy is from the Greek word 'Philosophia' - 'Philo' means 'friend or brotherly love' and 'Sophia' means 'wisdom'. So this philosophy is a love of wisdom. Now there's nothing wrong with that now is there? What's wrong about loving wisdom? Well, nothing, if it is godly wisdom. But this one's not. The philosophy mentioned here is that based on human tradition - It is a human or worldly wisdom.
Here is a passage that contrasts the wisdom of God and the wisdom of the world. God's wisdom is a person - Jesus Christ. Specifically Christ crucified and also all that God did through the death and resurrection of His Son. What did the Greeks make of it? Foolishness! Stupidity! Nonsensical! Laughable! We need to remember that Corinth, a Greek city, and was filled with Greek philosophy. The Greeks were obviously well known for their philosophers, of whom they were incredibly proud; with Socrates, Plato and Aristotle being the big three. So the Greeks loved their philosophy and their philosophers. But the word concerning Jesus and Him crucified was like foolishness to their ears. Pretty similar to how Christianity is mocked today in some 'academic' circles. It's nothing new  though it does seem to be getting more aggressive in this age. 
1Co 1:30-31 'But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, (31) so that, just as it is written, "LET HIM WHO BOASTS, BOAST IN THE LORD."
But Christ is our wisdom. He is our boast. God's wisdom is all in a person. He is the antidote to such empty human philosophy. Here is the solution for the humble human heart! Let's go back to Colossians and look at how Paul brings this out.
Verse 9 starts with one of the clearest statements of the deity of Jesus. When you look at Jesus, you look at the complete and utter fullness of Deity in a man! And then Paul says 'in Him you have been made complete!' When Jesus performed miracles in His earthly ministry, He healed people completely. It wasn't a partial healing or a gradual ongoing healing lasting months or years. It was complete, finished and final. The deaf would hear, the blind would see, the lame would walk. Amazing! And yet as wonderful as this work was and is, His greatest work is the salvation and spiritual healing of the human soul. Like His physical healings, it is a complete, entire and final healing. It is perfect. The outworking of it in your life will take a life time...and then eternity to stand in amazement at what He did. But it is as complete and perfect from the day you enter into it as it is when you are stand before Him in your heavenly home  . Remember, the Apostle Paul is giving his antidote for spiritual deception here. He is saying 'why would you look elsewhere instead of what has been done in Christ Jesus!' Don't get sucked in and end up with Jesus plus... something. So the first point is a complete salvation. You are complete in Christ.
In the Old Testament, circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic covenant and God said that every Jewish male was to be circumcised on the 8th day. Let me go on a slight detour... Why the 8 th day? Why not the 7th or the 9th? Well, there are medical reasons concerning the body's blood clotting ability because it has been shown that the body's Vitamin K and Prothrombin levels are at their highest on day 8.  But there is more to it than that for the number 8 points to a far greater spiritual reality in Christ Jesus. In scripture, 8 is the number of resurrection. It is the number associated with Jesus. You probably know this but God chose two alphanumeric languages to write the Bible (Hebrew and Greek) so both have numeric values for all their letters. In Greek, the name of Jesus has a numerical value of 888 emphasising resurrection. In Noah's ark, a picture of baptism, there were 8 people who came through the waters and where saved 1 st Peter tells us:
1Pe 3:20-21 '...God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also --not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The 8th day is also the first day of the new week. Why is this important? Well, the first seven days point to God's creation in Genesis... the first creation. But it was on the 8th day, or the first day of the new week that Jesus was raised from the dead - the start of the new creation! So Paul is showing us here that true circumcision today isn't something outwardly or physical, performed with human hands. It is spiritual and within, performed by the Spirit of God in baptising believers into the death and resurrection of Jesus. All true believers have full and complete identification with Jesus Christ in His death and resurrection. What does that mean? Well it means that a believer will never, in God's view, be seen independently of Jesus Christ ever again. What does that mean? Well, it means that it terms of our position before God, we are perfectly righteous and completely whole... because Jesus' own righteousness is ours. To say it better, Jesus Himself is our righteousness. When God looks from Heaven upon the world, He sees those that are in Adam and those that are in Christ. To put that another way He sees those that have been born once and those that have been born twice... He sees those that are spiritually dead and those that are spiritually alive! Believers are seen as a perfect new creation now. Why? Because of the complete identification with Christ! That's why Paul said to the Galatians:
Gal 6:12-15 ''those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ... Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation.'
Perfect complete identification! That's why all these verses in Colossians say 'In Him' or 'With Him' so consistently.  In terms of our walk, believers may slip up, and do - and God deals with us as a Father does. But as to our position and standing, we are in Christ and thank God that Jesus never will slip up and we are eternally bound and identified with Him. He is our standing. I read an interesting illustration of this during the week. F.B Meyer was a well loved Bible teacher and a friend of D.L Moody in the late 1800's and early 1900's. I really liked his application of this story!
F. B. Meyer wrote about two Germans who wanted to climb the Matterhorn. They hired three guides and began their ascent at the steepest and most slippery part. The men roped themselves together in this order: guide, traveller, guide, traveller, and guide. They had gone only a little way up the side when the last man lost his footing. He was held up temporarily by the other four, because each had a toehold in the niches they had cut in the ice. But then the next man slipped, and he pulled down the two above him. The only one to stand firm was the first guide, who had driven a spike deep into the ice. Because he held his ground, all the men beneath him regained their footing. F. B. Meyer concluded his story by drawing a spiritual application. He said, 'I am like one of those men who slipped, but thank God, I am bound in a living partnership to Christ. And because He stands, I will never perish.'
I mentioned the Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle earlier. Socrates was like the father and his best student was Plato. In like manner, Plato's best student was Aristotle. They liked to argue about the meaning of life, and death and the human soul. H.A Ironside records that Socrates and Plato argued one day concerning the forgiveness of sin. He said that Socrates turned to Plato and said 'It may be that God can forgive sins but I do not see how.'
Socrates, in all his human wisdom, couldn't see how God could forgive sins. He was a wise man but even he could see that God would become a man and thus pay the price of the debt of sin himself! What an incredible plan! But what a price that had to be paid! This last section tells us how that plays out and speaks of complete forgiveness.
The Apostle Paul first describes our state before coming to know Jesus Christ. When we were 'dead in sins', in the 'uncircumcision of your flesh', we were made alive and forgiven how many transgressions? ALL OF THEM. Complete forgiveness. He took, paid for and forgave ALL our sins. How did Jesus do that? Paul speaks of something called a 'certificate of debt'. The NIV says 'written code' but that isn't very helpful. Literally the Greek means 'Handwriting' and according to the Complete Word Study Dictionary it was 'a record of debt, a note written by the hand which makes one obligated to fulfill what is written.' It was used by those who were in debt and they would sign the document to legally acknowledge their debt to the creditor until it was paid off. They may have had several of such documents. I have also heard that a similar thing existed for the prisoners of that day (whose crimes did not require death) in that they would have this handwritten certificate placed above their cell door that listed their crimes (their debt) and the punishment that that they had to pay. So we each had a certificate of debt before God. Probably a large stack of them! Think for a little while about your certificate of debt before God. It would list all your crimes against Him, all your sins that you have committed both in thought and in deed. Think about what it would have been before you became a Christian. Think about what it would have been since becoming a Christian. Doesn't make for very pleasant thoughts, now does it?
So what happened to your massive stack of debt certificates each showing yet another sin and debt that you owed? It tells us clearly in our text - they were nailed to the cross! Jesus said I'll take them. I'll deal with them. And you have probably heard that in Paul's day, when the debt was paid, they wrote the Greek word 'tetelestai' on this certificate of debt. This word means 'finished' or 'paid in full'. What was the last word spoken from the cross before Jesus died? Tetelestai! Our Bible's translate this 'It is finished' but it is also 'Paid in full'.
That single utterance is the greatest word of assurance and victory in the New Testament!
This passage is a fantastic few verses on the completeness of Jesus' work for all believers. The passage shows a complete salvation, a complete identification and a complete forgiveness. No wonder the enemy would try to take you captive with other ideas and philosophies. But see to it that that doesn't happen! Don't let yourself be side-tracked, deluded or distracted by human or worldly wisdom. Victory is 'in Christ'. Abide in Him... Who He is and what He's done.
 ↩ I've lost count of the number of emails I've got giving me the fantastic news that someone I've never met, from a country I've never visited, has left me millions of dollars in their will. All I need to do is contact them and give them my bank account details so they can deposit the money. Brilliant! What are the chances that these random people all over the world keep picking me? Why am I so lucky?
 ↩ Empty deception is paying a couple of bucks for an impressive looking bag of potato chips from a vending machine and opening the bag to find it is three quarters air and one quarter chip. Empty deception!
 ↩ I read last time from Pilgrims Progress where Christian and Hopeful, on their journey to the Celestial City, met the flatterer. He was a man of dark countenance dressed in a white robe who took them on a different path that turned slowly by degrees till they were no longer walking towards the Celestial City. Let me read a little of what comes straight after this for their next meeting is with one who scoffs and laughs at the journey they are on.
NOW after a while, they noticed someone in the distance coming
softly and alone along the highway to meet them. Then said
Christian to his companion, 'Ahead of us is a man with his back
toward Mount Zion, and he is coming to meet us.'
HOPEFUL: I see him, so let us be very careful now lest he should prove to be another flatterer. So this man drew nearer and nearer until he came right up to them. His name was Atheist, and he immediately asked the pilgrims where they were going.
CHRISTIAN: We are going to Mount Zion.
ATHEIST: (Having burst into howling and scornful laughter) I cannot but help laugh on account of it being so obvious that you are both ignorant persons; for you have committed yourselves to a very tiring journey that will provide you with absolutely nothing for your trouble, other than a fruitless journey.
CHRISTIAN: Why man, do you think it possible that we will not be received at our destination?
ATHEIST: Received! But there is no such place that you dream of in this entire world.
CHRISTIAN: But there is in the world to come.
ATHEIST: When I was at home in my country of origin, I also heard about what you are saying; and it was for this reason that I set out in search of this Celestial City, over twenty years ago. But from the day that I departed until now, no such place has ever been discovered.
CHRISTIAN: Both of us have heard about such a place and we definitely believe that it is possible to find it.
ATHEIST: Had I not first believed as you do, I would not have come this far in my search. You would think that I ought to have found such a place by now. But having traveled further than you have, I am returning home where I hope to refresh myself with the things that were earlier cast aside for a vain hope.
Then both pilgrims turned away from Atheist while he, raucously laughing, went on his way.
 ↩ For a more recent example, I've mentioned once or twice about some email debates that I was having with an Atheist a few months back about Jesus. No luck there. The whole thing is just foolishness to him and when he describes Christianity he does his best to make it sound as ridiculous as he can. He finished his last email with the following paragraph:
Christianity is the belief that a 2000 year old cosmic Jewish
zombie can make you live forever if you talk with him
telepathically submitting blind obedience to him, and by
symbolically eating his flesh and drinking his blood he can
remove an ancient curse that dwells inside you that was put
there before you were born as a result of a woman having a
conversation with a talking snake that dwelled in a magical
If you are a Christian you believe the above passage. I'll close with the definition of delusion as defined by dictionary.com
'A fixed false belief that is resistant to reason or confrontation with actual fact: a paranoid delusion.'
So it wasn't just 2000 years ago that the word of the cross is foolishness to those who think they are oh so wise! Christ crucified... a stumbling block to the Jews, foolishness to the Greeks (or Gentiles) but to those who are called, Christ the power and wisdom of God!
CHM from his commentary on Exodus Chapter 4 says the following
great comments on this verse in Colossians:
"Ye are complete in him." This, surely, comprehends everything. What could be added to one who is "complete" Could "philosophy, "the tradition of men," "the rudiments of the world," "meats, drinks, holy days, new moons," "Sabbaths" "Touch not" this, "taste not that, "handle not" the other, "the commandments and doctrines of men," "days and months, and times, and years," could any of these things, or all of them put together, add a single jot or tittle to one whom God has pronounced "complete?"...
Nor is this completeness to be, by any means, viewed as a matter of attainment, some point which we have not yet reached, but after which we must diligently strive, and of the possession of which we cannot be sure until we lie upon a bed of death, or stand before a throne of judgement. It is the portion of the feeblest, the most inexperienced, and the most unlettered (poorly educated, illiterate) child of God. The very weakest saint is included in the apostolic "ye." All the people of God "are complete in Christ." The apostle does not say, "you will be," "you may be," "hope that you may be," "pray that you may be:" no; he, by the Holy Ghost, states, in the most absolute and unqualified manner, that "you are complete." This is the true Christian starting-point: and for man to make a goal of what God makes a starting-point is to upset everything.
But, then, some will say, "have we no sin, no failure, no imperfection?" Assuredly we have. "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." ( 1 John 1:8 ) We have sin in us, but no sin on us. Moreover, our standing is not in self, but in Christ. It is "in him" we "are complete." God sees the believer in Christ, with Christ, and as Christ. This is his changeless condition, his everlasting standing. "The body of the sins of the flesh" is "put off by the circumcision of Christ." The believer is not in the flesh, though the flesh is in him. He is united to Christ in the power of a new and an endless life, and that life is inseparably connected with divine righteousness in which the believer stands before God. The Lord Jesus has put away everything that was against the believer, and He has brought him nigh to God, in the self-same favour as that which He Himself enjoys. In a word, Christ is his righteousness. This settles every question, answers every objection, and silences every doubt. "Both he that sanctifies and they who are sanctified, are all of one." ( Hebrews 2:11 )
 ↩ Do a count of 'in Him' or 'with Him' in the verses from Col 2:8-12. Paul is ramming the truth of identification with Christ home isn't he?
Related Series Posts
- Colossians 1:1-8 The God of Grace and the Hope of Heaven
- Colossians 1:9-14: Revelation, Direction and Reflection
- Colossians 1:15-23: The Pre-eminence of Jesus and the Wonders of God
- Colossians 1:24-29: Christ in You - The Hope of Glory!
- Col 2:1-4 The Divine Treasure Hunt!
- Col 2:5-8 Firmly rooted or strangely deluded?
- Col 2:8-15 Worldly Wisdom or Complete in Christ
- Col 2:16-19: All these Ism's cause a Schism.
- Col 2:20-3:3: Set your sights on the heights!
- Col 3:3-4 Those Concealed Shall Soon Be Revealed
- Col 3:5-11 A putting off - What not to wear
- Col 3:12-15 How to clothe yourself -Great clothing choices Part 1
- Col 3:16-25 Practical Christianity - Great clothing choices Part 2
- Col 4:2-6 Prayer and the Walkie-Talkie of sharing your faith