Listen: Christian Growth with Simon Manchester. (Airs 8am Sundays on Hope 103.2 & Inspire Digital.)
Simon Manchester presents a 4-part series of messages called ‘Colossal Christianity’. The title is a play on the word ‘Colossians’, as he teaches from the book of Colossians in the Bible – a letter written to the church in the ancient city of Colossae.
Part 1: ‘False Spirituality’ – Colossians 2:6-23
Please open your Bibles up to page 1166 and you will find Colossians 2:6-23 quite a complicated passage but I hope you will find it straightforward and helpful.
For those of you who may be visiting today, across our church at St Thomas’s among the young and old, we are studying the letter of Paul to the Colossians. The letter is dealing with true and false spirituality which is extremely relevant. And today we come to what are probably the key verses in the letter and that’s chapter 2 verses 6 & 7. It would be good if we had just one morning on those two verses but we have got a fairly big chunk in front of us.
And you will be pleased to know that this particular passage this morning has some very practical advice on how to make progress as a Christian. There will be some people this morning, and you will be thinking to yourself – “I am a little stale, I feel stuck, I am confused, I am dry; I would like to know what does the Bible say is the way forward”.
This passage tells you.
And then there is also a lovely section, a long section, which gives you the keys to protection which we all need – how to avoid the things which derail us and which discourage us, and we will see that in a minute.
Protection From Deception
Now the Apostle Paul is writing this Colossian letter to a bunch of new Christians. They need protection from deceivers. I looked up the word “deceiver” in my Thesaurus and an alternative word in the Thesaurus is “snakes”. The Colossians like every church need to be aware of “snakes”. And they also need some progress because they are new and they young, and Paul wants them to go forward.
Now, why is this important this morning? Well because the society in which we live has drifted such a long way from Christ and also appreciating Christ that it cannot see that He is life with a capital “L” and that other pathways are deadly. And even as I say that this morning, I realise it comes across as a very harsh thing to say unless you are clear on the issues.
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Just imagine, for example, a couple who have a small child and they live in a fairly dangerous city, and they decide to take their small child to stay with the grandparents. And of course, the home of the grandparents is a very safe and loving home. But the houses around have every species of a person living in those houses. Can you imagine the couple saying to their small child as they stand in the middle of the town – “You pick a house, whatever house you like,” that’s where they are going. You would never do that because they are aware that there is a safe and an unsafe issue. You would only talk like that if you were blind to the dangers.
And so it is that when Jesus Christ looked at people in the world and knew himself to be ‘the safe house’ he then would weep over people who turned their backs on him, and he would say to those who were listening and thinking: “I am the Bread – you need me.” “I am the Light – you need me.” “I am the Way – you need me.” “I am the Truth – you need me.” “I am the Life – you need me.”
And the Apostle Paul can see with the same sort of clarity that coming to Christ is safe, and missing out on Christ is not.
“Any Old Faith” is Not Fine
Let me just give you one more example of this to set the scene. Some of you will be aware, some of you won’t – that there has been a sudden rise of a very popular and intelligent presenter on television – on commercial television. He is young; he has just recently won a prestigious television aware and his wife is lovely, attractive, and intelligent and I read a long interview with her this week in a magazine. And it appears that she grew up in the church, she was part of a Baptist evangelical church, but she has been converted to Islam to join her husband.
And apart from the fact that she has received some “hate mail” from some rednecks around the place, her decision has been widely applauded. And it’s been widely applauded because people in our city today will say – that this decision or any decision that you make about religion is a free decision (which it is), but they will also say that whichever religion you chose is fine.
Now you can’t think like that when you have understood Jesus Christ. When you have seen the truth of Jesus Christ, when you have seen the forgiveness of Jesus Christ, when you have seen the bridge He builds to God, when you have seen the hope he gives you through the grave. You just can’t say anymore “that life without Christ is fine. ” It would be like watching that child just left in the street to pick a home.
Now I know the pressure is on us to say that all choices about faith are fine, but I want to say again – once you have seen the value of Christ, the wonder of Christ, the beauty of Christ, the love of Christ, you cannot pretend that everything is well.
That’s why the Apostle Paul writes the letter to these young Christians in Colossae – he is in prison but they have put their faith in Christ and he is doing his best to thank the Lord for this decision that they have become believers and he is doing his best to paint a portrait of Jesus Christ so that they will know that they have trusted someone very wonderful, and it’s almost impossible to paint a portrait of Jesus Christ but the Apostle Paul does a good job in chapter 1.
And then he talks about his enthusiasm and zeal that he is gung-ho to see people hear the good news of Christ – so that’s where we are up to in the Letter.
Now today we come to chapter 2 verses 6 – 23, and we have two points this morning. The first one very simply is Grow Downwards in Christ. And the second point is Refuse Sideways away from Christ.
Grow Downwards in Christ
Let’s think about the first one Grow Downwards in Christ. Look with me at chapter 2 verses 6 and 7. He says to these Colossians – “Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted (or planted or grounded) in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. ” See what the Apostle Paul is saying to these Christians:
- “You received the new of Christ (I am so glad),
- You received the news that he is the Lord,
- This message came to your town, to your village, that you have a Maker and that he loves you,
- And though you have many sins, He has sent his Son into the world,
- And His Son has stepped forward on that first Good Friday to pay your penalty,
- And this Jesus Christ is the Lord of Mercy and the Lord of might and the Lord of majesty,
- And he offers to you a pardon, and he offers you a relationship, and he offers to you
- And you (says Paul to the Colossians) responded.
- You gave yourself to Him, and now you are planted in Him, and you are growing,
- You have a new life, an eternal life flowing through you,
- And you have found your Maker,
- And you have found your Saviour,
- And you have found your Friend.”
“So”, says Paul, “Grow downwards, grow downwards. Live in Him”. In other words, think of yourself as a small plant and you have been planted in the Botanical Gardens. Everything that you need, all the riches, all the nutrients, all the resources are there in Christ. Grow downwards.
And you will notice a little couple of details in verse 7 which I think are very important. He says ‘this is the faith you were taught’. Implication you got it right, the person who brought the message to you got it right, and you got it right. Deceivers may come and tell you to move away, but that will be wrong. You have come to the right address, you have come to the right person – grow downwards.
And the other thing he says in verse 7 is ‘overflow with thankfulness. ‘ Why would he say to them ‘overflow with thankfulness’? Well because they haven’t been short-changed. They haven’t missed out on anything. “You have been given”, says Paul, “everything that you need in Christ. You have been enriched so don’t be miserable, don’t be envious, don’t look across the pews and say to yourself ‘Gee they must have more than I have’. No, if you have put your faith in Christ, everything of Christ is yours.”
Life in Christ
So it is very important, isn’t it, because people will look at the believer today (not very favourably) but they will also look at the believer today, and they will say “he has religion, she has religion” – that’s kind of like their hobby. But the Bible doesn’t see it like that. The Bible sees that a person who has Christ has life, and a person without Christ has no life.
So think of two little sapling trees that are sitting in their little pots and they are on the path at the Botanical Gardens. And someone comes along and takes one of those two little trees and plants it into the resources of the Botanical Gardens. Are those trees the same? Well, they look about the same, and they are both about a metre tall. One has a future, and one has no future. And it’s got nothing to do with their performance. It’s got to do with the fact that they have been placed or planted in these riches.
Look at two people in the street today – do they look very similar? One is a Christian, and one is not a Christian. Yes, they look very similar, but one has life, and one has death. And this is the way the Apostle Paul says “I want you to make progress – if you want to grow strong in your faith, don’t go looking outside Christ but grow down.”
I just think this is tremendously helpful and so reassuring and so comforting. There isn’t a single believer here this morning who has put their faith in Christ and who is missing out on anything which Christ has for any believer. You can go home from this building today, and you can sit in your room if you can grab a few minutes of quiet and you can open up God’s Word, and you can read his Word, and you can lift up your prayers to him, and you could ask him to help you to trust and obey and to go forward and get stronger in your faith, and all his riches are available to you.
As Roots Go Down, Fruits Are Born
And as we do this, of course, we discover that Jesus Christ is more amazing, and more wonderful, and more interesting, and more valuable, and more comforting, and more powerful than we have ever known before.
And in proportion to the roots that go down are the shoots that come up and the fruits that are born. And we have all known those people who have for one reason or another decided that the roots are going to go down. And as you watch those people who have decided that the roots are going to go down, it could be over months or years or decades – the shoots and the fruits of stability and godliness and security and wisdom increase more and more.
One of the great dangers for me (and I suspect it is for you as well and the world encourages this) is I keep thinking “if I could run to all the shallow things of the world and scoop them all up that I would be deeply satisfied” (and they never do satisfy). But if I could bravely turn my back on so many of the pressing things and put some roots down in the knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, it would outweigh the world.
And so many of the pressing superficial things would be seen for what they are. That’s what the Apostle Paul says. I wish we could spend longer on this, but I simply want to say to you it would be good for you to take away Colossians 2:6-7 which are probably the key verses in the Letter and if possible memorize them, meditate on them and use them and enjoy them.
Refuse Sideways, Away From Christ.
Now the second section this morning is Refuse Sideways from Christ. From verse 8 the Apostle Paul (these 16 verses which follow, they are quite complex, meaty and difficult) says and is yelling three things to the Colossians from his prison cell, and the three things go like this: Don’t be kidnapped (verse 8), don’t be taken hostage, don’t be judged (verse 16), don’t be rated or ranked, don’t be disqualified (verse 18), don’t let somebody reject you.
And I think this is such an important issue because we have to face the reality that there is a lot of change that goes on in people’s lives who start well and finish badly.
- Why is it that people drift away from Christ?
- Why is it that people chose a religion instead of Christ?
- Why do people in churches often stay miserable?
- Why is it that kids can go to church schools and know nothing about Christianity, and hate Christianity?
- Why is it that people do begin their Christian life well, but then they seem to stagnate?
- Why is it that there are people who can talk Christianity with the best but are walking idolatry?
The answer simply is, because they have been tricked. And they have been tricked, says the Apostle Paul, by some problems. One of them (verse 8) is deceptive ideas. The other one in (verse 16) is by attractive deceitful ceremonies. And the third one (verse 18) is by unsettling experiences.
Now a few weeks ago as you know we were looking at Paul’s prayer in chapter 1 and I suggested to you that we could summarize the prayer into 3 points that he wants them to know God well, and he wants them to be fortified or have fortitude in the Christian life, and he wants them to be cheerful, and this was a slight variation of the words that were actually in the text – but it was to help you to remember KFC – which I thought would help you and it actually has helped me – I am a person of simple brain and through the weeks since I made that little illustration, I have been praying for many of you that you would know God’s Will, that you would have fortitude and that you would be cheerful – it’s a good summary.
“I.C.E.” –Things That Take Us Away From Christ
Now I have another 3-letter word for you this morning. And it is a little more sinister, and the word is ‘ICE’ – not frozen water but more serious, dangerous street drug ICE. And the ICE are the Ideas which can take you away from Christ, and sometimes there are Ceremonies (verse 16) which can confuse you, and then sometimes there are (verse 18) Experiences sometimes [that] other people have experienced, and they confuse you.
So let’s think about those very quickly because I think every Christian (and this may have been happening to the Colossians already) – every Christian is going to be facing at some stage the difficulty of ideas, ceremonies or experiences which will trick you.
Let’s think first of all (verse 8) about the person who brings an Idea to you which seems to demolish Christianity. You might be reading a book, and the book is fairly hostile to Christianity, and you are looking at something, and the books make an outrageous claim, and you read this and you say to yourself “gee I may be completely wrong”. And the idea rocks you, it rattles your cage. It may not be a bad thing to have your cage rattled because then you will go back and you will check your foundations.
I remember when I was a boy at University, and we were doing Philosophy, and we studied the German Ludwig Feuerbach. And I was a very new Christian and Feuerbach’s thesis (if you don’t know it) is basically ‘Man because he is so lonely and because the world is so difficult has invented God. ‘ You know he wants a father, so he invents a heavenly father, and he says to himself, “I know the world is difficult, but there is somebody out there who loves me.” And not only that but one day it all will be well – and so this projection.
Now to you that may not seem particularly tempting but as a young believer I thought to myself “maybe I have got this all wrong – maybe I have invented God – maybe he hasn’t invented me at all.” And then as I began to grow up as a Christian I realized that a guy like Feuerbach (and this is so true of Dawkins and so many of the journalists who oppose Christianity) they won’t grapple with the facts of Christ. And so Feuerbach would not do business with Christ. He avoided the life, the death and the resurrection of Christ. He just basically thought philosophically. There is an idea you see which can come and just have a demolishing effect and the Apostle Paul is aware of those ideas which may take you away.
“When someone has an experience and says, ‘You never really make it until this has happened to you’, you say: ‘But I have Christ!'”
The other possibility (verse 16) is the Ceremony – the ritual – the religious ritual. And of course, we know that in some centuries this has been “a killer” for people in churches. Because along have come the Leaders and they have said to the people in the pews who are really very simple and don’t have Bibles and don’t know the Gospel and they have said “if you really want to make it to heaven, you’ve got to perform these ceremonies – here are 7 of them”. “You know, when you have ticked off the seven ceremonies, well things will be looking more hopeful for you. ”
And some of those ceremonies, of course, need to be repeated and repeated and repeated and repeated, and you have to keep doing them and doing them and doing them and hoping that you will one day have chalked up enough points to pass the great exam of the sky. And this is this ceremonial hijacking of the believer.
Now although that was very rife some Centuries ago, it is still not impossible for people in churches today to come face to face with certain rules or rituals or ceremonies which people present as being the essential for salvation – when the essential for salvation is Christ and his death on the cross for you. And so the Apostle Paul is concerned that there are people who have either come into Colossae already, or they will come into Colossae, and they will steal away these Christians.
And then the third possibility is the Experience (verse 18). I am sure we have all experienced these ourselves that someone has had an experience. You know they say, or they read the book or see the DVD: “I heard God speak to me.” “I am listening to Him direct.” “I saw Jesus at the end of my bed.” “I have been to heaven and back.” And we are demoralized by this – we feel inferior as if we have missed out.
But look at what the Apostle Paul says in verse 18 “Don’t let anyone disqualify you. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, puffed up with idol notions (fairly strong isn’t it?) he’s lost connection with Christ, the Head”.
Now, friends, I don’t want to doubt what God could do. I don’t want to doubt that God could do direct speaking if he wants to. I don’t doubt that God reveals himself in some vision to somebody in a particular context. I am not the judge of the world. I am not the God of the world. I am not ruling out the possibilities – all I am simply saying is that when that person comes along and says. “I am here; you are here”, “I am up here; you are down here”, “I am in the A Group; you are in the B Group”, the Apostle Paul says “don’t let them disqualify you – because you have Christ.”
Last week when Gavin was preaching in the evening he very helpfully said, prefacing that these verses were coming, he said, you know, when somebody comes along, and they have got an idea which seems to undermine your Christian faith, you ought to respond like this:
“But I have Christ!”
And when the person comes along with the ceremony and says this is the magic ceremony to get you into the good books of God, you say:
“But I have Christ!”
And when the person comes along with an experience and says you never really make it until this has happened to you, you say:
“But I have Christ!”
That’s what Paul is talking about here.
Where Christ Goes, You Go
Now I want us to see in the final minutes this morning why Christ is so wonderful, and these are the richest verses of 9-15, and they are almost impossible for us to do justice to and so I want to give you a picture and tell you before we look at the verses, very quickly…
Some years ago when my family was travelling home, we went through Los Angeles. Because we went to Los Angeles, we had to go to Disneyland. When we got to Disneyland it was about 5 o’clock, and we were late, and we went straight to the new ride which was called “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark” or something like that. And there were no queues anywhere – it was just my family and me. And we rode that ride ten times in 30 minutes – we just rode the ride and went straight back in front of the queue, rode the ride, went straight back, rode the ride ten times. I was squealing louder than anyone.
But the point is that if you went on the ride, you stepped into the jeep, and you strapped yourself in and where the jeep went you went. If the jeep suddenly dived underneath, you dived underneath. If the jeep lurched to the left, you lurched to the left. If the jeep lurched to the right, you lurched to the right. If it dived under the great rolling stone ball that was coming at you, you dived under the great rolling stone ball that was coming at you.
And the Apostle Paul in Colossians 2:9-15 – he says “in the same way when you put your faith in Christ, and he straps you in where he goes, you go.” That’s the genius. It’s to be in Christ.
So just notice what Paul says (look at verse 9) he says “Does all deity live in Christ?” In other words “is God in Christ?” The answer is Yes. Then are you in Christ? Answer Yes. So you are linked to God.
Then he says (verse 11), did Jesus (and this is very complicated) separate himself from sin and flesh? Because he says if Christ did that separation and he uses the very complicated ritual of circumcision to explain it – removal of flesh – if he removed himself from sin and flesh, you have been separated from the consequences of sin and flesh. In other words, you have been forgiven, and you have been set free.
Verse 12 – did Jesus Christ get buried or immersed or baptized into the judgment of God? Did he go down into the depths of salvation for you? Answer. Yes he did. Well, you share all the riches of that salvation. Again in verse 12 – did Jesus raise to new life on the third day? Well, the believer has also been given a new eternal life. Verse 13 – did God make his son alive? Answer, Yes. Well you have been made alive. That’s what Paul says. Where Jesus Christ has achieved a great salvation, you have been strapped into it.
Now if this all seems too good to be true – it’s true! And if it all seems too much to believe – believe it! God has not held back from his people. In fact, the death of Jesus, we are told, look at verses 13 and 14, has brought forgiveness and washing. There is a lovely reference in verses 14 and 15 about Jesus having cancelled the written code with its regulations which were against us and stood opposed to us – he took it away nailing it to the cross. And you probably know that when the Romans were crucifying somebody, they would normally, for the sake of justice, a place above the person who is being crucified. In other words, we do not have any accusations that were unjust; this is why the person is being crucified.
And the Apostle Paul takes this idea, and he says, do you realise what happened when Jesus died? He took the list of your sins and he nailed it up above his cross as if to say – do you know why this person Jesus is here on this cross? – it’s because of the sins of this believer – that’s why I am here. And not only did he achieve great things through this crucifixion (verse 15), he defeated the principalities and the powers (verse 15): “Having disarmed the powers and authorities he made a public spectacle of them triumphing over them by the cross”.
In other words, when Jesus was dying on the cross he took out of the scabbard the sword of the enemy who would say that the sinner must die because by disarming that authority and all those who were opposed to Christ, Jesus has made it perfectly possible for the person to be set free from sin and death.
Don’t Walk Away From Christ
So these are very, very wonderful verses and the Apostle Paul says, “therefore don’t walk away from Christ”. Everything you could need – the past, the present, and the future is found in Christ. Don’t walk away from him, don’t drift away from him, don’t get tricked away, and don’t fall for silly rules (verse 20). You know people who come along and say ‘don’t taste, don’t touch and don’t do this – as if this is the way to be saved. All these, says the Apostle Paul (verse 22) are man-made. They are (verse 22) perishing and (verse 23) powerless. All those little rules that people make up as if this is the way to achieve your salvation or even achieve your sanctification without Christ – these are man-made, and they are perishing, and they are powerless.
So refuse to go sideways – that’s what the Apostle Paul says – stay with Christ and grow downwards.
Griffiths Thomas says in his Commentary that there is a story of a young man who is staying with an old and godly Christian, and the young man wondered how the godly man, the old man, would finish his prayers in the evening. He went around to his door, and he put his ear up to the door, and he listened, and the old man said this: “Lord Jesus, I thank you that things are still the same between us. Amen.” And off he went.
[Prayer]: Our gracious God we thank you for giving to us and all the world the gift of your Son. We thank you that in Him are all the treasures of forgiveness and fellowship and future. We ask that you would enable each one here today to gladly put their faith in Him. And we pray that you would keep us from anything that would take us away from Christ. Help us, we ask, heavenly Father to grow downwards, save us from moving sideways and may this be to your praise and our good.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
- For more in this series, head to ‘Colossal Christianity’ in Colossians — A Christian Growth Series.
- Read & hear more of Simon Manchester’s Christian Growth messages.