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John 1:1-18 and Colossians 1:15-3:17, Part 5

by Karl Kemp  
2/06/2013 / Bible Studies

We continue the discussion under Col. 2:2 here in Part 5.

How can we Christians living in the 21st century have the full assurance (certainty) of understanding regarding the foundational doctrines of Christianity? We have the apostolic writings contained in the New Testament; they contain the foundational truths that originated with God. The Bible is the Word of God.

The fact that we are saved by faith (faith in God and the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ) makes it of crucial importance for us to fully understand the basics of the gospel. We must make this a top priority, but I find that all-too-many Christians are content to assume that whatever they think about the gospel, or whatever they have been taught, is good enough. Such viewpoints can be very dangerous.

Our faith (and our walk in faith) cannot rise above our understanding of God's saving Word (His gospel). To the extent we do not know, or do not understand (or misunderstand), the gospel, we will necessarily fail to live in the center of God's will. It is also true, of course, that even if we have an adequate understanding of the gospel, we still will not live in the center of God's will if do not live/walk in agreement with the basics of the gospel BY GRACE THROUGH FAITH. Paul makes it very clear in this epistle (and in his teaching in general) that we must submit (from our hearts in faith) to live in line with the gospel if we want to experience the riches (cf. Eph. 1:7, 18; 3:16) of the salvation that God has given us in Christ.]], resulting in a true knowledge [It is quite acceptable to translate the Greek noun (epignosis) "knowledge" here, instead of "true knowledge"; the NKJV and NIV both have "knowledge." Either way, the apostle is certainly speaking of "true" knowledge. We will speak further about this all-important "true knowledge" as we continue.] of God's mystery, that is Christ Himself [[The apostle had just spoken of his doing everything he could possibly do to make sure that these Christians would attain to all the riches that come from the full assurance/certainty of understanding the foundational truths of Christianity. Now, with these following words, he shows that a full assurance/certainty of understanding the basics of the gospel will open the door for them to "know" - very much including their having an "experiential knowledge" of, and their "knowing" in the full sense that they can and should "know" - God's mystery, which as we have seen (see under Col. 1:26, 27) speaks of new-covenant salvation in Christ Jesus, which is spelled out in the gospel, and which includes, as Paul states here, a personal, experiential knowledge of Christ Himself (we are literally united with Him in/by the Holy Spirit), who is at the center of, and who is the foundation for, God's new-covenant salvation.]] (3) in whom [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. [[All the "wisdom and knowledge" (and everything else that we could ever need forever) is contained in (and available to us in, and ONLY IN) the Lord Jesus Christ; He is our wisdom, our righteousness, our holiness, our redemption, etc. (cf. 1 Cor. 1:30). As the apostle continues, he shows that some of the ideas that had surfaced at Colossae were, one way, or another, promoting the viewpoint that Christians need sources of wisdom, knowledge, power, help, etc. beyond the resources made available in Christ Jesus. For one thing, they need something more than Christ to make them fully acceptable and fully pleasing to God the Father. One false viewpoint the apostle had to deal with was the idea that Gentile Christians needed to add the ceremonial works of the old covenant to their Christianity, including circumcision (verses 11-17); another viewpoint was that they needed to worship angels (verse 18); and another was that they must add self-abasement and severe treatment of the body (verse 23) to their Christianity if they really want to please God and have full salvation.]] (4) I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument. (5) For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit [Compare 1 Cor. 5:3. In one sense the apostle was with them, but the really important thing was that Christ Himself was literally dwelling in them by the Holy Spirit.], rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ. (6) Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him [[Paul's readers had received Christ Jesus the Lord (our Christianity is not valid if we do not think and live in line with the fact the Jesus Christ is Lord, our Lord [I had a footnote: If He is our Lord we must (we will) obey Him and live for Him (cf. Luke 6:46).]) and had become born-again Christians through submitting to the gospel (the gospel that was sent from heaven) that came to them through Epaphras (see Col. 1:1-8, especially verse 7). Significantly, as Col. 1:7 shows, they had received the gospel in the full, accurate form that had come from God through the apostle Paul. That gospel did not need to be modified, or (supposedly) improved.

Every modification of (addition to, or subtraction from) that gospel was (and is) a negative; it detracted from Christianity and rendered the gospel less effective, and some modifications were serious enough to render that modified "gospel" totally ineffective - it could not save. Nevertheless, some viewpoints had surfaced at Colossae purporting to be able to improve the gospel that Epaphras had brought to them (to make it complete by adding things to it, or even to fix up that message so that it could save the Colossians). But Paul exhorts his readers to stick with the gospel that they had received and to continue to walk in Christ in line with that complete gospel.]], (7) having been firmly rooted and now [I would skip the word now, which was added by the NASB in italics. The word behind "and" is included in the Greek.] being built up in Him [[I would skip the word "being" included by the NASB. The KJV; NKJV; and NIV do not include it. I don't believe Paul was speaking of a process of "being built up" here. (The fact that some skip the word "being" does not mean that they necessarily agree that Paul did not include the idea of a building-up process here. It is clear that many do not agree.) I agree that we should always be growing (and being built up), including the fact that new believers are being added to the body of Christ, but I believe Paul was speaking from the (positive) viewpoint here that his readers at Colossae (through the ministry of Epaphras, and by the grace/Spirit/work of God) already represented a solidly built building resting on a solid foundation. (See under Col. 1:22, 23.)

The Greek verb (actually it a present participle passive formed from this verb) used here (epoikodomeo) was used in a similar way in Eph. 2:20, "having been built [aorist participle passive] on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief corner stone." Also, note that the words "having been firmly rooted" (Col. 2:7) speak of an existing state, not a process; furthermore, I believe the words that follow, "and established in your [the] faith" also speak of an existing state, not a process.]] and established in your faith [[The Greek has the definite article with the noun for faith here. I would translate "the faith" (instead of "your faith") with the NIV; NKJV. The New Testament frequently speaks of "the faith," referring to Christianity. Being established in the faith includes holding the truth of God's word (especially the gospel) and living in line with the truth of the gospel (by grace through faith).]], just as you were instructed [by Epaphras, who brought the full, accurate gospel to Colossae], and overflowing with gratitude. [To the extent Christians are experiencing the glorious saving grace of God in Christ they will overflow with gratitude (thanksgiving).] (8) See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy ["Philosophy" was translated from the Greek noun "philosophia," which means a "love of wisdom." Here Paul was referring to a love of human/worldly (or demonic) wisdom (cf. Col. 2:23), not the all-important wisdom of God.] and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world [[Colossians 2:20-23 with Gal. 4:3-11 suffice to show what Paul means by "the elementary principles [or, things] of the world." They include the ceremonial regulations of the old covenant [I had a footnote: In Gal. 4:1-11 the apostle also shows that "the elemental things of the world," which are mentioned in Gal. 4:3 (cf. 4:9), include the religious works that Paul's Gentile readers (who were now Christians) did when they were pagans.]; Paul frequently had to deal with Christians (sometimes even born-again Christians) who insisted that Gentile believers must be circumcised and submit to the ceremonial works of the old covenant. He dealt with this topic extensively in his epistle to the Galatians.]], rather than according to Christ. [[The apostle knew that some of the Christians at Colossae were being challenged to "improve" their Christianity with things like those mentioned in this verse, things that were not part of the salvation package that centers in Christ Jesus that God has offered to man in the gospel. The problem was that such things, when added to Christianity, failed to improve Christianity, as was claimed, and such things detracted from the effectiveness of the gospel. Any deviation from the gospel of God is serious business and could distort the gospel to such an extent that it would no longer be the gospel that saves (cf., e.g., Gal. 1:6-9; 5:2-4).

For one thing, all these things were done in the flesh; none of them were of the Spirit, or empowered by the Spirit. They did not bring God's word and His will (true wisdom) to God's people, or help make them righteous and holy. And to the extent God's people spend their time doing these things in the flesh, it robs from their ability to do fruitful things in/by the Spirit. Furthermore, Christ is not glorified through these things; these things lead to confusion and lack of unity in the body of Christ; and those doing these things tend to be proud of what they are doing and tend to criticize those not doing them, which are big negatives.]] (9) For in Him [Christ] all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form [[Compare Col. 1:19. The apostle is not confusing the Persons of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit here. (See my paper, "More on the Trinity." For one thing, Col. 2:8-18 are discussed in the last section of that paper. Also see "Who Do We Worship?"; "Who Do We Pray To?"; and "The Name Yahweh and God the Father and God the Son.") He is simply making the point that all that the triune God has (and that certainly includes everything we could ever need forever) is available in Christ Jesus, who is deity (the God-man) and who is united with (one with) God the Father and God the Spirit. (And we are united with the God-man.) And if everything we could ever need forever has been provided in Christ Jesus, we certainly need not look elsewhere for anything. The Bible (both Old and New Testaments) makes it quite clear that God considers it serious sin for His people to look elsewhere than to Him for the things that they need, or for them to try to modify the covenant(s) He has made with them.]], (10) and in Him you have been made complete [[We could translate "you have been made full." This other translation helps show the relationship between the perfect participle of the verb "pleroo" used here and the noun "pleroma" (this noun was derived from this verb) that was translated "fullness" in verse 9. The NIV has, "you have been given fullness in Christ." We have been made full (or, given the fullness) in the sense that everything we could ever need forever has been given to us in new-covenant salvation in Christ Jesus. Compare Eph. 1:23; 3:19.]], and He is the head over [He has authority over] all rule and authority [cf. Eph. 1:10, 21-23; Col. 1:15-18; and 2:15]; (11) and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands [cf. Eph. 2:11], in the removal ["putting off" NIV] of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ [[The apostle deals with circumcision here because physical circumcision had become an issue at Colossae, as it had many other places. Some were undoubtedly insisting that the Gentile Christians at Colossae must be circumcised physically; verses 14-17 help show that circumcision was part of the ceremonial works of the old covenant that were being added to the gospel that Epaphras had brought to Colossae. Paul strongly fought against any such modifications of the gospel (cf., e.g., Gal. 1:6-12; 2:11-21; 3:1-3; 5:1-6; and 6:11-15).

What Paul says here in verses 11-13 is that born-again Gentile Christians (including those at Colossae), who had received the far-greater circumcision, "the circumcision made without hands," "the circumcision of Christ," that is, the circumcision (the cutting away/removal) of all that was sinful from their hearts and lives) that enabled them to be dead to the old man and to be alive for God (through, and in union with, Christ Jesus and by the Holy Spirit), living in God's righteousness and holiness, do not need the old-covenant physical circumcision in the flesh. See Rom. 2:26-29; Phil. 3:3 on the true circumcision. (These verses from Romans are discussed on page 74 of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin," and in my paper, "the Christian, the Law, and Legalism." Philippians chapter 3 is discussed verse-by-verse in a paper. Both papers are on my internet site.)

"The removal of the body of the flesh" means essentially the same thing as the putting off of the old man, the crucifixion of the old man, and the death and burial of the old man, which are spoken of by the apostle Paul (cf., e.g., Col. 3:3, 5-9; Rom. 6:2-11; Gal. 2:20; 5:24; and Eph. 4:22).]]; (12) having been buried with Him in baptism [[Paul is speaking of the old man dying and being buried with Christ in water baptism, as in Rom. 6:3, 4. The idea is not that water baptism has the power to put the old man to death, but that water baptism is the most appropriate (biblical) occasion for converts to complete the transactions of putting off sins (total forgiveness), of becoming united with Christ Jesus, of appropriating His atoning death as their death and dying with Him (He died in our place, bearing our sins with the guilt and the penalties), and of being buried with Him. I am not saying that these things cannot be accomplished before, after, or apart from water baptism, but that water baptism is the most appropriate occasion to complete these transactions according to the teaching and pattern of the New Testament. (On water baptism see under 1 Cor. 15:29 in my paper that includes 1 Corinthians chapter 15 and pages 125-128 of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin"; be sure to include the endnotes.)

God is the only one with the authority and power to put to death the old man so that we (His new creations) can leave sin behind and live for Him in righteousness and holiness. He accomplishes this glorious work through Christ Jesus (through His all-important atoning death, His resurrection, His ascension, and His present ministry as our great high priest at His right hand) and through the work of the Holy Spirit.]], in which [[The Greek could be translated "in which," with "which" referring to water baptism, but I don't believe that is what Paul intended. I believe the Greek should be translated "in whom," with "whom" referring to Christ Jesus. ((I had a footnote: See page 135 of my book, "Holiness and Victory Over Sin." I don't believe Paul intended to say more than that we die and are buried with Christ at baptism. THAT is a lot to say! After baptism (in the typical New Testament pattern) it was time for the life-giving, sanctifying, gift-dispensing Spirit to come. See pages 125-128 of "Holiness and Victory Over Sin" (with the endnotes); the coming of the Spirit after water baptism is discussed there too. On baptism in the Spirit/receiving the gift of the Spirit see under John 1:33 in my paper on John 1:19-4:54. Other references are cited there too. As I mentioned, I am not saying that the Spirit could not come before, or apart from, water baptism. Also, I am not saying that if a person has become a born-again Christian they have necessarily received the fullness of the Spirit. We don't have to worry about being anointed too much by the Spirit, or receiving too much of the Spirit.)) The translation of the NIV communicates the right idea here (at least this translation does not force the idea on you that we are raised with Christ in water baptism), "having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead."

We are saved through union with Christ Jesus, a union that begins when we (having heard and understood the basics of the gospel) repent and submit to Him as Savior and Lord from our hearts, when we appropriate His atoning death by faith and die to the old man (at least in the ideal case we would die to the old man at that time). Also, even as we die with Him, we are raised with Him (in union with Him by the indwelling Holy Spirit) to walk in newness of life, in righteousness and holiness (cf., e.g., Col. 3:1-11; Rom. 6:1-23; 8:1-14; Gal. 2:20, 21; 5:16-25). This glorious union with Christ (the New Testament frequently mentions that we are "in Him") will last forever (assuming, of course, that we continue on in faith); before long that union will take us to eternal glory, where He is, at the right hand of God the Father.]] you were also raised up with Him [We have been raised up with Him in a spiritual (by the Spirit) sense (as in Rom. 6:1-14; Col. 3:1-11); we will be raised with Him in the full and final sense (which includes the resurrection and glorification of our bodies) at the end of this age.] through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead [cf. Acts 2:24; Eph. 2:5, 6; and Col. 3:1]. [[God is the one who saves us - He sent His Son to die for us; He raised Him from the dead; He sends the gospel to us; He enables us to die to the old man; He gives us spiritual life (starting with the new birth) and makes us new creations; He enables us to live in His righteousness and holiness; etc. The triune God must receive all the glory for our salvation that comes to us totally on the basis of grace (it was totally unearned). It is also true, however, as these words of Col. 2:12 clearly demonstrate, that God designed His salvation plan in such a way that we are not saved apart from our repenting and submitting to God the Father, Christ Jesus, and the gospel of salvation by FAITH.

We will not die to the old man, be raised with Christ, or walk in/by/after the Spirit on a continuous basis and keep the old man from manifesting itself in sinful works apart from our continuously walking in faith (a faith that must be based on what the New Testament teaches). As I have discussed in some detail in my writings, the fact that we must appropriate and cooperate with God's saving grace by faith does not at all conflict with the fact that we are saved totally by grace.

Faith is our part; it is our RESPONSE to His grace; faith is not a work (at least it is not a work in any improper sense of the word work), and we cannot boast of faith any more than a drowning man can boast in the fact that he took hold of a rope that was thrown to him. (See the Introduction of my "A Paper on Faith.") We must have "faith in the working of God." We must believe that He sent His Son to die for us, that He raised Him from the dead, that we have been invited to become united with Christ in His death, burial, resurrection, ascension, and forever, and that in union with Him (as new creations) we have the authority and power through the indwelling Holy Spirit to live as God wants us to live, in humility, truth, righteousness, and holiness. We must appropriate and cooperate with the grace of God through faith in accordance with the terms of the covenant He has made with us, which centers in the gospel of salvation in His beloved Son.]] (13) When you were dead [spiritually dead] in your transgressions [cf. Eph. 2:1, 5] and the uncircumcision of your flesh [[In this context, including what Paul just said in verse 11 about the spiritual circumcision we receive in Christ Jesus that results in the removal of the body of the flesh (in other words, the spiritual circumcision that enables us to die to the flesh/the old man and to walk by the Spirit on a continuous basis), these words ("the uncircumcision of your flesh") should undoubtedly be understood in a spiritual sense. The NIV has, "in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature."], He made you alive together with Him [Compare Eph. 2:5. God the Father has made us ALIVE (by the LIFE of God that comes to us when the Spirit of LIFE comes to dwell in us [cf. Rom. 8:2, 9]) through and in union with Christ Jesus. We died with Christ and we are raised with Him "through faith in the working of God" (Col. 2:12).], having forgiven us all our transgressions [[Being forgiven all our transgressions is a major feature of new-covenant salvation in Christ. He bore our sins/transgressions with the guilt so we could be totally forgiven. Paul goes on in verse 14 to show that Christ's atoning death, which brought forth the glorious new covenant, set aside the old covenant that could not solve the spiritual death and bondage to sin problem (God hadn't given it for that purpose); in fact, as Paul frequently mentions, the old covenant (the Mosaic Law), though it was good and from God, resulted in an intensification of the sin problem (see under verse 14). Then in verse 15, Paul shows that Christ, by setting aside the old covenant and ushering in the new covenant in His blood, disarmed Satan and his hosts.

I mentioned that Christ died for us bearing our sin with the guilt so that we could be forgiven. But He did a whole lot more than that. He bore our sin with the guilt AND WITH THE PENALTIES. For one major thing, He bore the penalty of spiritual death (I didn't say He died spiritually), so we could get out from under that penalty (that penalty that started with the rebellion of Adam) and be born again. And He bore the bondage to sin that came with spiritual death, so we could be redeemed out of the kingdom of sin, death, darkness, and demons and live for God in His righteousness and holiness. Christ's atoning death stripped sin, Satan, and spiritual death of their authority over us (see under verse 15). Our victory over sin and Satan is far from being automatic, however; we must walk in faith on a continuous basis and overcome these enemies of God by the grace/Spirit of God in Christ.]], (14) having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us ["having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us" NIV; "having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us" NKJV.], which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. [[The apostle is speaking here of the Mosaic Law, which was the foundation for the old covenant, being taken out of the way; the old covenant had to be set aside to make way for the new covenant. See Eph. 2:15, for example. The apostle speaks there of Christ's "abolishing in His flesh...the Law of commandments contained in ordinances," and (in the context of Eph. 2:11-22) he shows that Christ is the only One who can save us (whether Jews or Gentiles) and enable us to have access to God the Father in the Holy Spirit (Eph. 2:18).

The old covenant could not solve the sin problem, and Paul frequently makes the point that the Mosaic Law intensified the sin problem (see Rom. 4:15; 5:13, 14; 7:5-14; 1 Cor. 15:56; and Gal. 3:19). (God used that intensification to help force the sin problem out in the open and to demonstrate the seriousness of the sin problem. Most people are slow to see, and reluctant to acknowledge, that they have a sin problem, and very few understand the serious depth of the sin problem. Mankind desperately needs a savior from sin - Jesus Christ is that Savior!) In the sense that the Mosaic Law intensified the sin problem, it was "against us" and "hostile to us." The Mosaic Law and the old covenant were nailed to the cross in the sense that they were set aside to make way for the new covenant that was established on the basis of the atoning death of Christ Jesus, the Lamb of God, on the cross.

We desperately need the balanced truth of what the apostle Paul teaches about Christians and the Mosaic Law. I dealt with this topic in some detail, aiming for the balanced truth, in my paper titled "The Christian, the Law, and Legalism." On the one hand, Paul has some negative things to say about the Law, like what he says here, but the bottom line of what he says amounts to a criticism of sinful man in the flesh not being able to keep the Law (cf., e.g., Rom. 8:1-9), not of the Law itself. The Mosaic Law was from God, and it was good, but He didn't give the old covenant to solve the sin problem, rather to set the stage for the all-important new covenant in the blood of Christ.

Two primary factors forced Paul to deal with the Mosaic Law and the old covenant in a negative sense. Most of Paul's countrymen were rejecting Christ and holding to the Mosaic Law and the old covenant, as if that was all they needed to save them. Once Christ had come, it was no longer an option to stick with the old covenant. ((I had a footnote: The believers who lived during the days of the old covenant will be saved, but they will be saved through what Christ did for them, not through the old covenant apart from Christ. (For one thing, Paul taught that none of them fully kept the Law.) The old covenant sacrifices foreshadowed the Sacrifice of the Lamb of God, and His Sacrifice made those sacrifices effective, to the point they were effective. There were two areas where the old covenant sacrifices were totally ineffective. First, and foremost, those sacrifices could not take away the sin of Adam with its penalty of spiritual death and bondage to sin for his descendants (all mankind). And, second, those sacrifices could not atone for the willful, defiant sins of the sons of Israel with their guilt and penalties.)) The new covenant in the blood of Christ was no afterthought with God. Before the foundation of the world, He had already planned to send His Son to solve the sin, spiritual death, Satan problem (cf., e.g., 1 Pet. 1:18-20; Gen. 3:15; Jer. 31:31-34). Also, and this proved to be a serious problem for the apostle to the Gentiles, the Judaizers (and those who sided with them) exhorted the Gentile Christians to forsake (or at least to substantially modify) the gospel preached by Paul and to acknowledge that God requires them to submit to the ceremonial works of the Mosaic Law, starting with circumcision.

We will continue the discussion under Col. 2:14 in Part 6.

Copyright by Karl Kemp Karl Kemp worked as an engineer in the space field throughout the 60s. He became a born-again Christian in 1964. He received an MA in Biblical Studies in 1972. He has been a Bible teacher for 45 years. See the website for more info on his books, papers, etc.

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