See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, which are based on human tradition and the spiritual forces of the world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form. And you have been made complete in Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority. (Colossians 2:8-10 BSB)

It is hard to find a statement by Paul in scripture that is more pregnant with meaning than this one. In a few words he has described the proper Christian attitude toward other worldviews, and has summarized the other worldviews, particularly the Pharisaical Jewish one that he came from, as (a) based on human tradition and not God’s revelation, and (b) as the result of spiritual forces (of evil) at work in the world. 

Though there were Greek philosophies also the church had to deal with, in this context he is speaking about Pharisaical Judaism, as he makes clear a few verses later:

Therefore let no one judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a feast, a New Moon, or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the body that casts it belongs to Christ. (Col. 2:16-17)

And he calls this a “Philosophy,” which is a search for speculative truth and abstract principles. Christianity is not a philosophy, though it certainly contains one, but rather the Christian faith and message is the revelation of God of His truth, and the belief that God acted in Christ to reconcile mankind to Himself. 

He calls this “vain deceit” or “empty deception” — trying to present some teachings as edifying and special and brilliant that are actually empty and hollow. This is not a condemnation against the study of philosophy in general, but rather it was a rebuke against those who claimed falsely that their teachings were as good as the gospel. 

The danger false teachings pose to Christians is two-fold. First, it has the potential lead people to substitute a religious lie for the truth. Second, it also tempts us to pollute the truth with falsehoods. Food poisoning happens when we eat what would otherwise be good and healthy food, but there is a contaminant on the food, a virus or bacteria that we did not know was there. And before we know it we are sick and regurgitate the whole meal. And this is the danger of mixing the pure truth of God with religious falsehoods.

Certainly there are places where Christians may disagree, there is some “wiggle room” in many areas of scriptural interpretation, issues such as, how many pastors should a church have, or the interpretation of Revelation. And there will always be moral issues as the local church relates to its local community, such as how should a good Christian dress, keep his home, or what games he should or should not play, etc. Churches have split over how long a woman’s skirt should be, or how long a man’s hair should be, or whether a Christian should drink alcohol, see movies, wear jewellery, etc. 

But Paul here is defending the gospel, especially against pollution by the Judaizers, who sought to infiltrate the church and dispense the grace of God for personal righteousness through adherence to the law of Moses. 

The person of Christ is central

Paul returns to the central issue of the church, which is the person of Christ. The Judaizers sought to dismiss Christ as a prophet, perhaps, but not on the same level as Moses. And to accept Jesus of Nazareth as anything less than the one sent by God, in whom “all the fullness of the Deity dwells in bodily form,” ultimately will lead to the degradation in faith of what Christ may do for us. We will end up with a weak savior who only helps us a little bit to be saved, who only changes us a little bit, who is more like an example than a redeemer.

Paul insists that “we are complete in Him.” Christ is not a halfway savior, who only helps us a little. His death fully satisfied the justice of God for our sins, and His life fully satisfies our hearts in terms of soul satisfaction and spiritual transformation. And He is fully more powerful than all spiritual rulers and authorities. There is no demon or devil that Christ cannot defeat. There is no sin that He cannot forgive. There is no hidden secret or evil habit of a single life that He cannot bring victory over. And there is no body that is so decayed that He cannot, if that person is a believer, raise from its decayed stayed and transform into a perfect, spiritual, and incorruptible body for eternity. 

False cults always begin their false teachings with Christ, a lessening of who He is, and what He has done and what He is doing. This is why it is so important to grasp the biblical revelation of who Christ is. 

Christ is our Savior, and He alone satisfies our heart’s desire. If we are unsatisfied in our faith, it is not His fault. The fault is in our own faith. If we will embrace Him and open our hearts up to Him, He will do His great work of transformation and give us the joy and peace He designed for us to have.

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