Colossians 2:20 - 3:4

Sunday Morning Bible Study

May 24, 2009


Paul has been warning the Colossians about the dangerous heretical ideas that were beginning to enter their church. The beginning elements of what would be the Gnostic heresy were beginning to take form.  They were beginning to hear:

All matter is evil and all spirit things are good.

Angels and demons are in charge of everything.

Secret knowledge will give you salvation.

Special rituals and practices will save you.

In contrast to these bad teachings, Paul has been teaching correct doctrine, reminding the Colossians about who Jesus is and what He’s done for them.

Jesus is fully God in human flesh.

Jesus died to pay for our sins.

We are made right with God by trusting Christ.

Paul now begins the transition from these theological doctrines into the section where he talks about how we are to live.  Good doctrine produces right living.

Colossians 2

:20  Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations;

if you died with Christ

The Greek is written in a way to indicate a “first class condition”.  This means that Paul assumes this to be true.

Have I as a believer “died with Christ”?  The answer is “yes”.

When Christ died, He died for us, in our place.  And so, in a sense, we died with Him.

(2 Cor 5:14-15 NKJV)  For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; {15} and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.
His death was a substitution for ours.  He died in our place.  And so in God’s eyes, we are considered “dead”.

If you went to the local utility company and paid my bill for me, then the utility company considers my bill to be paid.  The utility company isn’t concerned about who paid the bill, but that the bill was paid.  In their records the debt is considered paid.

For us, the debt that needed to be paid was death.  It was important that someone pay the debt.

When I accept Christ, my debt is paid.  I no longer owe God.

When God looks at my records, He sees that the debt has been paid.  The price of the debt wasn’t $50, but the price was death.  So when my records in heaven say that I’ve paid in full, the record indicates that the debt is satisfied, that I have “death” credited to my account.  There is a sense that I’m considered dead.

His death wasn’t just to pay for our sins, but that we might take advantage of this “death” and learn to live for something other than ourselves.  We need to live for Jesus.

There is a sense in which our death with Christ is pictured in baptism.

Paul’s already talked about this back in:
(Col 2:12 NKJV)  buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.

I have to admit that this is a difficult concept to get a hold of.

How can I be “dead” when I still have a pulse?  How can I be dead to sin when part of me still wants to do all sorts of bad things?
This is difficult.  But it’s still true.
Paul wrote to the Romans:
(Rom 6:11 NKJV)  Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

basic principlesstoicheion – primary and fundamental principles

We saw this word used back in Col. 2:8.

(Col 2:8 NKJV)  Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world…

We mentioned back then that the ancient Greeks used this word to refer to “the elemental spirits of the universe”.

The Gnostics believed that the angels and demons were the ones in control.
Paul now reminds his readers that they have “died” to these things.  These things no longer have a hold on them.

as though living in the world – if you’ve died with Christ, why do you still act like you haven’t?  If you are considered “dead” on the heavenly records, why do you live your life as if you are very much alive?  You consider yourself alive by …

subject yourselves to regulationsdogmatizo – to decree, command; from dogma – doctrine; the laws of Moses.

We saw the word dogma back in Col. 2:14 as the things that were wiped clean and nailed to the cross.

(Col 2:14 NKJV)  having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
These were the things that Jesus had wiped out and had nailed to the cross.

Paul’s point is that if these things have been “nailed” to the cross, and we’re “dead” to them, then perhaps they should no longer be controlling us.

:21 "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,"

These are the kinds of things that the Gnostics taught.

They saw the material universe as evil and the only way to become good and pure was to abstain from things.

They would set limits on what you could eat, what you could drink, and all kinds of aspects of your physical life.

Do you think that the persons buried up at Forest Lawn Cemetery are worried about what they touch, eat, or drink?

Dead people don’t worry about rules.

:22 which all concern things which perish with the using; according to the commandments and doctrines of men?

perishphthora – corruption, destruction, perishing

The Pharisees criticized Jesus’ followers because they were picking grain and eating it without first washing their hands according to the religious rituals.  The Pharisees were telling people that if they ate food with hands that were ritually unclean, then they would become defiled before God.  Jesus said,

(Mark 7:18-23 NLT)  …"Can't you see that what you eat won't defile you? {19} Food doesn't come in contact with your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then comes out again." (By saying this, he showed that every kind of food is acceptable.) {20} And then he added, "It is the thought-life that defiles you. {21} For from within, out of a person's heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, {22} adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. {23} All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God."

Paul is using much of the same argument with the Gnostics and ascetics. 

Eating or not eating certain foods do not make you right with God.

:23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

self-imposed religionethelothreskeia (“to will” + “cermonial worship”) – arbitrary worship.

These aren’t religious ceremonies that God has come up with.  These are religious ceremonies that people have come up with.

false humilitytapeinophrosune (“low” + “minded”) – having a humble opinion of one’s self; the word “false” isn’t in the text.

Living by rules and regulations give the “appearance” of humility, like this monk who looks so pious, but is really just working a coffee machine.

neglectapheidia – unsparing severity

It looks good, or “religious”, when people are harsh on themselves.

You see this is some cultures where Catholicism is practiced through people beating themselves, even crucifying themselves  The DaVinci Code talked about the practice of the “cilice” where you wear a device designed to inflict pain on yourself. 
There are some Muslim practices where men beat themselves with chains or cut themselves with knives.

These kinds of practices look good because they look “religious”.

no value

valuetime – a valuing by which the price is fixed

indulgenceplesmone – the satisfying of the flesh, to satiate the desires of the flesh

Setting rules may be good at controlling behavior, but they don’t help at the root of the problem.  Rules don’t change your desire to do what’s wrong.

There needs to be something more.
There needs to be the power of God at work, through the death of Christ, to remove the desires at their root.


I remember as a kid being given the chore of weeding the back yard. 
As a kid, I liked to just pluck off the top part of the weed and think I had dealt with the weed. But if the root of a weed remains in place, it will grow back.  You have to learn to get the roots.
Asceticism, saying “no” to things, is like plucking off the top of the weed.  You might not see the problem for awhile, but it will be back.
Learning to have Christ’s power at work, learning to identify with His death on the cross, is the process of removing root.


Rules or Jesus?

This is a very difficult concept for me, because in practical terms, both things look alike.
The person who lives by rules will not cheat on his wife.
The person who is connected to Jesus through His death and resurrection will not cheat on his wife.
One person is completely “white-knuckling” it, beating themselves up for every time they stumble, beating up everyone else who isn’t trying as hard as they are, and not having much fun in doing the right thing.
The other person will also experience difficulty.  Dying to your self isn’t a fun thing.  But when we are clinging to Jesus, we have His help in doing the right thing.  We aren’t alone. 
But notice how both look the same?  Both don’t cheat.
It’s learning to live by trusting Jesus to help me.
(Gal 2:20 NKJV)  "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.

It’s hard to get your head around this idea of having died with Christ.  Just what does that mean?

Paul says he has learned that it means learning to live by “faith”, by trusting Jesus.

What does it look like to “trust Jesus”?

You talk with Him.  You pray.

One of the greatest comforts on my trip was being able to call or text my wife.  When I got to Hungary, it was comforting to know that I had Caleb’s phone number.  When I got to Russia, I had a phone number I could call if I got lost.

It’s not uncommon for Christians to get upset and then remember, “Hey, I forgot to pray”.  Check in with God.

You let Him guide you.  You read His Word.

As we set up my trip, I ended up with an itinerary.  It showed me what day I was traveling to what destination.  It told me what airport I was flying out of, what gate my plane was leaving from, and what time my flight was departing.  I can’t tell you how many times I got out my itinerary to check the details.

God’s Word gives us guidance.  I need to read it regularly.

You do what He says. You obey.

It’s not just important to have an itinerary.  You need to do what it says.  When I arrived at one airport and needed to get to my connecting flight, I had a gate number I needed to get to.  I learned just how important it was to get to your gate EARLY.  I watched the monitors to see if there were any delays.  I followed the instructions given to me by the airlines.

As a believer, I need to learn to do things God’s way.

Pray.  Read His Word.  Obey Him. 

Colossians 3

Paul has talked about baptism being a picture of our death and resurrection with Christ.  Paul has just talked about our being dead with Christ, now he talks about the other part of the picture in baptism.

:1  If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God.

If then you were raised with Christ

Again, the Greek text is written as a “first class condition”.  Paul assumes this is true.

As a believer in Jesus Christ, have I been raised with Christ?  The answer is “yes”.

seekzeteo – to seek in order to find; to seek by thinking, meditating, reasoning

Present tense – continually be seeking.

This is what we do in place of the rules, “Do not touch…”

:2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.

set your mindphroneo – to be “minded”; to direct one’s mind to a thing

Present tense – continually be setting your mind.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t ever think about things on the earth?  Does this mean that you stop going to work?  Does this mean that you don’t look at the gas gauge on your car and go to the gas station when the needle is on empty?

No.  But it means that these things aren’t your “goal” in life.  These aren’t the things that determine your ultimate direction in life.

:3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

hiddenkrupto – to hide, conceal, to be hid

The word is a “perfect” tense.  This is something that has happened in the past and the results continue into the present.

We can “hide” things for all sorts of reasons. But one of the reasons things are hidden are in order to keep them safe. Jesus used the word like this:

(Mat 13:44 NKJV)  "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field…


I am safe

Let’s suppose I was to hand you a million dollars in cash.  After the initial shock, what would you do with this lump of dough?  Would you haul it around with you in a big trash bag?
Would you ask the first person you met on the street to guard it for you?
Or would you find a place that’s safe to store your treasure?
The greatest treasure you have is your eternal life.
For some of you, death and heaven seem too far away to worry about.
But trust me, when you get a bit older, you begin to realize that there actually is life on the other side of death, and you want to make sure you arrive safely.
On my trip, one of my silliest fears was that somehow my flights were going to get goofed up and I wasn’t going to get where I needed to be.  I was afraid going from Paris to Budapest.  I was afraid traveling from Budapest to Moscow.  I had this notion that nobody was going to speak English.  I was afraid I might get on the wrong plane, or that one of my flights would be delayed and I’d miss my connecting flight.  Or my luggage would be lost. Or nobody would meet me at the airport when I landed. Or … or … or …
In reality, I had nothing to worry about.  My tickets were booked.  Everyone spoke English.  And I had the greatest people meeting me when I arrived.
You are safe.  There is nothing that can stop your trip to heaven.  The ticket has been paid for.  You are going to be met by the nicest people at your destination.
Your priceless treasure is in a very safe place.  No one can take your life away from the place where it is “hidden”.
Paul wrote,
(Rom 8:38-39 NKJV)  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, {39} nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
This is where your real life is.  With Christ in God.
We get to thinking that this “life” around us is all there is.  So we work hard.  We try to buy a nice house for our family or nice things for our kids.

These things are all good, but they stop short of the real goal.

I might have a happy wife and happy children, but if they don’t know Christ, what good is that in eternity?

:4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.

appears … will appearphaneroo – to make manifest or visible or known what has been hidden or unknown

glorydoxa – splendor, brightness; a most glorious condition, most exalted state

John wrote,

(1 John 3:2 NKJV)  Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.


Where’s your head?

Have you ever heard the phrase,
“He’s too heavenly minded to be any earthly good”
I know why some people like this phrase.  There are some folks who let their Christianity be their excuse for not living a productive life.
A young man gets engaged to a young woman and goes to meet her parents over dinner. After dinner the father takes the young man into the drawing room to find out his plans for life with his daughter. “So, what are your plans?” The father asks the fiancée. “I am a Biblical Scholar” he replies “A Biblical Scholar. Admirable, but what will you do to provide a nice home for my daughter to live in, as she deserves?” The father asks. “I will study” the young man replies “...God will provide for us.” “And how will you buy her a beautiful engagement ring, such as she deserves?” The father asks. “I will concentrate on my studies, God will provide for us.” the young man replies. “And children” the father asks “how will you support your children?” “Don’t worry sir” the young man replies “God will provide.” The conversation proceeds like this, and each time the father asks a question the young man insists that God will provide. Later, the mother asks about the discussion, “So, how did it go?” The father replies “He has no job and no plans, but the good news is he thinks I’m God.”
The truth is, many of us are
Too earthly minded to be of any heavenly good”.
What Paul is saying is that,
If you want to be any good on the earth, you MUST be heavenly minded.
It’s only when we have our minds correctly set on the things above that we are able to be of use to the Lord and to each other.
The runner who thinks he’s only running a 100 meter race runs in a particular way.  But if at the end of his race he finds out that it wasn’t a 100 meter race, but a marathon, he’s going to be greatly disappointed.
If our goal is to just be successful in this life, we’ve set our goal WAY too short.  You’re going to die one day and be greatly disappointed to find that you have eternity to live, unprepared for it.
Jesus said,
(Mat 6:19-21 NKJV)  "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; {20} "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. {21} "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

God wants us to be ready for eternity.  He wants to make sure that we’ve planned well for the future.

Many people wisely plan for their retirement.  They save and invest, all for the day that they will be able to quit work and enjoy their “golden years”.

But if retirement is the only thing you’re shooting for, you’re going to come up short. Real retirement starts in heaven.  Make sure you’ve invested enough assets in heaven.

Set your sights on heaven. That’s how to stay on track.