Some assignments are so big they can be overwhelming. Maybe it’s a comprehensive final exam or a massive term paper. It may be a renovation at home or a project at work. Perhaps your doctor has recommended you lose weight or your accountant has recommended you pay off debt. Huge tasks like those can be intimidating, deflating, and immobilizing. “Where do I even start? Is it even possible? Should I even bother?”
There are times it can feel like that to follow Jesus, to give our lives to him, to serve him, to share him, and to become more like him. And as we grow in our understanding of how wonderful he is and how sinful we are, it becomes increasingly daunting. “I’m supposed to follow in his steps? Where do I even start? Is it even possible? Should I even bother?”
If you have ever felt this way—like you’re in over your head in this Christian life—God has something to tell you this morning. Colossians 2 states our assignment—and it’s a big one. But we’re not left hanging in discouragement because this text also shows us the path to success.
What We’re Called To Do
Notice what we’re called to do as followers of Jesus (vv. 6–7). This is our task—as you have received [him] … walk in him. The Colossians had received the gospel from Epaphras (1:7). Believing it, they received Christ himself (1:27). And, in receiving Christ himself, they received a new master of their lives, Christ Jesus the Lord. Paul is commanding these believers to align their lives with the life of their Master.
God’s word could not be more clear as to what we’re called to do: we are to walk in him, giving every facet of our lives to Christ Jesus the Lord to do with whatever he wills.
That’s an overwhelming assignment and, because of that, it can be tempting to give up, take short-cuts, or soften its demands.
Christians do this often. Many make the foolish mistake of receiving Christ and then not submitting to Christ. Jesus gives them everlasting life but when he requests obedience from that now-saved life, many resist. Surely you don’t mean that Lord. The God I serve wouldn’t say such offensive things, do such hateful things, demand such oppressive things. It’s pathetic how, when we go down that road, “the God we serve” ends up looking a lot like us rather than the other way around.
Paul knows the human heart, and so he tells Christians, as you’ve believed in Jesus, follow him. As, by faith, you’ve been given eternal life, so now, by faith, live an obedient life. This is our task. our assignment in this life. This is what we’re called to do: walk in Christ.
Verse 7 describes what kind of walk it is. First, the Colossians are to walk having been firmly rooted like oak trees with subterranean tentacles bringing stability and nourishment. This is one of the ironies of the Christian life—believers move best when unmoved from Christ. It’s a rooted walk.
Second, they’re to walk being built up in him. Like a structure one brick at a time, Christ is constructing his church. And the body needs every member like a house needs every stone. Paul’s saying, live like you’re needed, part of something beyond yourself. It’s a together walk
Third, they’re to walk like they’re being established in [the] faith. The faith here is objective and unchanging, that which they were instructed and believed. Yet, as they mature, understanding the faith more deeply, they are strengthened. It’s a growing walk.
So, what were the Colossians called to do? Walk rooted in Christ, together in Christ, and growing in Christ. Live lives worthy of he whom you’ve received. I should point out that these are all passive verbs, meaning they’re being done to the Colossians. It’s a list of things they receive from God when they received the Son of God.
And, not surprisingly, as they understand this, the lives they’re being called to live should be overflowing with gratitude. How could they not be full of thanksgiving?
How can our lives not be? For those who have received Christ and are called and empowered to live lives increasingly conformed to his, we’ve been rooted, are being built up into something unstoppable and glorious, and are being established in an objective faith. However overwhelmed we may feel by the task, we should also feel thankful.
How We’re Called To Do It
But even with gratitude, verse 6 is still a high calling. Where do I even start? Is it even possible? Should I even bother? It’s as though Paul anticipates our need for help and shifts from what we’re called to do to how we’re called to do it.
In the rest of the passage, the apostle describes a fork in the road we’re to walk. Down one path lays enslavement and emptiness. Down the other is freedom and fullness. And each Colossian, and each of us, must decide yearly, daily, hourly which path we’ll walk.
Path number one is described in verse 8. This path leads to meaningless make-believe reality growing out of the toxic soil of human thought. As the last phrase makes clear—rather than according to Christ—this path is anti-Christ and, therefore, anti-purpose, anti-truth, and anti-life because he is the way, the truth, and the life.
While Paul had already warned the Colossians of persuasive arguments (2:4), this is more serious, more sinister. The imagery here is less like falling into a trap and more like the kidnapping of a child—violent, malicious, horrible. These ideas will drag the believer away.
And what’s the candy being used to lure the Colossians into the van, the chloroform on the rag that knocks them out? Philosophy and empty deception. Now, he’s not condemning all philosophy. Philosophy simply means “the love of wisdom” (see Prov 4:8). What Paul’s concerned with is fraudulent philosophy. Ideas and ways of thinking that lead people away from wisdom, not toward it. In many ways, these philosophies hate wisdom while espousing to offer it.
And, not surprisingly, these lies are built on the traditions of men and the elementary principles of the world. It doesn’t matter how clever someone is or how advanced a society becomes, their collective knowledge, divorced from God’s, will never liberate and never fulfill.
But philosophies are powerful, seductive, and enslaving. Scan the shelves of the self-help section of a bookstore, flip through the pages of an elementary school curriculum, read the headlines of a common newsfeed, scroll through an influential social media account, or watch a few hours of popular entertainment and we are bombarded with deception; lies that are actively and aggressively coming after our minds and the minds of our children and grandchildren. Dragging us incrementally but inevitably away from actual wisdom and toward foolishness, away from freedom and toward enslavement. It was happening in the 1st-century and it’s happening in the 21st.
Young people, please look at me. You are being lied to by this world. Maybe you’re already aware of that and prepared for it, but please understand that you’re being fed foolishness that leads nowhere but toward confusion, joylessness, enslavement, and death—though they promise the opposite.
Maybe you’ve heard things like this before: “Live your truth.” You want to know the truth? You don’t have a truth. None of us do. And, if we did, it’d be irrelevant in light of actual truth. “You are enough.” No, we’re not enough. We can be made enough in Christ but, left to ourselves we’re not even close to enough.
“You should put yourself first.” That’s a quick way to narcissism and self-worship. Add to that, “You are the boss of you.” How liberating does that sound!? Too bad it’s a lie that hurts everyone including yourself. “Authenticity is everything.” Even when I’m authentically wrong, selfish, and immature?
“You only live once.” Wrong. This life is a vapour; a welcome mat to eternity. “God just wants you to be happy.” Wrong. He wants you to be holy. “You shouldn’t judge.” Wrong. To withhold all judgement is to sentence yourself to a life of conviction-less flip-flopping. “It’s all about love.” This one is true, as long as we let the Creator of love define love and not the world that hates true love.
These are philosophies and deceptions built on the imaginations of fallen people who hate God to serve the foolishness of this world. They promise freedom and purpose but bring emptiness and enslavement. And Paul here says, “See to it” or “Beware” or “Watch out.” The kidnappers are on the prowl.
Now, what’s down path number two (v. 9)? Notice the contrast: empty deception, fullness of deity. And, as we keep reading, we see that we get to experience that fullness.
Now add verse 10a. Literally, you have been made full. The deceptions of this world are empty, Christ is full, and he’s made us full, those who’ve received him and are being called to walk in him. And he can do this because, he’s Lord, remember (v. 10b)? Jesus is Master over everything, including all the lies down path number one.
And the rest of the passage is just Paul describing what it means to be full in Christ (v. 11). In the OT, circumcision was a key marker of the people of God. But now there’s a new circumcision, one made without (human) hands, that marks the people of God not by removing a bit of flesh but the body of flesh, that is, our sin nature (see Rom 6:6). Fullness in Christ means freedom from sin.
In verse 12, Paul reminds the Colossians that, by virtue of their faith in Christ, they shared in his dead and resurrection. This is exactly what Christian baptism pictures. Christ died the death I deserve and was raised in a way I don’t deserve. But, by faith, I share in both (see 1 Cor 15:55–57). Fullness in Christ means freedom from death.
Then consider verses 13–14. While we were once separate from God in our sinfulness, he (God) made us alive with Christ. How? By forgiving all our transgressions, our rebellions, our offences, our sins. The holy God of the universe cancelled the unplayable debt I owed, a debt made obvious by the law I fail to keep. And God took all of that, and nailed it to the cross of Christ (see 1 Pet 2:24). Fullness in Christ means freedom from guilt.
Finally, we come to verse 15. The victory we have in Christ goes way beyond just freedom from sin, death, and guilt. It has cosmic implications because, at the cross, all the spiritual powers of this world were publicly put on notice, shown to be impotent in his presence. So, while Satan is currently the god of this world, prowling about like a lion looking for someone to devour, for those of us in Christ, he’s got nothing for us. Fullness in Christ means freedom from fear.
Verse 6 is a big assignment that can seem overwhelming. But Paul here gives us some clarity by pointing out that there are only two paths down which we can walk. Path number one is marked by emptiness and enslavement. Path number two is marked by fullness and freedom, fullness in Christ and freedom from sin, death, guilt, and fear.
The world around us today is beckoning us all down path number one. It tries to seduce us with ideas that sound kind of true, feel kind of good, and promise us wisdom they can’t deliver on. They say things like “Live your truth!”
But Paul comes along here and says, don’t listen. It’s poison. It’s empty. It’s foolishness. Don’t live your truth. Live in Christ’s truth! That’s how you walk in him. That’s how you travel the path toward meaning, purpose, fulfillment, value, and wisdom. Live in Christ’s truth! Remember who you are in Christ if you’ve received him. You’re full because he’s full. And you’re free from sin, death, guilt, and fear. Path number one, though it promises the opposite, reintroduces all of those things, things a Christian need not deal with any longer. Live in Christ’s truth, not your truth or the world’s truth. Christ’s.
This may mean that you trust in him today for the first time. This may mean that you ask the Lord to help you start growing in your understanding of his truth, and who you are in Christ.