So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him,  being rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude.  Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elements of the world, rather than Christ.  For the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily in Christ,  and you have been filled by him, who is the head over every ruler and authority.  You were also circumcised in him with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of Christ,  when you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.  And when you were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, he made you alive with him and forgave us all our trespasses.  He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross.  He disarmed the rulers and authorities and disgraced them publicly; he triumphed over them in him.
Colossians 2:6-15 (CSB)
The Danger of Counterfeits
In 2006, Picasso’s “La Femme Au Chapeau Bleu” (The Woman in the Blue Hat) was sold for $2,000,000 by Tatiana Khan – a well known LA Socialite and Art Dealer. She ran The Chateau Allegre Gallery in Los Angles where the painting had been on loan from the Malcolm Forbes family estate. Imagine buying something knowing that you could soon flog it on for twice the amount you paid for it; the joy you would feel being able to double your investment. However, it did not take long for joy to disperse and despair to take hold; a few years after buying the painting the prospector became suspicious of its authenticity and finally hired a Picasso expert to review their purchase. The expert’s report confirmed that the “work was not by the hand of Picasso.“ It was a report that set several events in motion: Tatiana Khan was arrested for conspiracy to commit fraud when it became clear she once had in her possession a genuine Picasso.1 According to the court documents, it was alleged that the original (belonging to the Malcolm Forbes family Estate) had been stolen and Khan had convinced a local artist to paint a copy with a grand plot to catch the crook; Instead she sold the counterfeit that had cost $1000 for $2 Million. Imagine being that person who paid $2,000,000 for a painting that you thought had been painted in 1901, only to find out it had been painted in 2006. The worth of something can only truly be known by those who understand it. The buyer learnt the importance of hiring an expert who can recognise real Picasso’s. It is that lesson that this passage expands on today – Christians are to be experts in the Gospel.
“Are we experts who recognise the beauty of Jesus, or idiots who have settled for a fake.”
There is only one Gospel
Today’s passage is about the danger of forgeries and the necessity of being those who can recognise them. Paul, the local Gospel expert writes to compel the church to remain true to the truth they have received. The Gospel of Grace which leads to life: To recognise it’s worth, and power, and the danger of anything that is not it! The value of the Gospel, when it is grasped is not in and of itself, for the Gospel has worth, yes – infinite worth, but it also has an infinite value, because when grasped it transforms the one who grasped it. Hence, the threat of counterfeit Gospels. Like counterfeit art – they can look so close to the original, yet, eventually, they will be found out. The portrait you thought was worth millions is not worth the canvas it is on, and the Gospel you believed to save you has none of its power, security or effect.
“We weren’t meant to be somebody–we were meant to know Somebody.” – John Piper
The Gospel becomes counterfeit the minute we add to it or subtract from it. It is as Timothy Keller says: “If you want God’s grace, all you need is need, all you need is nothing.” Hence Paul commends this church for having grasped the truth and beauty of the Original Gospel: “ I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.” (2:5) Paul is delighted that even though he is mile’s away, they have not drifted miles from the unique-truth of the Gospel. They have grasped, a truth that has changed their life now, and will secure their future, as long as they remain in it. While they have not drifted yet, they might still if they are not careful. As competing Gospels try to convince them that Paul’s Gospel is lacking, and it just needs this (circumcision or human action). Hence Paul instructs them not to just remain where they are in their faith, but to keep on going down into the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. While you might become an expert in art by static study, you become an expert in the Gospel by living it, as the spirit of God works in you to draw you to him and make you more like him.
BECOME AN GOSPEL EXPERT (6-7)
Pauls call’s us to become experts, by pursuing Jesus, to walk with, and study him. Then our love will grow, and as you love for it grows so too does your desire to known it all the more. Expertise is not a chore, it is an act of Love. The Christian is called to be an expert in Jesus because in being an expert we can spot the counterfeit Gospels.
1) Walk With Him
Paul is thankful they the Church knows the truth of the Gospel, and are firm in it (2:5). Yet, the Good News of Jesus Christ truth about him, it is true to be learned with him; truth to be experienced – a living truth. It is the living of the truth, that the knowledge of the truth is truly known and revealed. It is not a static knowledge, like a piece of history; it might be good to learn from it, but, it will not change you. The Gospel is an active truth, a bit like learning to drive a car. You do not put in all the effort of lessons, theory tests to just learn to drive a car and then never get behind a wheel. No, you learn to drive to drive! Equally, but infinitely more we grasp the Gospel to live the Gospel. Furthermore, as it takes to hold the genuineness is revealed. Hence Pauls instructions at the start of this passage: “Do not just stand in it, let the genuineness of you take hold and be tested.” The ESV captures is better as it declares: “As you have received him, so walk in him!”
2) Plant and Grow
Pauls second Instruction is to be rooted in the person of Jesus. The NLT phrases it: “Let your roots grow down into him.” It is a picture of the Gospel taking hold on the disciple, as Paul uses the image of a tree (probably based on Psalm 1). The more we walk with Jesus, the more our roots will be planted in who he is, because of what he has done for us.2 We all build our life on something, and what we build on shapes us. Thus, for Paul to become a Gospel Expert we plant in Jesus.
3)Taught and Thankful
The final step to Gospel expertise that Paul outlines is simple: Teaching and thankfulness. Meaning, the church must strengthen their faith through the teaching of the faith to each other as they received it. They must remind themselves what the original looks like. In the act of living out the faith, the roots go down and the tree grows. Furthermore, not only must they “act” in teaching, they are to be thankful people. Overflowing, because in living thankfulness they will be reminded of the gift they received and its beauty. A sense being that people see the beauty of the masterpiece because you have grasped The third step to Gospel expertise then is a living out of the faith (teaching), with a right heart (thankful). As we practice the Christian life, our roots will go deeper, our faith with grown and our security will be established.
Counterfeits in Circulation(8)
Paul has commended this church for their grasp of the good news of Jesus, now he asks them: “Why now would you accept anything less?” As Christians, part of knowing the truth of the Gospel is to protect its purity as we live and share it.
Be Wary of the Dangers of Fake’s
A fake painting might lose money, but it will not drastically affect your life, Imagine you tried to use a parachute that turned out to be fake, you would only find out before its too late. Counterfeit Gospels are like fake-parachutes. It is a matter of life or death. Hence Pauls warning to stand firm in the Gospel, against the counterfeits. You cannot add to, or take away from the work of Jesus, anything else will only lead to death. Be careful of the dangers of fake-gospels. All that the Gospel does, they claim too, yet cannot. To commit to them will be to find out before it is too late. So how do you spot a fake? by knowing the original! The Gospel is the good news about who Jesus is, and what he came to do. To know the Gospel is to have a clear picture of Jesus. Then when sometimes comes that either tries to compete with what he has done or add to it! you will know.
Counterfeits by another’s hand
If the Gospel is good news about Jesus, then counterfeits Gospel’s are either the “Good New Plus” or the “Good News Minus” something. Counterfeit Gospel’s try to add to, or take away from Jesus (his life, teachings or Death and Resurrection). They are human methods built on “philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” That which is worthless will only lead to worthlessness, so stand firm in the infinite value of Christ, even when it is hard.
The Masterpiece: The Good News of Jesus
You can only truly spot a counterfeit by knowing the original masterpiece. Hence Paul commends the church to teach themselves the faith they have been given (remind themselves of the truth of Jesus). In doing so they will have a clear view of the Masterpiece, the Gospel. The last section of the passage is a reminder of the good news of Jesus, the news that saves them. The news they should have been strengthening their faith by teaching, and their hearts should have been overflowing with thankfulness for. This is the most valuable thing a person can ever possess, the good news of Jesus Christ, it is more infinite in worth, and power than anything this world can create to compete. Hence the last 7 verses in our passage.
He is God and God lives in You (9-12)
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him, you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Paul summaries the Good news of Jesus for us as he traces the beauty of who Christ is, and the effects of this truth on us. It is a portrait that reminds us of the dual nature of the Good News:
- Who Jesus Christ is – God! (9)
- What we possess in him – The presence of God in our life (10) and new eternal life (12).
The Fullness of God comes to dwell in the believer, thus God has no need outside of himself, no desire he cannot meet, no knowledge he has not grasped, no beauty he cannot see, no possession he needs. Paul does not mention it; but, as in Galatia one of the threats to the Gospel is probably from the Judaisers – those who demand that gentiles are circumcised on top of Christ’s saving work. Thus, Pauls imagery of the new circumcision, not done by human hands but by the power of Christ, an act that effect’s not a small part of our flesh, but every aspect of our being. In Christ, we have cut off out flesh (sinful) nature, and be raised to new life through “through your faith in the working of God.” The same God who raised him from the dead raises us from the death of our sin. A supernatural act, beyond the powers of human endeavour. This is the first aspect of the Gospel, who Jesus is and what he does for those who believe on him.
Jesus does what no-one else can do (13-15)
Union with Christ, through the dwelling of the Holy Spirit, is one of the great privileges of Christian living, and mysteries. It is the union between God and his chosen people that was symbolised in circumcision. Hence Paul uses such imagery and expands on it further, to the new union between God and his chosen people through Christ, symbolised in Baptism.3 It is a union that effects us like no other relationship, because Christ is like no other person; not only are we raised from the dead (of our sin), we are made alive both now and to come: ” God made you alive together with him,” Then through the work of Christ on the cross “forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.” and just in case that was not enough, in case his destroying of sin and its effect on the believer, his setting of the captives free, Jesus displayed his sovereign power as he “disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in it.”
The Beauty of the Gospel: Who and What
This is the beauty and truth of the Gospel, the masterpiece: Who Jesus is, and what he did for us. A truth that needs no addition, and a beauty that cannot be surpassed. The question is have we grasped it, nor have we taken the easier option and trusted a fake, because it gives us something, it gives us purpose, identity or strength because it makes more sense or is easier to relate to.
Conclusion & Challenge
“God’s salvation does not come in response to a changed life. A changed life comes in response to salvation, offered as a free gift.” – Tim Keller
Handbags, painting, watches, even cars can be faked. Yet, when it comes to things of life or death, we don’t want fake – we want the real thing. We would not go into hospital and want the cheapest life support machine, we would not jump out of a plane and grab for the rip-off parachute. Those things cannot be fakes, and the Gospel which deals with matters of life is of more infinite value and need.
Only it can do what it claims to do – save. Anything else will only lead to death. That is why it is of infinite value, yet as we have been reminded in this passage; while it may be priceless its cost has already been boring for us to avail of it. ” He forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands. He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.”
The cost has been paid by the one who offers it. What have we trusted when it comes to matters of eternity? If we have truly received it then let us seek to become expert’s in it as instructed by Paul so that we can spot the counterfeits. Rooting ourselves in him and then being built up; Studying and reminding ourselves of the truth we have received; being thankful, and overflowing with thankfulness.
” God created us for this: to live our lives in a way that makes him look more like the greatness and the beauty and the infinite worth that he really is. This is what it means to be created in the image of God.” – John Piper
Then through our living: word and deed we display the supreme beauty of who Jesus is and what he has done for us. We draw people away from the fake gospels of the word to the good news of Jesus. In the things of God the beauty of God is made known all the more: Studying his word, singing songs of praise, adopting a heart of thankfulness, spending time with fellow believer’s encouraging and admonishing. In these’s acts of beauty, the beauty of Christ is known and made known. This is what it means to be a Gospel Expert.
So today, no matter who we are, what we have done, whether we have been walking with him a day or a lifetime let us grasp again the wonder of the Gospel and its transformative effect us on, how it is better than anything the world can offer. Let us becomes experts in Christ, who know his value and can point others to it.
“Grace is the pleasure of God to magnify the worth of God by giving sinners the right and power to delight in God without obscuring the glory of God.” – John Piper
- https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2010-jan-09-la-me-picasso-2010jan09-story.html ↩
- Paul uses Similar Language in Ephesians 3:17-19: “7 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” ↩
- Paul links Baptism and circumcision in this passage, and it is these verses that form the basis for the Anglican linking of Baptism to the Old Testament Covenant in circumcision. Baptism is the new circumcision. This is why as a Church we baptise children, the same way the nation of Israel ↩