In this sermon, David Capoccia examines the crucial principles of Colossians 2:6-8, where God commands believers to hold fast to the person and word of Christ so that believers are not taken captive by false wisdom. David Capoccia also applies the passage’s principles to popular modern assertions made from philosophy, science, and psychology.
What a great blessing to have such worshipful music, just in the lyrics that are so full of truth. I hope your heart was testifying along with those lyrics, but so ably led by our praise team members. I thank God for that. Those words, as you’ll see, tie in so well with what’s going to be our topic today.
Before we get to that, let’s pray. Our wonderful God, we thank you for the gospel. Jesus Christ, we thank You for You. You are the foundation of our salvation, but You are our provision for sanctification as well. And for glorification. We need You every step of the way, and You’ve provided it all. Lord, provide in this time, by Your Spirit, that we would know what Your word says, that we’d take it seriously and apply it and be comforted by it, convicted by it, as we need. And Lord, for some who might not even know You, that they be saved by it and rescued, just as we sung about. I pray that You would enable me to speak, open my mouth to declare Your Word rightly and well. In Jesus name. Amen.
It was the late 1880s in England that the great baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon was neck-deep in a conflict that would later be called the Downgrade Controversy. You don’t know about it. The name is a reference to what Spurgeon saw happening among his fellow baptist pastors. These Christian leaders, leaders of God’s true church in England, they had hopped onto a downgrade, or a slippery slope, when it came to the Bible. They no longer regarded the Bible as the inerrant (that is, without mistakes or error) or the inspired (that is, divinely spoken) Word of God. They were on a downgrade. And Spurgeon warned that this downgrade was going to lead the pastors, along with their congregations, into greater and greater error.
How had this controversy arisen? Why had it so engulfed England? We see by this time certain ideas from the theologically liberal Christian scholars in Germany had arrived in England. These ideas supposedly had a scientific basis and they had become quite popular. Some of these ideas include the following: the Bible just a human book with errors and ought to be treated and analyzed like any other human piece of literature. The biblical authors didn’t actually write the books credited to them. Moses didn’t write the first five books. It was a combination of four or so different authors, and they were modifying one tradition over time. And as for the account of creation, well the Bible does present a young earth created in six literal days by God’s mere Word, but Darwin’s theory, the origin of the species, evolution, it provides a better and more reasonable explanation for the origin of life.
Many British pastor sought to integrate these scientific insights into their own teaching. And as a result, just as Spurgeon warned, they were asserting shocking denials of biblical truth. Listen to Spurgeon’s own words, which he penned in a pamphlet in 1887. He writes:
Read those newspapers, which represent the Broad School of Dissent (meaning their movement), and ask yourself, How much farther could they go? What doctrine remains to be abandoned? What other truth to be the object of contempt? A new religion has been initiated, which is no more Christianity than chalk is cheese; and this religion, being destitute of moral honesty, palms itself off as the old faith with slight improvements, and on this plea usurps pulpits which were erected for gospel preaching. The Atonement is scouted (meaning rejected with scorn), the inspiration of Scripture is derided, the Holy Spirit is degraded into an influence, the punishment of sin is turned into fiction, and the resurrection into a myth, and yet these enemies of our faith expect us to call them brethren, and maintain a confederacy with them.
As you can hear from Spurgeon’s own words, the situation was quite serious. These pastors, who are essentially denying the Bible, they nevertheless maintained themselves, saw themselves as true Christians and even faithful teachers of God’s word. They sincerely believed that adopting this new theology, these new insights on the Bible, it would lead to more accurate Bible interpretation, would help protect the Bible from skeptical attack, and open a greater door for the gospel among the lost. Spurgeon disagreed, and he fought hard against this downgrade, but he can make no headway. He couldn’t convince his fellow pastors. He eventually withdrew from the Baptist Union of England, in which he was a part. And after he did, he was censured by them for being needlessly divisive. Some of them even questioned his mental state. He was dealing with various painful illnesses at that time.
What was the outcome for the British Baptists? Was it a flowering of faith, based on these new scientifically informed teachings? No, not at all. Rather, true Christianity was gutted in England, and unbelief reigns there to this day. You can see it even in the church buildings. So many of the church buildings in England have been sold and repurposed, and they are now restaurants, bars, and dance clubs. Far from fortifying the church, integrating man’s new wisdom destroyed the church in England.
Brothers and sisters, this downgrade controversy, this great historical tragedy is worth remembering. And why? Because the danger of naively adopting antichrist systems of thought, supposing that they will help our walk or they will aid the proclamation of the gospel, that danger is still with us. And not just among pastors and Biblical scholars. No, understand that every true Christian today, even you yourselves, are under attack by antichrist ideas masquerading themselves as objective scientifically proven findings, especially in the fields of philosophy, origin science, and psychology. We face a serious situation today as well, just as Spurgeon did. Therefore, you must heed the teaching of God in the Scriptures about such a situation, and we find that teaching in the book of Colossians. We must heed what God says. Otherwise we will be taken in by false wisdom and harmed.
If you haven’t yet, please open your Bibles to the book of Colossians chapter 2. We’re going to look at verses 6 to 8. We’ll make comments about the context, but we’re just focusing on verses that will give us the summary principles of this letter. If you don’t have a Bible or are new to the Bible, please use the Bibles that are provided in front of you in the pews. And you can find our passage on page 1179. Let’s read the text, Colossians 2:6-8. The apostle Paul writes by the Spirit of God:
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude. See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
In this passage, God commands us to hold to the sure person and teaching of Christ, so that we will not be taken captive by false wisdom. That’s the main point of our text, so I’ll repeat it. In Colossians 2:6-8, God commands us to hold to the sure person and teaching of Christ so that we will not be taken captive by false wisdom. And this teaching lays itself out in a very straightforward manner. We have two imperatives. First, we’re told walk as you received Christ in versus 6-7. And then, beware false antichrist wisdom.
Why do I keep using the term “antichrist”? I could use the term “anti-Biblical”, but I like antichrist better because it emphasizes the personal nature of these false ideas. They are assaults on Christ Himself. How so? Anything which contradicts or claims to be a necessary addition or modification of the person or the work or the word of Christ is an assault on our Lord. It is the antichrist. And we are to be aware of such false antichrist wisdom.
Now why did the Colossian church need this teaching? Why do they need these imperatives? What was going on in that church? Based on the details of Paul’s letter, we can reconstruct what had taken place at Colossae. Unlike for many of the other churches addressed in Paul’s other letters, Paul did not found the church at Colossae nor had he visited it by the time he wrote this letter. The church appears to have been started by man named Epaphras, who himself was likely a convert of Paul when Paul was ministering in Ephesus for three years. Toward the end of Paul’s first imprisonment for the sake of the gospel, he was under house arrest in Rome around AD 61 or 62. Epaphras visited Paul and he brought a report about a dangerous heresy that had taken root in the Colossian church. What’s this heresy, this false teaching, this false system of belief? We don’t know all the details, but we can see an outline of the heresy based on what Paul writes in his letter, especially chapters 1 and 2 of Colossians.
The Colossian heresy was a strange mixture of Greek philosophy, Jewish legalism, pagan superstition, and emerging gnosticism or secret knowledge. If you scan chapter two, you can see a number of the facets of this heresy. Church members had begun worshiping angels. They started paying attention to new visions of secret divine revelation. They returned to Old Testament rituals and cleanliness laws, such as the practice of circumcision, keeping of the Sabbath. Various sabbath actually, not just the seventh day, but various festivals. And also the refusal to eat certain unclean foods. They embraced a the life of asceticism, supposing that treating their physical bodies severely would lead to greater holiness. And most seriously of all, they had devalued the Son of God as somehow being a created being, on par with angels. By the way, it was common in Greek philosophy to suppose that the ultimate divine, the truly divine, could not mix with physical matter. Because to these Greek philosophers, spirit was good, clean, superior, but matter was physical, polluted, inferior, even evil.
So you can understand with the nature of this teaching appearing in the Colossian church, that Paul would be a little concerned. The apostle Paul, hearing about this teaching, He was moved by God’s Spirit to write to this church from his house arrest and give the church necessary warning and encouragement. Not the whole church had embraced this, but some people in the church had. And so he knew he needed to write to them.
What is Paul’s main message in his letter then in response to such a heresy? Paul’s message is: remember the supremacy and sufficiency of christ. Colossians, remember the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ. Christ is greater than all else and His teaching is complete for all you need in life. He himself and his teaching. In chapters 1 and 2 of Colossians, Paul directly emphasizes the supremacy of Christ, the absolutely far above all else nature of Christ. Far from being a created being, He is the Creator, and He is above all other spiritual rulers and authorities, angels or demons.
And only this supreme Christ, Paul argues, could save His church and provide her with what she needs, which is precisely what He did by His life and by His work on the cross. Not only did Christ provide total reconciliation and rescue from the holy wrath of God that was due to all sinners justly for their sin, but Christ provided complete wisdom for His church so that they would know the truth and be able to walk in it.
Listen to a few of the verses in the context of our passage. If you just look back at Colossians 1:28, Paul says this, describing his own ministry:
We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
Colossians 2:2, just a little bit down from that, Paul says that he strives so that the Colossians, along with all other believers, might have full assurance and understanding and true knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ Himself. You don’t need some secret knowledge from men claiming visions. Paul says you have the knowledge of God’s mystery in full in Christ. Colossians 2:3 perhaps says it best. Paul says: in whom (or that is in Christ) are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Do you want wisdom? Do you want knowledge on the right way to live your life? Paul says you already have it. If you have Christ, you have it all. Any true treasure of wisdom or knowledge is in Him. If you have Him, then why would you seek for anything else to complete or supplement Him? Christ is indeed supreme and sufficient.
So what’s the application of such supremacy insufficiency? It’s our text. Paul tells the Colossians: hang on firmly to what you’ve received in Christ, and beware of every kind of false antichrist knowledge. For the Colossians, applying these principles would have meant rejecting this poisonous cocktail of teaching they’ve been handed by supposedly Christian teachers. And it meant rejecting the legalism and asceticism that came along with that teaching. And you’ll see that applied in the rest of Colossians 2.
But the principles undergirding that application, they go beyond the Colossian church in those days. Every age of the church is confronted by forms of false wisdom asking, arguing, begging to be integrated into Christian teaching. It was true in the apostolic church, as we see here. It was true in Spurgeon’s day, as we heard. And It’s true in our day too.
Let’s look more specifically at what’s actually written in Colossians 2:6-8. Let’s re-read verses 6 to 7. Paul writes:
Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.
This is where we see the first imperative from Paul: walk as you received Christ. Walk as you received Christ. Notice there the “therefore” that begins this section. Verse six follows upon Paul’s presentation of the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ. If Christ truly is so supreme and has given us all power and all wisdom for accomplishing the Christian life, then we should walk according to Christ.
And this walk would not be based on new revelation or new teachings, because notice the phrase that immediately follows: as you have received. It’s striking how many times the New Testament command believers to hold fast the apostolic teaching. Paul doesn’t say: keep looking for more revelation. God has more to say to you as the ages go by. On the contrary, Paul and the other apostles, what do they repeatedly say? Give your attention to the apostolic Word, to the once and for all revealed revelation of Christ, given to His apostles. This, by the way, should further teach us not to look for visions or other kinds of supernatural revelation today. The apostle say: pay attention to what you already received.
But what had the Colossians specifically received? We have some idea already. But notice the next phrase. It says:
therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord,
These names are a wonderful summary of the gospel teaching which the Colossians had believed. Christ Jesus the Lord. He is Christ, that is He is our promised Messiah, foretold and promised in the Old Testament. He is Jesus, the human Savior who came to save His fellow humans. And He is the Lord. He is the sovereign God, worthy of all worship and obedience. The Colossian church had embraced the gospel, even signified in these titles of our Lord.
But it wasn’t just that they embraced truth about Christ theoretically, they had embraced Christ personally. Because notice verse six doesn’t say that they received the teaching of Christ Jesus the Lord, though they did. They received the Lord Himself. They receive Christ Jesus the Lord. That is to say that they believe that Christ was their Christ and that Jesus was their Jesus and that the Lord was their Lord. They acknowledged and entrusted themselves to God as He really is and as He declares Himself to be, like we just sang. Thus, they were placed into Jesus and Jesus took up residence in them. They were made one with Christ. They were brought into union with the Son of God. They had received not just the teaching about Christ, but Christ Himself.
So then, Paul says: in consequence of your receiving Christ as He really is, what should you do? Walk in Him. Walk in Him. The word “walk” of course doesn’t refer to literally walking. It’s metaphorically referring to living one’s life. Live in Christ. Behave in such a way that is consistent with what you know about Him and your receiving of Him. Be continually relying on Christ for your strength, for your joy, for your wisdom. He is your life. So conduct your life holy in Him. That’s the command.
Now, in verse 7, Paul reminds the Colossian believers, using three metaphors, what Christ did to enable them to walk in Him. We’ll just cover these briefly. First, an agricultural metaphor. Paul says, you believers have become firmly rooted in Christ, just like a plant is firmly rooted in good soil. With this picture, Paul emphasizes the stability of soul that believers now have in Christ as they’ve been given true life and firm grounding in Him. He is sure. He is powerful. He is true. If you are truly in Christ, then you need not be shaken, no matter what happens in life. You can walk in Him. You should walk.
Second, an architectural metaphor. Paul says believers are continually being built up in Christ, just like a building is constructed bit by bit upon a solid foundation. You see, Christians don’t embrace Christ, embrace the gospel, and then move on to other sources for their growth and maturity. No indeed. Christians grow as they learn more about the Christ they received, and as they become more like Him and as they rely on Him more in faith. Christians need Christ the beginning, and they need Christ in the present, and in the future. Always relying on Christ. Therefore, Christians must walk in Christ. You can’t start with Christ and then move on to something else. You have to continue to walk in Him. That’s how He’s building you up.
And then third, a legal metaphor. Paul says believers have been confirmed by God as truly belonging to Him by faith. Now this takes a little bit more explanation. The passive verb here “established”, it frequently has the sense in Greek of establishing beyond doubt. It refers to the genuineness of the believer’s personal faith in Jesus. Your Bible may have a note. Or if you’re using a different translation, it may be translated differently because the phrase in the New American Standard “in your faith”, it could also be accurately translated “in the faith”. That’s the way that the English Standard Version translates this phrase. So “in the faith” would mean you are established in the body of truth about Christ, which Christians have received and embraced. I think “in your faith” though is the better translation here because the establishing, the confirmation, it does not refer to the body of teaching that Christians have believed, but refers to the believing persons themselves. It says you were established, not that the faith was established in your minds.
So then I understand Paul to be saying essentially: you Christians can walk confidently in Christ because He has firmly established you by faith in Him. You have full acceptance with God. You are in Him just by simple faith. You don’t need something extra. You don’t need something more to walk in Christ.
But it’s not as if this faith is blind or subjective, however, even though it is personal. Because Paul immediately adds, if you notice, right afterwards in verse 7: just as you were instructed. You are established in your faith just as you were instructed. The faith the Colossian believers had was according to the gospel message of the apostles. And of course, that message was given to them by Christ. Only faith according to the true gospel, according to the true message about Jesus, can actually establish a person before God and enable them to walk in Christ, to live in Christ.
And then there’s the last phrase verse 7, which might seem a little unexpected to us at first. How well should believers be walking in Christ, having received Christ Jesus the Lord? Paul says: overflowing with gratitude. Overflowing with gratitude? Well think about it. Thankfulness is the logical response to receiving the supreme and sufficient Christ, is it not? Before, outside of Christ, you were an enemy of God. But in Christ, you are a child and friend of God. Before, you were in ignorant darkness outside of Christ. But in Christ, you have all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Before, you had no ability to do anything good outside of Christ. Everything you did was tainted in polluted by selfishness and sin. But in Christ, you are empowered and equipped to do every good work that God lays before you. You have new life. You have the power of God working in you.
Are these not great changes? Should they not make us grateful? This we have in Christ. Brothers and sisters, aren’t you glad that you have received the supreme and sufficient Christ? What a change He has wrought in you and for you. If you have truly received Him, should you not be resulting an overflowing gratitude toward God? But understand, you will not be overflowing with gratitude or thankfulness if you don’t really believe that you are complete in Christ. If you believe that somehow, you know you have Christ, your salvation is not complete. You’re somehow still not able to pursue sanctification successfully. Or you don’t have access to all the wisdom and knowledge you need for life. If you believe that Christ is, in fact, not supreme or sufficient, or that His word is not supreme or sufficient, then you will not be grateful to Him. You will find your heart wanting to complain actually. God, is this all You could provide? Was this the best You could do? I have to go somewhere else now? What you will be truly grateful for is that thing outside of Christ that provides what you believe you’ve been missing from God.
Really, you’ll be taken captive by an antichrist philosophy. That’s how these verses are connected. Well brothers and sisters, such need not be the case with any one of you. Recognize the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ, just as Paul has presented and he’s demonstrated. Recognize the efficient or supreme Word that we have from God and you’ll have cause for overflowing gratitude. You’ll say: God, thank You. You’ve given everything that I need. You’ve done it all. Thank You God. I’m never insufficiently supplied. So this is Paul’s first imperative, and we can see how it fits in the context of Colossians. Walk in Christ, just as you received Him, just as the apostles taught.
The second imperative that appears in verse 8 is likewise a result of receiving the supreme and sufficient Christ. And as we saw, it is this: beware false antichrist wisdom. Let’s reread verse 8:
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.
Notice the phrase that begins versus 8: see to it. It can also be translated “watch out” or “beware”., all terms that use the metaphor of looking or sight. Beyond watch, Paul says, be guarding yourself, be looking out, so that no one is taken captive. What do you mean “taken captive”? For this phrase, imagine one of those wretched man-stealers in older days who sought to capture an African native and then sell him as a slave. That’s the kind of activity we’re talking about here.
That’s the kind of activity that you are to watch out for and not just for yourself, but for all of those in God’s church. Don’t let any one of you be taken captive. The “you” here is plural. Don’t let any of God’s children or Christ’s brethren be taken as plunder by the enemy, to be kidnapped, to be enslaved. You know that those who are enslaved are often harmed. They are made to serve the enemy’s purposes. And many of them are ruined and destroyed. This is a serious injunction. But
how might we be taken captive? What is the trap to watch out for? What is the net to beware? Paul tells us. He says, see to it that none of you were taken captive through philosophy and empty deception. Now in understanding this phrase, let’s first clarify what Paul is not saying. This will be helpful to us. The term “philosophy” in Greek literally means love of wisdom. So is Paul saying that Christians should not love wisdom? No, that would be nonsense, because earlier in the same chapter Paul has already proclaimed that Christ is the supreme wisdom. Moreover, the book of Proverbs repeatedly urged readers to seek out and to treasure wisdom. You should love wisdom, according to Proverbs. And what is wisdom? It’s the ability to live life rightly and well, to live life skillfully. All Christians should love wisdom. So Paul must mean something different here when he uses this term “philosophy”. He’s not against the love of wisdom. Is
Paul saying then that believers, Christians, should be anti-intellectual? That they should have faith and reject reason? No, this cannot be the case either. Reason, the ability to think critically, to judge, to make arguments, it’s an ability given to man by God at creation. Reason and intellect, they’re necessary for us to comprehend and obey God. If we are to have any motivation to actually follow God, we need reason. In fact, the Bible relies on our reason. It is filled with logic and arguments, even here in Colossians. We need a reason to even comprehend what the Bible says.
So people often talked about the contrast between faith, reason, trusting God, knowing intellectually, but that’s actually a false dichotomy. Faith is not anti-reason. Because the question is not should we have reason or faith, but how should we reason? On what foundation do we reason? What is the legitimate way to reason? we’ll come back that. But Paul is not saying that Christians should be anti-intellectual or anti-reason.
One other clarification: is Paul saying that Christians should be anti-science? After all, philosophy is sometimes considered a science, and science today is frequently anti-God. Is Paul forbidding trust in science? Well, no, not really. That’s not true either, because when we think about what science actually is we’ll see this. There are different definitions that people use today for science. The definition I like to use is the following: science is just the study of the natural world by careful observation and experiment. Science is just the study of the natural world by careful observation and experiment. Defined this way, science is not necessarily anti-God or anti-Bible. In face, science is even commended in the Scriptures. Luke was a Christian, one of the writers of two of the biggest books of the New Testament – the gospel of Luke and the account of Acts. He’s called in book of Colossians 4:14 – the beloved physician. He was a doctor. What do doctors use to treat people? Observation and experimentation of the natural world. Science, and that was commended. We could also pointed Jesus’ own statements about observing the weather, being able to predict what happens. He didn’t look negatively on that. That’s science. Or Paul’s recommendation to Timothy: drink a little wine, not just water, for your stomach’s sake. That recommendation is based off of science. So no, the Bible, Paul, the Spirit of God, they are not anti-science. Studying God’s creation is actually one way that we worship and serve God. It’s part of our stewardship of the earth. But there is a kind of science that is not legitimate, just as there’s a kind of reason that is not legitimate. It’s that kind of science that Christians must beware, and we will come back to that.
So what does Paul mean then when he uses the phrase “philosophy and empty deception”, beware, be on guard for these things that can take you captive – philosophy and empty deception. What are you talking about, Paul? Here’s the answer. Paul is describing any form of teaching, whether philosophical, scientific, or what have you, that presents itself as wisdom when it is actually empty. What can you captive is any form of teaching that presents itself as wisdom when it is actually empty. You see, the two terms here – philosophy and empty deception, they’re not actually describing two different items but just one with two different phrases. The sense here is philosophy that is empty deception. You can see this actually in the NIV translation of this verse. It uses the phrase “hollow and deceptive philosophy”. It’s apposition, if you want the grammatical term. They’re both describing the same concept, one thing being described in two different ways. And it’s important that we get both of those descriptions because we see the dangerous nature what can take us captive. It’s something that looks wise. It seems appealing. It has a certain plausibility of argument to it. It gains popularity. But at the same time, it is deceptive. It’s really empty inside. It offers no real benefit and it robs us of the benefit we might have otherwise had.
And where does this empty kind of wisdom come from, this deceptive philosophy? We get the two sources identified for us in verse 8. Paul says: according to the tradition of men and according to the elementary principles of the world. And both of these are contrasted with what Paul says at the end of verse 8: rather than according to Christ. Here then, we have the criteria for identifying empty wisdom and deceptive philosophy. If it comes from man-made tradition and it opposes Christ, it’s empty. Beware of it. And if it comes from elementary principals and opposes Christ, it’s empty. Beware of it. It could take you captive.
Now let’s talk a little bit more about these two sources. The first source: according to the traditions of men. Kind of straightforward, right? The traditions of men refers to anything the man essentially makes up. It’s just an idea he came up with. It just came from his own mind. He made it up. He may have evidence for it. He may present observations and may give arguments and they may sound plausible. But notice: if it opposes Christ, we can safely identify it as man-made emptiness. It’s just man-made emptiness. Whatever evidence a person has amassed for this antichrist wisdom, that evidence has been misinterpreted. Whatever arguments he puts forward, those arguments are faulty somehow. Sometimes we can see it obviously. Sometimes it takes a little bit more digging. And even if this man-made antichrist idea gains wide acceptance, becomes a firm tradition. It’s one of those things they say: you don’t believe this – you are an idiot. Paul says: don’t be taken in. Beware of it. It’s just empty deception that will take you captive.
Additionally, if any man-made tradition does not directly contradict Christ or His word, but nevertheless it asserts itself as a necessary completion of Christ’s wisdom, something that needs to be added to it, then that man-made tradition shows itself to truly opposed Christ and to be empty deception. Because what did we already learn? In Christ you already have all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Any human wisdom that insists: no, you need us too, it contradicts what the Bible says. It contradicts Christ. It’s antichrist. And that helps us make a distinction between some things that are not antichrist and helpful, like some of our technology that we have. Smartphones are not in the Bible, but it’s not an antichrist. Not necessarily. But it’s not essential. See that’s the thing. You can live without a smartphone. People did for many many years. And so many other things that man has discovered or posited, some of those things are good and helpful, but they are not essential. Anything that’s truly essential, any wisdom that you really need, you already have it in Christ. And if anything else says: no, you need us too, contradicts your Lord. Beware of it. That’s the first source.
What about the second one? What are these elementary principals? before I get into this, I should also note that the phrase literally in the Greek is: according to the elementals. Elemental what? Elemental things? Elemental spirits? Elemental principles? Some Bible translations do go with elemental spirits here. I believe the ESV does. People in ancient days, many of them did believe that spirits or demons were associated with the physical elements of the world, such as fire earth water and air. So if this is Paul’s sense, then he’s saying: beware empty philosophies that actually come from demons. And it’s not really an inaccurate statement. There are other New Testament Scriptures that reveal that demons are behind false religion, behind idols, and behind lies and false systems of thought. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that beware of philosophies that come from demons.
But I do believe the best rendering here is actually elementary principals, as the New American Standard has it. I take this view because no other New Testament verse, even though other Scriptures do acknowledge how demons work behind lies, no other New Testament scriptures clearly associate demons with physical elements. Also, the concept of elemental teaching or elemental principles, that does appear many times in the New Testament, even with this exact same phrasing. Those phrases especially appear in context dealing with Jewish legalism. For example, in Galatians 4:3 and Galatians 4:9. If you know anything about the book of Galatians, this is Paul fighting for the true gospel against the introduction of Jewish legalism, bringing back circumcision and keeping of the ritual law of Moses. He, in chapter 4 verse 3 and chapter 4 verse 9, again uses the phrase that he uses here in Colossians. He says: you were going after the elementals. The context is gentile Christians wrongly submitting to the ritual commands of the Old Testament, commands like circumcision and keeping the Sabbath. A similar context exists here in Colossians 2. This heresy in the Colossian church involves people going back to Old Testament rituals.
Thus, I believe elemental principles of the world is the best translation and that it refers to basic concepts that actually do appear in God’s Word, but which you were not meant to stay with. You were meant to move on from them. They were the Old Testament pictures. But now the substance has come – Christ. Do you see how this is a little bit different from the traditions of men? Empty philosophies may come from just man’s mind, but they could also come from God’s own Word, the Old Testament.
You say: well God wrote it. God made it. It must be wisdom. It must be true. Well, Some things in the Old Testament were just elemental principles. The law, as Paul says in Galatians, was a tutor to lead us to Christ. We weren’t meant to stay with those old things. We were meant to move on from them with the coming of Christ. Just as a person moves on from elemental teaching to more mature principles, so Christians are to move on from the pictures of the Old Testament to what we have in Christ.
It’s like when you learn how to ride a bike. Probably most of you, if you learned to ride a bike, you started with training wheels. That’s not a bad thing. Training wheels help you get some of the elemental principles of riding a bike, but you’ve never really learn to ride a bike as long as those training wheels are still on. Eventually you have to take them off. Then you really know how to ride a bike. And once you do that, do you ever go back to the training wheels? Do you ever say, oh let’s go put those on again? No! That would be silly. So it is with the elemental principles. The elementary principles of the Word of God contain the Old Testament rituals and pictures, things like the sacrificial system, the Sabbath, dietary laws. Paul says: yes, they did come from God, but you weren’t meant to stay with those. And if you go back, if anyone asserts that you have to go back, recognize that what they’re offering you is empty deception. It is a false philosophy. It is even antichrist. Yes, even those elemental principles appeared in the old testament. We have Christ now. We’re not to go back to those things. If you go back, you’re antichrist.
So these are the two sources of captivating false wisdom. And we can see what makes them empty. If it comes from man-made tradition and opposes Christ, it’s a deception. There’s nothing good in it. If it comes from even Old Testament biblical principles, elementary principal, but it still opposes Christ, it’s empty deception. Beware of it. Don’t be taken in by it. And is the exact sources of the Colossian heresy? It was the traditions of man and it was the elemental principles of the Old Testament.
And if you ever study Christian history, it’s the same two sources that are bringing false philosophies and heresies into the church. Look at the Christian cults we still have today. Are they not based on these two things? Man’s made up ideas that oppose God and elemental principles of the Old Testament, which have been improperly applied. That’s why the Scripture say beware of it. The teaching of our passage is very straightforward, is it not? God commands us to just hold to the sure person and the teaching of Christ so that we will not be taken captive by false wisdom. Specifically, the Spirit commands us: walk as you’ve received Christ and beware false antichrist wisdom.
I told you at the beginning that these principles are essential for us as we deal with the philosophical and scientific assertions of our day. And so, by way of clarifying application. This isn’t the only application but I think it’s extremely relevant for us. I’d like to discuss with you a little bit how we as Christians ought to deal with assertions about reason and science.
Those who tout reason and science today as objective determiners of truth. These are not biased. We’re just want to find the truth. That’s why we use reason. That’s why we use science. Those who make such an assertion, they forget one essential aspect to these pursuits. And that is: they must be built on a foundation, a foundation of assumptions – unproven assertion that you just take as truth and from which you operate. Reason and science must operate according to presuppositions. It’s just another word that means assumptions.
As I said, everyone uses reasoning. But those who posit that reason alone should be man’s guide to what’s true and what’s right, what they’re really arguing for is autonomous human reasoning. Not simply reason, but autonomous human reasoning. That is a type of reasoning that does not depend on God or God’s word. Autonomous human reasoning – autonomous meaning all by itself, not relying on anything else, it assumes that the supernatural is either unreal or unknowable because it is assumed the man can only know what he sees, what he experiences, and what he’s able to reason from the natural world, from the physical world. These assumptions are made without proof. They’re just accepted. But if you start with those assumptions, do you see how autonomous human reasoning can never affirm that what the Bible says is true? because it has excluded it from the outset. It has assumed that we can only know what we physically experience.
It’s the same with science, as so frequently practice today. A lot of times scientists don’t really get into trouble, even secular scientists who don’t acknowledge God, because what they’re studying doesn’t really interact with spiritual realities. For example, if you want to figure out how much mass is displaced in water when I put this physical object in it and how much water overflows, how does it equal what I put in. What you believe about God and conducting that experiment doesn’t really matter because those things don’t really have to do with spiritual realities, what the Bible says. I mean, they do very distantly, but not so much. So people can study that and come up with rules or scientific conclusions that are more or less trustworthy. You’re observing strictly physical phenomenon, and so your strictly physical explanations are usually right, usually trustworthy.
But what about when science tries to study and describe that which is not strictly physical or that which is not observable? Such as the origin of the world, the origin of life. It’s not something physical you can observe. No one is alive who saw that. The human condition – why people are the way they are and why they do what they do? Scientists try and study and describe this. In these cases, scientific assumptions play a pivotal role. And the assumptions that many scientists take today is that everything in the world has to be explained according to natural processes. It has to be explained by the physical. This is really another form of autonomous human reasoning. Most modern scientists reject out of hand, before any evidence or argument has even been presented, Biblical or supernatural explanation for what they see in the world. Life on earth, they say, must have been formed naturally by a big bang, by evolution.Don’t give me a supernatural explanation. We know that can’t be true. Why? Because we’ve assumed it. There never was a worldwide flood of divine judgement. The earth must have been formed naturally by slow processes over millions of years. We have to have a natural explanation. The Bible is not divine. It can’t be divine. It has to be explained naturally. People do not have souls. They operate strictly according to chemical processes or perhaps a non-spiritual psyche, which we can’t see but we’ll assume is there. Bad behavior in people can be explained by simple chemical imbalances, unfulfilled psychological needs, faulty human thinking. Don’t give us a spiritual explanation.
You see that in each of these scientific investigations, all evidence that they encounter and assess, it is controlled by antichrist assumptions, anti-Biblical assumptions, anti-supernatural assumptions. And so what conclusions do you think they’ll come to? Antichrist, anti-Biblical, anti-supernatural conclusions. They are firmly committed to the idea that all can and must be explained without God and without the spiritual.
This is why I believe the principles of our text are so important for assessing scientific claims today. Do you see how the approaches in these areas, where you’re dealing with the spiritual, you’re dealing with things that are non-observable, do you see how the scientific approach that is so popular and accepted in our day is based on an antichrist foundation? And the conclusions are antichrist? Why then should we christian, who have all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Christ, be eager to seek out and adopt their antichrist findings? Their supposedly objective conclusions are not really proven by evidence. They’re produced by unproven and faulty assumptions. There is a good kind of science, but this kind of science is empty deception. It can take you captive. It can take your family captive. It can take the church captive.
So brothers and sisters, we have to beware of this false philosophy. It does not have the wisdom of Christ. It opposes Christ and is liable to enslave you. Not to mention, this naturalistic approach, this naturalistic philosophy is self contradicting. If you think about it: if you say that we can only know what is true based on observation and experience, that assertion is made without observation and experience. It’s self-contradictory. Or if you say: autonomous human reasoning is the only way we can know what is true, that assertion is made without any evidence or reasoning. You believe your reason because your reason tells you you should believe it. How can you trust a system of thought that is self-contradictory at its very foundation?
The truth of the matter is that man’s empty wisdom still cannot explain the most basic facts of our world – that it exists. It was created by someone. It has such great beauty in order. We have good provisions while we live on the earth, things that we can enjoy and that enable us to survive. And we all know fundamentally right and wrong. The Scripture points each one of these things and says: this is why we know God exists. This is the testimony that we all know God, deep down in our hearts. We may suppress that truth in unrighteousness, but we know it. Romans 1 says that. Indeed, autonomous human reasoning cannot not even explain why there is such a thing as reasoning, why we have right and wrong. Someone had to give us that. Someone who upholds the standard of truth.
So, what’s the bottom line? Brothers and sisters, we have to unmask the empty deceptions being offered to us as such benefits. We have to unmask them for what they really are. Above all, let us not try to integrate them into the wisdom of Christ. Don’t say to yourself: let’s see what these antichrist ideas about origins, let’s see how they can fit with the Bible. Don’t do that. Or don’t say to yourself: let’s see what new insights antichrist psychology has for dealing with depression, or for parenting my children. No, don’t do that. Don’t you see, you already have complete wisdom for these things. If you say: well, I need help with it. Go to others who know the Word well and are skillful at applying it. Don’t go to the world with its empty philosophy.
Now don’t misunderstand. I just want to give this one last caveat. When it comes to medicine, where doctors can truly demonstrate a biological cause contributing to feelings or behaviors that you might have, it is good and right for us to deal with those biological causes. There is indeed a mysterious connection between the physical and the spiritual for us as humans. This is easily observable if you’ve ever had a poor night sleep. Ever notice you have trouble being patient and loving with people the next day?Spiritually hindered by physical challenge. The physical can affect the spiritual. But don’t forget the opposite: the spiritual also affects the physical. You can see this in the Psalms. You can see this in the Proverbs. You can see this in Jesus’s own life. He was sweating drops of blood. Why? Because of His spiritual agony. Listen to David in Psalm 38:3:
There is no soundness in my flesh because of Your indignation; there is no health in my bones because of my sin.
The spiritual can affect you physically. But the world has already rejected that conclusion out of hand. So let’s not imbibe the wisdom of our age that says: oh spiritual problems, Don’t give me that. They’re physical or psychological problems. Let’s not be so naive, especially when doctors can’t demonstrate it. Correlation is not causation. We are aware that there is a connection between the physical and spiritual, but man is not simply physical.
We may applaud Spurgeon for his stand against antichrist ideas, even when all others were compromising. But are we willing to take the same stand as he did? Especially when so many others, even Christians, even Bible teachers, they happily compromise and seek to integrate the world’s antichrist ideas. We’re going to be ridiculed for this. We’ll be considered backwards, but we know where the true wisdom is. Will you stand with Christ? Will you walk in Christ? He’s supreme and sufficient. Don’t be taken in. If you have been taken captive, break free. Christ came to free the captives. We have a supreme and sufficient Christ. Let us obey the Lord and beware all antichrist philosophy and empty deception for our own good and for God’s glory.
Let’s pray. Lord, I thank You for Your Word. It is a sobering Word. And it might take some time, Lord, to really digest. But I pray, God, that we would heed what your Scripture says. We thank You that You have given us all that we need. You’re all sufficient. You are supreme. You make foolish the wisdom of the world. And though the world considers Your wisdom foolishness, we know it for what it is. We thank You God. May we be a people of overflowing gratitude, just as Colossians says, because we know how abundantly You provided for us. Protect our church. Protect the people of this church from being taken captive. In Jesus name. Amen.