The Fullness: Colossians 2:6-8
Rooted in Christ – 2:6-8
6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.
These three verses offer, first, an encouragement to continue to live faithfully for Christ, and second, a warning against being taken in by false teaching. It is never enough that someone simply “prayer the prayer of salvation” and then go on about their business as though nothing significant had actually happened. Embracing Christ is a cosmic event with eternal ramifications. It is not simply a one-time transaction, but rather the beginning of an eternal relationship with one’s Creator and Redeemer.
Embracing Christ is a cosmic event with eternal ramifications.
Paul is fond of using variations of the phrase “in Christ.” To be in Christ means to be intimately connected to Christ. The larger idea is familial. To be in Christ means to be a member of his family. No doubt this phrase, for Paul at least, carries with it intonations of God’s covenant with Abraham. When someone receives Jesus as Lord, they enter into a long-standing covenant family, borne out of God’s promise to Abraham, consummated by Christ Jesus at the cross, and extended by the Church to all peoples as an offer of grace through faith.
In verse 7, Paul explains how we are to live our lives in Christ: rooted in Christ; built up in Christ; strengthened in what we are taught; and with abundant thankfulness. This is an incredible run of mixed metaphors, even for Paul! But they serve to make clear what he touched on briefly in 1:10, the nature of our walk, or halakah.
Christ is our root, the one in whom we are firmly anchored, and the one by whom we are daily nourished. As a tree is firmly established and nourished by its root system, so must we be by Jesus. For the Christian, what is seen “above ground” is never the whole picture. To truly flourish in Christ, there must be a massive work taking place “below ground” where no one can see. We are doomed to whither if all that exists of our faith is what we show others. The inner life of the Christian is what truly matters.
In the same way, Christ is the one who continually builds us up. Commentators have long noted the grammatical difference between the Greek words for rooted and built up. “’Rooted’ is perfect participle, implying an abiding fact (‘fast-rooted’); while ‘built up’ (literally, upon or unto) is in the present tense of a continued process.”[i] We have been rooted, but we are always being built up.
We draw strength from the teaching of the faith, if we are willing to put that teaching into practice. One cannot become strong in the faith on his own. Disciples must be taught. This is why the weekly proclamation of the Scriptures is so vital. We are weaker, both as individuals and as a faith community, when we abandon the regular and proper teaching of God’s word.
The inner life of the Christian is what truly matters.
Paul now turns to his warning against being fooled by “hollow and deceptive philosophy.” If one is rooted and built up in Christ, strengthened in the faith by the teaching of Scripture, and overflowing with thankfulness, then it will be very difficult to be deceived by false teaching. It is important to note that Paul is not saying philosophy as such is hollow and deceptive, but that all philosophies that pull a believer away from Christ and the Church are dangerous and destructive. The love of wisdom (the literal meaning of “philosophy”) is a good thing, but the love of Christ is even better – and the two are not incompatible.
The distinguishing mark between true and false teaching is dependence upon Christ. If the foundation of the teaching is the person and work of Jesus Christ (properly understood as revealed in Scripture and testified to by the apostles), then it is true. But if the foundation is “human tradition” or the “elemental spiritual forces,” then it is false. With these two descriptions, Paul has in mind both Jewish rabbinic instruction and Greek/Roman mythology. The demand of circumcision made by Judaizers (Jewish converts to Christianity who believed that Gentiles must obey Torah as they do) would fall into the category of a “human tradition,” and thus be a “hollow and deceptive philosophy.” In the same way, the worship of the Roman gods and the cultural demands they make on their adherents are considered demonic, being propagated by “elemental spiritual forces.” The true teaching of the faith, and the only sort that can strengthen us in our halakah, is founded on and centered around Christ.
The distinguishing mark between true and false teaching is dependence upon Christ.
Many are those who have abandoned Jesus because they have abandoned fundamentalist Christianity. But isn’t this foolish? Isn’t this the very definition of throwing the baby out with the bathwater? After all, Jesus isn’t that important to fundamentalist Christianity. All fundamentalisms, especially fundamentalist Christianity, are built around believing the right doctrines and obeying the right commands. They are dependent upon “human traditions,” even where those human traditions (like circumcision) are taken from Scripture. To abandon fundamentalist Christianity and fail to embrace Jesus is simply to embrace another fundamentalism. How foolish it is to swing from ideology to ideology and never actually encounter the personal Jesus. All fundamentalism is impersonal. Jesus may be worshipped in fundamentalist Christianity, but only as an object, not a person. The true faith, however, is dependent upon Jesus the Nazarene, and worships him as The Person who is Lord and King.
All fundamentalism is impersonal.
[i] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Colossians (p. 84). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.
[ii] Melick, R. R. (1991). Philippians, Colossians, Philemon (Vol. 32, p. 248). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.