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"Amillennialism 101" -- Audio and On-Line Resources
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"The Indulgence of the Flesh" -- Colossians 2:16-23

The Sixth in a Series of Sermons on Colossians

Paul’s letters usually contain two parts.  Generally speaking, the first half of his letters deal with the gospel as grounded in the doing and dying of Jesus, the benefits of which become ours only through faith in Jesus’s person (as Messiah and Son of God) and work (his obedience, death, and resurrection).  These God-given promises (i.e., the indicative mood) are spelled out as facts which believers must understand to be true, and then in which we trust (rely upon) as the basis for our justification before God and the gift of eternal life which flows from a not guilty verdict and our union with Christ.  The second half of Paul’s letters (usually) contain a series of commands or instruction which explain how those who embrace the gospel promises through faith, as explained in the first half of his letters, are now to live in light of their faith in Jesus (the imperative mood).  

Getting this distinction between indicative and imperative right and keeping it clear enables us to understand what is commonly known as the proper distinction between law (command) and gospel (promise).  We can also speak of this as the distinction between justification (being declared righteous before God) and sanctification (in which God conforms us to the image of Christ).  The gospel indicative is exactly what we found in our study of the first half of Colossians (1:1-2:15), which ends with the declaration “and you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”  The second half of Colossians (vv. 2:16-4:19), opens with the imperative in verse 16, “therefore let no one pass judgment on you,” letting us know that a series of commands and instructions are coming to all those whose sins have been forgiven through the death and resurrection of Jesus.

When we read Paul’s letter to the Colossians, we are reading Paul’s mail to a church in the Lycus Valley in Asia Minor–a region in southwestern Turkey with several new churches (in Colossae and Laodicea), but which were facing a serious challenge from a destructive heresy sweeping through the region.  Scholars have long debated both the source and the specifics of what is commonly identified as the “Colossian Heresy.”  From what Epaphras told Paul (Epaphras was likely one of the pastors of this new church, who had made his way to Rome, when Paul was imprisoned there), the Colossian heresy was very likely a Jewish heresy which orthodox Jews would have renounced with the same vigor that Christians also opposed it.  It is highly probable (although Paul does not say so) that an unnamed charismatic figure with a new teaching had caused much controversy and attracted many followers.  We know from Epaphras’ report and Paul’s response to it that practioners of this false religion were stirring up trouble for the new churches in the area.  Paul’s letter to the Colossians contains his instructions to the Colossian Christians as to how to respond.  

As we discover in this section of the epistle (the second half of chapter 2), the “Colossian heresy” emphasized participation in Jewish feasts (new moons and Sabbath observance) but to which was added the worship of angels–something which orthodox Jews would have thought blasphemous.  The law of God condemns the worship of any creature, only YHWH who is the true and living God.  This heretical teaching probably took the form of a religious mysticism (emphasizing personal experience) since its adherents worshiped invisible creatures (angels), sought visions, and practiced rigorous forms of self-denial, which, it was thought, made one ready and/or worthy for participation in this group’s various rituals.  Difficult rules keep out the hangers-on, and folks who are not really serious about spiritual things.  Based upon what Paul does tell us in his response, the “Colossian Heresy” is probably a combination of some local pagan religion (found in the Lycus Valley) mixed with traditional Jewish teaching, and would have been condemned by both Christians and Jews.

To read the rest of this sermon, Click Here

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