In this passage, Paul continues to rebuke those of Colossae who still cling to the Law as the sole means of salvation, as well as those who have taken the faith and intermingled it with Eastern mysticism. However, we have to remember that Paul has stated that the Law was never abolished, he here goes on to explain that mere secular adherence to the Law alone is likewise not sufficient either. We also must remember the crowd to whom this letter was written. The Colossian heresy was a blend of Jewish and Oriental beliefs, who felt that they were supplementing Christianity with new and innovative ideologies. They felt that the angels were supreme and that Christ was not God, but rather was merely a mediator and that sin resulted from a lack of knowledge in which they alone were experts. Lastly, they taught that salvation was obtained through ritualistic and ascetic practices. This resulted in an organizational and works based theology, wherein you could obtain salvation solely through the performance of these rituals and works. While it is imperative to remember importance of the Law, however, as this passage is so often used to justify the teaching of the heresy of faith alone. Are we saved by works alone, then? Of course not. Are we saved by mentally acknowledging that Christ is God? Of course not. What we must remember is that God has given us the Law to teach us what it truly loks like to follow Him and Christ has taught us that to follow Him is to gain eternal life. However to have faith in Him, to truly follow Him, is to actually obey Him and do what is expected. And that is why the Law was given to us. And yet, it is not these works themselves which save us, but rather the faith in Him which begat those works.
He touches on the law of circumcision here to begin with. Remember that the audience was those Jews who had allowed other teachings to seep in. And he touches on this topic only inasmuch as it is no longer necessary unto salvation. In the Torah, the circumcision required the removal of a small portion of flesh. In the circumcision of Christ, however, we die completely to the flesh and dedicate our whole lives to Christ, to the Christian way of life, and to the Church. Just consider the statement made here, “and you, being dead in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him.” See, only the Jews were circumcised, thus in their time, only the Jews could be saved. They were “God’s chosen people.” And yet, Paul here addresses this by noting that the Gospel message is open to any who come to the true faith in Christ, the true faith that Jesus commands. Thus, circumcision, which was exclusive to the Jews, was no longer a requirement for salvation, and Jesus had come to save any who would lift up their cross and follow Him. But consider, He never abolished the law, He amplified it. It is no longer one small amount of flesh required to be saved, it is now dying entirely to the flesh and being reborn in Christ. Jesus never abolished the Law because He was the only person in the flesh who could actually fulfill it. And He did so to become a model for us of what a true Christian should be, and calls us to be like Him. It is not for nothing that Paul calls us to be “imitators of Christ.” But, knowing that we will never fulfill this Law, God has in turn given us the opportunity for the remission of our sins through the sacrifice of Jesus. He suffered for us all what each one of us would deserve to individually suffer combined. Will we ever fulfill all of His commands? No, even the most devout monastic will fall into sin. St John tells us that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). But, this is not to say that we should ever embrace our sins. While we will never be perfect or sin-free, it must remain our goal. As His followers, we must always seek to obey and follow our leader, who is Christ Himself.
And it is through this faith in Christ that we can begin to achieve these goal, through His grace. It is through this obedient faith in Christ that we are washed of these sins. Once we die to ourselves in Holy Baptism and begin living as He calls us to, these “principalities and powers,” the angels who are the hidden powers behind our fallen existence, cease to have the power to control us. When we have fully surrendered to Christ, the flesh no longer controls us, we begin to control it. I think of so many people who celebrate their freedom, their free will, their ability to do whatever they want; in alcohol, in drugs, in the many addictions which plague our society. But when we give in to those things, we begin to give the flesh that control over us. And as the flesh begins to gain control, as the addictions take hold, we begin to realize that we can no longer control those addictions, we become slaves to them. We become slaves to the very freedoms that we were so apt to celebrate. And this same thing happens when we begin to embrace sin. Even in the Church. What begins as rebellious freedom with a free ticket to Heaven because we “believe” quickly becomes the renouncing of the Law in the name of this “freedom” and ends with the utter denial of any authority of God to tell us what we can and cannot do. I see this so often in the Church, where someone is baptized in the name of the Lord and then quickly returns to their sin filled life, feeling as though they get the free pass to the Kingdom because they once signed a form guaranteeing them membership in the Church, and therefore forgiveness of the sins that they continue to revel in.
Again, I will state, all of us will sin. This is in no way a judgment of people who fall into sin, it’s a warning to those who continue in sin with no attempt to overcome it. It’s a warning to any who claim that the Law of the Old Testament and the commands of Jesus in the New Testament were only for that one era in our history. When we renounce the Law, when we teach that it has been abolished, we begin the slide into slavery to sin; but likewise, when we renounce the grace of God, we begin the same slide. When Jesus fulfilled the Law, He did not abolish it, He accomplished what you and I could never do. He fulfilled it, meaning that He was able to actually follow it. Which is something that none of us could ever do. He came to serve as an example of what He expects of us. The Law, by human nature, can never be fulfilled, but it must be continually striven for. It is by faith in Him that we can begin that trek, and it is by His grace that we are forgiven when we fail, so long as we seek His grace and repent. Remember His warning, “many will say to Me Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name.” And Jesus replied, “I never knew you, depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” (Matthew 7:22-23). See, while it is through His grace that we are forgiven, that in no way implies that we can continue in sin, and that sin is outlined in the Law, else He would never have referenced their lives as being “lawless.” He alone fulfilled the Law, obeyed the Law, and He alone can forgive us when we transgress the Law; and yet we make a mockery of that sacrifice when we continue in those transgressions. Remember, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God…you shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, His testimonies and His statutes, which He has commanded you.” (Deuteronomy 6:16-17).
Paul concludes with by asking a simple question of the people of Colossae, and therefore of us as well. If we who died with Christ died to the basic principles of the world, why do we subject ourselves to these same principles? According to the commandments and doctrines of the world. In verse 8, we saw these principalities; philosophies, deceit. Consider science trying to disprove God, consider the principles of the world, lust, beauty, anger, greed, comfort, being able to do whatever you want, hatred, pride. Why would we ever want to give into these very principles which we died to? Through Christ those things have no power over us aside from that which we willfully give them. So, St Paul is asking us, why would we ever willingly give those things power over us again? Again, in relative terms for the sake of simplicity, an alcoholic who lost everything because of their drinking, who has since recovered, why would he ever return to that which had cost him so much in this world?
Paul tells us that we do not live by the shadow, which is the law, but we live by the substance which produces the shadow, which is the Body of Christ, the Church. He writes this to the Church in Colossae because they have intermingled so many things, the Law with Eastern mysticism and it has all become this man-centered ritualism which is very dangerous. When we begin to take another person, or even our own opinions, as God, we begin down this slope of falleness, which has very dangerous repercussions. When we start to believe in man over God, we create our own God, and, owing back to the Commandments, “Thou shalt have no God besides Me.” We have to be careful of accepting the divinity of the world and it’s mysticism. Mystical experiences are often filled with deception, pride, greed, and minds that are controlled by the body. There is a reason that so much of the New Age movement is filled with fully endorsing sin, it’s because those things are mystical experiences not rooted in God. He does warn that ascetic principles can also lead equally as much to pride, thus these should also be blessed by the Church as well. How many people do you know that strictly keep the fasts of the Church? How many people know if you do? If you know of people who do, or if people know that you do, then there’s the question of how those people know. We have to be careful of talking about those things, because it often comes from or leads to pride.
See, it’s so easy for us to fall into these patterns. No, the Law does not guarantee salvation. No, the Law was never abolished. No, acknowledging Jesus is God does not guarantee entry into the Kingdom. Yes, it is faith in Him through which we are saved. But, in this passage, Paul describes what this faith is, what it looks like. It is a faith that leads to dying to one’s self, dying to all of our pride and hatred and anger, our self-indulgence and greed. It is a faith wherein we die to ourselves and put on Christ, imitating Christ. And the Law is our guide to so do. It tells us what Jesus expects from His followers. And when we fail, which we will, we ask His forgiveness and begin anew. But we’re not alone in any of this. We have family in the Body of Christ that we can turn to for help, for guidance, to learn what the Church has taught for centuries. We have the family as well as the saints that we can seek intercession from through their prayers. And, we have the grace of the Holy Spirit to empower us to live the life that Christ calls us to live. And while this life is never easy, it is fully possible through the intercessions of our brothers and sisters, through the prayers of the holy saints, through the prayers of our lady the Theotokos, and the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Christ is in our midst.