I came across a study that was attempting to figure out how people who aren’t churchgoers would describe Christians. They asked a bunch of young people (high school and college age, mostly) what words they thought best described present-day Christianity. Here are the two most common responses:
1. 87% of people outside the church said that they think the word “judgmental” describes Christianity.
2. 85% of people outside of the church said that they word “hypocritical” describes Christianity.
Ouch. Hypocrites—people who say one thing and do another; who pretend to be something that they’re not or don’t follow through on things that they commit to. Definitely not a description that I want to be characterized by.
What people think about Christians influences how they respond to us. And the reality is that a lot of people make a conscious choice to reject the gospel, to avoid churches, or even to avoid us because they believe we are hypocritical!
People’s attitudes towards something drive their actions—and the reality is that our actions a lot of times are what have created this type of attitude toward Christianity. What I think it ultimately comes down to is compromise. We sometimes choose to compromise on what we believe and how we live, and then what we say we believe doesn’t line up with how we live. I actually find it pretty ironic, because most of the time when we compromise on what we believe, it’s because we think it will make people like us or want to be around us more. But in reality, we end up pushing people away because all they see is a hypocrite—someone who says one thing and does another, and that’s not the type of friend anyone wants to have.
We all face the temptation to make compromises both in what we believe and how we live—and that’s not something new that people are just now dealing with. As you turn to Colossians 2, you’ll notice that the Colossian believers to whom Paul is writing are facing the same problem—and so, I want to investigate Colossians 2:6-15 over the next few weeks to identify how Paul teaches believers to avoid compromise.
Colossians 2:6-15 is what’s called a warning passage: there’s a potential danger to the Colossians’ faith and Paul wants to make sure that they can stand firm in the face of this problem.
“6 Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7 rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”
Paul starts with a command to “walk in him.” And the word walk here can actually be better translated as the word live. It carries with it this idea that you are continually living in Christ—you are carrying yourself like Christ. And then he gives us three ways that we can know we are living in Christ:
1. You’re rooted and built up in him
2. You’re established in the faith
3. You’re abounding in thanksgiving
What we’ve got here is a summary of Paul’s focus—Paul is going to tell us how to not compromise and live in a way that is inconsistent with Jesus, but instead help us to continually live in unity with him. We have to be rooted and built up in him and established in the faith—and our thanksgiving will evidence where we are in that process.
So, for today, what does it mean to be rooted and built up in Christ?
If you’re rooted and built up in Christ, then you “see to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit” (v. 8). Now an interesting point, again, about how this phrase can be translated. It’s not just “see to it that no one takes you captive.” It can also be “see to it that you aren’t the one taking others captive.” What are we talking about here? What’s the thing that shouldn’t be taking us captive, and that we shouldn’t be taking others captive with?
Philosophy and empty deceit. Philosophy is basically your perceptions of how the world works—so people who call themselves philosophers are trying to answer questions about what general principles order and control everything in existence. Deceit, on the other hand, is trying to convince someone to believe in a lie—most often because that person thinks the outcome will be good if they believe in it. And what’s interesting about deceit is that it’s often self-inflicted. We convince ourselves to believe in something that’s not true hoping that it will lead us to a desired outcome.
What kind of philosophy and deception are we talking about? Paul lists two things, and then gives us a sort of catch-all:
1. Human tradition—people were telling the Colossians that they needed to listen to and submit to the culture around them; following the practices of the culture (check out verses 20-23). The Colossians were choosing to listen to human wisdom and human teachings instead of the things that come from the Lord, thinking that they will be helpful to them but in reality, they’re not helpful at all.
2. The elemental spirits of this world—this is a weird phrase, but when you look at how it’s used throughout the New Testament you can get an idea of what it means. Elemental spirits can actually take the translation elementary principles—it’s like the basic teachings of this world. And in this context, we’re talking about when you choose to listen to the things you are taught in the world rather than what you are taught in Christ.
Ultimately, Paul tells us that we need to guard ourselves against wisdom that comes from human origin and submit ourselves to the wisdom according to Christ. Anything that is not according to Christ is what leads us to compromise. Anytime that we agree with and act in a way that doesn’t line up with God, we’re falling victim to philosophy and deception.
Why? “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (v. 9). It’s pretty straightforward—Jesus is God. Jesus is the one who ordered and created this world—he’s the one with all authority over how things work. So why would we listen to things that are not according to his wisdom? If you’re acting in a way that doesn’t line up with how Jesus would, you’re acting in a way that’s not going to work!
So, the real question is this: why are we still so hypocritical? Why do we make compromises? Why do we so often follow after human wisdom instead of the divine?
That’s the topic of discussion for next week. But for now, recognize that the most serious error the Colossians faced was relying on human wisdom instead of the wisdom of God.
Whose wisdom are you listening to in your life? Pursue God and start taking the steps to live without compromise today.
Interim Student Ministries Pastor