One of the richest and most profound texts of Scripture for understanding how to engage false religions with the truth is found in Colossians chapter 2. In today’s post, I want to give a deep dive into this passage of Scripture, seeking to draw out biblical principles for defending the faith. Paul is writing to the Colossian church, having never seen them face to face (Colossians 2:1). He has received a report from Epaphras regarding the church and is thus writing a letter to them giving instructions, and he also deals with issues facing the congregation (Colossians 1:7-8). Chapter 2 opens with Paul expressing his great concern for the believers at Colossae, Laodicea, and all who had not seen him face to face wanting them to reach the full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery which is Christ (Colossians 2:1-2).
It is at this point which we come to a foundational reality for the purpose of examining this specific passage of Scripture. Colossians 2:3 says of Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Greg Bahnsen says of this statement:
Paul infallibly declares in Colossians 2:3-8 that “All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hid in Christ.” Note he says all wisdom and knowledge is deposited in the person of Christ—whether it be about the War of 1812, water’s chemical composition, the literature of Shakespeare, or the laws of logic! Every academic pursuit and every thought must be related to Jesus Christ, for Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. (John 14:6) To avoid Christ in your thought at any point, then, is to be misled, untruthful, and spiritually dead. To put aside your Christian commitments when it comes to defending the faith or sending your children to school is willfully to steer away from the only path to wisdom and truth found in Christ. It is not the end or outcome of knowledge to fear the Lord; it is the beginning of knowledge to reverence Him (Prov. 1:7; 9:10).1
Paul wants the Colossians to see the sufficiency of Christ that He is the source of all wisdom and knowledge. He testifies to that reality in the next verse, “I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments (Colossians 2:4).” Paul then spends verses 6-15 talking about what it means for Christians to walk in Christ as opposed to being taken captive by the philosophies, deceits, traditions, and elemental spirits of the world which are not according to the Lord Jesus (see specifically the foundation for this pattern in Colossians 2:6-8). He speaks of the triumph of Christ who has put His enemies to shame, having paid for our sinful debts nailing them to the cross, gaining victory by the cross (Colossians 2:13-15). He then transitions to discussing the elements of false teaching confronting the church in verses 16-23. The outworking of this text is thus to set forward Christ as the sufficient source of wisdom and knowledge, demonstrate what it means to be alive in Christ, then confront the false teaching facing the church. Essentially, in this chapter, we have Paul showing us biblical Christianity then critiquing error, a text vital for apologetics. Now, that we have identified the context, let’s dive into some of the specifics.
Different Foundational Sources of Knowledge
As demonstrated by looking at Colossians 2:3, all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ. He is our source of knowledge and truth which means we look to His inspired Word to see what He has revealed. In contrast to this reality, the false teachers Paul was dealing with had a different source for their knowledge. Colossians 2:18 says:
“Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,” -Colossians 2:18
The source of knowledge for these false teachers was the visions of their own minds. They would be puffed up in the pride of their sin. So, what we see in this chapter here is that Paul clearly outlines the Christian’s authority for knowledge, then exposes the source of knowledge held by these false teachers. In addition to these fake claims to revelation, Paul also warned the Colossians of human philosophy, empty deceit, human tradition, and the elemental spirits of the world (Colossians 2:8). Obviously, human tradition and false claims of divine revelation can work together as two different sides of the same coin.
Therefore, seeking to apply this principle for the purpose of apologetics, we must set forth the reality of Christ as the ultimate authority holding fast to His Word while demonstrating the folly of all other claims to knowledge just as Paul does in this text. Paul does not try to address these false teachers in a neutral way. Rather he exposes their falsehoods with the bright light of Christianity. Whether dealing with heretical teachers claiming to be Christians, atheists and agnostics, or religions claiming something totally different than Christ, it is vital to expose false sources of knowledge which is a foundational action for a biblical defense of the faith.
Different Life Practices
Paul urged the believers to walk in Christ being rooted in Him, built up in Him, established in Him as they were taught, and abounding with thankful hearts (Colossians 2:7). They were to ensure they were not taken captive by the philosophies of the world, but to walk according to Christ, who is sufficient seeing as He possesses the fullness of divinity (Colossians 2:8-9). In Christ, they have put off the body of the flesh, been buried with Him in baptism, and raised by the powerful working of God (Colossians 2:11-12). All of these realities describe the Christian life. They point to the justification of the believer and the thankful life he or she is called to live for the glory of God.
Now, coming to the false religion Paul deals with, he talks about some trying to take the church captive by passing judgment on them in “questions of food and drink, or with regard to a new moon or a Sabbath (Colossians 2:16).” He goes on in verse 18, talking about asceticism, worshipping angels, and in verse 20, he discusses the elemental spirits of the world. Biblical Christianity produces dependence in Christ by faith in Him. It results in those who are redeemed living with hearts of gratitude to God seeking to obey His commandments as a result of the salvation they have been given. This false religion Paul was dealing with produced idolatrous worship and all kinds of legalistic religious asceticism. So, Paul not only shows the contrast here in terms of how these two differ in their sources of knowledge, but also in their way of life.
Thinking about this principle, Paul understood a religion distinct from Christianity will produce different results from belief in the true God. In our own day, many Christians in America and other Western nations look at the craziness around them wondering where it came from? The answer is that different worldviews and religions have taken root, producing different ways of life. Christians seek to live according to the righteous ways of God, unbelievers practicing false religions live according to their sinful desires. Their religion can do no good towards stopping the flesh as Paul says (Colossians 2:23). Therefore, when encountering false religions, we must also expose their false ways of life, demonstrating how they are inconsistent with the commandments of God. We must show sinners their wicked ways calling them to repent trusting in Christ. To counter the craziness, we have to take a biblical stand exposing these false views being imparted.
Probability and Appearance Versus Certainty
The final aspect of this passage I want to focus on today, is the way Paul presents his clear confidence in Christianity. He talks about “the riches of full assurance of understanding” in terms of understanding Christ (Colossians 2:2). He describes the Lord as “the head of all rule and authority (Colossians 2:10).” This type of phraseology, along with saying all wisdom and knowledge are in Christ, denotes an absolute confidence Paul had in the Lord. He did not present Christianity as possible, plausible, or probable, rather he proceeded on the basis of absolute certainty in the truth of God.
However, when describing the religion of the false teachers, Paul uses the phrase “plausible arguments” in verse 4, demonstrating the false teachers would simply use enticing words to try to take people captive. He said these false teachers claiming visions were “puffed up without reason” showing the irrationality of their views (Colossians 2:18). He also said “these have indeed an appearance of wisdom” showing that the ascetic lies of these men leading others astray could even sound like they are wise (Colossians 2:23). Yet, in the end, they only sound like they are wise and fail to exercise actual wisdom according to God. To recap, Paul calls the false religion irrational thought seeking to use enticing rhetoric to persuasively deceive individuals as to what sounds like it might be wise. Clearly, he pulls no punches and gives no ground to the false teachers. Paul does not even act like it is possible the false teaching is right, he argued with certainty in the Lord demonstrating the folly of unbelief.
What we need to learn here is to be confident in Christ, and His Word for He is perfect and His Word infallible, inerrant, inspired, and sufficient. There is no need to have an attitude that says Christianity might be true, and we will just have to see because we can’t know for sure. No! The Apostle Paul engaged false beliefs with certainty, as must we. So, in our brief examination of this text, we see the necessity to hold firm to the source of knowledge (Christ) while exposing the professed false sources of knowledge (i.e. false revelations). We also saw the fact we must demonstrate how these two systems will oppose each other not only at the foundation but also as they go up the trunk to the top of the tree. It is imperative for us to demonstrate their opposition hitting the practical realities of life. Finally, we must undertake all these steps with an attitude of confidence in our Lord working for the glory of His name!
1 Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready: Directions For Defending The Faith, p. 6)