It was the greatest loss of American life in a non-natural event, an ignominious record that stood until September 11, 2001.* No, it wasn’t the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Oklahoma City, or Atlanta. It happened in the jungles of Guyana. On November 18, 1978, as Congressman Leo Ryan arrived in South America to investigate the cultic commune known as Jonestown, Jim Jones, the leader of the cult, led 900 of his followers to their deaths by persuading them to drink cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid. (It wasn’t actually Kool-Aid, the folks at Kool-Aid would want you to know.) The Reverend Jim Jones held over a thousand people captive during his two decades leading the Peoples Temple; and yet, he didn’t beat them over the head and haul them away unconscious. He didn’t coerce them. All of them went willingly (though some stayed unwillingly). However, it’s perfectly accurate to say that they were taken captive by the charismatic and persuasive speaking of Jones. Hundreds of them died tragically as a result. While this is an extreme example, it’s not an inaccurate one to describe the risk that we run when we drift from our Anchor.
Paul had never met the Colossian or Laodicean believers, yet he was concerned about them. It seems that they were being “taken captive” by erroneous philosophy and theology that was causing them to stray from truth. Although much ink has been spilled in speculation, we simply don’t know exactly what the false teaching in Colossae looked like. It’s obvious, though, that it flew in the face of the Gospel and that it was subtly deceptive. In chapter two Paul warns his readers four times not to be taken in:
“I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument.” (2:4)
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.” (2:8)
“Therefore, no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” (2:16)
Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind.” (2:18)
Deluded, taken captive, judged, and defrauded—those are the consequences of losing sight of truth. No wonder Paul follows his warning not to be taken captive with a lengthy paragraph reminding his readers of their hope and identity in Christ.
Here in the third decade of the twenty-first century, ideas, philosophies, and dogmas bombard our eyes, ears, and minds at nearly every hour of the day. If the Colossians were susceptible to being taken in by subtle yet empty deception, surely we are much more so. Therefore, we must likewise anchor ourselves to these truths of the Gospel, lest we sip the Kool-Aid and end up captives.
- Jesus is God (2:9). It doesn’t get more bedrock and basic than this. However, the enemy would love nothing more than for us to buy the lie that Jesus was simply moral teacher or that there never was a “historical Jesus” at all or that He was a prophet on par with Muhammad or that He is equal with Satan. No! He is the “radiance of [God’s] glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Heb 1:3). He is the Word of life, very God of very God. If He’s not God, we don’t have a Savior who could bear the infinite wrath of God. And if He didn’t come in “bodily form” (as a man) we don’t have a worthy substitute for the sins of all humanity. Jesus’ divinity absolutely matters. Before you buy any philosophy, always—always—ask what it says about Jesus.
- Jesus completes me. Jesus alone (2:10). Despite the lies of our culture, we do not need another person, letters after our name, a certain figure on a bank statement, a particular model of car, square footage in our house, or number on the scale to be complete. In Christ, we have all we need. Our identity is secure! Popular culture–from Disney movies to shampoo commercials–are peddling the idea that you need something or someone to complete you. Paul tells us emphatically that this isn’t the case.
- Jesus is the ruler (2:10). He is the “head over all rule and authority.” Sometimes we think dualistically of Satan as the “evil Jesus,” like a Jedi who went to the Dark Side to fight against an equally skilled Jedi of the Light Side. Here we see that Jesus is the ruler. Nothing can touch Him. No president, king, dictator, or potentate can ever rob Him of one ounce of His authority. He has been given dominion forever.
- Jesus has given me a new heart (2:11). Paul uses circumcision language and alludes to a “circumcision made without hands” that is able to remove “the body of the flesh.” Though this verse is not the easiest one of the bunch to interpret, what Paul is saying is that Christ has finally circumcised believers’ hearts and that they have been made new in Christ (a promise issued back in Deuteronomy 30:6). This is not just some abstruse Old Testament reference but a herald of glorious truth: In Christ, we are able not to sin! We have been made new. We don’t live in bondage, guilt, shame, or regret to our former life. He has removed that. We don’t have to give in to our old lusts, temptations, or idols. We have been set free from all of those. We’re no longer a “stubborn and stiff-necked people.” Now, in Christ, we are new.
- Jesus defeated my debt leading to death (2:12-14). Paul continues to remind his readers that they fully identify with Christ. They have been buried and raised with Christ. Even when they were spiritually dead in their sins, God made them alive and forgave their transgressions. Or, to put it another way, Christ took the decree of debt, the decree that damned you to hell for all eternity, and nailed it to his cross, paying it in full. This means that you have nothing to do to get God on your side. You don’t have rules to follow now to make you a “good Christian.” You can rejoice in Christ’s victory over your sin, even sin that still follows you around. Yes, He was victorious over that one too! You don’t need the power of positive thinking. You just need the Gospel.
- Jesus has disarmed the enemy (2:15). I’ve already written an entire post about this amazing verse, so I’ll be brief here. This again reminds me that Satan cannot condemn, censure, or impugn me. He has been defeated, disarmed, and put to shame. I don’t live in fear of him or any other delegated authority. Christ is on the throne, and my allegiance is to Him alone.
Paul knew that the Colossians needed Gospel truth to fight against the heresies flitting around their church and city. We’re no different. So, my friends, don’t drink the Kool-Aid, cling to the Gospel.