Christian Living: Colossians 3:1-4:6
The false teachers in Colosse seem to have been very concerned with ethical living. After all, the goal of their harsh living was to avoid fleshly indulgence. And in some respects, it may have been that their ethical standards or goals agreed with those of the Christian church regarding these kinds of sins. But there was a problem with their approach. Simply put, asceticism doesn’t work. The fact of the matter is that fallen human beings lack the will power to resist sin. So, no matter how hard we fight to avoid sin, we always lose. This means that in order to live ethically, in order to obey the ethical standards that God has set for us, we have to rely on something bigger and more powerful than ourselves.
In some ways, Paul’s teachings on Christian living resembled the teaching of the false teachers. In fact, Paul even went so far as to say that it was right to focus on the heavenly and spiritual and not on the earthly. Consider his words in Colossians 3:2:
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things (Colossians 3:2).
According to Paul, we are to value the spiritual and heavenly things more highly than the earthly things. This perspective was also shared by the ascetic teachers, at least superficially. Also, like the ascetic teachers, Paul taught strongly against fleshly indulgence. For instance, in Colossians 3:5 he wrote:
Put to death … whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry (Colossians 3:5).
Paul agreed with the false teachers that fleshly indulgence is evil. But he disagreed on how to avoid such sin.
Paul and the false teachers also differed in many other ways. For example, although the false teachers ostensibly believed that they should focus on heavenly things, their teachings that Paul criticized were all rather earthly. Although they may have had the goal of spirituality, they tried to reach that goal through a constant focus on earthly matters. In Colossians 2:21, Paul summarized their teachings as being:
Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch! (Colossians 2:21).
Although the ascetics claimed to point to the spiritual realm, their teachings focused on mundane, earthly matters.
The ascetics seem to have been so preoccupied with their ascetic practices that they did not bother to emphasize ideals that were truly heavenly and spiritual. Although their goal may have been spiritual, all their efforts were spent on earthly things.
Paul’s letter to the Colossians was designed to address the idolatrous heresies introduced by the false teachers. The false teachers advocated pagan ways of relating to the spiritual powers, and ineffective ways of pursuing righteousness. In response to these problems, Paul preached Christ. He preached the supremacy of Christ as lord and king and the superiority of Christ’s ministers. He preached the incomparable value of salvation in Christ and victory over sin through Christian living. At each and every point, he made it clear that what the false teachers promised, only Christ could deliver.