Holding on to Christ

16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 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, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (Colossians 2:16-19)

Paul is so interested that his readers hold on to a pure form of Christianity, or you could say true Christianity. There is so much confusion in our day regarding true Christianity, and as we read the New Testament it is clear that confusion has been rampant since the first century. All throughout Christian history there have been those who come along and do what they can to distort what God has said. The philosophies of the world that stand in opposition to God’s truth are in place in order to confuse people and blur the lines between what is true and what is false. We see this as early as the Garden of Eden. There we see the father of lies working hard to deceive Adam and Eve and turn their minds away from God’s truths. Ever since then, Satan has used people to continue his work of deceit. 

We are not immune from embracing deceit in this world and falling prey to false teaching. Sometimes, or I should say most of the time, it is little things that draw us away. The solution to this is to glory in Christ Jesus, in His words that we find in the Bible, to hold on to the true Savior, to hold on to Jesus Christ. He has been faithful to give us truth and to lay it out clearly, and it is a safeguard for us, an anchor for our souls. 

But though we have the Bible, and though it is completely true, we must actively embrace it, know it, hold to it, and not be persuaded to follow something else. The world will tell us how to be happy, and it will do so convincingly, but we must not believe it if it stands in opposition to God’s truths.

We may think that to be loved by others, or to have physical pleasure, or to be respected by others are the paths to happiness. We may think that we can find joy in drink or food or wellness. We cannot turn on the TV or the radio or any other device without someone telling us what it will take for us to be fulfilled. It would be interesting to keep a log for a day or a week and just write down all the ways that others say we will be fulfilled. If you do that send it to me, I’d love to see it.

What makes this even more difficult for us as Christians at times is when one of us is convinced of a non-biblical truth, a new path to happiness and joy, and one of us markets that to other Christians, to each other. When that happens it may add some credibility to what is being pitched. It is like, “Well, other Christians are convinced of this, so it must be okay.” And so we join in with the crowd without testing it against the Bible to see if it is so. 

This is what was happening in Colossae. Supposed Christians were selling their wares to other Christians, and some were being duped by it. Again, some of its credibility probably rested in the fact that it was coming from fellow Christians. If everyone at the Christian university is doing it, that does not make it right. If everyone in the small group is okay with it, that also does not make it okay. If the preacher says it is spiritual, that does not make it spiritual. And even if your own conscience or your mind says, “Yes, this is okay,” nor does that make it okay. What does God say? What does God tell us in His Word? That is the question we must ask!

In Colossae there was this dilemma. False teaching that had at least the potential of leading believers down a path of confusion and even pain. This is always true, pain that is, when we leave our walk pursuing Christ to a walk of pursuing joy elsewhere. Don’t think those other pursuits will bring lasting joy or true fulfillment. They never will, never. Not in that guy, or that girl, or that job, or a certain amount of money, or that child, or fame, or respect, or relationships, or physical beauty, or health – these are not things that are meant to bring us lasting joy. However the Colossian church, some of them, were looking outside of Christ for joy and fulfillment, and unfortunately we too are similarly guilty. And so Paul says…

18 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, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (Colossians 2:18-19)

Paul does not want anyone to stand in and disqualify God’s people from the prize. It was as if there were referees standing in with some kind of authority making pronouncements regarding who qualifies in the Chrsitian life and who does not, and these judgments being made by standards that were outside of God’s design for Christian living and experience. You can picture this. It would be like walking in the door this morning and someone saying, “Not you, look how you are dressed.” Or, “Not you, you didn’t sing properly last week.” Or, “Not you, I don’t think you were really praying, or you are obviously not spiritual,” and on and on. Paul begins to describe a person-centered religion where judgments are constantly made and evaluations of others are being pronounced according to unbiblical standards. “You are spiritual and you are not, you are and you are not,” and on and on. And the thing to remember is what was being pressed on them were things never meant to prove spirituality at all.

The first was asceticism. Now, what does that mean? Well, it is translated in other places as “self-abasement” or in more modern English it is humility, but in this context it is a false humility. The humility of the false teachers was a false humility, and though the ESV uses the word “insisting” on this, it also means delighting in it. So they were delighting in a false humility. This really ends up as pride. 

This false humility most likely had to do with depriving the desires of the body or the flesh. This depriving the body was a practice that was done at times with a hope that an unusual supernatural experience might take place. Like if I discipline myself so as to not eat, or take part in anything that would be pleasant, deprive myself of things, then maybe God will reward my effort, my supposed commitment to Him, with a supernatural experience as a reward. Now, this was done not to please God in any way, but out of a desire to experience something fantastic, new, and unusual. It was a very mystical endeavor, an experience-craving endeavor.

This is not a true godly perspective of humility, but one that really ends up puffing one up, like, “Look what I can do and how God will now reward me.” A practice that in reality is a work of the flesh, but is disguised as a spiritual pursuit.

Now, this practice of false humility seems to be go with the worship of angels. Paul says, “and worship of angels.” This practice is clearly forbidden in the Scripture. Let me give you some examples of how we are taught not to do this. In Matthew 4 Jesus was in the wilderness after His baptism. He was met there by Satan who tempted Him. One way that Satan tempted Jesus had to do with worship. 

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’” (Matthew 4:8-10)

Or how about in Revelation when John actually tried to worship an angel?

9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” 10 Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, “You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you (Revelation 19:9-10)

So the angel instructs John, “Don’t worship me, I am merely a fellow servant like you.” Angels are worshipers, not those who are to be worshiped. 

Remember the scene from Isaiah 6 of angels worshiping the Lord?

1 In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. (Isaiah 6:1-4) 

Again, angelic beings are worshipers of God, they are not to be objects of worship.

Along with a delighting or insisting on a false humility and encouraging others to worship angels, which is forbidden, they also were caught up in visions that they had seen. Do you see that? “going on in detail about visions”

These visions were no doubt used to bolster their credibility. We see this even today in some circles. We hear things like, “This must be true because I saw a vision and it was revealed to me.” Many people stake truth on a mystical experience, a personal experience, and then their own interpretation of what that experience means. We have the Bible, and it is true, we don’t have to seek after or rely on other experiences. 

1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (Hebrews 1:1-2)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

Lastly the false teachers of Colossae were “puffed up without reason by [their] sensuous mind.” This could be sensuous or fleshly minds. Their minds were fleshly or sensuous according to the world because they were seeking an experience-based religion. This is not a religion based on the solid known truth of God’s Word. A religion that seeks after a delight in false humility, the worship of angels, and visions.

Now we may all be sitting here, and we are hearing this, and we may be thinking, “Wow, they were messed up.” You may be thinking, “I’m glad I’m not walking in some false humility, seeking to worship angels, looking for some vision to authenticate my religion, and I hope my mind is not fleshly or sensuous. They really had some problems back then. Comparatively, I am in pretty good shape, really. I am not going after such things. All of that is clearly wrong, and I know those things are wrong.”

But let’s be careful. Because though we may not be turning aside from what is true by going after what they were being tempted with, we may be turning aside from what is true by going after something else. You see, here is what is at the heart of the issue here. Look at verse 19: “and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”

Let me read both verses together again, and as I do focus on 19…

18 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, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (Colossians 2:18-19)

The church at Colossae 2,000 years ago had specific issues, some which we have just discussed. But the main issue is found in verse 19. And we may not be able to readily relate to the verse 18 issues, but I am sure we are regularly tempted to fall into the root problem described in verse 19.

I think we could take verse 18 and we could list many of our own issues there, but verse 19, again, is what is at issue. You see, they were trading in the highest of all possible pursuits and the joy it brings, and settling for other things which were lowly, worthless, and that will never satisfy.

Our pursuit should be a pursuit of the person of Christ. To love Him, to know Him, to walk with Him, to proclaim Him, to seek Him, to adore Him, to be saturated with Him always. That is where we should be. He is our Savior, our Husband, our protector and provider, our everlasting Lord. He is to be all to us. And the Colossians were guilty, at least some of them, of seeking after other things in His place. That is simply idolatry.

And so we can fill in whatever our special areas of temptation may be, what we love, what we go after, what we think will fulfill us, and as we do that we find ourselves in the same boat as these ancient brothers and sisters in Christ.

What is at issue here is that they were not “holding fast to the Head,” who is Christ. They were not primarily concerned with simply holding on to Christ. They were holding on to experiences for their delight and fulfillment, not Christ. 

How many things do we desperately, and with great energy and enthusiasm, try to grab hold of and hold on to, thinking, “Yes, this is what will ultimately fulfill me”? It can be any number of things, and for most of us it may not always be the same thing.

Let me ask this. If you could change one thing in your life, what would it be? If you could change one person in your life, who would that be, and how would you change them? Whatever your answer may be, that may indicate an area of your life that represents an idol, something you may place in greater priority than Christ.

For instance, some may say, “If only my spouse would understand me,” “If only they would love me the way I want to be loved and adore me the way I want to be adored,” “If only he or she would see me as most important in this world and be the person I want him or her to be,” “If only my spouse would be like so and so.” Or, “If only, at work, I would be seen as being as important as I really am.” “If only I was as good looking as so and so.”

“If only this change or that change would happen, then I would have it made, I would be fulfilled, I would be happy.”

Do you see what that is? It is holding fast to an idea, a potential change that we think would, well, just be “it” for us!

“If only my parents would get off my back.”

You see? “If only.” And we are deceived, just like Eve and Adam in the Garden, deceived with these lies that, in our minds, promise fulfillment. And we get caught up like this, and as we do, we lose sight of who we are and to whom we belong. We forget that our place is in God’s family, that our future is with Him in paradise, that we have everything in Christ and He is to be our all in all. We forget that He is called the Pearl of Great Price, a treasure above all treasures, and not these other things.

And as we see Him as great, and as we hold fast to Him, here is what happens: “from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” This one, our Lord, He is the one that then gives life to the body, to the church. It is through Him that we are nourished and knit together, and growth happens, and that growth is from God.

We get all fragmented. I go after this or that, and you go after something else, and others chase after still other things, and we get fragmented, we lose unity, we lose effectiveness in this dark world, we work against each other instead of with each other. How can the church in Colossae work and grow and affect their city, their community for the glory of Christ if they are all out pursuing things in place of Christ?

It is the same for us. If our priorities and our treasures are in things of this world, how will we work in strength together for God’s glory?

What if we were all, each one of us from the youngest of Christians to the oldest, if we were all first and foremost hotly pursuing Christ, holding fast to Him, loving Him, living for His glory? What if?

I want to challenge you this week to simply do this. Hold fast to Christ, hold on to Him, pursue Him by reading His Word and worship Him with all your being. Let go of things that are keeping you from seeking after Him, living for Him. Hold fast to Christ!

18 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, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. (Colossians 2:18-19)