Walking in Christ

Walking in Christ

+ + + In Nomine Jesu + + +

Please join me in
prayer: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be pleasing
in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

Dear Brothers and
Sisters in Christ,

Grace to you and peace
from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

What’s your philosophy
for life? In other words, what’s your approach to living or your way of dealing
with different situations? Earlier this month as I flew back to Austin from a continuing education class in upstate New York, I overheard some businessmen
on the airplane talking about how they needed to change their “business philosophy”,
their theory or attitude that guided their behavior. When most people hear the
word “philosophy”, they probably think of that meaning, of a set of
ideas or system of belief. Some of you know that I earned doctor’s degree partly
in philosophy, understood more as the study of the fundamental nature of
knowledge, reality, and existence, including such famous philosophers as
Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The only place the Bible specifically mentions any
kind of philosophy is in the second chapter of Colossians, a passage
I have selected for our meditation this morning, not only because of my
interest in philosophy, but also because what the passage says is relevant to all
of us, especially as it regards our “Walking in Christ.”

You may know that St. Paul wrote the letter to the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse, a city
of the Roman province of Phrygia in Asia Minor, or modern-day Turkey, and you may know that St. Paul wrote the letter while he was in prison in Rome the first
time. Thus, the letter to the Colossians is one of four letters written then
that we call “Prison Epistles” or “Captivity Letters”, along with Philemon,
Ephesians, and Philippians. The church in Colosse apparently had been started
by a man named Epaphras, who worked under Paul’s authority, although Paul
apparently did not have direct contact with the people there until he wrote
them this letter. This letter to the Colossians is sometimes characterized as
the letter of Christ, the head of the Church, but its primary purpose was to
address a false teaching there. That false teaching seemingly combined elements
of Judaism with another false teaching that relied on escaping from the
material to the spiritual by way of secret knowledge, so that people either practiced
extreme self-denial or disregarded such things as sexual conventions. St. Paul wanted the people of Colosse in his day—as with us here today—to know Christ and
not to be deceived by the world’s empty arguments or ideas.

Listen, then to these
words from Colossians chapter two, beginning with the sixth verse:

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. 8 See
to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit
according to human tradition, according to the elemental principles of the
world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness
of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is
the head of all rule and authority. 11 In him also you were
circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of
the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 having been buried with
him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the
powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 And you,
who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made
alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14
by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands.
This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the
rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in

This is the Word of the Lord.

As you listened, did
you notice the two commands of a sort that Paul mentioned? First, the
Colossians and we are to walk in Christ. Paul elaborates on that
“Walking in Christ” with four key phrases: having been rooted in Him,
continuing to be built up in Him, continuing to be established in the faith as
they and we were taught, and continuing to abound in thanksgiving. Those four
things all relate to the first command of “Walking in Christ”. Also related to
that first command about “Walking in Christ” is the second command: to
see to it that no one takes us captive by philosophy, that is by empty deceit.
Paul says that “philosophy” is an empty deceit in three ways: according to
human tradition, according to the elemental principles of the world, and not
being according to Christ. So, while there are two closely-related commands, there
is really one command with many different aspects. Since Paul writes about
being rooted in Christ, being built up in Him, being established in the faith,
and thanksgiving in the other Captivity Letters (as we heard in today’s Epistle
reading), we want to talk further about being taken captive by “philosophy”, since
he mentions that only to the Colossians.

The false teachers St. Paul indirectly and directly targets in the letter may have used the term “philosophy”
to claim authority for their false teaching. The false teachers apparently
claimed some special insight into salvation and asserted a necessary additional
foundation for their proclamation. Like the Judaizers St. Paul targeted
elsewhere, the false teachers in Colosse said keeping certain rules was
necessary for salvation. After the section we heard today, Paul elaborates on
some of those rules the false teachers in Colosse apparently gave: “Do not
handle, do not taste, do not touch.” In Colossians, St. Paul considers such
teaching to be human tradition and worldly principles.

While we all can have
personal beliefs about how to live or how to deal with different situations,
such “philosophies” become a problem when they claim authority in the area of
religion and salvation. In some ways, we today are still dealing with aspects
of the same false teaching the Colossians faced. Have you or someone you know
ever claimed that special rituals were necessary for salvation? Have you or
someone you know ever claimed special knowledge about God apart from what He
reveals through His Church? Have you or someone you know ever looked down on
those who did not practice extreme self-denial or tolerate those who disregard
sexual morality? What other philosophies, or empty deceits according to human
traditions and worldly principles, might take us captive today? Do we ever
think that the music or other practices of the world should influence how the
church worships or reaches out to the lost? Do we ever say that our human
reason and knowledge should overrule what the Bible says? Since our nation has
a history of treating all people fairly, do we ever give equal regard to
everyone’s ideas about religion and morality? When we are taken captive by such
philosophies, or empty deceits, we stop “Walking in Christ”: we are uprooted ,
knocked down, and disestablished from the faith we were taught, and we do not
abound in thanksgiving.

We all sin in these or
other ways, and so we all need to repent. We heard St. Paul write to the
Colossians that by nature we are dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of
our flesh. Apart from the Holy Spirit, our sinful human nature is incapable of
understanding spiritual matters, and, apart from the Holy Spirit, all the
things we do are sinful and displeasing to God. Even we to whom the Holy Spirit
has given faith still find ourselves sinning. God calls all of us, believers
and unbelievers alike, to turn away from our sin and to trust Him to forgive us
for Jesus’s sake.

You see, as St. Paul describes the matter in this section of his Divinely-inspired letter to the
Colossians, philosophy’s empty deceit is especially a problem because it is not
according to Christ, in Whom the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily. Our
empty and deceitful philosophies matter when they impact Who Christ is and
therefore also what He has done. We know out of God’s great love for us He sent
His Son to save us from our sins. St. Paul tells us that Christ Jesus the Lord
is both true God and true man. St. Paul tells us that that God-man took the
record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands and set it aside,
nailing it to the cross. (We are hearing so much in the news these days about
our national deficits and debt, but our debt of sin is infinitely greater, and
Jesus paid that debt of sin for you and for me.) St. Paul tells us that we who
were dead are made alive by God forgiving all our trespasses through faith,
faith in all He did in Christ for us. We die to the elemental principles of
this world. In short, St. Paul tells us that in Him, Who is the head of all
rule and authority, we are filled. Lutheran commentator R. C. H. Lenski puts it
this way:

When we are connected with a Savior in whom all the fullness
of the Deity dwells we are certainly made full to the limit, not a
single need remains for human philosophy and human schemes that are
built in accord with the tradition of men, according to the
elementary things of this world
, so that thereby we may be really and completely
full. Christ as the God-man does not fill us merely in part and leave
something to be added by means of philosophy so as to fill us to the brim.

Lenski’s comments reminded me and
may remind you of the old advertising slogan, “Fill it to the rim, with Brim.”
That slogan appealed to people who would not drink a full cup of caffeinated
coffee but could drink a full cup of the decaffeinated Brim.

Of course, it is not
through coffee that God fills us up, although He does use means. Today’s
reading from Colossians specifically mentions circumcision as one of those
means of grace. By “circumcision”, St. Paul is not indicating the Old
circumcision, which was the external sign someone stood in a
covenant relationship with God, but St. Paul is indicating Holy Baptism (this
Colossians passage is unique in that it makes clear how Baptism replaces Old
Testament circumcision as the New Testament entrance rite into God’s Kingdom).
Through Holy Baptism we are both buried with Christ and raised with Him through
faith. Christ in water and word gives forgiveness of sins, rescues from death
and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe. Moreover, we who
are baptized also are invited to handle, to taste, and to touch Christ Jesus
the Lord in the Sacrament of the Altar. There bread is His body and wine is His
blood, given and shed for you and for me for the forgiveness of our sins.
Despite what the philosophies of some might say, just as deity and humanity are
united in the one person of Christ Jesus the Lord, so His body and blood are
united and are really, physically present in the Sacrament’s bread and wine. We
who so receive Him in faith also receive forgiveness of sins, life, and
salvation, for where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and
salvation. And, there, in the Eucharist, most of all we abound in thanksgiving
as we are “Walking in Christ”.

At the beginning of our
passage from Colossians, St. Paul gave the command regarding “Walking in
Christ”, and he gave the closely-related command regarding not being taken
captive by empty and deceitful philosophies not according to Christ. At the end
of our passage from Colossians, St. Paul refers to Christ disarming the
demonic rulers and authorities of this world (taking them captive, as it
were) and putting them to open shame by triumphing over them in the cross. Yet,
we do not see that triumph with our human eyes right now. Rather, we continue
to struggle with sin in this world, and we live in daily repentance and faith.
Human traditions and worldly principles continue to appeal to us. So, we pray
with hymnwriter Nicolaus Selnecker, as we did a moment ago:

Restrain, O Lord, the human pride / That seeks to thrust Your
truth aside
Or with some man-made thoughts or things / Would dim the words Your Spirit

Stay with us, Lord, and keep us true; / Preserve our faith
our whole life through—
Your Word alone our heart’s defense, / The Church’s glorious confidence.


The peace of God, which
passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

+ + + Soli Deo Gloria + + +