If God’s desire is for us to stay connected to Jesus so that you can continue to be nourished and grow spiritually, what do you think Satan’s desire is? Isn’t it quite obvious? Satan will do everything in his power to get you and me to let go of Jesus and to make something else or someone else the Head, the most important thing, first place. And when Jesus is no longer the Head, when Jesus slides to second or third place, when Jesus slides down the priority list and He is no longer first, we’ve lost it all.
Colossians 2 outlines the strategies that Satan employs to get Christians disconnected from the Head and to move Christ out of first place in our personal lives, and sadly, out of first place even among entire churches.
Why do I say Satan was involved at this church in Colossae? There is no explicit mention of Satan in this chapter. Only false teachers. Why do I believe Satan is directly involved? I am basing this interpretation on 2 verses. Verse 8 and 20.
8 Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.
20 If you died with the Messiah to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?
Twice, Paul mentions “elemental forces.” Verse 20, in particular, is quite revealing because elemental forces is used in the context of salvation. You USED TO, past tense, belong to the elemental forces of this world, you used to belong to the world. Who is the ruler of this world? Satan. This means, pre-salvation, every one of us was ruled by Satan. We belonged to demonic forces. We were prisoners of sin and Satan. We were unwitting subjects and followers of Satan, influenced by evil.
Elemental forces refers basically to demonic forces and the head of these elemental forces is Satan himself. The same way that Jesus as the spiritual Head of His church mobilizes pastors and evangelists and missionaries and churches to get the gospel out to the world, Satan as the spiritual head of these elemental forces is mobilizing false teachers.
Notice who these false teachers are sent to. Who’s the target? They are sent to churches. Believers. Verse 20 – believers who at one point died with the Messiah to the elemental forces, who died with Christ, died to their old nature, and the bondage of sin was broken, these very Christians are being deceived and they are being bound again to elemental forces through false teachers. And underlying these false teachers, the source of the deception is Satan, the head, the one in charge of the dominion of darkness.
What does this tell you? This tells you that Satan’s greatest and most frequent attacks are not out in the world, but they are happening right here in churches. Satan doesn’t have to work that hard when it comes to non-believers because they are utterly bound, enslaved, blind, they are prisoners and they have no way out apart from faith in Christ. But when it comes to believers, Satan is working overtime to cause us to fall or to render us spiritually ineffective and impotent.
Sometimes, you wonder, how do Christians fall for false teaching? Are they just extra gullible? If this is how you think, you have no idea who we’re dealing with. We have to remember that Satan is the master of deception. 2 Cor 11:14 – Satan masquerades as an angel of light. He acts as if he’s on our side.
4 I am saying this so that no one will deceive you with persuasive arguments.
Satan’s arguments toward Christians are extremely, extremely persuasive. If Satan said, stop preaching the gospel, or denounce Christ outright and sacrifice an animal and offer it to Satan here and now in some satanic ritual, I don’t think many of us would fall for it. In order for a false teacher’s argument to be persuasive, it would have to be so close to the original that you would have a hard time knowing that you were falling for a deception. Like fake jewelry, I can’t tell the difference between a real diamond and a fake diamond made out of crystal. A diamond and a shiny pieces of glass look similar to me. You need to have the trained eye of a professional to tell the real one from a counterfeit.
If criminals can come up with fakes which are so close to the original that it would fool most of us, don’t you think Satan can come up a fake version of Christianity that is pretty darn close to the truth? Many Christians think, why is Paul so uptight about right doctrine? As long as the gospel is preached, it’s fine. Paul should loosen up. This is one of Satan’s greatest deceptions, that as long as the gospel is articulated, you’re good. You can say whatever you want, but you’re fine as long as the gospel is preached. This is false.
Many false teachers to this day still preach Jesus as the Savior who died on the cross for our sins. False teachers still teach the gospel as part of their overall teaching. They can articulate the gospel, but what matters is not what is articulated but what is accented. If Jesus is first and He remains the Head because the gospel is accented as THE main teaching, then you and I will continue to be nourished by Jesus and grow spiritually. On the other hand, even if the gospel is articulated, false teachers will not place the accent, the emphasis, the focus on Christ. Instead, the accent is on some other teaching, and as a result, over time, you will lose connection to Jesus as the Head. You will lose your Head. It will be so gradual as to be imperceptible. But you will reach the end of your life and wonder, how come I haven’t changed? Why am I still the same person deep down at the core? Where is the spiritual fruit in my life? How come I don’t know Jesus? How come Jesus says, He doesn’t know me? I don’t get it.
If you listen to current day false teachers like the prosperity gospel preachers, from time to time, you will still hear them preach the gospel of Jesus dying on the cross for our sin and our need to repent and place our faith in Christ. But if you listen to them week after week, the accent is not on Christ. The accent is on things like materialistic blessing, having your best life right now in the present, name it and claim it theology, positive thinking, optimism, the more you give, the more God will bless you financially. That’s where the accent is. Jesus is not the Head. The charismatic leader is the head. Or Money is the head, it’s first. As a result, though the gospel is preached, spiritually, the listeners are cut off from Jesus and they are in danger of losing everything.
Now let’s look at how Satan mobilized false teachers to deceive the Christians at Colossae. What was Satan’s strategy to get the church at Colossae off track so that some there lost their Head, lost Christ, got disconnected from Christ, who is the source of life and growth?
Let’s read a few verses to try to piece together the scene at Colossian church.
11 You were also circumcised in Him with a circumcision not done with hands, by putting off the body of flesh, in the circumcision of the • Messiah .
The insistence on circumcision is a familiar component of the brand of false teaching that was spreading during Paul’s day. These false teachers were known as Judaizers, but this particular version of false teaching at Colossae was different than the one you see in the book of Galatians. Remember, Satan is not a one trick pony. He is the master of deception. In Galatians, the deception was to impose Jewish tradition on non-Jewish converts. Here in Colossians, false teachers are insisting on circumcision, partly perhaps due to tradition, but also, because they thought that the physical flesh is evil.
20 If you died with the Messiah to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to REGULATIONS: 21 “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”? 22 All these regulations refer to what is destroyed by being used up; they are commands and doctrines of men. 23 Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ASCETIC PRACTICES, humility, and SEVERE TREATMENT of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence.
Notice the phrase in v23–ascetic practices and severe treatment of the body. These false teachers taught that our bodies are evil. And because our bodies are evil, they taught that we need to beat down our flesh with burdensome ascetic practices, circumcision being one of the primary examples. Practices that forced you into a rigid life of self-discipline. You had to abstain from all forms of indulgence because when you indulge, you are feeding the source of evil, your flesh.