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A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

2:1 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.  - Colossians 1:24-2:5

Located on an important trade route in what today is modern Turkey, the ancient city of Colossae became home to a congregation of new believers who were facing the challenge of learning how the distinctive doctrines of Christian teaching differed from the pagan religious philosophies that surrounded them. Receiving news of the troubling teaching infiltrating the ranks of the Colossian congregation, the Apostle Paul quickly penned a letter to address the emerging doctrinal issues.

Although Paul had not planted or visited the church in Colossae, he was deeply concerned to help these young believers learn more about their new identity in Christ. Apparently, false teachers had made their way into the congregation in some manner or another, and their instruction was corrupting the doctrinal foundations of apostolic teaching upon which the church in Colossae had been founded. In substance, they attempted to add on to simple faith in Christ some form of secret, or esoteric, knowledge as grounds for salvation. In other words, it was no longer faith in Christ = salvation but faith in Christ + some kind of asceticism/worship of angels/engagement in talk of false visions = salvation.

Incorporating elements of Jewish dietary laws, festivals, and Sabbath practice, the syncretistic teaching had the appearance of being rooted in Scripture and therefore appealed to the sympathies of the Colossian Christians. While similar at points to apostolic teaching, the modified message of salvation was at heart a corruption of the gospel, thereby meriting the same anathema Paul pronounces upon the Judaizers in his letter to the Galatians who were attempting to redefine the doctrine of the believer's justification by adding the requirement of circumcision for full forgiveness of one's sins and acceptance by God.

Perhaps only 5 to 10 years old in their lives as Christians, the young believers in Colossae were truly "in" Christ but now needed to learn more about what their new faith entailed in order that they would not be swept along in their spiritual innocence by every false wind of doctrine found in their city and now making inroads into their congregation.

Having affirmed their reputation for "faith in Christ" and their love for all the "saints," Paul's letter urges them to a better grasp of the "mystery" which has already been revealed, namely, "Christ in you, the hope of glory." It is upon this foundation that they must build as they learn what it means to "mature" in the knowledge of their new life in Christ and all that it involves. Temporal things must be viewed in light of eternity; to accomplish this, Paul instructs them to "set their minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth." Having "died" with Christ, their life is now "hidden with Christ in God." Apostolic teaching on and about Christ must be central in their thinking for maturing in their new-found faith. Any hybrid message of salvation that compromises these truths and focus, whether by addition or subtraction, was a false gospel whose teachers and message Christians led by the Spirit of Christ must reject.

What was true for new believers two thousand years ago is still true for Christians today. New life in Christ means having a new outlook informed by biblical teaching. Growth in the Christian life is always—and never anything other—than growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ in his person, work, and teaching as found and preserved in the Old and New Testaments. Christ is the believer's hope of glory and it is in union with him that all the riches of divine grace are to be found and learned. In Christ is wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification; growth in grace is learning to have the "mind of Christ" in living all of one's life to the glory of God in response to the constraining love of Christ in one's soul. While salvation is a gift, growth in grace is the reflex response of faith to the divine initiative cultivated in a life of maturing spirituality that is grounded in biblical teaching and a deepening devotion to the undivided discipleship to which every believer is called and should aspire.

Jim Garretson
Ministry Director at Harvard Law School