The Apostle Paul was under house arrest, while the Colossian Church was in danger of cardiac arrest. The Colossian Heresy was ravaging this Christian community. Paul sets out to conquer the Colossian Heresy, which was like a spiritual or religious form of the Coronavirus.
What was the Colossian Heresy? It appears to have involved a form of esoteric mystical ascent mixed with a diabolical brand of ascetism. It was taking the Colossian Church’s breath away, like the fluid that fills the lungs with the Coronavirus and that can cause lasting damage. Whether accurate or not, it has been likened to merkabah mysticism, which appeared to involve the notion that, to enter God’s fullness, one has to proceed by means of mystical ascent involving ascetic practices, even while passing through the domains of those malevolent angels who ruled the planets and cosmos. In the effort not to offend this angelic host, some devotees may have tried to placate these fallen angels by worshiping them and abusing their own bodies (Colossians 2:18 appears to convey a similar idea). On this view, only the spiritually elite could attain to the divine fullness.
However conceived, the Church in Colossae could not breathe as a result of contracting the Colossian Heresy. These Christians needed to fill their lungs with the air or wind of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. But instead, they were filling their hearts, minds and imaginations with religious fluid that would do permanent damage to their souls, even kill them.
It was like a severe form of pneumonia associated with the Coronavirus. According to John Hopkins Medicine, the pneumonia associated with COVID-19 can seize control of both lungs. If it progresses, it can lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which can lead to death. Even those who recover from ARDS and rebound from the Coronavirus “may have lasting pulmonary scarring.” It is also worth noting here that according to Scientific American, some who contract the virus are experiencing heart damage and dying of cardiac arrest.
Now imagine contracting the Coronavirus and having to walk to the hospital, climbing stairs to the top floor to get admitted, paying up front to get seen by the doctor, finding the doctor to be menacing with no bedside manner and no respirator in sight, then telling you to pay more before further help would be provided. All the while, the grasping for your breath grows worse. The Colossian Church endured something similar in the spiritual realm.
Paul seeks to conquer this virus by capturing the church’s imagination and calling them to breathe in Christ. Paul presents Jesus as the physician of the soul who does house calls, who has a phenomenal bedside manner, who pays the bill for us so we can be seen. Who would you rather be seen by? Jesus or the Colossian Heresy’s elemental spirits or demons who parade in white, who are supposed to be mediators of the Law—the spiritual equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath, but who manipulate the Law and abuse it and us to their own ends?
So how does Paul encourage the Colossian Church to respond? What was/is the cure for the virus? According to Paul, the cure involves taking seriously the fact that all the fullness of deity is in bodily form in Jesus, and that they have been given fullness in Jesus Christ: “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him” (Colossians 2:9-10; ESV). The fullness is not beyond them in the ethereal domain, which includes the aeons, principalities, and powers of the ‘angelic’ dominions. No, it is close to home, in our midst, as Jesus is incarnate, or as Paul writes, “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9; ESV). The cure involves setting our minds on things above, where the incarnate Jesus—who had dwelt on earth in our midst—is seated at the right hand of God. Our lives are hidden in Jesus (See Colossians 3:1-3).
We must take seriously the fact that we do not attain sufficient spiritual understanding through some private education associated with an esoretic, mystical school of thought. According to that tradition, only the religious elite can access the curriculum to create the spiritual equivalent of a vaccine to guard “members only” from the virus that would ravage our souls so that we cannot breathe. In contrast to this perspective, the once hidden and true mystery has been disclosed to God’s people (Colossians 1:26). The formerly hidden mystery is revealed in Christ in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and understanding. Jesus is the revealed mystery. He alone provides the code to the cure for the virus that keeps us from breathing spiritually and relationally. We now have eternal access to Jesus’ curriculum and his relational vaccine. Rather than access to the formula for the cure being denied or hidden from us, our lives are hidden in Christ, in whom “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3; ESV). We have immediate access to Christ Jesus through faith. As Luther writes in The Freedom of a Christian, we ascend to Christ by faith in God’s promise (not by works) through the Spirit who pours God’s active love into our hearts. In turn, we descend to our neighbors in faithful, active love for them.
Look no further than Jesus, who descended to us from heaven and who through God’s outpoured love in the Spirit creates faith and lifts us up to his throne by faith. We can trust him. He does house calls and has a great bedside manner. He is the master physician of the soul. He does not put upon us demands to pay some insurmountable bill that would bankrupt us, unlike the demonic principalities and powers. As the one in whom the fullness of deity dwells bodily, he is the head over all authority in the heavenly and earthly realms (See Colossians 2:10).
Jesus has taken upon himself the responsibility to pay the bill we owe and died to the law’s late payment demands. He has exposed as fake those elemental principles or spiritual/angelic principles whose practices are fraudulent (Colossians 2:13-15). Given that we find fullness in him, we need not fear them. We need not seek to appease these spirit principles or fallen angels (Galatians 2:8, 20; 3:19). We need only find our fullness of breath and life by breathing in him. Jesus who is the fullness of deity in the flesh and in whom we find fullness has paid our debt in full. So do not listen to the voices in your head and heart that would tell you to pay up, and those spirits who fill your lungs with fluid until you choke to death. Know who Jesus is, what he has done for you, and who you are in him through God’s Spirit. We close with these words about what Jesus has done for us:
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, 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. 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, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him (Colossians 2:11-15; ESV).
In the second post on this theme of how to conquer the spiritual equivalent of the Coronavirus, we will reflect upon how these spirit principles manifest themselves today and how we are to respond and guard against contracting—or set about recovering from—this spiritual respiratory disease known as the Colossian Heresy today.
For more on the subject of the Colossian Heresy, as well as merkabah mysticism, see F.F. Bruce, The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament, 2nd. Ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), pages 18-20, 23-24; see also F. F. Bruce, Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 1977), pages 413-414.
See “The Freedom of a Christian,” in Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings, ed. Timothy F. Lull (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), page 623.