Elemental Spirits

Elemental Spirits
Written by: Samantha Wichman

In Colossians 2:8, Paul charges believers to not be taken captive by philosophy and empty deceit, “according to human tradition, according to elemental spirits of the world, and not to Christ.”

How exactly are we to understand the term “elemental spirits?” The Greek word “stoicheia” (used here in Colossians 2:8 as well as in Colossians 2:20, Galatians 4:3, and Galatians 4:9) is translated both as “elemental spirits” and “elemental principles.”

According to Oxford Biblical Studies Online, the most common way to understand these elemental spirits is as angels.

But why would angels want to take us captive? Aren’t they the good guys?

Look at what Galatians 3:19 says about the relationship between angels and the Law: “Why then the Law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.”

According to Scripture, the Law was put in place by angels. Um, what? This is a new thought for me, and my guess is it probably is for you too. 

The main point that Paul is getting at, however, is that believers are ALIVE in Christ! Our standing in Christ is completely different from our standing under the Law.

Under the Law, humans are dead, condemned, and enslaved. Under the Law, we are far from God. Jesus (by His life, death, and resurrection) not only paid our debt and gave us eternal life in Himself, but also “disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him” (Col. 2:13-15), and gives us access to God (Eph. 2:18).

In Colossians 2:8, Paul is telling believers that when they adhere to the Law (to any degree), they are CHOOSING to become enslaved once more, when Christ has indeed SET THEM FREE. The Law required people to do certain things in order to approach God, but Christ removed any need for an intermediary. 

Paul is asking believers WHY (now that they have indeed been reconciled to God through Christ), they want to adhere once again to the tenants of the Law and act as if Christ never came.

“Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.” Galatians 3:23-29.

In what ways do your actions try to nullify the work of Christ?
What would it look like to let your belief in Christ’s finished work change these actions?

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