Paul warns the Colossians against falling back into the old orientation toward self-help. “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” Flannery O’Connor ironically put those words—“I’m doing alright by myself”—in the mouth of a serial killer proclaiming that he doesn’t need Jesus. This is an apt summary of the ethos of the false teachers plaguing the saints at Colossae. In their “self-imposed piety” (Col. 2:23), spiritual progress could be attained by rough treatment of the body, mystical visions (Col. 2:18), and observing special days and food laws (Col. 2:16, likely derived from the Old Testament). These teachers believed that by marshaling the resources at their disposal, they could overcome sin on their own.
This important point forms the foundation for Paul’s exhortations to workers later in the letter. Genuine progress in the faith—including progress in the way we glorify God in our workplace—can spring only out of our trust in God’s work in us through Christ.
Flannery O’Connor, “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” in Collected Works (New York: Library of America, 1988).