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Four Warnings From Colossians
By David A. DePra
In the epistle of Paul to the Colossians, we have perhaps the best definition of Christianity in the Bible. It is found in Col. 1:27: Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Christianity is CHRIST IN US, the hope of glory. And of course, included in this definition, would be how we come to have Christ in us, as well as the impact of Christ in us, which is the Christian life. But at the root, the Truth of Christianity is CHRIST IN US. Once we depart from that central Truth, or water it down, or make Christianity anything else, we are in great danger.
You cannot build a strong house without a proper foundation. Christ in us is the ONLY foundation for Christianity. It all starts there, and really ends there as to purpose. Everything else is secondly, and serves that purpose – in the individual, and in the Body of Christ. God’s purpose in His people is Christ. Christ is the means of God’s glory, and the means of our redemption, freedom, and spiritual growth.
The centrality of Christ is the theme of Colossians. But not merely the centrality of Christ as the topic of conversation, or as the main doctrine of the church. No. The theme of Colossians is the centrality of Christ IN the individual. Paul says, "You are complete in Him." (Col. 2:10) In fact, read especially Colossians 2, and count how many times Paul says, "in Him," "with Him," "by Him," "through Him," etc. Paul is trying to tell us that everything in the Christian life is obtained IN CHRIST – and that nothing comes outside of Him. All life, Truth, wisdom, and redemption is the result – not of religion ABOUT Christ – but is the result of CHRIST IN US. He applies this personally to the believer. And of course, what is true personally, is true collectively for the Body of Christ.
In fact, Paul is so serious about this great Truth about Christ in us that he gives us FOUR ways in which the enemy will try to blind us to this Truth. These FOUR warnings or dangers are both the means by which the enemy will approach us, and they are the errors that will arise in the Christian church if he is successful.
Paul says, "Christ in you is Christianity. Everything is found in Christ. But here is what the enemy will offer you as an alternative. Here is how the enemy will approach you. And if you take the bait and buy into these errors, they will constitute the false foundation upon which your life will be based. They are SUBSTITUTES for Christ in you – substitutes for HIS LIFE."
God gave these warnings for our protection – so that we might HOLD FAST to Christ. Thus, we need to read them and take them to heart.
Warning #1: Let no man beguile you with enticing words
Christ, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. And this I say, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words. (Col 2:3-4)
Paul is telling us that IN CHRIST are hidden all of the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and he says that he is telling us this LEST ANY MAN BEGUILE US with enticing words. In other words, this is a warning against enticing words that would otherwise trick or deceive us into looking to someone or something OTHER than Christ for wisdom and knowledge.
The fact is, you and I cannot know God, or His ways, unless we know Christ. People are smart enough to create religious belief systems, and self-help guides, and do it all in the name of Christ. This has been done for the last two-thousand years. Christian teachers create A WAY. But they do it independent of THE WAY, who is Jesus Christ.
Don’t misunderstand. Every false Christian teacher – the ones that are deliberate deceivers, and the ones that are themselves deceived – they ALL use the name of Christ. They say, "This is the way to walk with God." Or they say, "This is the secret key to finding God’s blessings." No false teacher is going to get up and say, "Here is a way to walk with God that puts Christ in the background." But the moment I teach that there is wisdom and knowledge that can come to me independent of personally knowing Jesus Christ, I am teaching error. Jesus Christ Himself IS the Truth. Therefore, if I want to know the Truth, I have to know HIM.
I could give many examples to illustrate the possibilities here. But one that I heard on Christian television the other night will do. One of the Christian networks was having their fall fund-raising telethon, and one of the usual preachers used for that purpose was on television trying to raise money. This time it was Mike Murdock, who is one of the biggest heretics today when it comes to this sort of thing. He was promising his listeners that if they, "planted an uncommon seed," that they would have an, "uncommon harvest." Included in this promise of an uncommon harvest was, "uncommon wisdom." He also promised deliverance from bondage, promised healed relationships, healed bodies, and of course, financial prosperity. All of this was promised as the result of giving money to the Christian network.
The justification for this promise? Well, it was that this network was anointed of God. So if you plant a seed in their ministry, that anointing will be imparted to YOU – the anointing being the means of all of those things promised as a harvest.
Of course when promises like this are made, the money does roll in. And then BECAUSE it rolls in, such television networks claim that God is blessing them. They use this success, "prove," that they are, in fact, doing God’s will, God’s way. Otherwise, how could they be so successful? Well, they could be that successful by preaching error – by promising people all those things mentioned above in exchange for money. This has all been done before. The Roman Catholic Church of the middle ages basically ruled Europe and accumulated a fortune -- selling indulgences. They made all the same claims. And God wasn’t in any of it. This is exactly the SAME false teaching in new garb.
But the point I want to make is this: The key to wisdom is not for me to plant a seed. The key to wisdom is KNOWING JESUS CHRIST. Neither is the key to freedom from bondage planting a seed. The key to freedom, according to Jesus, is to KNOW THE TRUTH – which He said was equal to knowing Him. The fact is, there is NOTHING that God has promised that is not found in His Son. All things are found in Christ, and nothing can be obtained outside of Him.
That is exactly why Jesus said, "Seek you first His kingdom and His righteousness. And all else will be added unto you." God wants everything in our lives to be a by-product of Christ in us, our relationship with Him, and a product of the fact that we have given ourselves over into His hands for His glory. If God gave us the blessings of Christ independent of the Person of Christ, well, it would end up destroying us.
But you see, enticing words – words that draw people IN by making promises – can be quite deceitful and effective. Just tell people the right buttons they need to push with God and they can receive all that they need, indeed, all that they want – and they can have it without knowing Christ. Now, I realize that these teachers never say that you can have anything without knowing Christ. No. Indeed, what they do is say that this whole system is OF CHRIST! Sure. They must say that. But it is nothing more than a way of using the name of Christ to feed themselves.
Any real teacher of the gospel is going to point you to CHRIST. They will NEVER attach money to the blessings of God. EVER. They will NEVER tell you that you must come to them to get Christ, or to be blessed of God. Rather, they will teach you how to go to Christ, and how to walk with Him.
As far as giving money goes, a true teacher will teach you how to know Christ and walk with Him. Free of charge. No strings attached. And if you value that message you will give. But in all honesty, based on the flow of money today, the Body of Christ values the prosperity message -- and does not value the Truth of the gospel. Just follow the money -- people put their money where their heart is. Thus, sadly, we, as a Body, have gotten exactly what we have paid for: A false gospel that is spreading everywhere. It is OUR fault -- and of course, I speak generally. Every one is not specifically to blame.
Again, Jesus said, "SEEK FIRST the kingdom." If He commands us to do that, what do we suppose HE is seeking first FOR US? The kingdom of God – which is essentially Christ in us, and Jesus Lord of us. But then along the way, He will add to us all the material possessions we need.
If we find Christ, and are growing to know Him, we will find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. We don’t find these things by giving money, or by really doing anything. We find them if we find Christ.
Of course, the question becomes: How do I find Christ? Well, you find Christ by losing your life into His hands. "He that loses His life for My sake will find it." And Paul says right here in Colossians, "Christ, who is our life." (Col. 3:4)
So what we see is that all of these promises, methods, and false teachings, are nothing more than a DENIAL of the sufficiency of Jesus Christ, and a DENIAL of the necessity of the Cross. Of course. Where the enemy is at work, you will usually find a substitute for these – because as I said, Christianity is CHRIST IN US. Deny that, neglect that, blur that, and you will have successfully BEGUILED the Christian people who believe you.
"To entice," means, "to lure by a bait." False teachers use ENTICING words. Get that picture. You cannot lure anyone to a bait unless that bait is what they want, or what they need. For example, if I am in trouble financially, and someone tells me that God will bless me if I give them money -- even money I don't have -- well, that is a bait to which I might easily be lured out of desperation – and the words used, the facial expressions, and the emotion, are the enticing words used. The TRAP is that I am being lured into a place of provision that is OUTSIDE of real faith and outside of the Person of Jesus Christ.
Do you really believe that the only way you can find provision in Christ – for ANYTHING – is by coming THROUGH a ministry or a supposed man of god? Mike Murdock, Paula White, Benny Hinn, Juanita Bynum, and many others, openly call themselves by that name -- they call themselves, "a man or woman of God," or, "God's prophet." I have personally heard each of them refer to themselves by those terms. I guess that is supposed to make us afraid to take what they say to God and ask Him about it. But ask: Even if they WERE what they claim (and they are NOT) -- but even if they were, are THEY your mediator unto God? The Bible says, "There is One Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ." (I Tim. 2:5) You don’t need to come to God through anyone but Christ. And if you are a Christian, you already have CHRIST IN YOU. It is a finished reality.
The moment you believe you cannot have full access to God except through a leader or a ministry or a group, you have denied the reality of Christ in you. You have been enticed. You have taken the bait. The solution? Drop the person who is teaching you this lie and come to Christ. He died to give Himself to you -- personally. Let no one beguile you.
Enticing words often seek to lure us away from the reality of CHRIST IN US – to a notion that we cannot truly find God unless we add onto Christ with a religious system, or plug into God through a ministry that promises to impart to us their anointing. But the Bible teaches that Christ is the ONLY ANOINTED ONE. Thus, if you have Christ in you, you have the anointing in you.
So in his first warning to the Colossians, Paul is saying that we need to beware lest someone try to entice us – entice us, yes TO error. But more than that, we need beware lest they try to entice us AWAY from Christ.
That is the point. All false teaching, in one way or another, will seek to entice us with a bait AWAY from Christ to something that is a false substitute FOR HIM.
Paul said, "No. In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. You don’t need to be scared into believing what people teach. You don’t need to take anyone’s bait. You don’t need to be afraid that you will miss out if you THINK FOR YOURSELF. You don't need to be afraid you will, "miss God," if you don't send in money. No. That is an abomination to say that. If Christ is in you, you can't miss God. God is IN YOU. Seek Christ HIMSELF. If you find HIM, you will know the Truth."
Warning #2: Beware lest any one spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit.
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. For in him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And you are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power: (Col 2:8-10)
There are many Christian teachings out there today that are nothing more than self-help guides as to how to live a happy life, get God to bless you, and, to borrow a book title, how to have, "Your Best Life Now." They offer techniques and methods – which are not necessarily evil or immoral – but they amount to ways in which we can improve who we are independent of death and resurrection in Jesus Christ.
God has no plans to improve Adam, help Adam, or to affirm Adam. Adam died in Christ. And if we want to be raised in Christ, "our Adam," must die IN HIM. All that God has for us is wrapped up in the new creation in His Son.
Now, I do realize that everyone who writes these self-help books, and who is a preacher of the gospel of self-esteem would agree with that. But they don’t have a clue as to what it means – or they would not write and teach what they do. Death and resurrection in Christ is not merely a doctrine to believe in. It is an experience. And I can promise you that if we really got into business with God along that line, we would see the utter nonsense of, "Country club Christianity," your best life now, and the Satanic gospel of self-esteem.
Read the above passage again, and note the contrast between the tools of the enemy -- those of, "philosophy and vain deceit" -- and the Truth that we are COMPLETE IN CHRIST. One of the common approaches of the enemy is to offer us solutions for what ails us by trying to make us feel good about ourselves. This is VAIN DECEIT. It satisfies SELF, but it is NOT real, and not the Truth. It is vain, or USELESS. But God has something better. He tells us that if we would come into the Truth, we would see and experience that we are complete in Christ.
The modern gospel of self-esteem, promoted by Robert Schuller, Joel Osteen, and many others, is a message that tells us – not that we are complete IN CHRIST – but tells us that Christ makes US complete. And I am being generous -- for their message really tells us how to make ourselves complete, and get God to help us. But either way, I hope we see that this is error. It is error that is based on, at best, a blindness to the Cross of Jesus Christ. That is scary, since you must see the necessity of the Cross to even so much as BEGIN in the things of God.
So we come back to death and resurrection. You cannot be complete in Christ until you confess that you are incomplete – in Adam. You just won’t see your need otherwise. But if you confess that you are incomplete, you will lose your best life now in order to find His best life forever. You will come to see that to be COMPLETE IN CHRIST does not mean that I have found a religious system, a bunch of principles to follow, or that I have found a way to walk with God that pushes the right buttons. I will see that it means that because He is everything to me, that I am everything I need to be in Him. In short, I will continue to be a flawed human being. But Christ makes up for what I lack. I am complete IN HIM.
I don’t mean this merely in a legal way. I mean it in an experiential way. Do you want to be a whole person? Well, you will find that only in Christ. You can be complete only in Him. This is not philosophy, and it is not vain deceit – it is not a matter of you feeling good about yourself. It is a matter of you being delivered from yourself and so focused on Christ, and upon His glory, that you experience redemption. You feel good about HIM! You leave yourself alone, in His hands!
Redemption is a restoration back to an original condition and ownership. Man’s original condition is to be made complete in God. To let God BE God. This is possible only if Jesus Christ is our personal Lord. It is not possible through philosophy and vain deceit. It is not possible by following the religious traditions of men. Christianity is CHRIST IN US – and we are complete only IN HIM.
The enemy seeks to provide us with something, anything, that will SPOIL US – that is, carry us off as spoil -- away from Christ Himself. It is so easy to get excited about a line of teaching, a Christian philosophy, or something that seems to provide to us with an answer. It is easy to be CARRIED OFF by it into some, "movement." But Christianity isn’t a movement. It is Christ in us. In the end, we must be found in Christ. And Paul is admonishing us to hold fast to HIM.
Warning #3: Let no man judge you according to law
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. (Col 2:16-17)
Leading up to this passage, Paul goes through the entirety of what Jesus Christ has accomplished through His redemptive work. Central to his teaching is the fact that Jesus died and was raised FOR US. But if you read Col. 2:11-15, you will find something beyond the facts about what Jesus did FOR US. Paul is talking about the fact that we have died and been raised IN HIM.
Paul says, "You are circumcised IN HIM. You are buried WITH HIM. You are risen WITH HIM. You are quickened together WITH HIM." This is, of course, how we are complete IN HIM. Christianity is Christ IN US. It is not merely belief in a list of things that Christ did FOR us.
Paul is telling us that everything Jesus did for us is worked IN US. This is because through death and resurrection we are ONE with Him. What else would be the case if Christianity is CHRIST IN US?
But having said all of that, Paul then adds, "Therefore let no man bring a judgment against you because of whether you keep religious practices. Those things – even if they are of God – are the shadow. Christ is the substance – and His is in YOU."
Paul is getting at the basis of all man-made religion -- including man-made religion about Christ. He is saying that none of it is real. What is real is Christ -- and all that He is doing in you. The rest is like a shadow -- at best.
Here we see again that the definition of Christianity is Christ in you. It is NOT whether you keep this or that law, or whether you believe the right things. I’m not saying that a Christian won’t obey God, or believe the Truth. No. But Paul is saying that it is possible to keep tons of rules, principles, and laws – but to be living entirely in the shadows. The question is whether Christ is in you, and whether He is becoming Lord of you.
The Bible teaches that obedience in the Christian life is the OUTCOME of faith – the outcome of CHRIST IN US. Legalism, however, teaches that our relationship with Christ is the outcome of obedience.
Christians need to understand this Truth. Once I replace the reality of Christ in me, with the shadow of things to come, well, I will be in the dark. And yet Christians by the thousands are taught that doing things this or that way is what Christianity is all about. No. Christianity is Christ in us. But if you have Christ in you, the Christian life will emerge in Truth and holiness.
We see the error of shadow over substance everywhere today. One place this is evidence is in denominations. If you walk into one church, they demand that you do this or that their way. Another church demands the same – their way. The same is often the case with non-denominational churches or home fellowships. They have their structure, belief system, and principles. But the question is: Does Christ have THEM? Is Christ the center, or is the church, and it’s distinctives the center?
I have known of churches, for example, that will not have a pastor who uses the KJV of the Bible. I have known of others who demand a pastor who uses KJV only. They have their reasons. But this is all about shadow. Where is substance? Where is Christ? At some point we might ask whether there is a church out there that actually cares about the spiritual health of their congregation, and wants a pastor who will be God's vehicle to reveal to them the Person of Jesus Christ?
There are also Christians who have such a, "religious spirit," about them that if you say the slightest thing that does not agree with their belief system they will write you off as a heretic. Some fancy themselves to be prophets and teachers – but their attitude is so arrogant and self-serving that it is obvious that they are in the dark. The point is, anyone can fashion a religion around Christ, and use it to serve themselves. Anyone can construct a belief system equipped with the shadow of things to come – and it may SEEM good. But where is the substance? According to Paul, the only substance there is is CHRIST HIMSELF.
Do you want to know what, in the eyes of God, is REAL? Jesus Christ. He is the substance – the reality of God. The Truth. The rest is shadows.
Imagine of the Person of Jesus came walking down my street, and I ran out to meet Him. But instead of embracing HIM, I fall down and embrace His shadow. How much of Christ would I really have? Well, none. But His shadow sort of looks like Him. It’s shaped like Him. But it isn’t HIM. This is the religion of many people – the shadow of Christ. They don’t realize that Christianity is about a real Person – Christ in us the hope of glory.
Paul is telling us that people who fashion a religion of shadows will almost always judge you by it. Sure. The judgmental spirit usually comes with the package. Rather than point you to Christ, they focus on how you fall short of THEM. But he says, "Don’t let any one render a judgment against you if you don’t walk in the shadow of things to come. Walk in Christ. He is the substance."
Jesus Christ did not come to give us religion – not even a religion ABOUT Him. He did not come to deliver to us a list of principles to follow – even though Christians should obey God. No. Christ came to give us HIMSELF. He gave to give us LIFE IN HIMSELF. That is real. It is a death and resurrection that results in obedience. But it is something that all the law-keeping in the world cannot duplicate.
Law-keeping cannot form the life of Christ in us. The life of Christ in us is released only through the Cross -- through dying with Him.
If people would begin getting into personal business with Christ Himself, there would be plenty of good works and obedience. The church would be holy. Perhaps the greatest irony of all is that religion about Christ is the biggest enemy of Christ Himself.
Warning #4: Let no man disqualify you of your reward
Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increases with the increase of God. (Col 2:18-19)
The, "reward," here is not salvation or heaven. It is CHRIST. Paul is talking about the positive results of being in Christ. No man should be allowed to render a judgment against us that would disqualify us from THAT reward.
Notice HOW the enemy will try to do this: First, through, "voluntary humility." The Greek here means, "to delight in humility." This is a matter of you doing whatever you think you need to do to make yourself humble. And then, having supposedly made yourself humble, you take pride and confidence in it!
One of the biggest sources of spiritual pride for some Christians is their humility. Of course, none of this is real humility. True humility is not accomplished by putting yourself down, or by doing anything. True humility is the product of seeing Jesus Christ. See HIM, and you will be humble.
But false teachers will offer alternatives to Christ. They will give you principles to follow that supposedly make you humble. One such principle is, "submission to authority." False teachers like Bill Gothard, and heresy movements such as the, "shepherding movement," of the 1970’s promise this as a way to become humble. But the problem is, you can submit to authority and do it completely outside of Christ in you. God wants us to submit to HIM. But the result is not that our pride is crushed. The result is that our flesh is crucified and we are raised in freedom in Christ.
You cannot make yourself humble by keeping a law -- not even God's law. Again -- you are made humble by seeing Christ. See Him, and you will see your hopelessness. And then you will open to His grace.
Actually, most legalism is an attempt to duplicate the life of Christ through works. It is a way to create righteousness and humility by what we DO. We know we are supposed to be humble, so Christians act humble. But according to Paul, all these kinds of things do is rob us of our real reward – oneness in Christ.
Paul also says the enemy will try to get us to, "intrude into those things we have not seen, vainly puffed up by our fleshly minds." How easy it is to think that if I KNOW LOTS OF TEACHING, that this is equal to knowing Jesus Christ. This is true with regards to even true teaching. But how much more it is with regards to false teaching. And the fact is, if I don’t know Jesus Christ, eventually my teaching about Him will suffer.
Paul is also warning us against any fascination with facts, history, doctrines, or supposedly secret Truth, that we might use to make ourselves special. He is warning us against thinking that we are an elite group, belong to an exclusive company, or have something in Christ – because of our merits – that not many other Christians can have. No. If we hold fast to the HEAD, we won’t be holding fast to some THING that we use as a claim to fame. And if we are holding fast to the Head, we won't be holding fast to a part of His Body as being better than another.
Again -- Christianity is Christ in us. We aren't more special than another. Christ is special in each one of us. Everyone of God’s people have the same access to God by His grace.
One of the greatest sins of the Christian church has been to use the things of God for our own glory, and for our own profit. Paul says that if we do that, we will have our reward. But God would rather have us, "let no man beguile us of our reward." The solution is to hold fast to the Head. And to let go of everything else that doesn’t serve His purpose in us.
Paul’s intention ought to be clear: He wants to show us that Christianity is CHRIST IN US. He wants to show us that we are COMPLETE IN HIM. And it is upon THIS foundation that all that is OF God will be built. He wants to warn us against all of the possible errors and false teachings that are bound to come our way – to try to get us off onto other things.
Paul gave a prayer that he often prayed for the Colossians. They go hand in hand with the theme of the book – the reality of Christ in us.
For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; That you might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who has delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: (Col 1:9-13)
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