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The Essence of Spiritual Error

September 27th, 2019

Such a man is puffed up without basis by his unspiritual mind, and he loses connection to the head, from whom the whole body, supported and knit together by its joints and ligaments, grows as God causes it to grow. (Colossians 2:18b-19 BSB)

There is a common essence in all spiritual error. Truth by its very nature is always narrow — and this is true regardless of whether we are speaking of scientific truth, historical truth, or philosophical truth. Although spiritual error comes in many different shapes, the essence is all the same: a rejection of the Lordship of Christ.

Examining the ways that different translations interpret this passage shows the challenges in conveying the complete thought. There is no significant disagreement over the words themselves, only in the means of translating them and conveying the fullness of the original message.

False Humility and Real Arrogance

The false teachers were noted for their “false humility” (Col. 2:18a). They appeared to be honest enquirers, even humble learners, but they had dismissed the gospel of Christ and embraced falsehood. They were guilty of the most appalling arrogance for rejecting the inner witness of the Spirit of God. Their minds were puffed up in their sense of self-importance.

Such people are common, and I have known many like this over the years. They simply reject sound teaching and embrace some strange philosophy which they want to be respected for believing. Later Paul described such people as: “always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). Albert Barnes explained these people with clear words:

They may learn many things, but the true nature of religion they do not learn. There are many such persons in the world, who, whatever attention they may pay to religion, never understand its nature. Many obtain much speculative acquaintance with the “doctrines” of Christianity, but never become savingly acquainted with the system; many study the constitution and government of the church, but remain strangers to practical piety; many become familiar with the various philosophical theories of religion, but never become truly acquainted with what religion is; and many embrace visionary theories, who never show that they are influenced by the spirit of the gospel. Nothing is more common than for persons to be very busy and active in religion, and even to “learn” many things about it, who still remain strangers to the saving power of the gospel. (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, 2 Tim. 3:7)

To me the essence of the error is to consider the study of the Christian faith as mere theoretical discussion, with no compelling moral obligation to believe. Such people are deceived by the devil to imagine that they are doing the same thing that Christians are doing, in that they are searching for the truth. But they have failed to bow their knees and their hearts to Christ once He has found them and shared with them His gospel. 

Loses Connection to the Head

The original words mean “not holding the Head” and is not a statement that they had lost their salvation — it does not speak from the position of God, of what God did to these people — rather it is a reference to the attitude and actions of the individuals themselves. They let go of Christ. 

Now the statement itself fits two classes of people. It first of all refers to the Jewish legalist with Pharisaical sympathies, who claimed to believe the Old Testament as the word of God, but rejected the witness to Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. They had the teachings of Christ in their hands and claimed to believe the Book, but they let go of Christ in their interpretation and held to a salvation-by-works-theology. Christ said:

You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. (John 5:39-40)

It secondly, however, could refer to some true believers who had momentarily drifted into error, having been influenced by false teachers. They had let go of Christ, but Christ had not let go of them. “If we are faithless, he will remain faithful, for he cannot disown himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). I am comforted by the softness of this description, for doubts and troubling ideas float across every heart. The words here, in fact, serve as a warning to those who were on the fringe of following this error, even to those who had thought that the false teachings held some truth. These words serve to warn and awaken those who are being tempted to drift into error. 

There are some true believers who are tempted to flirt with serious heretical beliefs their entire lives. We may wonder, sometimes, if they are truly saved, and, of course, some that we consider sincere might not be. But others, I believe, are truly saved. But somewhere in their minds this kind of teaching is attractive. A false teacher, if they are kind and gracious, will be trusted by them, and when confronted they will likely say something like, “But she was so nice!” or “He was so humble!” 

But I will keep on doing what I am doing, in order to undercut those who want an opportunity to be regarded as our equals in the things of which they boast. For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. (2 Cor. 11:12-15)

A Stern Warning of Romanism

If there is a demonstration in the broader Christian family in today’s world of acting out these words, it is in the Roman Catholic Church. Not all Catholics are lost. I have known many through the years who hold to a sincere saving faith in Christ. And since Vatican II, the church has begun to again preach the gospel in some quarters. 

However, the error of Romanism is the notion that it is the Church that saves and not Christ. They teach that as long as they believe in the Church, are in the Church, and participate in the mass, then they are saved, or so they claim — even if that part of the Church that the people had come in contact with teaches Mariology, superstitious notions of praying to saints, or to angels, or notions of the spiritual power of physical things, etc. Even if the only “gospel” the people have heard is the false gospel of salvation by good works, and unbiblical superstitious nonsense. And their leaders do puff themselves up with “false humility.”

The real problem is that they have let go of the biblical Christ, and substituted Him — who is the One and Only true Lord and Savior — for a “Christ of Culture” or a “Christ of the Church,” or any number of other aberrations. 

The Church of Christ

Christ’s true body, however, continues to grow. All those who trust in the biblical Christ, who have placed their faith in Him through the miracle of conversion — something that is possible only by the Spirit of God — and follow Him as Lord have a new spiritual reality. The true church is “supported and held together” in a miraculous way by God. Like the physical body is held by “ligaments and sinews” so Christ’s spiritual body is connected. 

Like spiritual pheromones, we are mysteriously attracted to other believers. We are to one another a “fragrance of life” (2 Cor. 2:16). God places some who serve like the sinews of the body to connect one part of the body of Christ to other parts. This is the common denominator of true believers: they believe in the biblical Christ and follow Him as Lord. 



Refuse to Be Judged by the Unspiritual

September 23rd, 2019

Please let me begin this with a brief explanation as to why I am not writing daily like I have for many years. I am simply getting older and though I am still in good health for my age, and will continue to be active and serve the Lord for as long as I can, I just don’t have the energy that I used to have. So I will from time to time — hopefully three or four days a week — post devotionals or Bible studies. But I do not feel I can continue to do so daily or each evening as I have in the past. Perhaps this will make my words better thought out, and may lead to them being more useful. Thank you!

Therefore let no one judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a feast, a New Moon, or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the body that casts it belongs to Christ. Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you with speculation about what he has seen. Such a man is puffed up without basis by his unspiritual mind, and he loses connection to the head, from whom the whole body, supported and knit together by its joints and ligaments, grows as God causes it to grow. (Colossians 2:16-19)

There are two sides of respect: respecting other people and respecting the gospel itself. We should pay proper attention to both of these matters. 

The Bible says, “Pay everyone what you owe him … respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due” (Rom. 13:7). We should respect people who have mentored us, who are older than us, who have a higher status than us, and even those who have sensitive feelings and weak faith. We should not use our freedom in Christ to cause another believer to stumble. (See Romans 14:21.) The Christian should not be argumentative or insensitive: 

And a servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome, but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, and forbearing. He must gently reprove those who oppose him, in the hope that God may grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Tim. 2:24-25)

Yet, even more than we respect others, we must also respect the gospel. In showing consideration and sensitivity to others we should not let them (or allow our fears) to demand of us what we are not allowed by God to give, or what we are not allowed to alter because it is the truth of God. We are not allowed by God to twist or distort the gospel of Christ, or the freedom we have in Christ. 

In every age we have this struggle to know where the right path lies in relating to others who have an inadequate view of the truth of God. This was what the Colossian Christians were dealing with — old legalism that sought to impose behavior on other Christians that was not commanded by God. Here are some truths that I believe I have gleaned from the scripture.

Do not let people control your thoughts or feelings

Joy killers abound in life, and in the Christian faith. Paul’s words above were first directed to the Christian who understood the freedom he had in Christ. We must control our own emotions and not let what we know is the truth be spoken of as something evil. We may be polite, considerate, kind, and even cooperative, but only to a point. The first line of defense against these matters is in our hearts, to not let them destroy our faith and our joy.

Christ said similar words on the night of His betrayal: “You will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy …  Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete” (John 16:22-24). In that same context He said similar words about peace: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And the entire passage, or evening’s discussion, was introduced with these words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in Me” (John 14:1). 

There is within us the divinely given capacity of faith and we can control our thoughts and attitudes through controlling our faith and believing in God’s gospel and in His Word. We may choose to believe the teachings of Christ or give into the pressures of the world — even the “religious” world. A few verses above, Paul rejoined us with similar words: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy” (Col. 2:8). We can by faith retain our joy and our peace and our inner confidence if we will choose to believe Christ and not let the world’s joy killers dismantle our faith. And no one else may do this for us but us. 

And we also should not judge them

We must stand up to the spiritual bullies who seek to judge us, without the spiritual authority to do so. And we must also avoid judging them. We also are not in a position to judge why they believe or act like they do. We may have some insights into some individuals, and even may in a general way understand the backgrounds of people and where their ideas have come from, but we do not know all the secrets of their hearts. 

We should with the patience and grace of Christ, simply teach and demonstrate Christian freedom, without needlessly falling into arguments or putting stumbling blocks in people’s ways. 

The Abolishment of the Ceremonial Law

The Old Testament Law, or Mosaic Law, was comprised of three main parts: (1) the Moral Law; (2) the Ceremonial Law; and (3) the Political Law. The Moral Law is still in effect because it deals with righteous and good ethical behavior. The Moral Law of the Old Testament is reaffirmed in the New Testament, for example: 

Put to death, therefore, the components of your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming on the sons of disobedience. When you lived among them, you also used to walk in these ways. But now you must put aside all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. (Col. 3:5-10)

The New Man in Christ will wish to obey the moral codes of the Bible — not in order to earn his own salvation, but through a changed heart and life He will wish to honor Christ. 

The Political Law espoused high principles of social righteousness and justice, and these biblical principles have laid the foundation for the laws of Western nations. However, in the New Testament we are taught to obey the laws of the nations where we live today. (See Romans 13:1-7.) Christians should seek to establish justice in every nations wherever they exist, but the Political Law related to the nation of Israel under the Mosaic Covenant, and is not to be enforced today except in principle.

The Ceremonial Law, however, was the specific thing that became contentious in the New Testament church. The Ceremonial Law included the sacrificial system, but also the rules of diet, how to dress, what holidays to observe, and the Sabbath. These were the rules that were suspended in the New Testament era. They were a “shadow” of the things to come — a thought also developed in Hebrews 10:1: “For the law is only a shadow of the good things to come, not the realities themselves. It can never, by the same sacrifices offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” 

The Sabbath

Here is a matter where the church has struggled in agreeing and in applying the entire biblical preaching on the subject. Some Christians have sought to retain the Sabbath, but have made Sunday the new Sabbath. In the Old Testament it was Saturday, not Sunday. Christians began to embrace Sunday as the day of worship because, chiefly, that was the day of the resurrection of Christ. But some have tried to make it legalistic like the Old Testament Sabbath, and that was exactly what Paul was addressing. (A good article on this subject is found here: https://www.gotquestions.org/Christian-Sabbath.html)

Christ taught: “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. Therefore, the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27-28). The order of creation is clear, that God created mankind, both male and female, and pronounced them “good” before He instituted the Sabbath. The intent was to give mankind a day of rest and spiritual rejuvenation. The Cambridge Study Bible says:

God’s benignant gift, fenced with precept and prohibition only for His creature’s bodily and spiritual benefit; but as it was adopted to be a symbolic institution of the Mosaic covenant.

Since keeping the Sabbath holy is included in the Ten Commandments – which are part of the Moral Law – Christians have ben divided on how far we should go in observing a day of rest. 

Some, such as Seventh Day Adventists and Seventh Day Baptists (yes, there is such a group — See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seventh_Day_Baptists), worship on Saturday. But most Christians have either sought to turn Sunday into the Sabbath that forbids any work or, have had a more general understanding of this moral teaching — that a Christian is free to observe Sunday as his conscience allows him. However, since the scripture also commands us to “not give up meeting together” (Heb 10:25), this has also led Christians to identify a moral commandment here to worship as churches on Sundays. 

My Position 

Due to Paul’s teaching here, and especially due to the teachings of Christ, that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath, as well as other examples of His public ministry, have led me to come to this position.

(1) A Christian ought to meet weekly on Sunday to worship with other believers, since Sunday was (a) the day of the resurrection of Christ, (b) the day of worship for the early church (Acts 20:7), and (c) came to be known as the “Lord’s Day.”

(2) A Christian is free to observe Sunday according to his conscience. Christ performed miracles on the Sabbath, allowed His disciples to eschew the dietary proscriptions, and rebuked the Pharisaical legalistic interpretation of the Old Testament. 

(3) We should guard against legalism. We should not cause our brother to stumble with our freedom, but neither should we judge and condemn others who use Sunday differently than we do. There are no proscriptions, by the way, against observing worship on Saturday or on Sunday evenings, and many churches have met on these days as well. 

We should not go beyond what is written (1 Cor. 4:6), so the Christian is free to do what He is not forbidden to do — either by a direct command or by the dictates of “sanctified common sense.”