We live in a time of widespread deception. Data breaches, identity theft, telephone and email scams everywhere. While these schemes can cost people financially, spiritual deception can hinder a believer’s freedom, diminish the joy of life and even cost a person’s eternity. Satan has been employing his deceptive lies since the Garden.
There were believers in the church at Colossae who were being led away from the all-sufficiency of Christ by false teaching. The same threat and errors that plagued the ancient church of Colossae, almost two thousand years ago, are still around today.
Here are four false teachings that can hurt believers. (Ref. Col 2)
Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elements of the world, rather than Christ. (v8)
This refers to human wisdom that is out of line with the teachings of Christ. Paul is not disqualifying the importance of human reasoning in knowing God. In fact, in Rom. 1 he says that human reasoning can arrive at a knowledge of God’s existence and some of His attributes through the creation.
Here, Paul calls to vigilance and to affirm the magisterial authority of scripture over the human reasoning that adds to or modifies the gospel truth. The philosophers of the world tend to look at Christians who believe the true gospel revealed in the scripture as ignorant, and unsophisticated fools. A frequent comment I receive from some people is that ‘I am very narrow-minded, I am a fundamentalist, I am limited only to the Bible, and I must go beyond the scripture to know God and to know the truth’.
The truth is that we can only find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge in Jesus who is revealed in the scripture. We spend our time studying the Word of God. Worldly wisdom adds absolutely nothing. Here is God’s own commentary on the uselessness of human philosophy: “Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? Since God in his wisdom saw to it that the world would never know him through human wisdom, he has used our foolish preaching to save those who believe” (1 Cor 1:20-21).
We do not need Christ plus any other secret knowledge to receive all things necessary for life and godliness. “Mystery of God” which is God’s plan of salvation is now revealed through Jesus Christ. Paul sternly warns the believer not to be intimidated by the attacks from human efforts to discredit the scripture. Trying to find God through human wisdom is a futile effort of the degenerated mind. Christ is all we need. In Him, we receive transformation from death to life, the forgiveness of sins, and victory over the hosts of hell (Col 2:11-15).
Let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (v16, v17)
Here Paul tells Christians not to be intimidated by anyone’s spiritual verdicts on your life based on what you eat and drink. Legalism is a big problem even in bible preaching churches. It restricts the freedom that the gospel gives by binding the believers’ life to man-made practices and rules. You do not have to commit to a religion of human achievement to become a Christian. Obeying God’s rules is obedience, but submission to man-made rules is legalism. When you come to Christ you will be given the capacity to obey God’s rules by the transforming work of the Holy Spirit. Christians do not need to be subscribed to a legalistic system. It would be ridiculous to imagine that Christ has opened the gate of our prison, set us free, only to put us in another cell.
There are people who want to judge others’ spirituality on external things: what they eat, what they drink, what they do, whether they attend prayer meetings, whether they join the bible study group. When they see a person smoking a cigarette or drinking a glass of wine or a beer, they immediately pass the judgment. This is not the standard to evaluate spirituality. There are people who conform to all externals but not related to Christ.
Spirituality is not a game that plays outside, it’s something that happens inside. Legalism is the attitude that says true spirituality is based on external behaviors. It tries to achieve righteousness before God by doing or not doing some external things. This is a misunderstanding of God’s righteousness. “Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). Do not restrict your liberty in Christ for the sake of unbiblical teaching. There are instances that I should restrict my liberty; for the benefit of a weaker brother (Romans 14:21, 1 Cor 8:13) or for the sake of unsaved people in my community who could be offended (Acts 15). In the Old Testament, you find certain God-given restrictions pertaining to eating and drinking. Eg. Leviticus 10:9 (for priests), Numbers 6:3 (Nazarite vow), Judges 13:4 (Samson), etc. There were unique purposes in those situations in the Old Testament laws, but in the new covenant, those laws were set aside. In Mark 7, v15 you will find the first statement where Jesus abolished these laws. Further illustrations are given in Acts 10 and 15. “The kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, and joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit’ (Romans 14:17). If you re-establish what God has abolished, they become manmade rituals. Your spirituality is not a matter of external ritual, but a matter of the internal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism… (v18a)
This refers to a life of rigorous self-denial or rigid abstinence. This is another heresy still being preached in many churches. “If you want to be holy, if you want to be a Christian, you must totally abstain from certain things”. If I died with Christ, why should I be subject to the elemental human regulations? This is a form of teaching that suggests human achievement as a means of earning favor from God. You pretty much become a monk. Eat rice and curry, drink water and coffee for the rest of your life, wear the same clothes and shoes, and drive an old car. No parties, no social life, no SUV, or big fancy house. You must not enter into a love relationship, you cannot marry until you’re 25-years of age. If you have a girlfriend you must dump her before going into any ministry in the church. I’ve heard these kinds of teachings enough in my life -“Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle!” (v21).
These are all foolish attempts to add something to Christ. Such restrictions may seem wise, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility, and their harsh treatment of the body, but they do not have any value in curbing self-indulgence. Christians are not called to live a monastic lifestyle to achieve spirituality. There is nothing wrong with living a simple life if that’s where God has called you. God hasn’t called everyone to live that way. If God chooses to bless you with wealth as He did to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job, it does not disqualify you. The commandment for them is not to be arrogant or put their hope in wealth, but to enjoy God’s provision, and be generous in sharing with others (1 Tim 6:17). It is not Christ plus poverty, or Christ plus total abstinence from certain things that determine your spirituality. It is Christ plus nothing.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Gal 5:1). Live as free men, but do not use your freedom to cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves (1 Peter 2:16). Christians have an imperishable inheritance in Jesus Christ that is sufficient for all their needs. So, they do not have to live in unnecessary, self-imposed deprivation, and neglecting the abundant resources that are rightfully theirs to enjoy in Christ. You do not have to throw away what you own, be poor, and start living in self-denial. Don’t be intimidated by any such teaching.
Let no one disqualify you, insisting on …… worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind. (v18b)
In simple terms, mysticism is a deeper spiritual experience based on some personal intuition. There are people who claim to have a higher, and a deeper, and a greater mystical union with God. They are puffed up in their mind, and say, if you don’t have such experience, or if you haven’t reached that level, you are sort of a second-class Christian; you are disqualified from attaining the full blessings that are available to Christians; you haven’t received the best from God. You need Christ plus higher experience with spirits, and visions, etc. Now, Paul says, “Christ is enough. Do not let anyone keep defrauding you of your prize.”
This is a heresy that plagues the church for many years. There were people who approached me and said, “If you haven’t had the baptism, and if you don’t speak in tongues, you haven’t reached the next level.” According to scripture, I have received all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Christ is the head and I am connected to Him; He provides everything, and I am not missing the prize. I am not a second-class Christian because of a lack of some ‘higher’ experience or I do not speak gibberish that nobody understands. I do not need to have such mystical experiences or need a ‘second blessing’ to be a first-class Christian. “I resolved to know nothing except Jesus and Him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). That sums up the entirety of the Christian faith. All I need is Christ revealed in Scripture. You do not need to add to it any special revelation, or visions, or any mystical experience.
The Bible continuously warns believers about religious deception. We avoid spiritual deception by being committed to a Christ-centered, bible-believing church. Expose lies and save others by snatching them out of the fire. The true Christian gospel offers Christ only. In Him, you will have complete salvation, complete forgiveness, complete victory, complete freedom, and complete sufficiency. To have Him is to have everything. Not to have Him is to have nothing. Do not be eager to pile up junk of human precepts and teachings that perish at the end. Instead, define your life by the biblical precepts, desire to know Christ, serve Christ, worship Christ, and imitate His character through your life.