Series Title: Growing in knowledge of Jesus Christ
- Hebrews 8:1-13
- Colossians 2:13-23
We are still approaching this letter of Paul under the topic, Growing in our knowledge of Jesus Christ. We continue from where we stopped last week, and the sermon title is still “Jesus Christ only, no if’s no but’s”.
One of the conditions imposed on me for having a dog in the house, was that it should be bathed at least once a week, less it starts smelling like a dog.
I quite like dunking the little fellow in the water and pouring the shampoo over him. Of course I have to use the dedicated towel for him. So, after shampooing and scrubbing he gets a good rub with the towel. See, his feet need to be dry before he hits the ground so he does not leave any footprints.
What I’ve notice over and over again, is that, although I know I have done a good job of drying him, he still adds that shaking that dogs do when they come out of water. And every time I think he thinks that I am not doing a good job of drying him.
It seems sinners are by nature not happy and satisfied with the work of salvation in Jesus Christ. Although his work on the cross, his resurrection from the dead, his ascension into heaven, and his intercession before the Father is really all we need, we still want to give that final “shake” to complete the job.
This was the problem with some members of the church in Colossae.
We in part looked at the problem of some Christians who had been Jews before. They still demanded, that although we are saved by grace and not be good works, that members of the church must be circumcised like in the time of the Old Testament. Paul’s argument is that neither circumcision, nor baptism saves. What saves is the gif of grace in Jesus Christ. Both circumcision and baptism are signs of the grace of redemption, and must not be seen as an addition to grace to complete it. This can be understood as ceremonialism.
But there were other people, the Gnostics, who had an impact on the theology of the Colossians.
What if the knowledge becomes scares?
If becomes so easy to fall for every good sounding theology if we don’t know the Scriptures. Dr Albert Mohler wrote and article and titled it “The scandal of Biblical illiteracy.” He quotes researchers in his essay:
“Fewer than half of all adults can name the four gospels. Many Christians cannot identify more than two or three of the disciples. According to data from the Barna Research Group, 60 percent of Americans can’t name even five of the Ten Commandments. ‘No wonder people break the Ten Commandments all the time. They don’t know what they are,” said George Barna, president of the firm. The bottom line? “Increasingly, America is biblically illiterate.’Multiple surveys reveal the problem in stark terms.”
According to 82 percent of Americans, “God helps those who help themselves,” is a Bible verse. Those identified as born-again Christians did better–by one percent. A majority of adults think the Bible teaches that the most important purpose in life is taking care of one’s family.
Some of the statistics are enough to perplex even those aware of the problem. A Barna poll indicated that at least 12 percent of adults believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Another survey of graduating high school seniors revealed that over 50 percent thought that Sodom and Gomorrah were husband and wife. A considerable number of respondents to one poll indicated that the Sermon on the Mount was preached by Billy Graham. We are in big trouble.
If we don’t know the Bible everything which is sugar-coated with something that sounds like a Bible verse will be excepted for the truth.
Gnosticism – the old New Age
Ceremonialism and gnosticism are almost opposites of one another. But Paul calls both of them hollow and deceptive. They are mere philosophies, which sound interesting but are devoid of any meaning. And the reason why Paul calls them deceptive is spelled out in verse 19:
They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. (Colossians 2:19, NIV)
The term “head” here clearly refers to Jesus Christ. Any theology or teaching that preaches something or someone else than Jesus Christ is distracting from salvation, it’s misleading, it’s false, it’s like Paul says in Galatians 1:
Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:7–9, NIV)
In direct contrast to these descriptions stands the gospel: where the “philosophy” deceives people, the gospel is “true,” “reliable” (1:5); where the “philosophy” is “empty,” “devoid of spiritual value,” the gospel is powerful and transforming (1:6, 23). Human philosophies depends on human tradition and does not put the sinner contact with the Saviour.
Gnostic texts often describe God as incomprehensible, unknowable, and transcendent. Gnosticism held (and here it sounds like the Bible) that God cannot be observed with our senses nor easily grasped with our understanding. Where it really differs from the Bible is the way to know God. They taught to know God was through mystical knowledge – a way of working your way up to God. Paul contrast this with the statement:
My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. (Colossians 2:2–4, NIV)
Gnostics held that the world was not created by the “Ultimate Ground of Being” (God), but by a lesser deity resulting from the fall of the divine personification of Wisdom. Paul answers this with this statement:
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Colossians 1:15–17, NIV)
They believed that humans are split between the physical and spiritual world where the true human self is as alien to the world as is the transcendent God. According to gnosticism the true human self or soul is naturally divine, belonging to the same realm as the Ultimate Ground of Being, but is trapped and imprisoned by the material world. Gnosis, or knowledge, is what frees man. The problem is just that there is no specific knowledge of knowledge. This knowledge is not factual, intellectual, rational knowledge. Man will forever be searching. It is airy fairy stuff.
Paul gets stuck into the philosophisers and call what they preach weak and miserable elements. They thought they were wise and clever; but their teaching is just what Paul refers to in Galatians 4:
So also, when we were underage, we were in slavery under the elemental spiritual forces of the world. (Galatians 4:3, NIV)
Maybe what they preached was nothing but primitive religion dressed up in learned terminology. Gnostics of the day were in essence the dressed-up philosophers of primitive ideas about this world where fire, air, water and earth played very important pillars in their worldview. These elements were then looked upon as divine elements, and the so-called balance between then should not be disturbed; they were worshipped as deities.
And of course the modern day version of this is Green theology: we worship Mother Earth and keep her happy so we can be happy!
The danger then for the Colossians was that these philosophies was presenting something else in the place of Christ.
Modern day full blown gnostics believe in reincarnation, the duality of God as both masculine and feminine, and cling to ideas how we can best advance our souls for God – while living with the negativity here on Earth. And how much do we here about karma these days!
There were and are hybrid gnostics too. They are the sugar-coated ones. Although they might broadly refer to the Scriptures, they apply post-modernistic principles in understanding it. Some believe in finding their own truth, and don’t believe in “hell,” “sin,” or that Jesus came to die for our sins. He was a human messiah who served as a living example of how we should think and behave. They believe in an all-loving, all-merciful and benevolent God and in the power of prayer (or meditation – this form of prayer is nothing less than a DIY-feel-better, self-improvement religion).
They teach that we write a ‘chart’ for each life, and we must learn the life lessons we have chosen to learn through experience – to reach our own desired level of perfection for God, who loves us unconditionally and equally. How many times are we bombarded with the text not to judge others!
Modern day New Age philosophies, earth theologies with it’s importance to preserve mother earth (or as we know Green political principles), are not much different from the primitive philosophies of Paul’s time. What is somewhat difficult these days is that it is sometimes presented as academic speech. Someone writes:
“Environmentalism, as a religion of hope and respect for nature, is here to stay. This is a religion that we can all share, whether or not we believe that global warming is harmful.”
The Theology or Environmentalism is hostile towards Christianity. Some environmentalists blame Christians for the so-called destruction of the environment, basing their arguments on Genesis 1:28
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Genesis 1:28, NIV)
A very prominent environmentalist spells out a plan of action:
“Even though ‘no new set of basic values’ will ‘displace those of Christianity,’ perhaps Christianity itself can be reconceived. Since the roots of our trouble are so largely religious, the remedy must also be essentially religious.”
Churches who have lost their grip on the pure Gospel of Jesus Christ and Him only have fallen for this and designed a new theology of the environment. A new phrase in theology is “creation care” – good well sounding phrase, but loaded with undertones. In the end what Paul says in Romans 1 can once again capture the so-called modern mind:
For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. (Romans 1:21–25, NIV)
The knowledge of Jesus Christ
On the other hand Paul gives a few remarkable statements:
- In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, (Colossians 2:9) He is the perfect King and Saviour. Not like the gnostics believed!
- In Christ is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Colossians 2:3). Not like the gnostics or modern day human philosophies believe!
- By Him and for Him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. (Colossians 1:16). Not like the gnostics believed!
- This Jesus, this Christ, we may know! By faith we are united with Him. In prayer we can talk to Him, knowing the He intercedes for us at the throne of the Father.
- We are saved by God’s act of grace, not be ceremonies (Colossians 2:12). Our sins are forgiven and by faith we are united with Him who is our Saviour (Colossians 2:13)
We will have to continue next week and find out more about Christ alone, no if’s, no but’s. Let’s thank God for the fulness of his Son who has become our Saviour.
Sermon preached by Rev D Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 24 January 2016