Since the beginning of time the devil has tried to twist God’s word and corrupt the gospel message. We see this in the beginning when the Serpent in the garden deceived Eve. First, he got Eve to doubt God’s word. “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?'” (Gen 3:1) Next Satan attempts to get Eve to deny God’s word. “You will not surely die.” (Gen 3:4)
This was contrary to the specific message God warned Adam and Eve about. He told them that they would die if they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. There was only one rule in the garden, “don’t eat from That tree”. Then, after the serpent gets Eve to doubt and deny God’s word, the serpent tells Eve she can be like a god. “God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:5)
This strategy worked so well in the Garden, that we see it over and over. Many heresies were being planted in the Colossian church because of the many different backgrounds and religions in the area. The gentiles had different pagan practices around, and then there were the legalisms of Judaism mixed in with it. Hosea 4:6 says, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge,” this was exactly the main problem facing the church in that day, much like the people today.
We see so much biblical illiteracy that people easily fall into deception. Two of the most common that come to mind are that there “are no moral absolutes” or “many roads lead to heaven.” This biblical illiteracy and lack of knowing God’s Word has no doubt been the cause in today’s time for the enemy to get the believer to doubt and deny God’s word. Then leads them to believe they can fix the world’s problems, much like a god. Men will say things like “if you believe it, you can achieve it.” To a point that is true, but that isn’t always the case and to portray such things is deception. It is like the verse says in Ecclesiastes1:9″There is nothing new under the sun.” How true that is! With Ecclesiastes 1:9 in mind, it will lead to pointing out some of the main heresies that Paul was dealing with among the Colossians and how he dealt with those heresies. Heresies were being planted by the enemy in the early church much like today; “nothing new under the sun.” These heresies were getting people to deny and doubt God’s word, ultimately putting up their own god. Paul seeing this warned the Colossians to be vigilant and alert against these heresies.
One heresy that Paul addresses in Colossians was humanism. Humanism is a broad brush that overlaps into most other heresies, it is the age old lie that people can be like God. Anything that takes the glory that belongs to God and gives it to man can fall into the category of Humanism. One of Christians’ favorite verses in the Bible is in the book of Ephesians 2:8-10, clearly shows the exclusiveness of Christianity to other religions. ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” ( NKJV)
The legalism that was being taught through dietary laws all led to the realm of works righteousness; not only those laws but also the pagan rituals and ceremonies that were being pushed led to the realm of humanism. The secret knowledge that was needed, according to the Gnostic, all fell under the umbrella of humanism. Man was attempting through his efforts to gain heaven. “Works? Works? A man gets to heaven by works? I would as soon think of climbing to the moon on a rope of sand!” — GEORGE WHITEFIELD. Paul saw the danger of this works mentality and he knew a works based salvation stole the glory from God.
“Secular humanism taught that “man is the measure of all things.” Now, because of this promise of godhood for men, the New Age movement says with man all things are possible. The New Age worldview is what could be called “a cosmic humanism.” As mentioned, the ideas of the New Age movement are not new; it merely repeats Satan’s age-old lie As will be shown, the heresy confronting the Colossians had certain similarities to the New Age movement of our day. Colossians is God’s polemic and rebuttal to many kinds of delusions and heresies. It is especially relevant to what is seen happening in the world today. Colossians presents the all-supremacy, all-sufficiency, uniqueness, and fullness of the person and work of Jesus Christ as the God-man Savior, Creator and Sustainer of the universe, and the total solution for man’s needs both for time and eternity. It is a cosmic book, presenting the cosmic Christ: theCreator/Sustainer who is also the one and only Redeemer/Reconcilerof the universe.” (J. Hampton Keathley n.d.)
In a new age using euphemisms or new names to hide and remove old associations and stigmas. All philosophies of men without the supremacy of Christ fall into the category of humanism. It is the Tower of Babel all over again as man’s attempt to reach God through man- centered methods. Some churches are preaching humanism by telling their members the Kingdom of God was something individual Christians would usher in. That through their efforts on the earth by doing random acts of kindness, feeding the poor, and other “social gospel” activities (i.e. good works) they would be setting up the Kingdom of God. This is very humanistic in nature along with random acts of kindness when credit is not given to Christ for those acts.
Feeding the poor is not the gospel. The gospel is good news and for good news to make sense people need to understand the bad news; they deserve hell because of their sinfulness. God’s holiness is what saves people; then they can understand the grace and mercy. So this social gospel with no mention of sin, righteousness, judgments, and repentance that has someone say a prayer so they do not have to go to a nasty place called hell is nothing more than decisional regeneration. Just like baptismal regeneration that puts the salvation of men on man’s shoulders and steals God’s glory.
Christ makes it clear in Matthew 24 that during the last days there would be a falling away in the church and that “if possible even the elect would be deceived.” (Matt 24:24) The days were shortened for His return and the Bible makes it clear in this chapter that men are not ushering in the Kingdom of God. When the Lion of Judah returns, He will set up His Kingdom. People have been in the last days ever since the ascension of Christ and waiting for His return. Paul exposed humanism by warning against following philosophies of men and pointing to the superiority of Christ by giving us the example of how we should deal with any sort of humanism that points to man rather than Christ. So with the problem of humanism in the church in Paul’s day and now ours, the solution is to meditate on the supremacy of Christ and seek Him.
Another heretical teaching that was going on in the Colossian church was a mix of Judaism and Gnosticism. Gnosticism claimed to have secret knowledge needed to be saved and tried to twist scripture with false pseudo gospels as to the secret knowledge of Jesus. When He was on trial, Jesus said that He spoke openly in public and in secret He did nothing. (John 18:20) “A more detailed Gnostic theology is as follows. The unknowable God was far too pure and perfect to have anything to do with the material universe which was considered evil. Therefore, God generated lesser divinities, or emanations.” (Slick, Matt)
Paul not only touched on the deity of Christ, but also His humanity, specifically reminding them that the Lord Jesus Christ had came in the flesh. .Col 1:22 “…in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight.” The Gnostic’s were attacking the deity of Christ, just like all the other false religions do. Jehovah Witnesses say He is the archangel Michael, a created being. The Mormons also claim Jesus is a created being, the brother of Satan. Muslims believe he is only a prophet, a created being, and he didn’t die on the cross but there was a swap and Judas died on the cross instead of Jesus. Whenever something is valuable, or better yet, priceless, there are sure to be counterfeits. “The danger of Gnosticism is easily apparent. It denies the incarnation of God as the Son. In so doing, it denies the true efficacy of the atonement since, if Jesus is not God, He could not atone for all of mankind and we would still be lost in our sins.” (Slick, Matt)
Gnostics twisted the scriptures and taught that salvation was up to the individual’s ability. “The Gnostic saw God as remote and inaccessible. God might be approached through the long chain of intermediaries that stretched between Him and matter. Jesus Christ might even be one of these intermediaries. But since Jesus had contact with this world, Christ’s rank within the chain must be low. Here is a partial explanation of Paul’s reference to the worship of angels (….Col…. 2:18): people were striving to gain the attention and support of beings who form a chain leading to God. These powerful spirits should be placated, the Gnostic’s taught, for human destiny lay in their hands, not in God’s”. (The Teacher’s Commentary)
This Gnostic heresy is alive and well today as is seen in movies like the “Davinci Code” that pushes this secret knowledge and tries to deny the deity of Jesus Christ. It can also be seen slightly in the chain of command in Catholic traditions, where members go to saints or to Mary instead of the only mediator between man and God, Jesus Christ. Paul points to the deity of Christ and clarifies any sort of confusion on the issue, explaining how all knowledge and understanding are given treasures from Christ contrary to Gnostics. (Col 2:3)
God is all powerful and Paul points to the deity of Christ and shows His omnipotence in Colossians 1:16. Paul states how all things were made by Jesus Christ and shares how He is all powerful and is uncreated. God is everywhere and Paul explains Christ imminence when He states “Christ in you.” (….Col…. 1:27) Being all powerful and able to be everywhere at once are attributes of God! Paul is writing the Colossians and showing them that Jesus is God by focusing on the attributes of Jesus Christ that are identical to God. What a brilliant idea! We can do that today with Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, and other false religions who deny the deity of Christ. They can be asked to describe how God is and who is God and when they answer “God is the creator of the universe, He is all powerful, and eternal” it can be pointed out to them the verses that show Jesus is the Creator of the universe, who is all powerful, and eternal. Dealing with the legalism that was infecting the church and trying to cheapen Christ sufficient and finished work on the cross, Paul reminded the Colossians “Let no one judge you.” (Col 2:16)
“This warning exposes the danger of the legalism of the Gnostic teachers in ….Colossae….. Their doctrines were a strange mixture of Oriental mysticism, Jewish legalism, and a smattering of philosophy and Christian teaching. Apparently, the Jewish legalism played a very important role. The person who judges a believer because that believer is not living under Jewish laws is really judging Jesus Christ.” (Wiersbe 1981)
Paul was showing the freedom there is in Christ and because of what Christ did on the cross the old law was void; ceremonial laws were gone. It was no longer a requirement to fulfill the demands of the law. Paul wasn’t letting them cheapen that gift or trample the blood, but was clarifying that Jesus Christ’s work on the cross was finished and they could do nothing to add to their salvation in Christ. They were not able to earn it, they didn’t deserve it, but thanks be to God for His wonderful gift. It was a free gift from God and Paul was warning them not to cheapen it.
“He took our place upon the cross and now we share in all the results of that work. We are one with Him in the new creation. The law and all its ritual was given to man in the flesh. Christians are not in the flesh but in the Spirit.” (H.A. Ironside 1929)
People were not going to be able to boast about it, they could rest in the freedom of Christ. They no longer had to strive to obey the ceremonial laws and rituals. They did not have to sacrifice burnt offerings any longer. There are two laws: one law of the flesh that leads to death and one law of the Spirit that leads to life. (Rom 8:12-13) One explanation given from a pastor on this that painted a clear picture was how the flesh and God are like two magnets, one turns around and it pushes away from the other magnetic. That is how our flesh is towards God; we are expelled from Him and can not get close to Him. Our rebellious flesh nature wants nothing to do with Him, but turn the magnet around and they go back together tightly and are hard to pull apart. That is how a person is towards God when they are living in the Spirit. They desire more of God and love spending time with Him in prayer and scripture reading. In the flesh there is no good thing and although the flesh strives to please God by doing different works, God desires our obedience not our sacrifice. An obedient heart only comes from someone who genuinely is living in the Spirit and loves God and is driven by the pleasure to obey God because of their love for Him. The difference between two believers, one living in the flesh and the other living in the Spirit comes down to one word, surrender. The believer that surrenders to God is the one that will live in the Spirit. Surrender is just a prayer away when we get honest with God and ask for help. We need help from the Spirit of God to overcome the flesh.
“What we are dealing with here is pride that apes humility that Juvenal speaks of. It is the pride that says, I deny myself, and I don’t do these things. Just look at me. I’m really sprouting wings, and I shined my halo every morning.” (McGee 1977)
Self reliance is a form of pride and humanism that attempts to take away God’s glory by dependence on self. The reason so many Christians are defeated and living in sin is because they have not surrendered and asked God for help. Like the father of the sick child said in Mark 9:24 “Lord I believe, but help my disbelief.” Now that is an honest prayer. When was last time we prayed that honestly? “Lord I want to be obedient to you so help my disobedience.” That is true surrender when we surrender our will to God. Our rest comes in Jesus Christ not in keeping the Sabbath, because Christ is the substance of our rest and we do not have to strive any longer to obey God. We just pray for help and surrender to Him and the Holy Spirit empowers us to live a Godly life. Paul balanced this grace by never compromising the holiness of God and wrote in chapter 3 about not carnality but Christ.
“Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience, 7 in which you yourselves once walked when you lived in them.”….Col…. 3:5-7
He then compares this to what the new man looks like. ” Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do. 14 But above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfection”. .Col…. 3:12-15
There is nothing new under the sun, as we still have today churches that are legalistic in nature telling people what day they are to worship and what foods to eat with holier than thou attitudes. Then, on the other end of the spectrum we have people who think since their parents are Christians and they said a prayer when they were 5 asking Jesus in their heart they are going to go to heaven even though they live and act just like the world and are fornicators, drunks, drug users, etc. Paul dealt with the legalism and the hedonism (philosophy that life is all about living for pleasure) by pointing out the truth of freedom in Christ and freedom from sin in our new life redeemed by His blood.
Another heresy was worship of angels and Paul dealt with this heresy by showing that Jesus Christ is superior to the angels in heaven. We also see in scriptures that angels were not to be worshipped, and would correct people who tried to worship them, and pointed people to God. Paul gets specific about Jesus superiority over the angels
” ‘He made all things out of nothing, the highest angel in heaven, as well as men upon earth. He made the world, the upper and lower world, with all the inhabitants of both. All things were made by him, and without him was not anything made which was made.’ John 1:3 He speaks here as if there were several orders of angels: Whether thrones, dominions, or principalities, or powers, which must signify either different degrees of excellence or different offices and employments. Angels, authorities, and powers, 1 Peter 3:22.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary)
Paul was showing how Jesus made the angels and they were not to be worshiped. We see this also in the stern warning in Galatians chapter 1 verse 8 that if even an angel preached a different gospel let him be accursed. Paul was serious about protecting the purity of the scriptures and could see men manipulating the truths and trying to add to the gospels. So the enemy was taking the focus off of Christ and putting it on man through humanism, Gnostics, and on angel worship in a sort of mysticism. Paul dealt with this showing how Jesus was better than the angels, and today we also need to continue pointing to Jesus and glorifying Him. I have heard it said that in the beginning God made man in His image and ever since then man has been trying to return the favor by making a god that is in our image.
In conclusion, it all boils down to two religions; one of the true God and the other of Satan. The common denominator to every false religion that does not submit and follow the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is idolatry. Men set up their own god to worship because they do not want to worship the true God. It is manifested in many of the same ways as in the early church through legalism, hedonism, works salvation, Gnosticism and worshiping anything besides Christ, including angels. Pride in the hearts of men to get to heaven by their own efforts is a part of the symptoms of these heresies, along with the outright rebellion of not wanting to surrender to God for our every thing, when in fact He is our every thing and without Him we can do nothing.
Copyright 2008 Scot Brandon
J. Hampton Keathley, III , Th.M. “Background on Colossians.”http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=1619.….
The Teacher’s Commentary. Copyright © 1987 by Chariot Victor Publishing
Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the New Testament. Copyright © 1992 by Chariot Victor Publishing, an imprint of Cook Communication Ministries.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, PC Study Bible Formatted Electronic Database Copyright © 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc.
Matt Slick, Christian Apologetic Research Ministry (CARM), Gnosticismhttp://www.carm.org/heresy/gnosticism.htm
Wiersbe, Warren W. Be Complete. ….Wheaton….: Victor Books, page 86, 1981…..
H.A. Ironside, Litt D. Colossians. ….USA….: Loizeaux Brothers Inc. page 90, 1929…..
McGee, J ….Vernon….. Phillippians and Colossians . ….La Verne….: El Camino Press, page 166, 1977…..