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Book Of Colossians Introduction: The occasion for this letter was the news brought to Paul by Epaphras. Apparently Gnosticism, a fusion of religion and philosophy which taught that matter is evil and spirit is good, was modifying the Gospel message to a point of danger. Over against this Paul sets forth his Christology, emphasizing the preeminence of Christ. . . . Paul responds to these heresies by exalting Christ, demonstrating His complete adequacy as contrasted with the emptiness of mere human philosophy. Paul is concerned that ethical demands and intellectual standards should be properly integrated in the pattern of Christian living. Amplified Bible
The Christian faith is being assaulted on many fronts as the time of the end draws near. If you have read the previous articles in the section The Beginning And End Of Time, you will be aware that Satan’s control over planet earth is going to increase as that period of tribulation that Jesus spoke about in Matthew chapter 24 approaches. In order to gain control, the enemy has got to convince the people that he knows what he is doing and is therefore the one we should look to and trust. One way that he is effectively accomplishing that is through the intellectual schemes of humanistic philosophy, psychotherapy, and the human potential movement. All people that use these schemes are not aware that they are undermining God’s Word when they use them; some are and delight in it, others just don’t seem to recognize that some of what they are proclaiming is contrary to what God has revealed to us in His Word.
How and when does philosophy, psychology, and human ability become Gnostic in character?
There are good elements in philosophy, there are branches of psychology that are legitimate as a science but psychotherapy is not one of them, and there are human abilities that are good and right for us to use. They become Gnostic, and in error, when they contradict what God has already revealed to us in His Word. When we use the term humanistic philosophy, or psychotherapy, or the human potential movement, we are referring to elements within them that rely upon human reasoning and endeavor to supplant the Word of God.
It was bad enough when these schemes were assailing us from outside the Church, but now they are being increasingly embraced and used by the Church. For a lengthy list of some of these destructive groups and practices see the article, Satan’s Vast Network Of Deception & Opposition.
When you read the following description of Gnosticism taken from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, you may recognize some of its present day forms. Only as we recognize and sound the alarm against them are we going to be able to keep them out of our church; they have already become deeply ingrained into the fabric of most churches. As in the past, many today are picking and choosing these very same elements to integrate into their form of Christianity.
GNOSTICISM - General Definition. . . . - Dr. Orr writes, "Gnosticism may be described generally as the fantastic product of the blending of certain Christian ideas-particularly that of redemption through Christ-with speculation and imaginings derived from a medley of sources (Greek, Jewish, Parsic; philosophies; religions, theosophies, mysteries) in a period when the human mind was in a kind of ferment, and when opinions of every sort were jumbled together in an unimaginable welter. It involves, as the name denotes, a claim to 'knowledge,' knowledge of a kind of which the ordinary believer was incapable, and in the possession of which 'salvation' in the full sense consisted. This knowledge of which the Gnostic boasted, related to the subjects ordinarily treated of in religious philosophy; Gnosticism was a species of religious philosophy" (The Early Church, 71).
Neander has described Gnosticism as "the first notable attempt to introduce into Christianity the existing elements of mental culture, and to render it more complete on the hitherto rather neglected side of theoretical knowledge; it was an attempt of the mind of the ancient world in its yearning after knowledge, and in its dissatisfaction with the present, to bring within its grasp and to appropriate the treasures of this kind which christianity presented" (Antignostikus, Intro, 199).
Gnosticism accordingly comprehends in itself many previously existing tendencies; it is an amalgam into which quite a number of different elements have been fused. A heretical system of thought, at once subtle, speculative and elaborate, it endeavored to introduce into Christianity a so-called higher knowledge, which was grounded partly on the philosophic creed in which Greeks and Romans had taken refuge consequent on the gradual decay and breaking-up of their own religions, partly, as will be shown, on the philosophies of Plato and of Philo, and still more on the philosophies and theosophies and religions of the East, especially those of Persia and of India.
"For a long time the pagan beliefs had ceased to be taken seriously by thoughtful men and had been displaced by various creeds derived from philosophical speculation. These in themselves were abstract and unsatisfying, but had been partly vitalized by union with theosophies of the East. An attempt was made on the part of this philosophical religion to effect an alliance with Christianity. A section of the church was dissatisfied with the simplicity of the gospel, and sought to advance to something higher by adopting the current speculations ..... The late books of the New Testament are all occupied, more or less, with this movement, which was the more dangerous as it threatened the church from within" (Professor E. Scott, The Apologetic of the New Testament, 14). . . .
Nature of Gnosticism. - "Gnosticism," says Dr. Gwatkin, "is Christianity perverted by learning and speculation" (Early Church History 73). The intellectual pride of the Gnostics refined away the gospel into a philosophy. The clue to the understanding of Gnosticism is given in the word from which it is derived - gnosis, "knowledge." Gnosticism puts knowledge in the place which can only rightly be occupied by Christian faith. To the Gnostic the great question was not the intensely practical one, "What must I do to be saved from sin?" but "What is the origin of evil?" "How is the primitive order of the universe to be restored?" In the knowledge of these and of similar questions, and in the answers given to these questions, there was redemption, as the Gnostic understood it.
"These little Gnostic sects and groups all lived in the conviction that they possessed a secret and mysterious knowledge, in no way accessible to those outside, which was not to be proved or propagated, but believed in by the initiated, and anxiously guarded as a secret. This knowledge of theirs was not based on reflection or scientific inquiry and proof, but on revelation. It was derived directly from the times of primitive Christianity, from the Saviour Himself and His disciples and friends, with whom they claimed to be connected by a secret tradition, or else from later prophets, of whom many sects boasted. It was laid down in wonderful mystic writings, which were in the possession of the various circles.
"In short, Gnosticism in all its various sections, its form and its character, falls under the category of mystic religions, which were so characteristic of the religious life of decadent antiquity. In Gnosticism, as in the other mystic religions, we find the same contrast of the initated and the uninitiated, the same loose organization, the same kind of petty sectarianism and mystery-mongering. All alike boast a mystic revelation and a deeply veiled wisdom" (Bousset, op. cit., 153). . . .
Modern Gnosticism. - Gnosticism in its ancient form has passed away, but it is interesting to observe how its spirit reappears from time to time in modern days. Gnosticism, as already seen, is not one aspect of thought alone, but many. And in one form or another it is seen again and again. For example, the modern denial of the virgin birth of Our Lord is that form of Gnosticism which taught that the man Jesus became Christ only at His baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended upon Him from heaven.
Phases of Gnostic teaching are reproduced in modern pantheistic philosophies and other forms of religious doctrine, which hold that there has been no objective atonement and no resurrection of Christ from the dead. (Orr, The Progress of Dogma, 59). (from International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia, Electronic Database Copyright (c)1996 by Biblesoft) Emphasis mine.
In the following portion of Scripture the apostle Paul found it necessary to warn the people about some of these Gnostic intruders, and also to point out the areas that they were in danger of corrupting. Many of these areas have and are being compromised in churches today.
COLOSSIANS 2:1-3:7.... FOR I want you to know how great is my solicitude for you [how severe an inward struggle I am engaged in for you] and for those [believers] at Laodicea, and for all who [like yourselves] have never seen my face and known me personally. [For my concern is] that their hearts may be braced (comforted, cheered, and encouraged) as they are knit together in love, that they may come to have all the abounding wealth and blessings of assured conviction of understanding, and that they may become progressively more intimately acquainted with and may know more definitely and accurately and thoroughly that mystic secret of God, [which is] Christ (the Anointed one). In Him all the treasures of [divine] wisdom ( comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God) and [all the riches of spiritual] knowledge and enlightenment are stored up and lie hidden.
4I say this in order that no one may mislead and delude you by plausible and persuasive and attractive arguments and beguiling speech. For though I am away from you in body, yet I am with you in spirit, delighted at the sight of your [standing shoulder to shoulder in such] orderly array and the firmness and the solid front and steadfastness of your faith in Christ [that leaning of the entire human personality on Him in absolute trust and confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness].
6As you have therefore received Christ, [even] Jesus the Lord, [so] walk (regulate your lives and conduct yourselves) in union with and conformity to Him. Have the roots [of your being] firmly and deeply planted [in Him, fixed and founded in Him], being continually built up in Him, becoming increasingly more confirmed and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and abounding and overflowing in it with thanksgiving. See to it that no one carries you off as spoil or makes you yourselves captive by his so-called philosophy and intellectualism and vain deceit (idle fancies and plain nonsense), following human tradition (men's ideas of the material rather than the spiritual world), just crude notions following the rudimentary and elemental teachings of the universe and disregarding [the teachings of] Christ (the Messiah). For in Him the whole fullness of Deity (the Godhead) continues to dwell in bodily form [giving complete expression of the divine nature]. And you are in Him, made full and having come to fullness of life. And He is the Head of all rule and authority [of every angelic principality and power].
11In Him also you were circumcised with a circumcision not made with hands, but in a [spiritual] circumcision [performed by] Christ by stripping off the body of the flesh (the whole corrupt, carnal nature with its passions and lusts). [Thus you were circumcised when] you were buried with Him in [your] baptism, in which you were also raised with Him [to a new life] through [your] faith in the working of God [as displayed] when He raised Him up from the dead. And you who were dead in trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your flesh (your sensuality, your sinful carnal nature), [God] brought to life together with [Christ], having [freely] forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled and blotted out and wiped away the handwriting of the note (bond) with its legal decrees and demands which was in force and stood against us (hostile to us). This [note with its regulations, decrees, and demands] He set aside and cleared completely out of our way by nailing it to [His] cross. [God] disarmed the principalities and powers that were ranged against us and made a bold display and public example of them, in triumphing over them in Him and in it [the cross].
16Therefore let no one sit in judgment on you in matters of food and drink, or with regard to a feast day or a New Moon or a Sabbath. Such [things] are only the shadow of things that are to come, and they have only a symbolic value. But the reality (the substance, the solid fact of what is foreshadowed, the body of it) belongs to Christ. Let no one defraud you by acting as an umpire and declaring you unworthy and disqualifying you for the prize, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions [he claims] he has seen, vainly puffed up by his sensuous notions and inflated by his unspiritual thoughts and fleshly conceit, and not holding fast to the Head, from Whom the entire body, supplied and knit together by means of its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
20If then you have died with Christ to material ways of looking at things and have escaped from the world's crude and elemental notions and teachings of externalism, why do you live as if you still belong to the world? [Why do you submit to rules and regulations?--such as] Do not handle [this], Do not taste [that], Do not even touch [them], referring to things all of which perish with being used. To do this is to follow human precepts and doctrines. [Isa 29:13.] Such [practices] have indeed the outward appearance [that popularly passes] for wisdom, in promoting self-imposed rigor of devotion and delight in self-humiliation and severity of discipline of the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh (the lower nature). [Instead, they do not honor God but serve only to indulge the flesh.]
3:1IF THEN you have been raised with Christ [to a new life, thus sharing His resurrection from the dead], aim at and seek the [rich, eternal treasures] that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. [Ps 110:1.] And set your minds and keep them set on what is above (the higher things), not on the things that are on the earth. For [as far as this world is concerned] you have died, and your [new, real] life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, Who is our life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in [the splendor of His] glory. So kill (deaden, deprive of power) the evil desire lurking in your members [those animal impulses and all that is earthly in you that is employed in sin]: sexual vice, impurity, sensual appetites, unholy desires, and all greed and covetousness, for that is idolatry (the deifying of self and other created things instead of God). It is on account of these [very sins] that the [holy] anger of God is ever coming upon the sons of disobedience (those who are obstinately opposed to the divine will), among whom you also once walked, when you were living in and addicted to [such practices].
Paul informs us that all the correct knowledge about God and all that He created is stored up and lay hidden in Christ Jesus, and that we should be on guard against those who would attempt to corrupt or alter what God has revealed. We should be so rooted and grounded in Christ that nothing or nobody, no matter how intelligently or marvelously it is proclaimed or presented, can cause us to doubt or question God. He then goes on to show the contrast between what God has accomplished and provided for us through Christ, and the false claims of those who bring a different message.
There is nothing that man can do to effect what Christ has provided: forgiveness, reconciliation to God, putting our sinful nature to rest and raising us up to new life (baptized and born anew), and delivering us from the power of sin and the devil. All this is ours experientially as we learn to trust and rely in what God has said to be the truth. When Jesus said, "I am the Way and the Truth and the Life; no one comes to the Father except by (through) Me" (Jn. 14:6), He made it clear that there is nothing that man can do to make himself acceptable to God or save himself. Whenever we try to do for our self, what Christ has already done for us, we are in effect saying what He did was not good or powerful enough for me to experience what is best for me, which shows a lack of trust in what God has said and His ability – just the opposite of what God requires. As new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17) we are quite capable of overcoming all the obstacles that we face as we learn to trust in the power that flows from the cross of Calvary. But when we turn from trusting God to equip us to live, and rely instead on the schemes of men, no matter how educated and well meaning, we have rejected the path to true wholeness.
The good news that we are proclaiming is that you don’t need hundreds of different support groups or gurus to try to examine and solve the multitude of difficulties that humanity faces; all you need is one place where the Word of God is taught! I loved the thought that Paul urges us to set our minds upon – as far as this world is concerned we have died and our new real life is safe and secure in Christ Jesus and the Father. Eternity for us has already begun, the things of this world should be losing their appeal, and the things of God an ever increasing reality.
1 TIMOTHY 1:18-19.... This charge and admonition I commit in trust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with prophetic intimations which I formerly received concerning you, so that inspired and aided by them you may wage the good warfare, holding fast to faith ( that leaning of the entire human personality on God in absolute trust and confidence) and having a good (clear) conscience. By rejecting and thrusting from them [their conscience], some individuals have made shipwreck of their faith.
1 TIMOTHY 6:20-21.... O Timothy, guard and keep the deposit entrusted [to you]! Turn away from the irreverent babble and godless chatter, with the vain and empty and worldly phrases, and the subtleties and the contradictions in what is falsely called knowledge and spiritual illumination. [For] by making such profession some have erred (missed the mark) as regards the faith. Grace (divine favor and blessing) be with you all! Amen (so be it).
PSALM 2:10-12.... Now therefore, O you kings, act wisely; be instructed and warned, O you rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with reverent awe and worshipful fear; rejoice and be in high spirits with trembling [lest you displease Him]. Kiss the Son [pay homage to Him in purity], lest He be angry and you perish in the way, for soon shall His wrath be kindled. O blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) are all those who seek refuge and put their trust in Him!