Delusions About the Knowledge of Christ
Tim Temple

Introduction

The book of Colossians speaks of our personal relationship to Jesus Christ and all that is ours because of it. Those of you who have been following with us as we have studied the book are aware of the personal nature of this book—that is, the emphasis on the personal relationship between ourselves as believers and Jesus Christ as our Savior.

Chapter 2 talks specifically about how important it is for us to know and be aware of all that we do have in Him. The sad thing is that there are many believers in the world today who have accepted the fact that Jesus Christ died for their sins, but they really don't know beyond that. The Scripture is full of rich truths about our relationship to Him, even after our salvation and during that period between the time that we accept Christ as Savior and the time that we go to Heaven. This is one of the important messages of the book of Colossians and specifically the message of chapter 2.

We have outlined chapter 2 from three standpoints. First, in verses 1-8, The Desirability of the Knowledge of Christ ; then in verses 9-15, The Description of the Knowledge of Christ ; in verses 16-23, The Delusions Concerning the Knowledge of Christ .

The most exciting verses in the entire New Testament are the ones found at the close of the second section of chapter 2, specifically verses 14 and 15. Notice these verses that we thought about in our last lesson:

Colossians 2

14Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
15And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

Here is a beautiful description of our salvation through the work of Jesus Christ on the Cross, the wonderful truth that when God looked at the Cross of Jesus Christ, He saw your sins and mine written out and tacked to the Cross of Christ as the reason for the death penalty.

The Roman custom, as we mentioned last week, was to specify the reason for the death penalty and nail it to the cross. It is this figurative language Paul uses as he describes our salvation–the fact that your sins and mine were nailed to the Cross of Jesus Christ. Because of this, we are free from the guilt and the penalty of sin.

We won't take the time to turn to these familiar verses, but think with me for a moment about verses that I'm sure you have heard many times before, which specify this wonderful truth. Romans, chapter 5, verse 1, says:

Romans 5

1Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

Romans, chapter 8, verse 1, says:

Romans 8

1There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus…

So often this is something we take for granted, and we don't think about it often enough, but recognize that this is wonderful news–the fact that there is no condemnation now, the fact that there is peace with God, that we no longer have to feel guilty or fearful where God is concerned. In fact, the truth of this Scripture is so wonderful that the human mind can hardly accept it, and because of that, the Scripture constantly warns us not to allow ourselves to be misled about the truth concerning Jesus Christ. God knew that our finite human minds would be prey to Satan's devices and attempts to get us to not recognize all that we have. The human mind can hardly come to grips with that, and so God warns us again and again to be careful that we really understand all that we have in Jesus Christ.

That is the pattern that we find here in Colossians. After clarifying the details of what it means to know Christ, in the first two-thirds of chapter 2, Paul is going to write in the last third of the chapter of several misconceptions, delusions concerning the knowledge of Christ of which the Colossians needed to be aware–things that can be misunderstood, possible misconceptions, possible delusions, concerning the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

Paul Warns of Misunderstanding

Let's read through Colossians, chapter 2, verses 16-23, and then we will come back and look at them in more detail as we think about the delusions concerning the knowledge of Christ. Colossians, chapter 2, beginning with verse 16:

Colossians 2

16Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
17Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
18Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
19And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.
20Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
21(Touch not; taste not; handle not;
22Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
23Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

There are basically three problems that Paul is warning the Colossians about in these verses, and we want to think about the first of these in detail because it is a prototype of the other two. As we look at the first one in detail and then see how the other two relate to it, we want to think carefully about this warning that Paul is giving to the Colossians and to us concerning the possibility of misunderstanding what we have in Christ.

Dependence Upon Shadows

Each of these warnings has to do with a dependence upon something other than the Lord Jesus Christ. In verses 16 and 17, the warning is against a dependence upon shadows. I will explain what we mean by that in just a few minutes. In verses 18 and 19, the warning is against a dependence upon senses, about how we feel. Then in verses 20-23, the warning is against a dependence upon subjection. Notice with me, first, a danger of a dependence upon shadows, in verses 16 and 17:

Colossians 2

16Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:
17Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

These things listed in verse 16 are all ordinances and observances of the Old Testament or things that men had added to the Old Testament. For example, we read there in verse 16 of meat and drink and holy days, new moons, and sabbath days. If we took the time to go back to the Old Testament and make comparisons, we would find that all of these things were part of the worship format in the Old Testament. God had given specific importance in various ways to meat and to drink and to holy days and to sabbaths. So they are all part of the Old Testament, and these things were designed by God as a means of picturing the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ.

One of the important things to keep in mind as we study the Old Testament, in fact a key principle that makes the Old Testament make sense, particularly in the area of its worship ordinances, is to recognize that all of those things picture the Lord Jesus Christ in some way. All of the sacrifices, all of the feasts, all of the various kinds of ceremonies, were pictures of the Lord Jesus Christ foreshadowing what He would do, various aspects of His person and His work.

The Reality In Christ

But one of the basic messages of the New Testament is that after Christ came to earth, obviously we don't need these observances anymore, because we have the real thing present with us. And after Christ died for our sins and rose from the dead and went back to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to take His place and to be with us. So there is that real sense in which we have the Lord Jesus Christ indwelling us. Technically, in fact, the Scripture indicates that the Lord Jesus Christ personally indwells us as well as the Holy Spirit indwells us. But it is the Holy Spirit Who does the work of communicating with our human spirit and opening our eyes to the Scriptures, etc.

Just as those people who knew Jesus when He was personally alive on the earth, we who have the Holy Spirit, we who have believed in Christ, do not need all those shadows of the Old Testament. We don't need to worry about making the proper type of sacrifice on a certain day. We don't need to worry about the holy days and meat and drink and new moons and all of these things that he is referring to in verse 16 because we have the real thing. That is why Paul referred to these things, in verse 17, as “a shawdow of things to come.”

Verse 17 is a summary of all that I have been saying. Those things in the Old Testament were a shadow of things to come, but the body, or we might translate more literally, the reality is of Christ.

Which would you rather have, someone might ask, a picture of your mother or your mother physically present with you? Which would you rather have, we might ask in the same way, a picture–a representation of Jesus Christ– or the real thing present with you? That is what Paul is talking about to the Colossians, and with us in these verses. One of the ways people misunderstand the truth about Jesus Christ is in thinking that we must somehow depend upon the observance of these shadows or some other kind of observance to merit His love or to keep His favor. One of the massive mistakes that people make is that we need to somehow depend upon things that we can do to merit God's love or to keep God's love. I think this is the more common of the misunderstandings concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Danger of Legalism

For the Colossians who lived close to the time of the Old Testament, the temptation was usually to observe those specific Old Testament regulations, and that is why Paul words verse 16 as he does because there were still people living in Colosse whose tendency it was to depend upon those Old Testament regulations. But as time has gone by and as we have gotten farther and farther away from the specific time of the Old Testament, for Christians today this legalistic dependency takes other forms. It takes the form of regular church attendance or giving large amounts or not smoking or not drinking or not chewing green bubble gum or not doing this or not doing that or wearing certain kinds of clothes or not wearing certain other kinds of clothes. When a believer begins to be dependent on practices, whether they are Old Testament practices or whether they are practices that our own traditions have brought up, we have the principle of legalism. That is what Paul is warning very carefully about.

He has been talking, in the first two-thirds of the chapter about the wonderful thing of recognizing “Christ in us, the hope of glory,” the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ is personally present with us, within our hearts, the fact that the Holy Spirit can guide us into the truth of the Word of God and can give us the strength to obey the Word of God. Now he is saying, “Don't misunderstand, and don't fall back into a pattern of depending on some kind of ritualistic, legalistic observances.”

Of course, at this point the question arises, if you're thinking, does this mean that we can just do anything that we want to? Does this mean, then, that it is not important that we attend church? Does this mean that we can wear any kind of clothes that we want to or that we can eat or drink anything that we want to? Where does this leave us if we're not to depend upon these Old Testament observances or some traditional taboo that may have come along? What do we do about that then?

Of course, the answer is no, we are not to abandon any kind of standard. The answer is no, God does not expect us to just live anyway that we want to because that becomes the heresy of libertinism, of just doing anything that we want to do. Of course, the Scriptures warn against that also.

The Law of Love

Actually what the New Testament pictures is the fact that we are guided by a much higher law than the law of legalism. In the New Testament, after the coming of Christ, with the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, we are guided now by what the Scriptures refer to in various places and in various ways as the law of love , which is a much more encompassing law. It's one that calls for more diligence on the part of the believer, more dependence on the power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer than any simple checklist of dos and don'ts might ever call for.

I want us to think together now about some principles of the law of love. The law of love is referred to either by that name or at least in principle in a number of places in Scripture. But because of the limitation of our time, I think perhaps the best brief summary is available for us in I Corinthians, chapter 6, verse 12 and 13:

I Corinthians 6

12All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
13Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.

You see, what these verses are telling us is that instead of depending on a standard list of dos and don'ts, a checklist that Christians might keep, instead of depending on something like that, there are four basic principles of the law of love upon which every Christian should base his actions.

The Principle of Appropriateness

Let's think about, at least in a general way, the principles of the law of love. First, in the first part of verse 12, we have the principle of appropriateness :

I Corinthians 6

12All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient…

“All things are lawful to me, but all things are not expedient.” Notice the word expedient there in verse 12. It does not mean taking the line of least resistance . That seems to be the meaning that the word expedient has today. But the word from which this is translated in the Greek actually carries the idea of appropriateness. So that what the Holy Spirit is saying in verse 12, is: “All things are lawful unto me. Jesus Christ has died to pay for the penalty of my sins. There is nothing for which God can send me to Hell. So there is in that sense the fact that anything is lawful for me. All of the Law of God has been met in Jesus Christ, and all things are lawful for me.” That is what we have been talking about in Romans 5:1, Romans 8:1:

Romans 8

1There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus…

Romans 5

1…we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ:

Paul says, “All things are lawful for me as a result of that, but not all things are appropriate.” The basic idea here is to ask ourselves the question, Can a person for whom Jesus Christ gave His life be involved in something like this? As we consider our attitudes or our actions in life, we must ask ourselves the question, Is this the kind of thing that Jesus Christ died to make it possible for me to do? Is this the kind of thing that Jesus Christ gave up His place in Heaven's glory, came to earth and lived as a man and died to pay for my sins? Did He go through all of that to make it possible for me to do something like this? Is this activity or this attitude appropriate for a believer? The law of love includes the principle of appropriateness. I'm going to leave that idea with you for you to meditate on and think in more detail as it applies to your own situation, but it is a very important principle.

The Principle of Addiction

This verse also speaks, in the second part of verse 12, of the principle of addiction—not only the principle of appropriateness, but the principle of addiction. In the last part of verse 12, we read:

I Corinthians 6

12…all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.

You see, some things must be ruled out of the Christian life because they are not appropriate, and then other things must be ruled out of the Christian's life because they are by their very nature addictive. That would include many kinds of foods and drinks and many kinds of practices and habits. The list probably would go on and on and become a legalistic kind of list in itself if we began to give examples, but you know what I am talking about. There are many things in life that can become addictive and that do become addictive. There are attitudes, incidentally, that can become addictive.

As we consider our attitudes and our actions and our situations in life as believers, we must always be asking ourselves the question, is this something that will bring me under its power? All things are lawful for me? There is nothing for which God is going to send me to Hell, but on the other hand is this something that will bring me under its power?

Why is that important for a Christian? It's important because the Word of God tells us in I Thessalonians, chapter 4, that we should be constantly addicted to the Holy Spirit. And the Scriptures tell us in many other places that the only thing that we should be dependent on is the leadership of the Lord Jesus Christ in our lives and the power of the Word of God.

If we become addicted to anything else, you see, it keeps us, to that extent, from being fully dependent on the Lord for our satisfaction and our motivation. And so there is the principle of addiction. There are two questions, then, to ask ourselves in any attitude or action that we are considering: Is it appropriate for a child of the King, and would it be addictive if I give myself to it? If either of those questions are answered in the affirmative, then we must put it aside as a believer.

The Principle of Profanity

The first part of verse 13 speaks of the principle of profanity. Notice in the first part of verse 13:

I Corinthians 6

13Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord…

As you read those words, you may be asking, why does this speak of profanity, and in what way does it speak of profanity? “Surely you are not going to tell me that eating is profanity? I knew sooner or later you would get to my secret sin, and here you are saying that that's profanity.” Let's think about that for a minute. Why are we referring to this as profanity? Notice Hebrews, chapter 12, verse 16. We have talked about this verse before, and we have talked about this principle before. It is only one verse, but I think it is good to see it specifically in its context. There the writer is talking about the dangers that can come into the Christian's life, and he is saying that we should be very careful that we don't let bitterness come into our lives, and that we don't let other things come into our lives. And as he is saying that, he comes to verse 16, where he says:

Hebrews 12

16Lest there be any fornicator, or [notice] profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright.

Here is God's definition of profanity. Here's God's definition of a profane person. Is he a person who cussed and swore a lot? Is he a person who had horribly foul language? No. Now, he may have done that, but the thing that is recorded here is that he sold his birthright for one morsel of meat.

That leads us to say that the definition of profanity is simply taking anything out of the context that God intended. You see, God never intended that the birthright be used as a medium of exchange. The birthright was a wonderful, spiritual heritage. It involved the fact that the person holding the birthright–normally the oldest son, but whoever held the birthright–was the priest for the family. He was the spiritual leader for the family. He succeeded the father upon his death as the head of the family, and the birthright was passed down from generation to generation. It also involved being in the lineage of Jesus Christ, and so it was a tremendously important spiritual thing. It involved some material blessings as well, but it was primarily a spiritual thing, and God never intended that it be sold, traded, or used for barter, used as exchange.

Esau took that wonderful, spiritual heritage, that most important thing that he possessed, and he traded it for a bowl of stew, and God said he was profane. That's profanity–taking anything out of the context that God intended for it. So what we are saying and what Paul is saying there in I Corinthians, chapter 6, is that a believer in Jesus Christ should be careful that anything we do is not taking something out of the context that God intended it for.

A good example is just what Paul is talking about there in I Corinthians, chapter 6:

I Corinthians 6

13Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord…

You know, in our society today two of the things that are taken out of context again and again and again–and people don't even realize it–are food and sex. The standard of our day, sexually speaking, sensuously speaking, is to take sex out of its God-intended context. Sex is a wonderful, beautiful God-given thing, but God intended it to be within the context of marriage. Sex, when it is taken out of that context, becomes something that God curses and something for which God disciplines. In our society, and it has been true of degenerating societies down through history, sex is unusual if it is limited just to the context of marriage. It is profanity to take sex out of its God-intended context, and anything else is profanity if it is taken out of the context that God designed it for.

This is why, oddly enough, we usually limit the idea of profanity to the way we talk. Did you ever stop to think why we call swearing and cursing profanity? It is because we are using words and we are using God's name in ways that God never intended them to be used. We're taking God's name or God's plan to damn people to Hell, God's attributes; we're taking those things out of the context He intended, and that is profanity. So you see, profanity can take any number of forms. It can take the form of sex. It can take the form of wearing clothes that are not appropriate at the wrong time, wearing clothes that might be all right in one context, wearing them in the wrong context, taking them out of the context that God intended. Any number of things can become profanity.

The principle of the law of love includes that, as our love for God and our love for other believers dictates, we not take anything out of the context that God intended–food, sex, language, clothes, and the list could go on and on. That is the principle of profanity.

The Principle of Possession

Going back to I Corinthians, chapter 6, notice a fourth principle; and that is the principle of possession, in the second part of verse 13:

I Corinthians 6

13…Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; [notice this phrase] and the Lord for the body.

The principle of posession. You see, our body is for the Lord. Our body is not created for sex, because it is for the Lord. And this is elaborated on and amplified down in verses 19 and 20 of I Corinthians, chapter 6, where we read:

I Corinthians 6

19What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
20For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.

The principle is very simple. As believers in Jesus Christ, we do what we do or we refrain from doing what we refrain from doing simply because we belong to Him. We cannot do anything that He would not approve of. We should not, we must not, do anything that is not in keeping with His nature. And so we make our decisions on the basis of the fact that He owns us, and that is a statement of Scripture, and that is true whether you realize it or not, and that's true whether you like it or not. Jesus Christ bought you. He died for you. And so there is the principle of possession.

You see, this is more complicated, isn't it, than a simple list of these things that Christians do and these things that Christians don't do? I shouldn't get started on my thoughts about those things. It is fascinating to me, though, the kinds of things that people include in their list. And it is interesting to me to notice, as I have had the opportunity to travel around just a little bit over various parts of the country, that some things that are on the do and don't list in some parts of the country are not on it in other parts of the country. For some folks it is totally wrong for a Christian to do this, while in another part of the country, it is perfectly all right, but this other thing is wrong.

You see, that is not what the Word of God talks about. That is legalism. That's a dependence on shadows. We need to depend upon the motivating power of the Holy Spirit, to recognize that Jesus Christ bought us. We are His possession. To recognize that God intended certain things to be used in certain ways, and to take them out of those contexts is dishonoring to Him. We recognize that because Jesus Christ died for us, we are children of the King, and some things just simply are not appropriate for a child of the King. We recognize that some things can become addictive and can cloud our ability to depend upon Jesus Christ, can cause us to begin to depend upon other things for satisfaction and for our motivation. The principle of the law of love is not a dependence upon shadows, upon legalism, but a dependence upon the power of the Lord Jesus Christ and our love for the Lord Jesus Christ as our decision-maker in the Christian life.

Dependence Upon the Senses

A second delusion concerning the knowledge of Christ as we go back to Colossians, chapter 2, is what we are referring to as a dependence upon the senses , in verses 18 and 19. Notice there:

Colossians 2

18Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
19And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.

The key phrase for our purposes is the phrase, “vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,” in verse 18. Notice particularly there, his fleshly mind . You see, what Paul is talking about here is the good religious feeling that comes by being involved in religious activities. And Paul says to the Colossians and to us, writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit, “Be careful that you don't depend upon those good religious feelings for your spirituality. Just because you attend church regularly or just because you give to the missionaries or just because you do this or do that and that produces a warm glow in you, don't mistake that for fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Don't mistake that for a personal walk with Jesus Christ. It is Christ in you, the hope of glory, not religious activities giving you a rosy glow that is the hope of glory.”

For the Colossians these activities included, as you see there in verse 18, humility. That is living a life of poverty and self-denial and worshiping angels. One of the things that the Gnostics, the false teachers who were invading Colosse, taught was that there was some kind of spiritual progress to be made as you were able to worship the angels and just move on up the ladder and eventually you will be worshipping God. Paul said, “Don't depend upon those good warm feelings you get from being involved in religious activities.” Religious activities are fine, and as you live on the basis of the law of love, and as you walk at the direction of the Holy Spirit, God is going to lead you to give to the missionaries. God is going to lead you to get involved in this activity and that activity, but don't get the cart before the horse. Don't depend upon those good feelings that you get as your basis of fellowship with the Lord. Let those things be produced because of your fellowship with the Lord.

Dependence Upon Subjection

Finally, we have in verses 20-23 the third delusion that is possible concerning the knowledge of Christ, and that is a dependence upon subjection, as described in verses 20-23:

Colossians 2

20Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
21(Touch not; taste not; handle not;
22Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
23Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

Here is the same kind of problem, depending upon a list of dos and don'ts for spiritual satisfaction, or in the words of verse 20, “being subject to ordinances”–a dependence upon subjection. Taste not, touch not, handle not.

Paul recognizes that these things look good. Notice in verse 23:

Colossians 2

23Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body…

These things look good, but the problem is that they don't really accomplish anything. Look at the last part of verse 23:

Colossians 2

23…not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

I think really the New American Standard Version makes the meaning of verse 23 a bit clearer. “These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement, and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.”

You see, a dependence upon fleshly indulgence may make you have some sort of a feeling of well being, because you can point to your checklist. You can say, “I must be all right with God because I'm not doing this and I'm not doing that.” Paul says that those things look good, but those things really have no power over temptation and over sin that can creep into our lives. They are of no value to you against fleshly indulgence.

Giving Jesus His Proper Place

Some of the most sinful people in the world today are people whose lives look good on the outside, but they are guilty of the worst kind of mental sin and immorality. We need to be very careful that we do not mistake a dependence upon being subject to a list of ordinances for the beauty of Christ in you the hope of glory . The grace of God in taking away our sins is a tremendous thing. It's an unspeakable gift, the Scriptures tell us, and Satan, working on our human mind, would have us think that it is too good to be true and that instead of accepting the free grace of God, we must do something to earn it or at least to keep it. What God wants us to do is to live lives of appreciation, putting Jesus Christ in His proper place as we read there in verse 19:

Colossians 2

19…holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.

Holding the Head in the proper place, living a life of appreciation, exalting Jesus Christ for what He has done for us. Don't be deluded about the knowledge of Christ. Put Jesus Christ in that place of honor and exaltation in your life, and walk in love for Him.


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