Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Divine Communication - philosophy and mysticism

Well, it's certainly nothing new! Human philosophies and mysticism have been influencing the Church since the very beginning. In fact, we can see from the topics Paul talks about in the book of Colossians that these false teaching were already being taught in the church at Colossae even then. Basically, they had allowed Jewish legalism, Greek philosophic speculation, and Oriental mysticism to seep into their assembly. For example, in the second chapter we read:

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ (Col 2:8).

Apparently some believers in Colossae had been taken in by a philosophy that involved regulating their religious life by observing the movements of the stars, which they associated with the powers of the angels.

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. He has 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 (Col 2:18-19).

And some were teaching a false humility and the worship of angels, claiming special mystic insights by way of visions ("taking his stand on visions he has seen" v 18 -NASB). The underlying problem was their egoistic or fleshly minds.

In Paul's condemnation of all these heresies (including legalism and asceticism in vs 11-17, 20-23), he emphasizes the significance of Christ as Lord of creation and Head of the Church, essentially saying that since we are complete in the Head (v 10) and perfectly nourished by the Head (v 19), and since the Head has "disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities" and has set us high above all angels in Christ (v 15; Eph 1:3, 2:4-6), then human philosophy, legalism, mysticism, and asceticism are useless. Indeed, any teaching, practice, or intermediary that detracts from the centrality of Christ is against the faith.

True spirituality comes from staying focused on Christ, and the only way to do that is to be in the Word.

Monday, July 7, 2014


I'd like to talk about one little word — the word IF. Basically, there are two Greek words used for this word in the New Testament — ἐάν and εἴ.  The first word shows a statement is conditional, the other assumes a condition is factual for the sake of argument. Strong's defines them this way:

(Strongs 1437) ἐάν ean - (a conjunction, derived from 1487 /ei, "if" and 302 /án, a particle showing a statement is conditional) – if, referring to a condition extending to its "spin-off" possibilities – i.e. that happens if the condition is actualized or is valid. [used 350 times in the NT]

(Strongs 1487) εἴ ei - (a conditional conjunction) – if. 1487 /ei (followed by any verb) expresses "a condition, thought of as real, or to denote assumptions" (i.e. viewed as factual for the sake of argument) (BAGD). Accordingly, 1487 (ei) should not be translated "since," but rather always "if" – since the assumption may only be portrayed as valid (true, factual). [used 502 times in the NT]

I bring this up because so often I hear or read that believers can lose their salvation.Pointing to Colossians 1:23 for support, it is explained that those who have trusted Christ as their Savior are saved but that they might become lost again "if" they do not continue in the faith, stable and steadfast...

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, IF indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister (Col 1:19-23).

The thing is, the word "if" in Colossian 1:23 is not the conditional "if" (ἐάν), but rather the factual-for-sake-of-argument "if" (εἴ).  I think Stam explains the meaning of this "if" rather well when he says,

"I might illustrate it in this way. Here's a mother, and her son has turned to be 21, and he's bragging: 'I'm 21 now, you know, and I can do what I want' and so on. And the mother says, 'Well, if you're 21, act it.'  Now she didn't have any doubt that he was 21, and yet she used the word if. She was challenging him, and Paul used it in this very same way here in Colossians One.  Christ died to reconcile you...'Assuming' is the way he uses, 'IF INDEED,' 'assuming that you are still as you were when I saw you.'"

This same "if"(εἴ) is found in Colossians 3:1.:

IF then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:1-3).

We don't usually question whether or not the "if"(εἴ) in this verse is conditional because of where it is in the sentence.  But remember, no matter where this "if"(εἴ) is placed, it assumes the statement is a fact.**

*Be on your guard, CS Lewis fans!  I like him too BUT in his book Mere Christianity he says this very thing:The world does not consist of 100 per cent Christians and 100 percent non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name; some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so.”

**The same "if" (εἴ) is used in 1 Cor 15:1-2:  Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, IF you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Fit for heaven

What is this? I had never heard the phrase "fit for heaven" before, but over the last couple of months I've heard it twice. Both times it was used in reference to our sanctification — not our positional sanctification, but our walk — and how it is daily making us more fit for heaven. The first time I heard this, I was a bit surprised. The second time I thought, "What's going on here? Why am I hearing this all of a sudden?" But my immediate reaction both times was, "What?! That's legalism!"

And that's the problem with quite a few words and phrases we throw around in our "Christian language" (Christianese) today. Some terminology just naturally leads us to think "legalism", while others lead us to think "license" or some other wrong theology. I think of them as "baggage words" — words or phrases that need to be defined or, in some cases, not used at all. Others that come to mind are "repent", "confess", "kingdom", "God-inspired", "Spirit-led", "the providence of God", "let go and let God", and the "yes, no, and wait" explanation regarding answers to prayer. That's why it's so important to go back to Scripture to see what is actually said about these things.

So, what about this phrase "fit for heaven"? It sure led me to think that what was being said was Christ's death and resurrection were insufficient so we need to work hard to make ourselves fit for heaven. And some, but not all, seem to believe that's true. Therefore, it seems to me that the phrase "fit for heaven" is confusing at best, and misleading at worst.

For those who hold to the belief that we're declared perfect at our conversion but after that we need to work our way to heaven, I'd like to discuss the following question: "Are believers unfit for heaven now?"

First off, I'd like to figure out where the phrase "fit for heaven" came from. When we look in Colossians, we see that it speaks about our being made fit for heaven, so perhaps it came from there:

Giving thanks to the Father, Who has qualified and made us fit (notice the past tense?) to share the portion which is the inheritance of the saints in the light. [The Father] has delivered and drawn us to Himself out of the control and the dominion of darkness and has transferred us into the Kingdom of the Son of His love, in Whom we have our redemption through His blood, [which means] the forgiveness of our sins (Col 1:12-14).

From these verses we can see it's nothing we do that makes us fit; it's all Christ's doing. And because Christ has already done it all, we're just as fit for heaven as newborn believers as we are when we're mature (2 Cor 5:21). (Remember the dying thief on the cross next to Jesus in Lk 23:42-43?)

Actually though, it is true that our old nature is unfit for heaven, but it is also true that it will always be 100% unfit for heaven. It can never be improved. Notice how we are exhorted to put off — not clean up — the "old man" (Eph 4:22; Col 3:9). The fact is, Christ didn't come to reform our flesh; He came to execute it and to give us new life (Gal 2:20-21; Col 3:3-5). Trying to clean ourselves up is merely returning to the law — the ultimate exercise in futility.

That's why we were instantly given a new creation/nature at our conversion (2 Cor 5:17-21), which is 100% fit for heaven now — and always will be! It is this new creation/nature or "new man" that we are instructed to "put on" (Eph 4:24; Col 3:10). Reading further in Eph 4:25-32 and Col 3:12-17 tell us what it "looks like" when we put on our "new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth."

Thankfully, when we physically die we'll be free of our old, dead sinful nature (Rom 7:14-8:10). It will never be in heaven; only our new nature will be there. So what exactly are we trying to make fit for heaven? Our new nature, which is already perfect in every way, or our old nature, which can never be improved and is considered dead already?

Maybe you think I'm encouraging license by saying Christ's blood is all that's needed to make us fit for heaven. But that is exactly what Scripture tells us — Christ's blood is fully sufficient (1 Cor 1:30-31; 2 Cor 5:21; Eph 2:8-9)! And actually, having full confidence in the finished work of Christ on the cross for us does not produce carnal Christians; rather, His love and grace compel us to live godly lives (Rom 6:14; 2 Cor 5:14-15; Titus 2:11-12).

In light of all this, I would like to make a motion that we stop using the Christianese phrase "fit for heaven" in reference to our daily walk — as if it's something we're working toward — because in Christ we are complete (Col 2:9-10) and fully fit for heaven now!