As you know, I’m sort of sharing my heart with you through these days, talking about the state of the church and the foundations of the church, the foundations on which the church must be built.
I’ve told you that I’m very concerned about the church in our country. I’m very concerned about the church around the world. It is clearly in a serious identity crisis, struggling to know who it is, what it is, what it is to do, what it is to believe, how it is to minister, how it is to be evaluated.
Even after all of these centuries, all of the teaching, all of the clear theology and doctrine, everything that is available, the church continues to flounder around, trying to figure out itself when things in the Word of God are so absolutely clear. Man’s pride and the love of His own ingenuity gets in the way. All kinds of false approaches to truth crowd in and confuse the issues.
And we have been addressing some of those so that you’ll understand those kinds of things. And then now we’ve been talking about what really is to be the foundation of the church. The church must be built on some very, very essential doctrines. And first of all, we talked about a high view of God. We must focus on God. The church is a worshiping community, and it must address the glory, the holiness, the majesty, and the sovereignty of God when it comes together. That is the foundation of everything.
As I’ve told you through the years, you never will live above your belief in God. Whatever you believe to be true about God is the most controlling fact in your entire life. How you view God, how you see God has a greater impact on you than anything else in your entire theology. And how important it is to have that high view of God.
Now, that leads us immediately to a second corollary truth, and that is the exaltation of Christ. Because it is obvious to all of us that God is no more clearly seen, no more clearly manifest than in Jesus Christ. We see God most clearly in Christ. The righteousness of God is revealed in Christ, Paul says in Romans chapter 3. In Hebrews chapter 1, the writer says that the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of God’s nature is manifest in Jesus Christ.
So, having a high view of God demands that we exalt the Lord Jesus Christ. It is to Him that we look. It is to Him that the Holy Spirit points. And I will hasten to say any church that overemphasizes the ministry of the Holy Spirit misses the whole point. The Holy Spirit, in a very real sense, takes a backseat, takes a secondary role in pointing to Jesus Christ. His ministry is to point to Christ, to lift up Christ, to exalt Christ. When the Spirit is come, Jesus said, “He will teach you things concerning Me.”
Obviously, there is a whole movement today among churches that overemphasize the Holy Spirit to the detriment of the work of the Spirit which is to point to Christ, to say nothing of the detriment of Christ Himself and the detriment of themselves as they have a skewed view of Christology, pneumatology, and spirituality in general. It’s a very serious issue.
The Scripture is written to speak of Christ, “Search the Scriptures, for they are they which speak of Me.” The Scripture concerns itself with Christ all the way through; from Genesis right on through to the end of the Old Testament, Christ is the object of the Scriptures. He is the one depicted in the whole sacrificial system. He is the one promised by the prophets. He is the one who brings the redemption that is celebrated in the Law and in the writings – the sacred writings, or as we know them, the Psalms, the Proverbs, and so forth. He is the theme of the Old Testament. Scripture in the Old Testament speaks of Him.
On the road to Emmaus, you remember that Jesus walked with the disciples and opened the Scriptures and spoke of things concerning Himself in the Law, the prophets, and the writings. In fact, He is the themes of the gospels and the New Testament. They tell His story. The book of Acts tells the effect of His life and ministry. The epistles tell the meaning of His life and ministry, and the book of Revelation speaks of the culmination of His ministry as He established His eternal glory.
The whole Bible focuses on the person of Jesus Christ. The Father Himself sent Christ to manifest himself. The Spirit points to Christ, speaks of Christ. Christ is the theme of everything.
Certainly the apostle Paul knew that. In chapter 3 of his letter to the Philippians, he says everything in his life in the past that was gain to him he counted loss for the sake of Christ. “More than that” - he says in verse 8 of Philippians 3 – “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.” Christ was everything. “For to me to live is Christ,” he said, “to die is gain” - if I live, I live under the Lord. In this same passage he says, “That I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” - I want Christ; I want to know Christ; I want to understand the fullness of Christ.
John said, “If any man abides in Him, he ought to walk as He walked.” I want to follow His pattern. I want to follow His example.
Paul said to the Corinthians, “As you gaze into the glory of the face of Christ, you are changed into His image from one level of glory to the next by the Holy Spirit.” Paul said, “I came preaching nothing but Christ and Him crucified. I am determined to know nothing among you except Christ.” Christ was everything. Christ was the pursuit of his life.
In that same section of Philippians chapter 3, he says, “One thing I do” – and what is it? – “I press toward the goal.” What is the goal? The goal is the prize of the upward call. What is the prize of the upward call? Well, that’s the prize we get when we are called up. What is it? When we’re called up, the prize is we become like Christ. And God in His elective purpose, according to Romans 8, has predetermined from before the foundation of the world, that we should be conformed to the image of His Son. That’s what it says, Romans 8, “We are predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.” In other words, we are predestined to be made like Christ, that He might become the prōtotokos, the chief one among many who are like Him.
John says, “We shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” That’s the prize of the upward call.
Paul says, “Since that’s the prize of the upward call, that’s what I’ll receive in glory. That is also the goal of my life here. I pursue becoming like Christ.” Everything in his life was Christ. “For to me to live is Christ.”
Now, what that means – listen very carefully – is that any Christian who understands Christianity, any church that understands the objective of sanctification to become like Christ must be profoundly concerned about doctrine. And first and foremost, the doctrines regarding the person and work of Jesus Christ.
It is irresponsible; it is foolish; it is a misunderstanding and complete misrepresentation of the purpose of the church not to be profoundly acute, precise, and accurate about all matters which regard Jesus Christ in His person and His work. And that, by very nature of Christ, takes us into the Trinity, which takes us to an understanding of the eternal God, which takes us to an understanding of the Law, which then moves us to an understanding of the gospel, the work of Christ, all that is involved in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ, all that moves from predestination to glorification, everything in between, and everything afterward.
To understand the fullness of Christ is to understand the whole redemptive purpose wrapped up and focused in Him. As I said, He is the radiance of God’s glory; He is the exact representation of God’s person. He shows us God; He unfolds the whole redemptive purpose, and we cannot properly exalt Christ; we cannot properly lift Him up unless we understand those matters taught in Scripture which refer to Him. To be irresponsible about doctrine and to have some willy-nilly capricious, whimsical, emotional kind of feelings about Jesus is to not fulfill the intent of God for the life of the church. We must proclaim those things which refer to Christ in their fullness and in their scope and in their depth.
And so, we look to Christ. And all the way along the life and ministry of this church, Christ has been our central theme. We lift up and exalt Christ.
Some people say we’re too much involved in theology. That’s simply because the Bible has so much to say about Christ. I don’t want to oversimplify the issue, but may I simply define for you the word “theology?” It means to study God. And God is nowhere better studied than in the person of Jesus Christ.
And when we develop doctrine, all we’re doing – doctrine simply means teaching – all we’re doing is trying to teach with precision everything that we can comprehend in all its depth and all its breadth and all its height and all its width about Jesus Christ. That is not to overdo it. In fact, when we’ve done our best, we’ve underdone it. When we’ve exhausted our human capacity, when we have reached as far and wide and deeply and profoundly into the richness and depth of all that could ever be said or written about Christ, we haven’t told one small iota of the glory that could be uttered. And we will continue to focus on Jesus Christ.
When you come here, it is not likely you’re going to hear much about John MacArthur. Hallelujah. It’s not likely you’re going to hear much about politics. It’s not likely you’re going to hear much about current events. It’s not likely you’re going to hear much about heroes, famous people, or even historic people who’ve left their mark on the world. What you’re going to hear about is Jesus Christ. And that will always be the case. It always has been the case, and it always is the case in a church that understands what it’s all about.
We don’t apologize for preaching Christ. We don’t back off from preaching Christ. We don’t sugar coat what the Bible says about Christ. We don’t avoid some of the things it says. Who am I to edit God? I don’t mind editing Lance Quinn, but not God. Or Phil Johnson for that matter, who always edits me. But I’m not about to edit God. And I can’t improve on His Word. And what kind of folly would assume that anyone could.
So, without any apology, and without any equivocation or hesitation, we preach Christ. And if you come here, you will hear about Christ, and you will hear why He came and what He accomplished. And in order to understand it, you will hear about sin and the terrible dilemma that a sinner finds himself in, lost and undone, incapable and on his way to eternal hell.
We will preach the Law; we will preach the coming judgment of God; we will preach that Jesus Christ is the judge to whom God has committed all judgment, who will pour that judgment out in a furious display that will plunge sinners into eternal damnation from which they will find no relief forever. We will preach that, and we will preach the message of grace and mercy in Christ, who paid for the very sins of those who are worthy of that eternal judgment. We preach Christ, and we make no apologies for that. We don’t try to sugarcoat it; we don’t try to soft sell it; we don’t try some slick means of marketing it; we lift up Christ.
And through the years, we have had, because of the nature of things in the climate around us, we have even had to take a strong stand on the fact that Jesus is Lord, if you can imagine that - which, by the way, was the very byword of the Christian church in its infancy. Jesus is Lord. And now, we have to defend that even among quote-unquote evangelicals who want to deny that it’s necessary for salvation to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord. We make no apology for that, since Romans is so clear in chapter 10. It says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you’ll be saved.
We preach Christ, and I am constantly appalled and discouraged and disappointed at how many churches don’t really do that. They talk about Jesus; they talk about the Lord; they talk in generalities; they talk in emotional terms about Him; they sing about Him. But it never comes down to clear understanding of who He is and what He has done. That is why, for one thing, they can throw their arms around Roman Catholics and embrace them as if they really understood the gospel. They can throw their arms around people who are as lost as lost can be in some form of Eastern Orthodoxy and embrace them as if they really understood the gospel, because they themselves do not. There is a sad and tragic lack of understanding about the matters concerning Christ which are so clear in Scripture.
Now tonight, as we think about exalting the Lord Jesus Christ, obviously I find myself somewhat paralyzed as to where to go because there are so many places. Since He’s the theme of all the Bible, we could look in just about every place and find Him exalted, and it certainly would be a worthy effort. But for tonight at least, I want to draw you to the book of Colossians. The book of Colossians. And in some ways, just briefly reaffirm and somewhat summarize the glories of Christ that are presented in this marvelous epistle.
Obviously, in Colossae, this city to which this letter was written, there was a tremendous amount of confusion about the person of Jesus Christ. It was therefore crucial that the apostle Paul make clear who Jesus Christ really is.
There were those who said Jesus was an angel, He was some kind of created being in a ladder of created sort of spirit beings called emanations or Aeons, who are sort of a ladder going from God to man or man to God, a sort of graded hierarchy of angelic type beings.
There were beliefs that Jesus was some kind of phantom being or that there was some kind of floating spirit that descended on the body of Jesus who was nothing more than a man who was infused with this sort of wandering spirit and became the Christ.
There were lots of confusing things. Even today we find such confusion about who is the real Jesus. Well, that confusion existed in the Colossian church, and Paul addresses himself to it in this letter. In chapter 1, clearly he defines the preeminence of Jesus Christ. And we could spend our time, in almost every verse of this epistle, but, for time’s sake, let’s go to chapter 1, verse 15.
Paul has already talked about Christ in the very first verse, and the very second verse, and the very fourth verse, and down in the seventh verse, and even in verse 13 called Him “His beloved Son” – and verse 14 – “in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
So, he has already talked about Christ as the source of redemption and the forgiveness of sins. And now he defines His person in verse 15, “He is the image of the invisible God.” Again, precisely what is said in Hebrews chapter 1, He is the invisible God made visible. You want to know what God is like? You look at Christ. Jesus put it this way, “If you’ve seen Me, you’ve seen the Father.” He is the image. He is the replica. He is the literal representation of the invisible God.
He is also the firstborn. That doesn’t mean first in terms of chronology; it means first in terms of rank. He is the prōtotokos, the Supreme One, the primary one of all who have ever been made - and, of course, the God-man was created; the human aspect of Jesus was born of Mary – of all who’ve ever been created, He is the Supreme One. So, He is both God made visible and the supreme man in all creation.
Further, verse 16 say, “By Him all things were created.” Therefore, He is the Creator God Himself as John 1 tells us. All things were made by Him. “He is Creator of everything in heaven and on earth, everything visible, everything invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities” – and those are ranks of angelic beings – “All things have been created through Him and for Him. He created them all, and they were all created for Him.” He is the same as the Creator God. He is God made manifest, and He is as man the Supreme One ever created, for He is the Creator of everything.
Verse 17, “He is before all things” – that is to say He is eternal; He existed before anything ever came into existence – “and in Him all things hold together.” He not only made it all, existing before it ever was created, but He upholds it. He sustains it. He keeps it together.
When scientists study atoms and wonder what it is that keeps the atom together, it is Him. You can’t see it in a test tube. You can’t see it in a microscope. You can’t find it in an electron microscope. You can’t see it in the strip of DNA. You can’t find it in the chromosomes. You can’t see it when you get all the way down and split the atom. What is holding it all together is the invisible power of the incarnate God, none other than the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now in verse 18, it also says, “He is the head of the body, the church” – and that is to say He’s in charge of the church; He is the Supreme One; He is the head. That is He is the controlling person. He is the brains; He is the eyes, the ears; He is the mouth of the church. And He is the ruler, the head, the leader of the church. And as such, He deserves all the preeminence. He is the beginning. He is of all that have ever been raised from the dead the Premier One, the Supreme One so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything.
Verse 19 says, “It was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him” – that is to say He is fully God. As John 1 says, “He is God. He is very God, full of grace and truth.” And all of those verses talk about the preeminence of His person.
Now let’s look at verse 20, and here Paul talks about the preeminence of His work. “And through Him to reconcile all things to Himself” – in other words, He is the one Reconciler. “He’s the one who made peace through the blood of His cross.” Peace with whom? Peace with God. He’s the one who took the alienated sinner and reconciled Him to God through His work on the cross. He is the one who reconciles everything – “whether on earth or in heaven.
“And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through His own death in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach. Here is His work. It is the work of reconciling sinners to God. The prominence of His person, the preeminence of His person; the prominence of His work, the preeminence of His work.
And because He is so preeminent, go down to the last two verses of chapter 1, Paul says, “And we proclaim Him.” Without hesitation, without equivocation, we proclaim Him. That was Paul’s passion. That was His message. Every sermon Christ, Christ; that as the focus of His life. That was what He lived for; that was what He preached.
That takes us into chapter 2. And in chapter 2, Paul has more to say. Verse 1, “I want you to know how great a struggle I have on your behalf and for those who are at Laodicea, and for all those who have not personally seen my face” – I really care about you. I’m really burdened about you.
“I want your hearts” – verse 2 – “to be encouraged; I want them to be knit together in love, and I want you to attain to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself” – I have to top at that verse; it’s just loaded.
He says, “Look, I’m struggling.” A lot of pastors are struggling. I guess we all struggle most of the time. “I’m struggling. I’m struggling because of you. I’m struggling on account of you and the believers in Laodicea. And what am I struggling about? I’m struggling that your hearts might be encouraged, knit together in love.”
And then this supreme issue that you might attain to all the wealth that comes – listen to this – when you really understand Christ. That’s so profound and yet so simple. The more you understand about Christ, the greater your spiritual wealth. People are so cheated by shallowness, insipid trivial messages. So cheated when all they ever hear are a few basic things about Christ. So cheated out of the wealth that is theirs, because when you understand the mystery of God – what is that? – that God became man. And that man is Jesus Christ. And when you fully understand the reality of Christ, you have the rich wealth of knowing God.
And one of the reasons that I’m not running off to all of these big events that are supposedly held where God shows up and does miracles. And I’m not running off to Toronto to get zapped by somebody and lay on my back and laugh. And I’m not running off to Anaheim to jump on chairs and bounce around and lie on my back and kick my feet. And I’m not launching off to go to someplace where the promise is that miracles are going to be there, and the Holy Spirit’s going to fall.
The reason I’m not chasing all of that out is because I don’t feel cheated; I feel rich already – profoundly rich. And I don’t really believe that they have anything to add to that. I do believe they have a lot to take away from it. The richness of my spiritual life isn’t bouncing from one high to the other; it’s going from one depth to another. It’s the deep things of God that exhilarate my soul and my heart. It’s the profound truths about the person and work of Christ that explode upon my mind and fill it with joy.
I basically, in spite of a lot of responsibility and a lot of disappointment, find myself an insatiably happy person. I spend most of my time with a song in my heart, speaking to myself in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, and just telling people around me how happy and blessed I am. And it’s not because everything is going exactly the way I’d like it to go; it isn’t. But it’s that way because I have such a wealth of understanding of the truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ. And there’s so much more that I don’t know – so much more. But I feel like a very wealthy person.
And Paul says, “My struggle for you is that you would have the knowledge of God revealed in Christ that makes you really rich.” Really rich. And I’ll tell you, you’re going to find people who understand the person of Christ in the way that He’s revealed on the pages of Scripture. People who understand the reality of Jesus Christ and His power in their lives and understand His person and His work don’t need that kind of stuff.
In fact, the people who chase it are the people who don’t understand the depth of the truths of Jesus Christ. And they feel cheated, and they feel like they don’t have everything they want. And they’re told all the time, “There’s something more. There’s something more. There’s something more.” And you know what? There is something more, but it’s not that; that’s not it. That’s a false substitute.
Paul says, “My struggle for you is that you would know the depth of the mystery of God revealed in Christ and all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding that. What joy; what fulfillment.
I’ve said to Patricia a number of times, through the years – and I don’t say this because I set myself above anyone, but I’ve said to her through the years, “I can’t imagine going to a marriage seminar, because I couldn’t be a happier person. I don’t know what they tell me. I’m sure they would tell me a few things, and through the years she’s told me a few things she wished I’d learned somewhere. But apart from a few little things here and there, I’m happy about the relationship God has given me. God has blessed me, and I feel the same way in terms of all these years of studying the Scripture.
When I first came here, I wanted to go through the gospel of John. It was way back in 1969, and I wanted to go through the gospel of John selfishly – not so much for the church, although I knew it would benefit them, but because I wanted to spend every week studying the person of Jesus Christ revealed in all His glory in the gospel of John.
And then I wanted to go through the book of Hebrews. Why? Because the book of Hebrews is about Jesus Christ. And then I wanted to go through the book of Revelation. And I did then, and I did it again. Why? Because it’s the exaltation of Christ. And then the time came I wanted to go through Matthew, and many of you remember that millennial study of Matthew - all those years. And we’re about to embark upon another one in Luke. And I’ll never – I’ll never get away from studying the wonderful realities of Jesus Christ.
I’ve been so grateful; lately I got a letter from my publisher, a fax, and they said the next book they want me to do is a book on the person of Jesus Christ. And I was reading an article this week, from the Christian publishing world, and it said in surveying all of the current publications – they named all of the topics and all of the issues, and there wasn’t a new book on the person of Christ. That’s a sad commentary on the absence of the right preoccupation in the life of many believers.
Well, chapter 2. Why do we want to study Christ? Verse 3, “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Everything you could ever want to know, every wise thing you ever wanted to apply is found in Christ. It’s all there. Talk about sufficiency; it’s all there. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Him. It’s a closed case. That’s it. Why anything else?
Verse 5, he says, “I am rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of our faith in Christ. As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him” – just what John said in 1 John. Christ is everything. Be stable in Christ.
You remember in 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul was so burdened about the Corinthians, he says in chapter 11, verse 3, “I’m afraid lest as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.”
The church, I believe, has been led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ. And as Paul also says in that same 2 Corinthian eleventh chapter, “If one comes and preaches another Jesus” – I’m afraid there may other Jesus being preached, too. We need to maintain simplicity of focus on Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.
Down in verse 9 of chapter 2, “In Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete.” That’s it. Christ is everything – absolutely everything. Nothing can and nothing should be added to Christ. This has been our commitment at this church through all these years. We have focused on God’s glory; we have focused on God’s holiness; we have focused on His sovereignty, on His majesty, on all the richness of His character, and it is most clearly seen in Jesus Christ, and thus we have exalted Christ. Second Corinthians 9:8 says that in Christ we have all sufficiency in all things. Hebrews 10:14 says that Christ has perfected forever those that are set apart from sin.
And so, what have we said through the years? We have said that Christ is sufficient. I wrote a book on the sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Why? Because that’s the theme of Scripture: our sufficiency in Christ. That’s been our emphasis.
In first Corinthians chapter 1, listen to verse 30, “In Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” If we have anything to say, if we have anyone to exalt, if we have anyone to preach, it is Christ Jesus in whom we find all our sufficiency.
Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us” – listen to this - “with every spiritual blessing available in the heavenlies in Christ.” We have it all. How is it that so many miss it? How can it be? We’re complete in Him. All the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, all joy, all peace, all value, all meaning, all truth, all purpose, all hope, all fulfillment, all in Christ.
“Christ is all and in all,” says Paul. We’ve never needed Christ plus philosophy. We’ve never needed Christ plus sociology. We’ve never needed Christ plus psychology. We’ve never needed Christ plus mysticism. We’ve just needed Christ. Just Christ. And all that other stuff does is diminish Christ.
Now, while we’re into Colossians 2 for a moment, I’ll just take a minute or two to remind you of what it says. If you want a good, refreshing study, get the tapes on Colossians 2 which we did some few years back.
But obviously the Colossians were being hammered by some others who were saying Christ was not enough, and that they needed to add to Christ some other human elements that would really be necessary if they were going to make it. It wasn’t just Christ; it wasn’t just knowing the great truths about Him; it wasn’t just a full assurance of understanding about Him; there had to be more. And the first thing they said is, “You need Christ plus philosophy; Christ plus human reason.”
Look at verse 8, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.” I mean everything is in Christ, and you are complete in Christ. Don’t let anybody take you captive through philosophy. This simply means human reason, the mind of man, somebody’s opinion about something apart from divine revelation. Whether he’s a philosopher, or a writer, or a playwright, or a movie producer, or a talk show host, or a sociologist, or a psychologist, or a therapist, or a religious leader, or a politician – all of these people purveying their endless verbosity about truth, and life, and morality, and offering their endless stream of human solutions to the disastrously sinful and uncontrollable life of man in the world. It doesn’t matter who they are. Everybody from Voltaire to Dr. Ruth, and everybody in between.
Whether you’re talking about classic philosophy, which was mental and cognitive – which, by the way, is gone now; we don’t have any more classic philosophy that was mental and cognitive. I studied advanced European philosophy in my undergraduate days in college; it was a fascinating study. It was all about the mind and mental gymnastics. It was a cognitive effort. We read huge tomes written by European philosophers in that class, and unfortunately, there were only four students in the class, so we couldn’t hide. And we had to read all the reading and write all the papers, because there were only four of us. And I remember going through all these musings, all of these very intricate, rational theories. All of that is gone. Classic, rational, cognitive philosophy has disappeared in favor of New Age philosophy which is irrational and non-mental and is all about feelings and emotions and beliefs.
Well, man couldn’t come up with truth through his mind, and he can’t come to truth through his feelings either. Both are absolutely hopeless because man is bankrupt of moral, spiritual truth. He is as lost in his emotional search as he was in his mental search. In fact, Paul labels it. He calls it “philosophy and empty deception.” That’s pretty straightforward stuff. “Don’t let anybody take you captive” – literally the Greek verb means carry you away, like a prisoner. Don’t let anybody haul you off. It was used, by the way, of kidnapping someone, that verb. It was used of plundering a house, seducing a maid, or taking a war captive. “Don’t let anybody take you captive.” Listen it goes on all the time – all the time, all the time. Churches, church leaders buy the world’s philosophy. They suck it right up, and they sell out whether it’s a political philosophy, whether it’s an emotional philosophy, whether it’s some form of New Age mysticism - whatever it might be. Whether it’s the world’s philosophy of marketing, finding the hot buttons of people to get them by the gospel product they think, whatever it is, they imbibe it and they buy it.
Everything that has to do with human reason, human values, human morality, a human approach to understanding truth and spirituality and the meaning of life, he calls it “vain deceit.” What is that? An empty lie, a delusion. And he qualifies it here as that which is according to the tradition of men. According to the tradition of men. It comes from inadequate human thinking.
Now, you can get a degree and even a Ph.D. in this stuff, but it’s just human thinking. And look at the next statement, “According to the elementary principles of the world.” That is such a potent statement. Literally baby talk, ABCs. It is the basic elements of learning. It is rudimentary principles for little babies, not even eloquent and not even adequate for adults. It’s not advanced. It’s retarded; that’s what it is.
The best of human philosophy, the best of human wisdom, whether it’s mental or emotional, whether it’s the old, classic, rational philosophies or the new non-rational philosophies - whatever it is – whether it comes in the form of contemporary psychology or New Age mysticism, it isn’t advanced; it isn’t erudite; it isn’t man at his highest. It is simplistic; it is understating reality. It is the ABCs; it is baby talk; it is rudimentary principles for children; it’s kindergarten stuff. It’s no different than when your little child says, “Where do babies come from,” and you say, “A stork brings them,” and he says, “Oh.”
The thought, of course, is that human wisdom is advancing the mind. It is not; it is regressing the mind from truth revealed in Scripture to infantile, immature musings of children, poverty stricken opinions of puny minds, beggarly elements, rudimentary elements. A great, incomprehensible mind of God becomes comprehensible only through the pages of Scripture. Philosophy doesn’t give man advanced, deep, profound insight; it gives him just the opposite. It reduces him to infancy. You don’t need it, because “all the wisdom and knowledge” – verse 3 – “is in Christ.” “In Him all the fullness dwells” – verse 9 – “and in Him you are made complete.” You are plērōma, filled up. Filled up. You don’t need anything else.
Look down at verse 16. There was a second thing assaulting the Colossians. Not just philosophy but legalism. And, of course, this is the religion of human achievement. This is the person who believes that, “Well, yes, we believe in Jesus, and we want to affirm Jesus and all of that. We believe, but there’s more to that. We have to add human works. We have to do something.” Of course, that’s what we’ve been talking about in Roman Catholicism, Greek Orthodoxy, and all kinds of other things. Many contemporary Christian quote-unquote cults that talk about Jesus, affirm Jesus, say they believe in Jesus, worship Jesus, believe Jesus died on the cross and all of that – as even the Mormons do – but that’s not enough to save us; we have to add our works. That’s part of it. That’s in all false religious systems to one degree or another. The stuff is so prevalent in the ceremonies, the rituals, the systems of self-righteous works, all the religions of the world have elements of this. And he says, verse 16, “Let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day” – don’t let anybody hold you to some religious legal ceremony. And do you know what’s interesting about this? He mentions ones that were from the Old Testament. This is Judaism. God Himself ordained the diet of the Jews, what they could eat and drink. God Himself ordained the festivals, the new moons, the Sabbath days; that was from God. That wasn’t from man. But even that, verse 17 says, “is a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” You don’t need the shadows. Not even the revealed ones, not even the Old Testament Jewish system. You don’t need that. That’s a shadow; that’s only picture. That’s just a preview. The reality is Christ. When Christ arrives, no ritual has any significance other than those simple observances which Christ Himself instituted of baptism and the Lord’s Table to remember the work of Christ. In themselves they have no saving power.
Legalism is the attitude that says, “True spirituality is based on something I do, something good or something religious. Paul says, “Don’t let anybody put that burden on you.” Obviously there are people today who teach baptismal regeneration within the framework of Christianity. And some of them are well accepted and widely accepted. And they believe that you cannot be saved until you get in the water, the H2O and go under it. And that is the very essential element of your salvation.
The Roman Catholic Church believes that the “process” – they call it – of justification is initiated by infant baptism. The water starts it, and then, of course, the whole proliferation of externals that make up that system. Paul says, “Don’t let anybody put that trip on you at all. It isn’t Christ plus any of that. Not any ritual. Not any liturgy. Not any formal ceremonies.
There was a third assault on the person of Christ, the singularity and sufficiency of Christ. And look at it – and this gets close to today – mysticism, verses 18 and 19. Mysticism. “Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind.” Whoo. Boy, Paul doesn’t pull any punches there.
Don’t let anybody take away your prize; don’t let anybody steal your reward. You know, we’re serving the Lord, and someday we’ll get an eternal reward, and you could lose your reward. He says don’t let anybody take your reward away by getting you sucked up into mysticism. And he describes it in some interesting terms.
First of all, mystics delight in humility. They love the fact that they’re humble, and they’re proud of it, really. Proud to be humble. They’re holier than everybody else because they’ve attained to a higher level, “Oh, you poor soul you; you really don’t have it. You haven’t got it. It didn’t happen to you. Oh, really? You haven’t spoken in tongues? Oh, you haven’t had a vision? Oh, sad, you’ve never been knocked over. You haven’t been slain in the spirit. My, it’s sad; it’s so sad that you have not attained to this higher plane of spirituality.” They delight in their humility, their piosity.
And then they worship angels. And the Essenes did that of ancient times. The Roman Catholics do that. I have a whole section in my Roman Catholic theology books that talks about the veneration of angels. They do a foot dance around what veneration means, but in the end, as it comes down to the people in the pew, it winds up being a worship of angels like the worship of the saints and Mary. And even today there are some who are so enamored and so into angels, they pay more attention and are more concerned about angels than they are about Jesus Christ.
That’s a big preoccupation, you know, now. Books on angels are really big, and more and more books on angels are coming. And there’s a real preoccupation in books on angels and demons. I looked at the best seller list – the secular best seller list, which included Christian fiction. Three out of the top four books are written by Frank Peretti, and they have all to do with preoccupation of demons and angels. The new book sold half-a-million copies in 60 days. And it’s fiction. People read it as if it was theology. There’s a real preoccupation with angels. People are enamored with angels; they want to know about angels. I’ve even been asked if I’d write a book about angels. This is hot stuff. Not much interest in Christ, but a lot of interest in angels.
And then this is really very helpful; they take their stand on visions they’ve seen. How common is that? They had a vision. The Lord spoke to them. They heard the voice of Christ. They had a secret revelation, “The Lord told me.” They went to heaven, came back; went to hell, came back. Vision after vision after vision.
There’s a book out – I mentioned it earlier – by James Ryle called Hippo in the Garden. James Ryle is the pastor of the Vineyard in Boulder, which is the driving force behind the Promise Keepers Movement. Their leadership comes from that church. And James Ryle’s book Hippo in the Garden is in every Christian bookstore. The “garden” is the church, and the “hippo” is new revelation. And God is going to stomp the existing church – just stomp it like a hippo in your garden. You know what a hippo would do to a garden; that’s what God is going to do with new revelation to the church. And you better get with the new revelation. They take their stand on visions. They get preoccupied with angels. They have a false humility and attitude of “holier than thou” because they’ve attained to a higher level. And Paul says, in verse 18, they are “inflated without cause by their fleshly mind.” They really overestimate themselves.
Verse 19 – sad, sad, sad – “They do not hold fast to the head” – who’s the head? Christ. They’ve abandoned that perspective, that preoccupation. Sad. Sad.
Well, a final attack came, and it’s still coming, verses 20 to 23, from asceticism. It’s not so popular today as it used to be, although it may all of a sudden begin to develop. Asceticism is self-denial. These are the people who believe that somehow you get spiritual by inflicting pain on yourself. It can be a number of ways. You can stick yourself with stuff, like some Catholic priests who keep rocks in their shoes all the time just so they constantly feel pain – and somehow think that expiates sin. Some of them wear a belt around their waist that has little tacks in it so that it tears their flesh all the time, as some kind of sinful penance for their sin is being played out.
There are some who go to extreme forms of abstinence, some, you know, Catholics who crucify themselves down in the Philippines and places like that. There were some who never took a bath through church history, and they had all over their body what they enjoyed calling “holy vermin.” They weren’t real popular in a group. People like nuns, who go off into some convent, or monks who go off into some convent and believe that such complete abstinence from the normal issues of life somehow gains them favor with God.
I have watched people crawl to the shrine of Guadalupe in Mexico with their knees bleeding. I’ve watched them climb up to the great shrine, the largest cathedral in the northwestern hemisphere in Montreal, San Joseph, hundreds and hundreds of steps they go up on their knees with bleeding knees, the pain somehow expiating their sin. This is asceticism. This is pleasing God by self-denial, pleasing God through pain.
And verse 20, he says, “If you’ve died with Christ to these elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees such as, ‘Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch’?” That’s some kind of bizarre abstinence; you don’t need to submit to those things.
Verse 23, “Those self-abasement things that are a part of self-made religion, that’s severe treatment of the body which is of no value at all against fleshly indulgence.” No value. Do you know that some in the past had themselves emasculated, castrated so they could deal with lust. They didn’t deal with lust by being castrated. Lust is in the mind. It has no effect, this self-imposed, self-abnegation, self-made religion of self-denial, false humility, and pain. You see it even in Hindu fakers who go around lying on beds of nails and jumping through hot coals of fire. Any asceticism is a great deal more to men’s taste, however, than abandoning self to the sufficiency of Christ.
So, they’ve always come along and said, “It’s Jesus plus human wisdom; it’s Jesus plus external rules and legalism; it’s Jesus plus visions and experience and mysticism; it’s Jesus plus self-infliction.”
And the Holy Spirit says, “It’s Jesus plus” – what? – “nothing.”
We exalt Christ. We exalt Christ. It is Christ who has given us everything. He is the reality to which we turn. All peace, all joy, all fulfillment, all meaning, all satisfaction, all purpose, all deliverance, all strength, all comfort, all hope, all truth is in Christ.
John 1:16 says it, “Of His fullness have all we received and grace upon grace.” Ephesians 3:8, “Unsearchable riches.” 1 Corinthians 3, “All things belong to you, whether the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you because you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.”
A final word, in Proverbs 8:30, there’s a powerful truth. The second member of the Trinity speaks in Proverbs 8:30, none other than the Lord Jesus Christ, and He says this, referring to God, “I was daily His delight.” That’s Christ saying, “I was daily the Father’s delight.” God’s delight has always been Christ.
Isaiah 42:1, God calls Christ, “My Servant, My chosen one in whom My soul delights.” God delights in Christ.
Matthew 3:17, Jesus being baptized, God says, “My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” Well pleased is eudokeō, meaning delight. Christ is the delight of God. God is totally satisfied with Christ.
Jeremiah Burroughs, the powerful Puritan, wrote in 1656, “God the Father is infinitely satisfied in Christ. He is all in all to Him. Surely if Christ is an object sufficient for the satisfaction of the Father, much more then is He an object sufficient for the satisfaction of any soul.”
If God can find His sufficient delight and satisfaction in His Son, how dare we not find ours there also? And what an unthinkable sin it is to have more needs and more demands for satisfaction than almighty God who finds everything in Christ. We should be able to say with the psalmist, in Psalm 73, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? Besides Thee, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” I want nothing more. Nothing more.
We will exalt Christ. He is all in all. And any church that is a faithful church is a Christ-exalting church. Let’s bow together in prayer.
While your heads are bowed for a moment, a story is told about William Randolph Hearst. The late newspaper publisher invested a fortune in collecting great works of art. And one day he read about some valuable pieces of art and decided he would add them to his collection. And he sent his agents all over the world to find them. Months went by before they returned to tell him they had found what he wanted stored in his own warehouse.
And I think of that, and I think of the alarming number of Christians in a desperate search for treasure they already have in Christ. Oh that they might fully understand it, that they might know Him and all the richness in the knowing.
Father, we thank You again for this reminder of our blessed Christ, and may we be faithful to pursue knowing Him, and may we be faithful to pursue knowing Him and becoming like Him. Work that work in us, we pray, for His glory, amen.
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