Posts Tagged ‘the Devil’

Watch out for Robbers!

Watch out for Robbers!

Complete in Christ

© C. O. Bishop 9/14/18 Cornell Estates 9/16/18

Colossians 2:8-17

Introduction:

We have been studying through the Epistle to the Colossians, and have read of Paul’s concern for the churches to whom he was writing, and, by extension, his concerns for us, as believers. One of the things that he warns against is those who would rob us of our liberty in Christ: those who will try to convince us that God has not given us the whole truth, and that there is something else we need, in order to be in good standing with God.

Guard against Robbers

Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.

Notice the three-fold attack of the Enemy here, in verse eight:

  1. Through philosophy and vain deceit (Who is the deceiver? The “Liar and Father of lies”.)
  2. After the traditions of men (Human reasoning…appealing to my old nature, the “flesh”)
  3. After the rudiments of the world (elementary concepts, not embracing spiritual realities)

We are warned that, collectively, these three are not “after Christ.” Remember who our three enemies are? The World, the Flesh, and the Devil! And here they are again!

The fact is, we tend to like “philosophy;” in fact, the word “philosophy” means “love of wisdom”. But the problem is that there are many sources of such “wisdom,” and not all are from God. One of the three things that attracted Eve to eat the Fruit, was the fact that it was “to be desired to make one wise.” But that “wisdom” was not from God: it was a deadly trap!

James 3:13-18 points out the three other sources of “wisdom,” all of which are in opposition to God. He shows the “works” that are associated with such “Earthly, Sensual, or Devilish” “wisdom”, and then contrasts it with the “fruit” of Godly Wisdom.

13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.
14 But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the truth.
15 This wisdom descendeth not from above, but is earthly, sensual, devilish.

(There are those three enemies again: The world, the flesh, and the Devil!)

16 For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.
17 But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy.
18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.

The wisdom we need must come from the only good source: In Proverbs 2:1-7, God says that His Word is the only reliable source. Do we have a teacher we especially like to hear? That is good; but we still need to read the scriptures on our own, as well, and measure his words against God’s Word. As did the Berean believers, we need to “Search the scriptures daily to see if these things are so.” (Acts 17:11)

Things that sound good, are not necessarily good teaching. Compare scripture with scripture. All scripture has to agree with all other scripture. If we are taught something that seems to contradict the rest of the Word of God, we need to stop and read carefully: something is definitely wrong.

Don’t underestimate Christ

Verse 9 is an important truth regarding the Deity of Christ. This is a crystal-clear statement that “in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily.” We have a very human desire to “reduce” God to a humanly understandable level. That is not a good thing to do: He is not a human, except as He has chosen to appear, in the person of Christ. He is the immortal, immutable, omnipresent, omnipotent Creator, and the God of all time and eternity! Why should I expect him to be something I can casually read about, consider for a moment, and grasp completely? There are so many comparatively small things within His creation, which we can study all our lives and still not understand: why would we expect the Creator to be simpler than His creation? Entomologists may give their whole lives to understanding a particular type of insect: Isn’t it obvious that the Creator of all things, including that insect, is more complex and harder to grasp than the insect, let alone the rest of creation, from silkworms to supernovas?

I can’t even grasp all the things that humans create: I use computers and cell-phones on a daily basis, but, when experts try to explain to me how they work, I only understand them in general terms. Regarding the specifics of why something doesn’t work, I have no idea what’s wrong.

Jesus encompasses all of who God is: He is God; and the entirety of the fullness of the Godhead was and is present in Him, in His human body. And, He says that we are complete in Christ!

You are complete in Christ!

10 And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:

This is an important truth, all in itself: You are complete in Christ! He is the head of all things, above all authority and angelic beings, whether holy or fallen, and He says we are complete, in Him!

So, what should I do when someone comes along to tell me, “No! You are not complete! You are missing this one little thing about which God didn’t bother to tell you!” What then? Doesn’t that comment sound remarkably similar to the Serpent’s temptation of Eve, in the Garden? “You shall not surely die! (Hisssss) God doth know that in the day that ye eat thereof, your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil!” (Hisssss)  (Genesis 3:4, 5)

Learn to recognize Robbers

Beware the voice of the Serpent in all such appeals! At minimum, this sort of suggestion calls into question the character of God! Any teaching that diminishes the deity of Christ, or questions the holiness or wisdom of God Himself, is ultimately from the pit. This is not meant as some sort of “knee-jerk, reactionary name-calling.” We simply need to be realistic about God’s Word: there is an Enemy, and this is one of the ways we perceive his hand. We see his character in the teachings of his workers: they seek to make us doubt God’s written Word, and to not trust Him.

We also must look to see God’s character in the teachings of His servants. God’s faithful servants teach us to understand and trust in the written Word of God, which draws us closer to the Living Word, Jesus! They confirm that God’s Word is complete, and holy, and that His character is Holy and Righteous, and Good, and that He is entirely trustworthy. The Holy Spirit never teaches contrary to the Word of God, nor does He cause us to doubt the character of God.

I have had people tell me that “there were things left out of the Bible, you know;” and that I, as a Bible-believing Christian, am living in ignorance, because I “don’t know the whole story.” Now: who is most likely to bring me such an idea; trying to convince me that “God is not giving me the straight story?” Is this a true “servant of light,” or is it, more likely, a minion of Satan appearing as an angel of light? (2 Corinthians 11:13-15 13For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. 14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light.15 Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.)

We need to learn our wisdom from God, by becoming so familiar with His Word that every false doctrine “sticks out” as having “something amiss.” In every such case, so far, I have been able, through God’s Word, to satisfy myself that the person bringing the message was not a servant of God; their message was utterly contrary to God’s Word, and contrary to Grace, as well. We are complete in Him. We simply need to feed on His Word, and become strong.

What is the result of our Position in Christ?

Verses 11-15 tell us some precious truths that are entirely due to our position in Christ:

11 In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:

12 Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.

The “circumcision,” here, as well as the “baptism,” have nothing to do with our physical body. Jesus, by His death at the Cross, has “put off” the flesh, once for all. We are no longer slaves to our old sin nature. It is still present, but it has been “put off” at the Cross, and we can trust in that truth, on a daily basis. This is entirely a “positional” truth: it is true because we are in Christ.

The baptism in question, here, is also not the physical baptism with water, but the Holy Spirit baptism addressed over in 1st Corinthians 12:13. Every believer has been “baptized” into Christ, whether they know it or not. Because of that baptism by the Holy Spirit, into the Body of Christ, we have been identified with Him in His death, His burial, His resurrection, and His ascension, with the result being that, from God’s perspective, we are already seated with Christ in Heaven.

Water baptism only reflects this “real” baptism. It is an outward symbol of a spiritual reality, just as circumcision was supposed to have been for the Jews. Again, these are true because we are in Christ. There is nothing for us to do, to obtain these things: they are already true of us, in Christ.

The next verse is in the same category: it is true for all believers, because they are in Christ.

13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;

Notice that this is all past-tense: I was “dead in sin:” I have been “quickened” (made alive—resurrected) with Christ. My sins already have been completely forgiven: all our trespasses have been forgiven; past, present and future. Remember: when Jesus died for you, all your sins were in the future! He died for all your “future sins,” because all of them were in the future when He died. You have never “surprised God” by your sins. He knew them all, from eternity past. He chose to include them in His sacrifice at the Cross.

14 Blotting 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;

The Law, which spoke against me, in my condemned state as a lost sinner, has been blotted out: erased, as it were, where it once condemned me. The condemnation of the Law was nailed to the Cross along with our sins. Is the Law still God’s Word? Absolutely! But it no longer condemns me: because I died with Christ, the Law has been fulfilled, as it applies to me. It condemned me to die, and I died: “End of story!” So, all of its judgment against me has been nullified, in death.

15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.

The word “spoiled” here, means “looted,” or “robbed.” In what way did Jesus “loot” or “rob” the demonic hosts at the cross? He took back the souls of all believers from the one who had long enslaved them! He purchased us, actually, with His blood, and through His death. But the key, here, is that Jesus triumphed over Satan at the Cross. This was the fulfillment of the “Seed of the Woman” prophecy in Genesis 3:15. This is where the “Serpent’s head” was “crushed.” What was expected to be a victory for Satan, and an ignominious death for the Son of God, turned out to be the Absolute Triumph of God, in Christ, and the crushing defeat of the Evil One.

How should we respond to this truth?

16 Let 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:
 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

The result, then, of the final “setting aside of the Law, for righteousness,” is that we are also free from the trappings of the religious law adhered to by the Jews. (See Romans 10:4—“For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”) There are still people today who want to place themselves back under these Laws, though God tells them to not do so, right here in this passage.

What is worse, is that, they usually want to place others under that condemnation, as well. They are not satisfied to be a slave themselves: they want you to be one, too. The cults all fall into this category, as they all (either explicitly or, by implication) deny the efficacy of the blood of Jesus, saying that we must work to earn salvation, or work to maintain a right standing before God.

They go out of their way to convince us, because they themselves have been convinced that, in order for them to be saved, or to receive reward, they have to draw others into the same bondage. The cults are not doing it out of concern for your soul, but for their own. A Christian may share his or her belief, too, but he or she has no obligation to do so, and, as a rule, nothing to gain by it. They seek to free others from bondage, not enslave them. They are not concerned, as a rule, with what church you attend, but, whether you receive the free gift of God: eternal life in Christ. They may also invite you to their church, of course; but, if they are faithful servants of God, the real issue is the salvation and freedom of your soul.

Is there anything “wrong” with keeping the feasts, or observing the Sabbath? No, there isn’t! If you enjoy the celebrations, that is fine, but we are under no obligation to such things. We are not to be placed under further bondage: instead, the Holy Spirit sets us free from the bondage of sin, and does not place us in bondage to the Law. He truly sets us free to live for God.

Finally, Paul points out that all the things of the Law (the feast-days, the dietary laws, etc.) were, collectively, at best, only a picture of the coming reality of righteousness in Christ. Jesus is the Reality! He asks that we not allow ourselves to be robbed of our freedom in Christ by others, who, themselves, have rejected it.

This is, unfortunately, an extremely common trait among humans: we don’t want others to enjoy something that we, ourselves, don’t have. So we judge one another, and try to make each other feel less content with God’s supply. Paul warns us to not allow this to happen to us, and (by application), we are not to do it to others, either! You are complete, in Christ. Rejoice in that truth, and don’t allow anyone to steal your joy, by causing you to doubt it.

Lord Jesus, please allow us to meditate upon the truth that we are complete in You, and help us to grasp the importance of clinging to that truth. Help us to learn contentment without falling into complacency. We do want to grow, but we do not want to be tormented by vain ambitions. Glorify yourself in us, in Jesus name.


A General Warning and a Personal Example

A General Warning and a Personal Example

© C. O. Bishop, 2/9/2018 Cornell Estates 2/11/2018

Philippians 3:1-9

Introduction:

We have been studying through the book of Philippians, for several months, and have seen that it is a very personal letter to a group of people in Philippi, with whom Paul shared a close relationship. They had served with him, and suffered with him, and they had supported him in his work. The epistle is noteworthy because it does not have any “corrective” teaching, and certainly no rebuke. There is encouragement, and thanksgiving, and teaching, some of which they may have heard before. We teachers do tend to repeat ourselves, because we are forever teaching the same concepts, sometimes to different pupils, sometimes a mixture of old and new. The teaching has not changed, and sometimes we hear a concept more than once.

Paul was aware that they had heard at least some of these things before. He begins by encouraging the believers to continue rejoicing “in the Lord.” He absolutely does not say that all our circumstances will be happy ones: he says, rather, that we can rejoice in the person of Christ.

1 Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe.

Saying “finally,” Paul seems to begin a conclusion, but, in reality, he is just turning to a final set of exhortations. It seems significant to me, that he prefaces a series of warnings with an exhortation to rejoice in the Lord. He goes on to suggest that what he was about to say was probably nothing new to his readers, but that it did not bother him to repeat himself, and that it provided a margin of safety for them, much like a warning sign on a road. It doesn’t hurt to hear it again.

A Strange Warning

2 Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision.

This is a strange comment: who are the “dogs”; who are the “evil-workers,” and who are the “concision”?  I would have jumped to the conclusion that the “dogs” were simply heathen, who could not be trusted entirely, simply because their agenda is completely different, and their values are co9mpletely different, than that of a believer. I still suspect that this may be the best understanding. Dr. McGee states that the “dogs” are false prophets, citing Isaiah, where God described the false prophets as “dumb” (speechless) dogs…watchdogs who don’t keep watch, and don’t sound the alarm when there is certainly cause to do so. Possibly he is right…but it doesn’t seem to fit this context. John Walvoord thinks it was the Judaizers against whom he raised the warning. But it seems likely to me that the “concision” were the Judaizers, who were physically “mutilated” as if they were believing Jews, but whose hearts were at odds with the Gospel. Evil workers would seem to be a catch-all term, at first glance, as there are evil workers everywhere. C. I. Scofield seems to think that all three were in reference to the Judaizers. But let’s take a look at all three in order:

  1. Dogs: If this is the heathen, simply unbelievers (and this is a term the Jews used to use, referring to heathen—gentiles—us), then they (unbelievers) are simply to be viewed with some caution at all times, knowing that their goals are completely different than those of the church, as are their values. This is still in keeping with the sure knowledge that these are souls for whom Christ died. We do not condemn them: we reach out to them. But we maintain an awareness that they are “not on our team.”
    An example, at a national level, can be seen in the history of our business dealings in Asia. Westerners frequently find that they have been “cheated”, when the reality is that the Asians are simply playing by a different set of rules, and cheerfully take advantage of our naiveté.
    Churches are frequently duped by unbelievers who seem to be “offering the church a special deal”, but in reality, are cheating churches. Does that mean we shouldn’t have any dealings with unbelievers? No! It is simply a warning to be careful.
    A church with which I was vaguely familiar told how a local businessman began attending their church. They were glad to have him, and when he said that he needed cash, and change for his businesses, and offered to give them a check each week, to the exact amount of all the loose change and bills in their offering, they saw no harm in it, and, yes, the check cleared, every week. But, early the next year, they got a letter from the IRS asking whether this individual had really been giving them all these donations! He had been claiming those checks as charitable giving! From his perspective, he was being clever. But it was a scam, pure and simple!
  2. Evil workers: This could refer to people who claim to be believers but whose lives demonstrate the opposite. I am not suggesting that because a believer has a sin nature and occasionally proves it, he or she is not really a believer. I am referring to those who can recite a believable testimony, but their whole pattern of life outside of church meetings is blatantly ungodly. We have probably all known individuals like this. They are perplexing, because we want to accept them as a brother or sister in Christ, but all their behavior suggests they may not be one. We just have to be careful. I have known several people like this at work. Some, as far as I can tell, were probably believers. Some turned out to definitely be “false brethren.”
  3. The Concision: (The Greek word, here, literally means “mutilation.”) If this term is in reference to the Judaizers, then the whole trio fits together as living examples of the three enemies of the Christian: “the World, the Flesh and the Devil”, as
    1. “The World” is certainly represented in unbelievers as a whole;
    2. “The Flesh” is the old sin-nature, which every believer still does have. And “evil-workers” are those who habitually obey their sin-nature, whether believers or unbelievers; and, finally,
    3. Satan does his most dangerous work through false religion. (This was true in the time of Christ, through the Pharisees and scribes and the corrupt priesthood, but today is perhaps best exemplified in various world religions and cults, and even in good churches that have gone bad. (It happens!)

There is a fair amount of controversy over these three, but this interpretation seems to resonate well with the rest of Scripture. I do not claim it to be the only way to understand the passage.

What is the True Circumcision?

3 For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh.

Paul mentioned this concept in Romans and in Galatians: the “circumcision” that God approves is the setting aside of the “flesh”—the old sin-nature. We can’t “get rid of it,” completely, but we have turned away from it, the day we chose to believe in Jesus as our savior, and we continually choose to “set aside the flesh” when we worship and serve God in the person of Christ.

We find our Joy in Him, and have ceased to have confidence in our own ability to understand, our own capability to will or to do, apart from His direction. We think more, and scheme less, as a result. We are willing to follow His lead, and we do not demand that he explain every part of his every decision, as if His will must have our approval before it can proceed.

Do we still complain and act out in unbelief sometimes? Certainly, we do, which is simply a demonstration that we still have our old sin nature. The sin nature cannot be corrected, or improved upon. It feeds upon sin, and Ephesians 4:22 states that it is actively corrupt by nature. It is not subject to God, and cannot be, according to Romans 8:7.

This “flesh”, not our physical body, is what must be set aside, if we are to walk with God. We set it aside once for all, when we first trusted Christ as our redeeming sacrifice. We continually “set it aside” when we choose to ignore its prompting, and obey Jesus instead.

What about Human Credentials?

Paul certainly had great credentials to which he could point, if he chose to do so, He says:

4 Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more:

If there was anyone who would have had the “right” to trust in his own natural ability, education or birthright, it was Paul. He “had a lot going for him”, as the saying goes today. He lists a few of these things, here:

5 Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee;
6 Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
7 But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.

But when he trusted Christ as his savior, all the things he had once trusted in became a potential liability, rather than an asset. In fact, he considers the whole world a potential snare, rather than a gain. It is all on the “wrong side of the ledger,” now—debit, rather than credit. These credentials are what the World approves, and, while they may have some value, the only real and eternal value is in our relationship with Christ. The World is temporary,

8 Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ,

It must be pointed out, here, that Paul is not suggesting that the way to “win Christ” is to “suffer the loss of all things”. One does not “buy” a relationship with Christ. Paul’s relationship with Christ had cost him all of the things he held dear, including his social standing. He had been “climbing” a social “ladder”, for most of his life, if we can read between the lines a bit. A Jewish student shared with me that the seats in the ancient schools (that of Gamaliel, for example, whom Paul claimed as his mentor), were arranged in tiers, radiating from the teacher’s position outward toward the door. Those “sitting at the feet” were the choice students who had “arrived”, so to speak. Newer students or those less approved sat at the back, or stood beyond the furthest seat. So Paul had “arrived” socially. Still today, Jewish students read the teaching of Gamaliel, whom Paul claimed. But he lost that status, and was considered a “reject”, a failure, because of his relationship with, and his service toward Jesus. And he counted it a cheap price to pay…but that is still not how he gained Christ. The losses were a result of the relationship, not the other way around.

Don’t Attempt a “Do-it-yourseff” Righteousness

9 And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:

This is a key point: In Romans 10:3, 4, Paul points out that the Jews were “ignorant of God’s righteousness and going about to establish their own righteousness”. He evidently included himself in that indictment, and he was grateful to find that he had lost his own false, contrived, self-made righteousness, and gained the real, imputed righteousness of Christ.

I think it is a common failing among both believers and unbelievers, that in spite of all evidence to the contrary, we still think we can “make ourselves better.” Self-help books, and self-improvement books are among the best sellers in the supposedly “non-fiction” market.  And yet, ultimately, they tend to be “fiction” anyway, as the truth is, we cannot help ourselves, or improve ourselves in the arena of sin and righteousness.

When Isaiah said “…all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” he wasn’t exaggerating. He was simply stating a fact; that “we are as an unclean thing.” Once, as a small child, I read a story about some children finding a rusty iron pot, at the beach, and cleaning it with sand. I didn’t understand that the “cleansing” they accomplished was only to remove the worst of the rust…that the sand was only an abrasive, and accomplished nothing in terms of hygiene. But it stuck in my young mind that “sand equals soap”. So, a few days later, when my mother told me to wash my hands for supper, I happily walked outside and decided that, in the absence of sand, dirt would surely suffice, and I washed my hands in mud, rinsed them in water from the garden hose, and walked back in feeling very clever. Mom asked me if I had washed my hands, and I cheerfully told her, yes, that I had washed them in the dirt, in the garden! Understandably, she sent me off to the bathroom for a “soap and water” scrub…up to the elbows.

The point of that story was that I did not understand that dirt could not make me clean, physically—dirt was what we wanted to remove, along with the bacteria that are in the dirt. (Years later, I met a cousin of mine who had actually lost an arm to an infection originating in the soil of his back yard…and nearly lost his life in the ordeal.)

Cain brought the fruit of the ground as an offering to God. The problem was not the vegetables; the problem was sin. The ground had been cursed because of sin, so, despite the healthful character of the vegetables, fruit, or whatever it was, it was unacceptable as a sin offering, and, without a prior sin offering of blood, it was not even acceptable as a worship offering, though after a blood sacrifice for sin it would have been completely acceptable in worship.

Cain was “ignorant of the righteousness of God”, and was “going about to establish his own righteousness.” Even believers can easily lose sight of the cross, and begin to believe that because they adhere to certain practices, (whether church attendance, reciting prayers, a catechism, a creed, giving, or some other activity) that they have by those actions become acceptable to God. The fact is that I am only acceptable to God “in the beloved” (in ChristEphesians 1:6). We cannot cleanse ourselves. God has to do it.

Now Paul, having found himself “in Him”—in Christ—was positionally perfect. Being found “in Him,” his standing with God was forever made secure. But his condition—his state—could change drastically, just as our state, or condition, changes when we sin.

What can I learn by his example? That I need to stay near the Cross, mentally. I need to remember daily that I am saved from sin…I did not climb out of that pit on my own, nor can I claim any credit for my perseverance. God is the one who keeps me. My own works, tainted by my ever-present old nature, can never improve my standing with God. Only Jesus’s blood at the cross has that capacity. I can’t hope to improve by “washing with dirt.”

Lord Jesus, fix our eyes upon your Cross, and help us to trust in the completion of your work there. Turn our eyes away from our own efforts, and help us to rest in your finished work. Raise us up as an army of men and women freed by your hand, and living to serve you from that perfect position in You.