Thursday, May 25, 2017

Biblical Study of Angels: Introduction and Qualities

I have been teaching through the book of Daniel on Wednesday nights at my church. Last night, we discussed angels in the context of Daniel 10 and the topic of spiritual warfare. That we were doing so might not make sense, except for the very interesting story recounting how a heavenly messenger was sent to Daniel but was held up for several weeks by "the prince of Persia" assumed to have been some kind of powerful fallen angel. Eventually the archangel Michael had to intervene and the message was able to get through. Which got us to talking about angels and their kind. So I thought it would be interesting to think about angels in series of posts in the coming week. Let's start with a word study and get into the topic...
“Angel” appears 213 times in twenty-four of the thirty-nine Old Testament books. Most of the occurrences (157 times, or 74 percent) appear in the historical books (Genesis through Esther). The Prophets feature “angel” 41 times (19 percent), while the Poetical Books mention it only 15 times (7 percent). The largest category of references speak of human messengers (100 times; 47 percent), with references to the angel of the Lord a close second (89 times; 42 percent). On only 24 occasions (11 percent) does “angel” refer to holy angels. Neither Satan nor demons are referred to as “angels” in the Old Testament.
The use of “angel” to refer to holy angels is scattered throughout the Old Testament:
1. The Historical Books: 7 times (29 percent) in Genesis, 1 Kings, and 2 Chronicles
2. The Poetical Books: 5 times (21 percent) in Job and Psalms
3. The Prophetic Books: 12 times (50 percent) in Zechariah 1:9–6:5
“Angel” appears 176 times in eighteen of the twenty-seven New Testament books—all except Ephesians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, 1 John, 2 John, and 3 John. Of these nine books, only Philippians, Titus, Philemon, 2 John, and 3 John make no mention of human messengers, holy angels, Satan, demons, or the angel of the Lord by name or title.
The term “angel” appears 55 times (31 percent) in the Gospels, with heavy emphasis in Matthew (20 occurrences) and Luke (26 occurrences). Acts has 21 occurrences (12 percent), while the Epistles refer to “angel[s]” 33 times (19 percent), with Hebrews (13 occurrences) being the most dominant. Revelation uses “angel[s]” more than any other New Testament section (67 occurrences; 38 percent), with appearances in nineteen of twenty-two chapters (chapters 4; 6, and 13 excepted). The books that use it most frequently, then, are Matthew, Luke, Acts, Hebrews, and Revelation, for a total of 147 occurrences, or 84 percent of its appearances in the New Testament.
Unlike the Old Testament, by far the greatest use of the Greek term for “angel” or “messenger” in the New Testament is to refer to holy angels (152 times; 86 percent). The remaining occurrences refer to humans (14 times; 8 percent), demons (6 times; 3.5 percent), Satan (2 times; 1 percent), and the angel of the Lord (2 times; 1 percent). When referring to humans, the term is used of three different groups: (1) church pastors (8 times), (2) human messengers (5 times), and (3) spies (once).

In Christ’s and Paul’s days, the Sadducees (members of a very influential Jewish faction that included the high priest and believed that the Pentateuch alone was divinely inspired) denied the existence of angels because they wrongly believed that angels did not appear in the books of Moses (Acts 23:8). In fact, the undeniable existence of angels can be substantiated by the hundreds of references to them in Scripture from Genesis 3:24 (cherubim who guarded the garden of Eden) to Revelation 22:16 (Christ’s angel who revealed so much to John).
Angels possess the three identifiable traits of personhood: intellect, emotions, and will. First, angels are wise beings (2 Sam. 14:20) who can converse (Matt. 28:5), sing (Job 38:7), and worship (Heb. 1:6). Second, they have the capacity for emotion. Angels are joyful over the repentance of sinners (Luke 15:10). They fear God in worship with awe, wonder, and respect (Heb. 1:6). They also find God preeminently praiseworthy (Ps. 148:2; Luke 2:13–14). Third, angels possess a will with which they choose to worship God (Heb. 1:6; Rev. 5:11). They also have a strong desire (Gk. epithyme┼Ź) to understand things related to salvation (1 Pet. 1:10–12).
Angels are beings created by God (Neh. 9:6; Ps. 148:2–5; Col. 1:16), which is why they are called “sons of God” (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7). They are spirit beings (“ministering spirits,” Heb. 1:14). Both Satan (a “lying spirit,” 1 Kings 22:22–23) and demons (“evil spirits,” Luke 7:21) are described as spirits. By Christ’s definition, a spirit is immaterial, one without flesh and bones (Luke 24:39).
Angels were created morally pure and remain so in perpetuity, being called holy (Mark 8:38; Luke 9:26). Holy angels are elect angels (1 Tim. 5:21) who do not need redemption from a fallen state (Heb. 2:14–16). In contrast, Satan and the demons, who were created pure, subsequently defaulted, sinned, and became evil (Ezek. 28:15; Jude 6). There is no salvation for fallen angels (Matt. 25:41).
Not bound by physical space, angels are mobile to the extent that they are able to travel from heaven to earth and back to heaven again (Gen. 28:12; John 1:51). For example, angels traveled between heaven and earth to minister to Daniel (Dan. 9:20–23; 10:1–13, 20) and to Christ (John 1:51). And Jacob himself witnessed this angelic mobility (Gen. 28:12).
Angels may also be either visible or invisible. For example, they were visible in their visit to Sodom (Gen. 18:2; Heb. 13:2) and to Christ’s tomb (John 20:11–12). They were invisible at first to Balaam (Num. 22:31) and to Elisha’s servant (2 Kings 6:15–17).
As spirit beings, angels are without gender (Matt. 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:35–36) and cannot reproduce after their own kind. When they do appear, they look like men, never like women (Gen. 18:2; Dan. 10:16, 18; Mark 16:5).
Angels are multilingual. Scripture portrays them as speaking in whatever language the hearer of their message will understand. When Paul wrote about “tongues of angels” (1 Cor. 13:1), he most likely reasoned hypothetically since Scripture does not mention an angelic language elsewhere.
Angels are ageless and immortal in the future. Holy angels cannot die because they have not sinned (Luke 20:36). Fallen angels will not die but will be eternally punished in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10).
Angels are messengers of God’s truth (Rev. 1:1). Paul warned that if a spirit being claimed to be a holy angel from God but delivered a false gospel, it was actually a demon who was to be accursed (Gal. 1:8).
Angels are referred to in Scripture by names, titles, and functions. Seventeen appellations relate to God’s “messengers.” These references define who angels are and what they do.
1. Angel
2. Archangel (Dan. 10:13; 1 Thess. 4:16; Jude 9): Michael is referred to in Daniel as “one of the chief princes,” the Old Testament equivalent of “archangel.” That he is one of them means that there are at least two, probably more. An unnamed archangel will shout at the rapture of the church (1 Thess. 4:16). Michael also contended with Satan over the body of Moses (Jude 9).
3. Chariot(s) (Ps. 68:17): This military language indicates that the number of angels cannot be calculated, much like in Revelation 5:11. The term “chariots” is used figuratively to portray angels carrying out military-like missions for God (2 Kings 2:11; 6:17). In Job 25:3, Bildad the Shuhite asks, “Is there any number to his [God’s] armies?” (cf. Job 19:12). The implied answer is no!
4. Cherubim (Gen. 3:24; Ex. 25:18–22; 37:8; Ezek. 1:4–28; 10:1–20; 28:14, 16): This title expresses diligent service. Ezekiel wrote that Satan was originally a “guardian cherub” (Ezek. 28:14, 16). This would account for a cherub guarding the garden of Eden (Gen. 3:24) and the model of two cherubs on the mercy seat guarding the ark of the covenant (Ex. 25:18–22; 37:8; cf. Heb. 9:5). It is quite probable that the twelve angels at the twelve gates of the New Jerusalem are cherubim (Rev. 21:12). Ezekiel uses extreme figurative language to describe the living creatures in Ezekiel 1, which are later called cherubim in Ezekiel 10:15.
5. Elohim (Ps. 8:5; cf. Heb. 2:7): The Hebrew word elohim or “god(s)” is used here to refer to angels in the most basic sense of “superior ones,” comparing angels to humans.
6. Gabriel (Dan. 8:16; 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26): Gabriel, which means “mighty one of God,” appears only in Daniel and Luke. Gabriel came as God’s messenger to give Daniel an understanding of his multiple visions. In similar fashion, Zechariah and Mary were given an understanding of God’s intentions by Gabriel.
7. Holy one(s) (Deut. 33:2–3; Job 5:1; 15:15; Ps. 89:5, 7; Dan. 4:13, 17, 23; 8:13; Zech. 14:5; Jude 14): Angels who have not sinned are described as being holy. They delight in praising God, who is “holy, holy, holy” (Isa. 6:3; Rev. 4:8). The title “holy ones,” or “saints,” can also apply to humans (1 Thess. 3:13).
8. Host(s) (Deut. 4:19; Neh. 9:6; Ps. 33:6; Luke 2:13): This title pictures God as the military commander of an enormous host of soldiers ready to carry out the orders of their superior (cf. Matt. 26:53). Angels are the “hosts,” and God is the “Lord of hosts” (1 Sam. 17:45; Ps. 89:8).
9. Living creatures (Rev. 4:6, 19:4): While the four living creatures of Ezekiel 1:5–14 are later identified as cherubim (Ezek. 10:20–22), the living creatures in Revelation 4:8 look and act more like seraphim (Isa. 6:1–4) in that they have six wings and are involved in noteworthy worship. The living creatures in Revelation are involved in worship (Rev. 4:6–11; 5:6–14; 7:11; 14:3; 19:4) and judgment (Rev. 6:1–7; 15:7).
10. Men (Gen. 18:2; Mark 16:5; Acts 1:10): While angels are essentially spirit in nature, they can appear at rare times in human form. When this occurs, they are always called men.
11. Michael (Dan. 10:13, 21; 12:1; Jude 9; Rev. 12:7): See “Archangel” above. Michael means “Who is like God?”
12. Ministering spirit (Pss. 103:21; 104:4; Heb. 1:14): Angels serve or minister by doing God’s will (Ps. 103:21). Angels can be God’s instrument for judgment (Ps. 104:4) or for blessing in serving the saints (Heb. 1:14).
13. Morning stars (Job 38:7): Satan is called “Day Star” (Isa. 14:12), and angels in general are called “stars of heaven” (Rev. 12:4).
14. Prince(s) (Dan. 10:13, 20, 21; 12:1): Michael is called “your prince” (Dan. 10:21) and the “great prince” (Dan. 12:1), referring to his ministry on behalf of Israel as “one of the chief princes” (Dan. 10:13). The term “prince” is also used of Satan’s coconspirators (Dan. 10:20). See “Michael” above.
15. Seraphim (Isa. 6:2, 6): This kind of angel appears only in Isaiah 6. With a name meaning “burning ones,” at least two seraphim (Isa. 6:3) were concerned with God’s holiness. Some have thought that cherubim, living creatures, and seraphim might be different versions of the same kind of angel. See “Cherubim” and “Living creatures” above.
16. Sons of God (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7): It is natural to understand that the Creator of angels would be considered a father with sons. Elsewhere, similar language is used to describe angels as “sons of the mighty” (Pss. 29:1 NASB; 89:6 NASB). They are also called “mighty ones” (Ps. 103:20; Joel 3:11 NASB).
17. Watchers (Dan. 4:13, 17, 23): This term appears only in Daniel and seems somewhat vague. How these angelic “watchers” relate to God’s omniscience is unclear.

Next time we will consider the biblical history of angels.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Prepared for Battle (Daniel 10:1-21)

Let us consider Daniel chapter 10 and look at the final vision of Daniel. Now this lengthy final vision,  which has a preface (chapter 10), is then presented in chapter 11, and has a postscript (chapter 12), will be the final thing we consider in this great book.

Today, in chapter 10, we’re told about some very interesting spiritual warfare which surrounded the giving of Daniel final vision. Daniel had been mourning for the trials God had shown him were to come upon his people, and he had sought assurance from God that they would not be destroyed by the intense persecution that the last vision described. In fact, he may have been troubled by even more immediate concerns. You see, Daniel is nearing his own death. It is the third year of the reign of Cyrus in Babylon, about 535 BC, which means today’s vision takes place 1-2 years after the first group of Jewish exiles had returned to Jerusalem under man named Zerubbabel and Joshua, the high priest. 

One to two years previous, these exiles had arrived in Jerusalem., had cleared the temple area and had even already resumed the daily sacrifices. It’s likely by this point they have even laid the foundation of the temple. But then the work stopped. In fact, we know from history that the work stopped for fifteen years until God sent a man named Haggai, one of the minor prophets, to instruct the Jewish exiles to resume the work, which they did. So now you understand Daniel’s immediate concern - he’s likely just heard about the stoppage of the work and is alarmed by it and he is mourning.

Now, chapter 10 recounts how on the twenty-fourth day of the first month of the year, after Daniel had been mourning and praying for three weeks and as he stood on the bank of the Tigris River, he suddenly saw an angel. Angels are not usually described in much detail in Scripture. But this angel is described asdressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude” (Dan. 10:5–6). This figure was so overpowering that Daniel’s strength fled away and he fell to the ground as if he were in a deep sleep. Even when the angel came to him, touched him, and raised him up, he still stood trembling.

Then the text tells us the angel spoke. “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come” (vv. 12–14).

Now this is very remarkable! When Daniel prayed, God sent this powerful heavenly being to bring Daniel the vision of the future that we will hear about in chapter 11. But it saysthe prince of the Persian kingdom,” whom we must understand to be an evil but correspondingly powerful spirit (not a mere mortal ruler), this evil spirit resisted God’s angel so that for three weeks he was not able to come to Daniel. 

It must have been a great struggle, because it required the special intervention of Michael, the archangel, to resolve it. Now, when Michael was sent, the battle between these good and evil spirits tipped in the direction of the spirit messenger, and he arrived at last to give to Daniel God’s message. And what I want us to see is that this is a remarkable glimpse into the battles that are being waged in heaven. And although the occurrence here in Daniel is different from anything we find elsewhere in the Word of God, it nevertheless fits what we are taught about spiritual warfare. And so I want us to think about spiritual warfare this morning. That’s why I have titled today’s message, “Prepared for Battle. ” Now, I want to look at several texts which will help us consider the topic of spiritual warfare and being prepared for battle.

1) The first two chapters of Job are one bit of teaching. These chapters do not speak of outright warfare or struggle, but they show a scene in heaven in which the devil and his angels appear before the throne of God and in which God questions Satan about his righteous servant Job. “Have you considered my servant Job?” God asks. “There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). Satan replies that Job fears God only because God has blessed and protected him, and challenges God to take away his possessions, predicting that Job will then curse God to his face. God gives permission. But Job does not curse God. Even after Satan is given permission to take away Job’s health, Job does not sin. Instead, he asks, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?” (2:10). He does not charge God with wrongdoing. You see part of being prepared for battle is our willingness to submit to God’s will, whatever our circumstances.

2) In the next to the last book of the minor prophets, the book of Zechariah, we have another insight into the spiritual warfare that surrounds us and the work God does for his people. Zechariah the prophet sees the high priest Joshua. He is standing before God’s altar, and Satan is there to accuse him. Joshua is clothed in filthy clothes, symbolic of his and the nation’s sin, and Satan is no doubt pointing to the filthy garments, asking what right a man so morally deficient has to minister before God in his temple. But God rebukes Satan. And the angel who is accompanying Joshua says to those standing by, “Take off his filthy clothes” (Zech. 3:4). In place of these he is given rich garments and a clean turban, symbolic of the righteousness of God imputed to him (v. 5). You see being prepared for battle means fighting with the righteousness given to us by God. We do not fight in our own strength.

3) In Revelation 12 there is another scene that has bearing on this warfare. An actual battle is described, involving the same archangel Michael. This text says, 

"There was war in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back. But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Christ.
For the accuser of our brothers,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
They overcame him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony.”
(Revelation 12:7–11)

This passage is the closest parallel in Scripture to the heavenly messenger’s struggle to reach Daniel, recorded in Daniel 10 - and it reminds us that this battle is a REAL battle. But in terms of our being prepared for battle, Revelation reminds us that the WAR has already been won by God. Therefore, above all else, stand with God.

4) Finally, the key passage of all these biblical references to spiritual warfare is the concluding portion of Ephesians in which the apostle Paul encourages us to arm ourselves with God’s armor and stand against Satan’s power. You see, being prepared for battle means we are to play our part in these battles too by wielding the armor of God. Paul writes…

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. (Ephesians 6:10–18)

So, given all these important revelations about the spiritual world - what do we really know about it? In terms of being prepared for battle, we know that God is with us, that we are a part of spiritual warfare, and that there are two important groups combatants who are waging this war around us all the time. 

1) The first are the godly, unfallen angels, which are mentioned in the Old Testament over one hundred times and in the New Testament more than one hundred sixty times. We are told that they are God’s messengers. They are created beings and therefore are not eternal. They exist in vast numbers. They are called “the heavenly host” (Luke 2:13). We are told in the Psalms that they reflect God’s glory to us (Ps. 138:1).

2) The second group are the host of fallen angels who fell with Satan at the time of his original rebellion against God and who are bent on opposing God’s rule and doing his people harm.

Why should we know about this good and evil host? John Calvin wrote of God’s purpose in telling us of this host:

We have been forewarned that an enemy relentlessly threatens us, an enemy who is the very embodiment of rash boldness, of military prowess, of crafty wiles, of untiring zeal and haste, of every conceivable weapon and of skill in the science of warfare. We must, then, bend our every effort to this goal: let us not be overwhelmed by carelessness or faintheartedness, but with courage rekindled let us stand our ground in combat.

But against whom do we stand? Who is in charge of the evil host? The scriptures tell us that at the head of these fallen angels is the devil, whom the Bible describes as a powerful foe. There are many jokes about the devil, some possibly inspired by the devil himself to make us think lightly of him and thus lower our guard. But the devil is no lightweight. He is evil, real, and personal. It is true that he is a counterpart of the greatest of the unfallen angels, Michael and Gabriel. But he is not a spiritual counterpart of God. God is God. Every other being has been created by God and is therefore limited for the simple reason that he or she has been created. And it’s important to remember the distinctions between God and Satan.

1) God is omnipotent; he is all-powerful. The devil is not. God can do anything he wishes to do. This is God’s universe, not the devil’s. Not even hell is the devil’s. God has created hell as the place where he will one day confine Satan and his followers.

2) God is omnipresent; God is everywhere at once. This cannot be said of Satan. Satan can be in only one place at one time. Consequently, he must either tempt one person in one place at one time, or he must extend his influence through one of the other spiritual beings that fell with him.

3) God is omniscient; he knows everything. This is untrue of Satan. Satan does not know everything. True, he knows a great deal, and he is undoubtedly a shrewd guesser. But he has no more certainty about what is going to happen in the future than we have.

Nonetheless, Satan is our enemy and we must be prepared for battle against him. So, let me close with some thoughts as to how you can be prepared for the battle against Satan:

1) The first is to put on the whole armor of God. Read the great chapter in Ephesians 6:11-17 and apply its truth to your life. The apostle Paul carefully identifies the source of the strength in our armor. He says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.

2) Second, realize that Satan often leads people from lesser sins to greater. It’s very frustrating for me today to see people thinking of lesser sins as nothing more serious than a cold. But small sins leach away our fear of God and hatred of sin. So, what can you do? My advice is to not give any place to the devil. Don’t permit even small sins. If you let the serpent’s head into your house, his whole body will quickly follow. If you are a person who tends to minimize sin, look at what every sin deserves and see it as the hateful thing that God despises. There is a spark of hell in every temptation and the least sin is contrary to the law of God, the nature of God, the being of God, and the glory of God. There is more evil in the smallest sin than in the greatest affliction we will face. Fight small sin in your life.

3) You need to reject the promises of sin. Remember in your temptation to sin that Satan promises the best, but pays with the worst; but God pays as he promises, for all his payments are made in pure gold.” If you are losing hope under the constant pressure of demonic temptation, remember often the promise of Paul in Romans 16:20, that “…the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” Therefore, stand firm and Satan will flee.

4) Finally: Satan will often make a strategic retreat for a time to draw us out of our position of strength. In other words, He permits us a momentary victory to “swell our hearts with pride.” He lulls us into “a spirit of security” The remedy against this is Christian watchfulness.” Christians in this world should not live like rich men in a king’s court but like soldiers in the camps of war. 

The reminder today from Daniel is that Satan is a great and powerful foe, as I have said. Yet we are not to quail before him, but are steadfastly to resist him in the strength and armor of God. In the final assessment it will be seen that the Word of God and the kingdom of God have prevailed. In the end, it is good to be reminded that in this warfare, God is still sovereign, and for this reason his “truth” and “his kingdom” will prevail. That is what the angel came to tell Daniel. Daniel saw only the earthly scene (as we do), and his mind was troubled. But God showed that he was in control of history—he showed Daniel how it would all turn out—and Daniel was strengthened by that knowledge. So must we be as we stand for the Lord Jesus Christ, fight on, and look for his coming.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Guarding Your Treasure (Colossians 2:16-23)

In a periodical called Naval Institute Magazine, Frank Koch writes about the importance of heeding warnings. He writes…

Two battleships assigned to the training squadron had been at sea on maneuvers in heavy weather for several days. I was serving on the lead battleship and was on watch on the bridge as night fell. The visibility was poor with patchy fog, so the captain remained on the bridge keeping an eye on all activities.

Shortly after dark, the lookout on the wing reported, "Light, bearing on the starboard bow."
"Is it steady or moving astern?" the captain called out.

The lookout replied, "Steady, Captain," which meant we were on a dangerous collision course with that ship.

The captain then called to the signalman, "Signal that ship: 'We are on a collision course, advise you change course twenty degrees.’"

Back came the signal, "Advisable for you to change course twenty degrees.”

The captain said, "Send: "I'm a captain, change course twenty degrees.’"

"I'm a seaman second-class," came the reply. "You had better change course twenty degrees.”

By that time the captain was furious. He spat out, "Send: 'I'm a battleship. Change course twenty degrees.’"

Back came the flashing light, "I'm a lighthouse.”

We changed course.

Well, this text in Colossians contains an ancient warning. Originally a warning for the Colossian church which was besieged by false teachers, it still pertains today in a world where the Church is beset by equally sophisticated and deadly foes. Let’s take a look at this warning in a message I’ve titled “Guarding Your Treasure.”


Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” (Colossians 2:16-17; ESV)

Legalism is the religion of human achievement. It argues that spirituality is based on Christ plus human works. It makes conformity to manmade rules the measure of spirituality. Believers, the Bible says, do not need to follow manmade religion because were are complete in Christ, who has provided complete salvation, forgiveness, and victory. Therefore, Paul tells the Colossians, let no one act as your judge. In other words, do not sacrifice your freedom in Christ for a set of manmade rules.

Now Paul’s warning against legalism included basically two areas: diet and days.

Now, in terms of diet, there were evidently those who were saying that the way to God and spiritual fullness would be enhanced if the Colossian believers returned to the dietary laws of the Old Testament. As you know, the Old Testament categorized certain foods as clean and unclean. But when Jesus came, those dietary laws were abolished.

Well, the same applies to days. The Jews had their special feast days, their “New Moon” celebrations, and their Sabbaths. And when Christ came, he fulfilled them all! That’s why verse 17 says that these things are “a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” The things were just “a shadow.” The real thing has now come in Christ and we’re not going back to the Old Covenant baby - it’s done. As my father used to say, “stick a fork in it, it’s cooked.

One of the real problems with legalism is that we rely on something else other than Christ for righteousness. And of course this is silly because legalism is useless against our fleshly nature. It does not save us. In fact, legalism even allows disobedient Christians and even nonChristians to conform to a set of external performance standards that make it look like “oh my, aren’t I holy” on the outside when all the while that person is spiritually dead inside. Legalism is the textbook definition of lipstick on a pig.

Interestingly, Paul doesn’t “Forbid the faithful to keep special days and special diets.” Rather he says, “Do not let anyone judge you” in these things. (v. 16) There is great liberty in what we Christians can do: we can keep days and diets, or forget them. But he rejects the right of anyone to judge or compel another to comply with his own preferences. This is a warning to take to heart, because time and time again as legalism has come into the Church, the Church has become judgmental, joyless, uniform, and shallow in faith. Paul’s point is simple: true spirituality does not consist merely of keeping external rules, but of having an inner relationship with Jesus Christ.

Now, as bad as legalism is, there is another danger equally harmful—the sister error of mysticism.


In our day, the inadequacy of the secular worldview has led to a resurgence in belief in ‘spirituality’ or “mysticism” which has no foundation in Christ. Now, in Paul’s day, there was also a mysticism which was derived from the imagination of the false teachers in the Colossian church and it too had no foundation in Christ. Paul says that the Colossians were in danger of being deprived of their reward and future glory because of these teachers and so he issued a dire warning.

Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head [Jesus Christ], from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.” (Colossians 2:18-19)

Like spiritualists in our own day, the false teacher’s power to fool people came from their deceptive approach, which is outlined in verse 18.

First, they used bogus humility, delighting in “false humility and the worship of angels.” They loved to act humble and say, “We are not good enough to go directly to God, so we begin humbly with one of the angels, which, if we are in correct spirit, will elevate our requests through the hierarchy to God.”

Further, they claimed to have special visions, going “into great detail about what he has seen.” You see, they pretended to have access to something really special in God that other ordinary Christians did not. Through this, they claimed to be on the inside. And this made the false teachers very proud. They were “puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind,” says Paul. Advertising humility, they were filled with huge conceit.

Back then it was all vanity and sham, but even today learning the secrets of the spirit world can be enticing. Tarot cards and fortune telling, for example, are inviting. The whole process is meant to exude mystery, and millions have fallen into the lie. Likewise, the mystic signs of the Zodiac drawn many people into astrology.

The root of the problem is laid bare in verse 19: “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.” The false teachers had (and have) no part in the true Body of Christ. Conversely, this was (and is) the answer for those who want to steel themselves against their delusive teaching. We must hold fast to Christ, the Head.


Spiritual discipline is good. But in the final warning here, Paul cautions against extreme asceticism:

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:20–23)

Sadly, church history is replete with stories of ascetic excess in the rejection of beautiful and good things in the pursuit of God: rejection of marriage, sex, parenthood, the beauty of God’s creation, even rejection of self. But this “self-made” religion does not do any good. In fact, it can heighten fleshly temptation and along with it produce a joyless, defensive approach to life.

Yet, surprisingly asceticism has its own seductiveness. Today, in its Eastern form, it attracts the indulgent, cultured elite. Thousands today have their gurus through whom they make their ascetic “nod-to-God.” Seen for what it really is, this is an expression of independence from God which says, “I’m going to get to God on my own terms, by my own might.” Asceticism feeds the flesh by starving it.

The answer to such delusion is in the beginning of this section on asceticism, in verse 20: we have “died with Christ to the basic principles of this world.” Commenting on the futility of asceticism, the great nineteenth-century Scottish preacher Alexander McClaren wrote, “There is only one thing that will put the collar on the neck of the animal within us and that is the power of the indwelling Christ. Ascetic religion is godless, for its practitioners essentially worship themselves. As such, we are not to be intimidated by it.”

Paul has sounded a clear warning, calling us to look at things as they really are. Several years ago Royal Robbins, a professional mountain climber, wrote an article for Sports Illustrated which demonstrates the importance of seeing ourselves and life as we really are. He wrote:

If we are keenly alert and aware of the rock and what we are doing on it, if we are honest with ourselves and our capabilities and weaknesses, if we avoid committing ourselves beyond what we know is safe, then we will climb safely. For climbing is an exercise in reality. He who sees it clearly is on safe ground, regardless of his experience or skill. But he who sees reality as he would like it to be, may have his illusions rudely stripped from his eyes when the ground comes up fast.


During the 1982 war in the Falkland Islands between England and Argentina, the Royal Navy's 3,500-ton destroyer HMS Sheffield was sunk by a single missile fired from an Argentine fighter jet.  It caused some people to wonder if modern surface warships were obsolete, sitting ducks for today's sophisticated missiles. But a later check revealed that the Sheffield's defenses did pick up the incoming missile, and the ship's computer correctly identified it as a French-made Exocet. But the computer was programmed to ignore Exocets as "friendly." The Sheffield was sunk by a missile it saw coming and could have evaded.

The lack of discernment among Christians today ensures that every junky way of thinking gets right on through to our minds and programs us without any resistance. We can fall to legalism and its attendant self-righteousness, its joylessness, and its judgmentalism. We can succumb to mysticism and develop a proud, elitist spirit which contributes nothing to true worship. We can get into asceticism, thinking it will make us more holy, when actually it will feed our flesh.

The answer to legalism is the continual realization of the grace of Christ

The answer to mysticism is an understanding of how profoundly we are related to Christ

The answer to asceticism is the reckoning that we have died, been buried, and are resurrected with Christ

In essence the answer is where it all began: at the foot of the Cross. All of our theology, all of our preaching, all of our singing hymns together, the disciplines of life experienced in family and relationships are meant to keep us right at the foot of the Cross—simply drinking long and deep from the Fountainhead, Jesus Christ. 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Complete in Christ (Colossians 2:8-15)

In his great book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote, 
“A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn’t be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic on the level with a man who says he’s a poached egg—or else he would be the devil of hell; you must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a mad man or something worse. You can shut Him up for a demon, or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But don’t come up with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great moral teacher. He hasn’t left that alternative open to us. He did not intend to.”
Long ago in the city of Colossae, the Christian church was assaulted by teachers that falsely said we do not have everything we need in Jesus Christ. Just like in our own day, these people suggested that Christ was not enough. He was a good man, a great prophet perhaps — but God? No, they argued, He was not. Let's consider Colossians 2:8-15 and we’ll see Paul attack these false teachers head on. Christ is no liar, no lunatic, and not just a great man. He is God and sufficient for all things.

1. Christians must be on guard towards the wisdom of the world (vv. 8-10)

Paul begins with a warning…

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.(Colossians 2:8-9; ESV)

Paul’s warns us that there are ideas in the world which are actually dangerous for Christian believers — ideas in the world that can kidnap you and essentially “take your mind captive.” And in three phrases, Paul gives us a description of the hallmarks of this false teaching.

First, it is according to the tradition of men. This teaching is not based on the Word of God. Evidently the false teachers were saying, “Oh, well these things that you have learned in the Scriptures, they are good. But if you really want to understand the fullness of Christian experience, then we have something else, something better, for you. Go listen to that and then you will really grow.” My friends, we need to be on guard against anyone who comes to us with a teaching that cannot be grounded and substantiated in the Word of God.

Secondly, Paul says the false teaching is “according to the elemental spirits of the world.” Now, admittedly this is a difficult phrase in the Bible. It may be that Paul is referring to ethical principles of behavior which are not grounded in the Word of God. Or Paul may be thinking of a particular teaching that says there are demonic spiritual beings who control elementary principles in the universe like the stars and such. And those stars then control our lives. It would not be unlike astrology today, where there are people who believe that the position of the planets and the stars actually control human destiny. But the Apostle Paul says this is utterly silly, because Christ is over all things. He is over the stars, He is over the elementary principles, and He is over the spiritual world. Christ is head of everything.

And then a third thing he says, that these teachings are not in accord with Christ. In other words, they don't measure up or, perhaps, they even contradict the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Dear friends, this is no less important for us today than it was for the Colossians. Because there are just as many religious philosophies on the market today, if not more, than there were in the day of the Apostle Paul and these believers.

So Paul's warnings to the Colossians are a warning for us. Are we on guard against false teaching? When you pick up books on religious subjects online or in even a Christian bookstore, are you on guard to make sure they square with the true teachings of the Word of God? Paul says if it is not according to the Word of God, you stop your ears. Do not listen to it. If it claims to give you teachings from outside the scriptures and if the teaching is not in accord with the basic doctrinal teaching about Christ, you reject it. Turn it off and be on guard against it.

2. Christians must remember who Christ is and who we are in union with Him (vv. 9-10)

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.” (Colossians 2:9-10; ESV)

Paul now turns our eyes to Christ in verses 9 and 10, and he reminds us that we Christians must remember who Jesus is and who we are in Him. If we will remember those two things, we will be unlikely to fall prey to false teaching.

First, Paul tells us that fullness of deity dwells in Christ. In this context, he means in Christ are found not just the attributes of God, not just the works of God, but in Christ is found the essence of God. And any teaching which says less about Christ is false. He is not merely a great prophet or a great priest or a great king or a great teacher. He is the Son of God.

Paul goes on to say we are complete in Him. That’s what it means to be “filled in Him.” There is nothing that we need to be spiritually grown and and complete that we cannot find in the Lord Jesus Christ. He has provided the means of grace, the word, the prayer, and the sacraments. He has provided the Christian ministry in order to minister those means of grace to His people. And there is nothing else which needs to be added to that for us to attain completeness.

Then finally, he says in this passage:He is the head of all rule and authority. That is, everything is under Christ's authority. In many Christian circles today, there are people who say that Christ can be your savior and not your Lord. Well, that’s silly. The Lordship of Christ is vital in ALL things. Christ's lordship releases you from slavery to sin and to the world. And because He is Lord over all authority, we do not need to find secret rites in order to bind the elementary principles of the world from having authority over us, because He has already exercised His authority over them. Fullness of life is in Him, because in Him the fullness of the deity dwells, and we are complete in Him.

3. Christians must remember the specific benefits which flow from our being “in Christ.” (vv. 11-15)

In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:11-15; ESV)

Paul expounds here upon the specific benefits which flow from our being united with Christ. And here I’d like you to notice the phrase “united to Christ.”  What is Paul talking about? Well, Paul is talking about a doctrine called the “union with Christ.” It is one of the most mysterious and glorious doctrines of the Christian faith. “Union with Christ” is the doctrine which teaches that Christian believers, by the Spirit through faith, are united to Christ.

So what does it mean that we have “union with Christ”? Well, think about the answer through the lens of marriage. When you marry a person, you don't cease to be who you are. But you are united to them in a very special relationship. When we are united with Christ, we do not become Christ, Christ does not become us. But we enter into a covenantal relationship with Him whereby He is ours and we are His. And because of this… ALL the benefits of His life and death flow to us. In fact, Paul is talking about some of those benefits in verses 11-15. Let's look at them together. 

The first benefit we see is complete salvation. He speaks about it in verses 11 and 12: “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. “

Now it’s interesting, even though Paul is speaking about salvation, he talks first about baptism and circumcision. Why the parallel between circumcision and baptism? Apparently because the false teachers were commending the Jewish ritual of circumcision as necessary for these Gentile believers. And the Apostle says that in Christian baptism we have symbolized precisely what is symbolized in circumcision in the Old Covenant. In baptism you have set forth the truth that you are united in fellowship to God, to Christ. In baptism, you were buried with Christ. You were raised with Christ. You couldn't be closer to Him than you are. Dear friends, your baptism reminds you that your life has become intertwined with His life. And that means you have completeness of salvation in Christ!

Notice in verses 13 and 14, he goes on to say the result of this union with Christ is the forgiveness of sins and freedom in Christ. He writes, “And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Paul says that you are united to Christ, you are forgiven of your sins because He paid the price so that you would not be called to account at the bar of God's justice.

In fact, verse 15 goes on to say the further result of our union with Christ is freedom. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” 

Paul is saying these false teachers, they come to you, they tell you we can give you power over the spiritual forces which are arrayed against you. And Paul says that you don't need that because Christ is already exercising dominion over the spiritual forces which are arrayed against God and His people. Because at the cross, He disarmed rulers and authorities, set over against the rule of God. He led them in a triumphant procession. And we have freedom!

Now, to appreciate the comprehensiveness of Christ’s victory which brings us this freedom, consider the following. If you had been in the Roman world in the times that the generals were going out and conquering the far-flung nations, you wouldn't have had CNN to tell you about the great victories that were being won on the frontiers. So the only way a Roman general could show you that he had really won a great battle was to parade all the captives, all the prisoners, in front of your eyes. The General would put his enemies in shackles and march them back into the city of Rome. The great soldiers would come first, the conquering king would then come, and behind him all of the captives would be there, imprisoned.

Paul is saying that is what Christ has done to the spiritual forces arrayed against you. Dear friends, Christ has already exercised this authority over everything that is arrayed against you and your freedom is assured because of His victory. You are not a victim in this world of demonic forces. You are not a victim in this world of the alignment of the stars and planets. You are not a victim in this world of fate and the outrageous claims of fortune, because Christ rules the world for the sake of His people. Because Christ is Lord, you are free.

If we will embrace Christ by faith, you will taste all the benefits of union with Him. If you reject Christ and His Lordship or if you attempt to supplement Him, you will not receive all the benefits which are stored up in Him alone. Why are you holding back from surrendering all your life to Christ?

In view of all this, why look to anyone but Christ for fullness? Cultivate human relationships, but do not look for ultimate fulfillment in them because they will disappoint you. Energetically pursue your career, but do not imagine that you will find transcending fulfillment in it. In Christ we have everything. May our prayer be:

"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death." (Philippians 3:10)

If you are spiritually dead—without resurrection life—under sin—under guilt—empty, Christ invites you to come to him:

Come, all you who are thirsty. The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 22:17)

If you are empty, call out to Christ. Do not let yourself go through another day without coming to him. Be born again, receive life, be filled, be delivered, join the victory parade!