Two More Substitute Gospels; Col. 2:18-23

In Colossians 2 there are 3 plausibile-sounding substitutes for the good news of Jesus. Three alternatives to receiving righteousness in Christ that all sound like they might have some attractive substance. I mentioned the first in my last Colossians post - Mosaic law-keeping (summarised by circumcision) for holiness or spiritual fulness.

But there are two more in the chapter: superspirituality for fulness and aestheticism/self-denial for fulness. Let's see what the Apostle says about these.

They both crop up in 2:18 and are then explained:

Let noone disqualify you, insisting on aestheticism (false humility - NIV) and worship of angels  ESV

Aestheticism - bringing your body and mind into submission by detailed and comprehensive self-denial - definitely has an outer appearance of holiness. No doubt. You aren't seen to do the things that others can identify as unholy. Paul says that people were imposing regulations - don't touch that, don't eat or drink that - with the assumption that denying the outward practice means inner spiritual life.

This is, of course, nonsense as he clearly points out: they don't work to stop indulgence of the flesh v23.

Why not? Because while temptation often does come from outside, the power for resistance isn't found in human effort. The power to resist temptation only comes from Christ's work in our hearts. An aesthetic without Christ can indeed have an appearance of holiness, but without any transformation of heart is going to experience exactly the same (or worse) agonies internally. Iron self-control simply doesn't deal with temptation and accusation from Satan because there is no internal re-creation. It just looks like it does by an appearance of external recreation. But this is entirely of human effort and is entirely destined to fail. Holiness by human effort is a total non-starter just as much as holiness by attempted mosaic law-keeping is a total non-starter.

What about superspirituality for fulness? The temptation to angel-worship was live around the edges of 1st century Judaism and therefore a temptation for the church. A subtle temptation - after all they were seeing God do great things, knew what it was like to have supernatural intervention in their situations from his angelic messengers. Daily appreciation and appropriation of supernatural activity was live (and not counterfeit).

How easy, then, to take a next step and start to make supernatural claims that weren't, in fact, true. How easy that is still, especially when you have an appreciative, expectant audience, desperate for God to work. Note well, there are some people who do this for bad reasons - deliberate wolves looking for power, influence or money. But there are plenty of others who are simply attracted by a perfectly proper desire for God to work and then get taken away by hyper-active imaginations. Just recently I heard one erstwhile believer say in public "don't give me the Bible or theology, I only want what the Holy Spirit is saying now" - and it wasn't badly motivated, just terribly mistaken. 

Note the consequences of both of these: they disqualify from the prize (v18). And the prize in sight is eternal life in Jesus, so getting disqualified is eternally serious. Why do they disqualify? Because they get you to seek your righteousness with God somewhere other than Jesus, and that's fatal. Remember the story he told about the Parisee and Tax Collector in the temple? The Pharisee did loads of good things. he was a very good man in all kinds of ways, but he didn't get right with God because what he offered God was his own attempts at goodness - not dissimilar to the aestheticism here. 

They work their insidious work by disconnecting believers from the head (2:19), that produces all real growth, all real godliness and all real nourishment.

Three extremely serious gospel distortions. All with some hint of truth that makes them hard to spot. After all the mosaic law is God's word, God's supernatural activity is real (and real today) and having some helpful guidelines to know how to avoid temptation can be very helpful. Let them become your definition of how be righteous or spiritually full, however, and you reject Christ who is the one all this really comes from. 

We only discern the true from the false when Jesus and the Word of God are wholly at the centre of our discernment. This is the true yardstick. The only way, truth and life are in Jesus Christ and not in any alternative, whether apparently human or apparently supernatural.