There were two main enemies of the cross in the Paul’s first century world. The Judaizers, who insisted that the Law be mixed with grace. And the other, the mixture of Greek philosophy with divine revelation.
Where Paul was dealing with the Judaizers in his letter to the Galatians, he was dealing with the devastating effects of this encroaching Greek philosophy on the church in his letter to the Colossians.
This two-part series will look at this ancient encroachment and how it affects us today. In this installment, I will focus in on how this deeply embedded Greek philosophy effects our understanding of our identity in Christ.
For hundreds of years before Paul’s time, various poets and philosophers had invented schemes about God and our relationship to Him. Like with Adam after he ate from the wrong tree, these philosophies see us separated from God. I talked a little bit about this here.
My little history excursion is relevant to us because we need to see how much this particular mixture has influenced our theology in the Latin West. Many of our ideas about God and heaven and hell are steeped in Platonic dualism. In addition to this, some of our views on God’s sovereignty, free will, predestination, and the atonement find their roots in the fatalistic determinism of Aristotle.
From these pagan Greek roots sprang the enlightenment movement in the 18th century, from which Christian deism was birthed. And with this came a general rejection of any supernatural intervention by God, the rise of rationalism and naturalism, and the general rejection of the gifts of the Spirit being for today (Cessationism).
For instance, Thomas Jefferson made his own version of the New Testament, focusing on the morals of Jesus but leaving all the miracles out.
The post-medieval western church simply mirrored this cultural shift. Spiritual revelation and divine encounters with God were replaced with intellectual reasoning, academics, and doctrinal exegetics (nothing wrong with these, but it shouldn’t negate spiritual revelation).
I think we can see how deep this rabbit hole goes by our general discomfort with “spiritual” happenings, or anything we can’t file away in our safe doctrinal boxes.
With this backdrop, we’re ready for Paul’s letter to the Colossians. He’s warning them (and us) about the devastating consequences of mixing human philosophy with divine revelation:
8 Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. (Col.2:8 NKJV)
Here’s how this poisonous mixture cheats us out of understanding our identity. Most of us have no problem identifying with Christ being fully God and fully man. This doctrine is called the hypostatic union, which was hammered out by the church fathers over the first five centuries.
We proclaim with confidence that the fullness of the Godhead dwelt, and continues to dwell, in Christ’s human body. We refer to Paul’s statement in Colossians 2:9 (bold type added in all the following verses):
9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (Col.2:9 NKJV)
Amen. Good for Jesus.
But there’s a problem here. While this may constitute a whole verse in the Bible (chapters and verses were added in 1205 AD by a Catholic Cardinal), it’s only half of the sentence! The rest of the sentence is verse 10 (bold type added on all verses):
10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Col.2:8-10 NKJV)
Paul’s point wasn’t just to tell us who Christ is, but who we are in relationship to Him. To see this more clearly, we’ll turn to the Amplified Bible. First, verse 9 again…
9 For in Him the whole fullness of Deity (the Godhead) continues to dwell in bodily form [giving complete expression of the divine nature]. (Col.2:9 AMP)
Next, notice the connection between what’s true about Jesus and what’s true about us. Pay particular attention to what I’ve put in bold type:
10 And you are in Him, made full and having come to fullness of life [in Christ you too are filled with the Godhead— Father, Son and Holy Spirit—and reach full spiritual stature]. And He is the Head of all rule and authority [of every angelic principality and power]. (Col.2:10 AMP)
So, in just one sentence (two verses), there’s a major revelation here!
Let this sink in for a minute. As Christ was walking this earth with the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily in Him, so WE are walking this earth, today and every day, with the fullness of the Godhead dwelling bodily in us!
Paul wasn’t saying we’re God; but Jesus did say we are gods! (John 10:33-35). In other words, the same divine power that Jesus walked in is exactly the same divine power we walk in today!
John said it this way. Again, I will use the Amplified Bible to bring it out more clearly:
17 In this [union and communion with Him] love is brought to completion and attains perfection with us, that we may have confidence for the day of judgment [with assurance and boldness to face Him], because as He is, so are we in this world. (1 John 4:17 AMP)
So, how does this sit with our western dualistic minds? What is our reaction? Deny that this is what it actually means? Agree with it, but don’t really believe it? Or should it totally overhaul our way of thinking and living? (I vote for the last option!)
We’re so conditioned to identify with Christ like He’s someone apart from us that we don’t seem to get that He’s actually, quite literally, inseparably, and powerfully inside of us! (And we’re living inseparably inside of Him in heavenly places!)
Understanding this about our identification with Christ is everything. It affects how we read our Bible, relate to God, see ourselves, and relate the world around us.
One last point. And this has to do with the statement at the end of Colossians 2:10: “…who is the head of all principality and power.”
Not understanding our identity also detrimentally affects understanding our authority in Christ, and how we are to minister to others. Curry Blake (John G. Lake Ministries) said this: “Ministry-wise, the only person we can identify with in the Gospel stories is Jesus.” I’m actually beginning to believe this might be true.
We aren’t the sinners receiving ministry from Jesus, and we’re not even the disciples who are bringing people to Jesus. What Blake means is, when we pray for healing, we’re not asking Jesus to heal them, we’re rebuking sickness in His name. This is the way Jesus prayed. And I remind you, “As He is, so are we in this world.”
Next time, we’ll look at how embracing “empty philosophy” has cheated us out of living an overcoming life in Christ.