While Christianity has a philosophy, or worldview, it’s not about a philosophy. It’s not about intellectual principles or following rules of nature but about “partaking in the divine nature” (2 Pet.1:4). It’s in this participation where real transformation takes place.
In part one, we looked briefly at the church’s history of mixing Greek philosophy with divine revelation and how this deeply embedded (western) paradigm robs us of our identity in Christ. We will conclude here by seeing how its ubiquitous influence hinders us from living an overcoming life in Christ and keeps us stuck in performance-based religion.
Paul was warning the church in Colossae not to be cheated out of what they already possessed in Christ by trusting in ritual observances that are only “shadows of things” when the “substance” is partaking in Christ Himself (Col. 2:17-19). Continuing on, he says this to them…and to us (bold type added):
20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— 21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” 22 which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. (Col. 2:20-23 NKJV)
I find myself asking “why,” too. It seems to me that a lot of our teaching on becoming a “better Christian” is based in human philosophy, not Christ. It’s Aristotle’s 55 geo-orbital levels to God, it’s building our towers to heaven.
Paul is basically saying this about these “basic principles of the world”: all of our bull and goat offerings to appease an angry deity, and our “you’ve got to do this…principles to living a better…” lists are still eating from the wrong tree and hiding behind the fig leaves of religion. These things we think will help us sound good…the only trouble is, they are “of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.”
It makes me wonder…why do we think these principles actually work? Have they ever really worked for you? Honestly?
What I’ve found is that if we actually do overcome in an area of our life this way, we just become judgmental of those who haven’t.
I have a lot of respect for people dealing with addictions, and even for 12-step programs. But having interviewed many who have participated in these recovery programs, some for many years, they usually confide that the best these programs can do is help them maintain some level of self-control and accountability. But they never really feel free.
It’s like running on an endless treadmill, fearing that they may slip off if they stop.
Ironically, they reinforce this fear and perpetuate the bondage by declaring that they are an addict.
Beloved, identity is everything. Whatever you believe about yourself will determine how you will behave. Understanding and walking in our true identity in Christ begets real freedom.
So, will we listen to Paul and not trust in all our Christianized self-help programs and, instead, participate in Christ? The self-control that actually works is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23); it’s not a product of our willpower.
Paul goes on to give us the real solution to what we’re looking for…
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. 3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Col. 3:1-3 NKJV)
You see, dead people don’t sin. In fact, they can’t sin. Dead people can’t have addictions. You can’t compel them to do wrong things. The “law of sin and death” has no power over them (Rom. 8:2-4). They’re not eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil anymore.
But we’re not just dead, we’re alive in Christ! We’re eating from the Tree of Life! We’ve entered into His overcoming life; His strength is our strength; His faith is our faith; His willpower is our willpower; His freedom is our freedom.
Do you see how foolish it is to call yourself an alcoholic or an addict when your life is Christ’s life? The principles that run this world have stolen your identity.
Beloved, you died, and your life is now hidden in Christ in God. Get your identity back.
Man’s religion has recovery programs. Christianity is not a recovery program; it’s a new life in Christ!
3 Or have you forgotten that when we were joined with Christ Jesus in baptism, we joined him in his death? 4 For we died and were buried with Christ by baptism. And just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glorious power of the Father, now we also may live new lives. (Rom.6:3-4 NLT)
Have we forgotten? Do we still think we were saved by faith but now must “try harder?” (Col.2:6) Do we see how these “basic principles of the world” have cheated us out of our new life in Christ? Do we finally see that these things have an appearance of godliness but are of no real value against what wars within us?
Paul addresses our sin issues as an identification problem. Even though we have the freedom of Christ’s life, we may still think like a slave. And we will be enslaved to whatever we empower by our wrong thinking. We give evil authority in our lives by permission, not because it has any real power over us.
It’s not trying harder, it’s believing differently, which is why having our minds renewed is critical. This renewal is a process, not an event. And it’s not mind-control; it’s a supernatural transformation that takes place when we enter into this cooperative process of discovery with Christ. We actually encounter His life in “ever-increasing glory” (Rom.12:2; 2 Cor.3:18).
Paul’s answer to our problem is not having more willpower or following principles. It’s simply “putting off” (depriving of power by not giving it permission) the things that don’t belong to you anymore. I will used the Amplified Bible to bring this out more clearly:
5 So kill (deaden, deprive of power) the evil desire lurking in your members… (Col. 3:5 AMPC)
Then, “putting on” is clothing yourself with Christ’s life. It’s giving Christ permission to empower your thoughts and actions…
10 And have clothed yourselves with the new [spiritual self], which is [ever in the process of being] renewed and remolded into [fuller and more perfect knowledge upon] knowledge after the image (the likeness) of Him Who created it. (Col. 3:10 AMPC)
12 Clothe yourselves therefore, as God’s own chosen ones (His own picked representatives), [who are] purified and holy and well-beloved [by God Himself, by putting on behavior marked by]… (Col.3:12 AMPC)
The truth is, you can only think one way at a time. The question is, which way will it be?
Treadmills work great for getting our bodies into shape but they don’t work for finding our life in Christ. Our life in Christ is more like putting on a coat. It’s “acknowledging every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.” (Phile. 1:6).
Putting on a coat is a lot easier than running on a never-ending treadmill, don’t you think?
So let’s stop eating from the wrong tree! Let’s stop being cheated by reading the Bible through lenses steeped in worldly philosophy and humanistic principles we still think will help us someday.
True freedom is living in you. The Tree of Life is Christ, and He is your life.