Disciples Are Not Religious

Disciples Are Not Religious

Colossians 2:1-8

Dr. Jim Denison

Today’s Super Bowl will divide the nation into two camps. Not between those who cheer for the Steelers and those who are fans of the Seahawks, but between the few of us who care and the most of you who don’t. This is Super Bowl XL, and I don’t remember this much boredom related to the world’s most-watched sporting event. Do you care who wins? Do you know anyone who does?

Apathy or frenzy is not the only way our nation appears to be divided these days. Ever since the Bush-Gore election, commentators have said that we have two Americas: blue states and red states.

Tuesday night’s State of the Union address was either compelling or irrelevant, depending on which color you are.

Last week’s confirmation of Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court was largely on a party-line vote, after the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended him on a straight party-line vote. Red won, blue lost.

“Brokeback Mountain” leads the Academy Awards with eight nominations, including best picture and best actor. You either think the movie is courageous and timely, or you think it sends exactly the wrong message. Again, your “color” probably determines your opinion.

“Dualism” believes that the world is made of two substances, usually mind and matter or the spiritual and the material.

We have lived with Ft. Worth vs. Dallas dualism for generations now. When I left Texas for Atlanta 12 years ago I discovered Texas vs. the rest of the world dualism. We have “conservative” vs. “liberal” dualism today in our political system, more than I can ever remember. We have Europe vs. America dualism on the war in Iraq.

And on “Disciple Now” weekend, you and I are at war with God vs. life dualism today. At least we need to be. The problem is, most of us don’t know the battle is going on. And that we’re its casualties. “Religion now” is fine; “Disciple now” is not. Let me explain.

Reject religion

Paul is “struggling” for something, and wants the Colossians to know it. “Struggle” translates agona, from which we get “agony.” “How great a battle I am fighting” is the sense. Where is the war? On one side: Jesus Christ and the “full riches of complete understanding” which are found only in him.

Paul wants them to be “encouraged in heart”–“strengthened in resolve” is a better translation. He wants them to be “united in love”–“instructed so that they love each other” is a better rendering. For this purpose: “that they may have the full riches of complete understanding.” Not the partial knowledge of the Gnostics, but the full and complete knowledge found in Christ and in him alone.

Why in Christ? Because in him “are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” Not just some, all. “Treasures” translates the word for “storehouse”–all wisdom (how to live practically) and knowledge (what to know about the world) are stored in him and in him alone.

So Paul wants them to “continue to live in him,” rooted, built up, strengthened in him, and overflowing with gratitude for his grace and love (vs. 6-7).

On one side of the battle stands Jesus, in whom alone are found all wisdom and knowledge for every part of life, every problem we face, every question we ask, every day that we live. On the other side stands the enemy. What do we know about him?

“I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments” (v. 4). “No one” in the Greek seems to indicate a specific person, someone he and they know is leading the charge, preaching the sermons, commanding the troops.

His weapons are “fine-sounding arguments.” The word described a person who used persuasive words in a courtroom to keep something he stole from someone else.

What does he want to steal from the Colossians? Their faith: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (v. 8).

“No one” is this person again. “Takes you captive” means to “seduce” or “kidnap.” The enemy is using “hollow and deceptive philosophy” which comes from human traditions and the elementary teachings the Colossians left to follow Christ.

What is this “deceptive philosophy”? In a word, dualism. Their spiritual enemies taught that the spirit is good, the secular bad. So do what you want with your body, because it is irrelevant to your soul and your soul is irrelevant to your body.

Religion is irrelevant to the real world, and the real world to religion. Be a Christian if you want, but don’t be a “disciple now.” Don’t get carried away with your religion. Keep things in their proper perspective. So long as your faith is personal and private, all is well.

Seek relationship

Paul reminded the Colossians that they “received Christ Jesus as Lord” (v. 6), the only time he uses that exact phrase anywhere in his letters. Christ the Messiah is also Jesus the man, refuting the Gnostic heresy that the “spirit” Christ and “material” Jesus were separate. He is “Lord,” refuting the Gnostic heresy that Christ Jesus is irrelevant to life. If he were standing in Dallas this morning, he would make the same argument and call us to the same battle. This war has never ended.

We are raising our children in a culture which believes that the secular and the spiritual are two completely different spheres of existence, the one quantifiable and real, the other personal and subjective. And the latter is increasingly irrelevant to all that really matters in society.

Alarmism? Homiletic hyperbole? The following examples come from Nancy Pearcey’s excellent treatise on the subject, Total Truth (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 1994):

In a debate over embryonic stem cell research, actor Christopher Reeve told a student group at Yale University, “When matters of public policy are debated, no religions should have a seat at the table.”


Fake Faith

Fake Faith

Colossians 2:16-23

Dr. Jim Denison

Some criminals need to be in jail for their own protection.

For instance, I read this week about a man who attempted to siphon gasoline from a motor home parked on a Seattle street. However, the confused criminal plugged his hose into the motor home’s sewage tank by mistake. The owner declined to press charges, as the man had already been punished enough.

45-year-old Amy Brasher was arrested recently in San Antonio, Texas, after a mechanic found 18 packages of marijuana in the engine compartment of her car. She had brought the car in for an oil change, and didn’t realize the mechanic would have to raise the hood to change the oil.

Then there were the counterfeiters who sent their jammed printer for service. Trouble was, they left in place the counterfeit bills which jammed the press. They’re now awaiting trial as well.

With the new scanners and printers, counterfeit money is more a problem than ever before. And fakes exist in other areas of life as well. Fake antiques; knock-off watches and jewelry; pirated DVDs and identity theft abound. But the earliest counterfeit operation in history is still the deadliest: fake faith.

Satan wants you to reject God and his word entirely. If you won’t do that, he’ll try to get you to substitute a fake for the genuine article. If he can’t make you bad by refusing the right things, he’ll make you busy about the wrong things.

He doesn’t mind if you are passionate about the wrong faith. In fact, he’s rather amused by such deception. This week we’ll encounter one of the most practical issues in all of Christianity: the difference between full and fake faith, and why it all matters so much to you.

Religious activity (vs. 16-17)

There are three ways we know everything we know–the pragmatic, the intuitive, and the rational. Most of us are pragmatic about most of life. We use cell phones and drive cars, not because we understand them, but because they work.

One way to counterfeit Jesus is purely pragmatic: “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day” (v. 16).

“What you eat or drink” refers to acts of worship in their culture. The Lord’s Supper and all-church fellowships come the closest in ours.

“Or with regard to a religious festival”–Jewish celebrations like Passover and Pentecost, Christmas and Easter to us.

“Or a Sabbath day”–the synagogue worship on the Sabbath, or its equivalent to the Gnostics. Sunday church to us. “Stop letting people judge you” by these things.

But why? It just makes practical sense that activity proves relationship.

You prove that you’re a member of the Dallas Women’s Club by attending events and supporting programs. You prove you’re a Republican or Democrat by how you vote, not what you say.

Years ago, Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca stepped onto an elevator. A man gushed, “I love your commercials.” Iacocca snapped, “I don’t care what you think about my commercials. What kind of car do you drive?” Activity proves relationship.

Except that it doesn’t. As Paul warns, “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (v. 17).

Every real thing casts its shadow. Love for my wife casts its shadow in the things I do because I love her. But I can do them for someone I hate as well. Love for my church motivates me to preach, teach, and write. But I can do these things for my sake rather than God’s or yours.

Religious activity is but a shadow, and a shadow can be cast by anything, good or bad.

How does this counterfeit Jesus tempt us today? Church services, Sunday school attendance, singing in the choir, serving on committees, all the usual things. If they are an end rather than a means to an end, they’re counterfeit. If you think you are right with God just because you came to church, you’re mistaken.

Standing in a bank lobby doesn’t prove that I know the bank president, or that I even have a relationship with that bank. Augustine said that the church has some that God hasn’t, and God has some that the church hasn’t. Religious activity is no guarantee of real Christianity. Our culture is convinced that going to church makes us Christians. Don’t be fooled.

Religious experience (vs. 18-19)

Others of us are more intuitive than pragmatic. We discover truth by how it feels to us, how we experience it personally. Satan has a counterfeit Jesus for this person as well.

“Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize” (v. 18a). “False humility” in their spiritual lives and activities related to fasting, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines. “The worship of angels”–the worship angels give and invite us to join, “angelic worship.” Worship in its highest expression.

Feeling equals relationship. Except that such experience can “puff us up with idle notions,” making us think we are closer to God than we are. If I’m so moved by worship, I must be right with the Lord. If I have been moved by prayer, I must be right with the One to whom we pray.

Such fake faith disconnects the body from the head, focusing on what we experience rather than the One we experience.

So don’t base your faith on your feelings. I questioned my salvation for more than a year because I didn’t feel anything when I trusted Christ. Only later did I realize that the Bible nowhere tells us how it feels to become a Christian, or to worship, or to witness, or to be obedient to God’s will. Feelings are the caboose at the end of the train, not the engine driving it.

And don’t base your worship on your feelings. If you came to church for feelings you came for the wrong reason. If you came to be inspired or uplifted, you came for the result rather than the Cause. When you focus on the experience rather than the God who gives it, you lose both.


The Gift Your Soul Needs Most

The Gift Your Soul Needs Most

Colossians 2:9-15

Dr. Jim Denison

Last Tuesday morning I needed to get a book at one of the local bookstores. I had not yet purchased Janet’s Valentine’s Day card, and knew time was running out and nothing would be left. Turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The side of the Valentine’s Day card display which held cards wives would buy for their husbands was completely picked over. Scavenged. A few envelopes stuck down in the cracks at odd angles. The side which held cards husbands would buy for their wives was pristine. Undisturbed. Five o’clock that afternoon would be a different story–a rugby match, arms broken, blood on the ground, fighting for the last card with a pink heart on it.

I told that story to some of our staff at lunch that day, and one of them told me about the year when she got a card from her husband which read, “Happy Valentine’s Day on our first year together.” The problem was, they’d been married 25 years. He didn’t even notice.

Speaking for guys everywhere, we want you to know that it’s the thought that counts–if we had one.

At least with my Valentine’s Day habits, we don’t run the risk of gifts unopened. One year Janet bought birthday and Valentine’s Day cards so far in advance that she couldn’t find them when the days rolled around. I’ve never had that problem. Imagine buying chocolates and forgetting where you put them, so they sat there and grew rock-hard and moldy. Flowers still in the box, wilted and dead. Airline tickets in the drawer, unused and expired. Years ago the comedian Robin Williams remarked: the greatest gift is life. The greatest sin is to return it unopened.

In Colossians we’ve learned that Jesus expects us to live for the glory of God, in his fear, radically committed to him as the Lord of every part of our lives, not just our religious activities. This week we receive the gift which enables us to do all of that, to experience the victorious and joyful, radical and free life Jesus offers. Like all gifts, this one must be opened. Don’t return it today.

Open the gift of God

What is this gift? Think of it as four packages, one inside the next. The first package is the largest, because it contains all the others: “in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form” (v. 9). The first present is God himself.

“In Christ,” and in no other. Mohammed, Buddha, or Confucius never even claimed to be God. From the beginning, despite The DaVinci Code’s fabrication, Christians have worshiped Jesus as God.

“All the fullness of the Deity”–not just part. It’s found in him and nowhere else. Jesus claimed, “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6); “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (v. 9). He was omniscient, omnipotent, sinless; every attribute of God the Father belongs to God the Son.

“Lives in bodily form”–God became one of us, that we might be one with him. We couldn’t climb up to him, so he climbed down to us. Traveling in England this past summer, I encountered a number of cathedrals with stunning architecture and artwork in their vaulted ceilings. Knowing that tourists like us wouldn’t be able to stare straight up for long, the church wardens placed large mirrors angled on the floor. Looking down, we were able to look up.

In precisely that way, Jesus is the mirror image of God, God come down for us. In Christ, God has come to present himself to us. If Jesus is your Lord, your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. You have God dwelling in you today.

The second package comes from the first: the nature of God, now available to us: “you have been given fullness in Christ…in the putting off of the sinful nature” (vs. 10, 11).

“You have been given”–this is a gift, something done for us, not earned but received at our salvation. “Fullness in Christ” means the full nature and capacity of Christ. His Spirit has come to replace the “sinful nature” with his holy presence. The former tenant has been evicted; the new owner has moved into the house. The same Spirit who indwelled and empowered Jesus indwells and empowers us.

Now we can experience the nature of Christ. Be “Christians”–“little Christs.” We can manifest his character to the world–his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). We can conquer temptation and defeat sin. We can live the victorious, abundant life of Jesus. We can literally be the presence of Christ today.

The third package is contained in the second: the power of God. When we asked Jesus into our lives we received “the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (v. 12). The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the grave lives in us.

Jesus promised: “Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:12-14).

In answer to prayer, the Holy Spirit living in the first believers enabled them to heal the sick, raise the dead, stand with courage before the Empire, die in victory, and live in joy. Everything Jesus did, they did. That same gift is ours now.

The last package is contained in all the others: the forgiveness of God. “He forgave us all our sins” (v. 13), not just some. Not just the negligible ones. He forgave Moses and Paul their murders, Peter his denial, David his adultery and murder, the crowd their cross. He has forgiven every sin you’ve ever confessed.