By Elizabeth Prata
One of the most surprising things to me after my salvation was that there were people claiming to be Christian who would try to draw me away from the truth. I had been relieved to enter the kingdom, and I felt literally like I was stepping into a safety zone, an oasis of calm after having lived in turbulence and chaos for 42 years. It was a jolt to my system that though peace reigned between me and God, turbulence between false professors and true believers was abounding.
False professors are people who profess Christ but do not possess the Spirit. I.e., false believers.
Colossians is a tremendous book. Of this verse in Colossians, let’s first focus on the first five words, Paul’s warning, underline mine-
Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, (Colossians 2:18, NASB).
Other translations say let no one disqualify you from the prize.
There were some spiritual elites going around Colossae, intimidating the new believers there. They threatened them with disqualification from the faith, and the newbies were buying it. Now, a true believer can never actually be separated from Christ, but the elites claimed the newbies were under a threat of failure in the faith if they did not believe and practice things in addition to Christ. This is what the book of Colossians is about- Paul re-teaching that Christ alone is sufficient.
Christ was not all-sufficient to these elites. They said the new believers must also practice one or more of three things: self-abasement (humility), worshiping angels, and visions.
True humility is a true virtue. The elites in Colossians were not practicing it though. They evidenced a prideful humility that pointed to themselves. Which isn’t humility at all, of course. They delighted in their humility, in effect, saying, ‘Look how humble I am! I’m sooo godly! I’m sooo faithful!’
Secondly, worship of angels in Colossae was an issue well into the fourth century. Worship of angels destroys the one thing believers are commanded to do: “worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.” (Matthew 4:10b).
And visions. Oh, my, let’s talk about visions. They were a problem in the first century and they are a problem in the twenty-first century. People who are errant in their beliefs and know there is no biblical support for these beliefs, (if diligent believers go looking) the false professors instead try to buttress their beliefs with experiences and visions.
John MacArthur preached,
What is he [Paul] saying? “Don’t let anybody tell you you’re disqualified from attaining the prize of spirituality because you haven’t reached the level of self-abasement, you haven’t understood the worship of angels, you haven’t had the right visions.” … They’ve said, “It’s Christ plus my visions; plus my experiences with the angels; plus my deeper experience, my higher experience.” (MacArthur, “Spiritual Intimidation, part 1“)
No. Just…NO. Christ alone. Satan’s wiles have always been to sway a believer from the path to Jesus feet, and bundle belief with other beliefs, actions, rules.
Spurgeon said in his excellent sermon on the verse titled “A Warning to Believers“,
THERE is an allusion here to the prize which was offered to the runners in the Olympic games, and at the outset it is well for us to remark how very frequently the Apostle Paul conducts us by his metaphors to the racecourse. Over and over again he is telling us so to run that we may obtain, bidding us to strive, and at other times to agonize, and speaking of wrestling and contending. Ought not this to make us feel what an intense thing the Christian life is—not a thing of sleepiness or haphazard, not a thing to be left now and then to a little superficial consideration?
These elites have “fleshly minds” as the verse indicates. They were puffed up with their visions and boasting of humility and spiritual pride of ‘knowing more’ (mysticism). They had no reason to be secure. Their minds were flesh, not of Christ.
“There is a tendency in human nature to move from objectivity to subjectivity-to shift the focus from Christ to experience. This has always intimidated weak believers and threatened the church.” (MacArthur, Commentary on Colossians & Philemon.)
False doctrine is not only a corruption in the church, it does damage to you individually. One way false teaching and false teachers harm you is that following them even temporarily and certainly for a longer period disqualifies you for the prize. It is the false teacher’s intent to try and disqualify you. Even if they make you doubt, they have succeeded. Even if they make you wander, thus diminishing your effectiveness for a time, they have succeeded. That is why Paul wrote such a strong warning.
For the strong believer, what is inferred is a stronger believer’s responsibility to our brethren who are following a false teacher. How will it be when they are judged, when told to give an account of themselves (Romans 14:12, 1 Corinthians 3:11-15) and we hear Jesus say that a friend has lost some prizes because they followed a false teacher and thus were disobeying Jesus, while we knew all along and never said anything.
Jude says, But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit.
Catch that. They are devoid of the Spirit. This means they do not possess the Spirit. i.e. unsaved. But Jude goes on in Jude 1:22-23,
And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.
This means, snatch them from wandering, grab them to prevent disqualification, help them understand in love and in discernment the person they are following will lead them AWAY from the prize.
Let’s end where we started. Don’t let anyone defraud you of the prize. The ultimate prize is Jesus, His faith, His comfort, faith in Him and Him alone.