Truth by definition is exclusive. Everything cannot be true. If everything is true, then nothing is false. And if nothing is false then it would also be true to say everything is false. We cannot have it both ways. —Ravi Zacharias
PRAYER: (from the Lectionary)
“O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”
SCRIPTURES: (from the Lectionary)
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ (Col. 2:8).
PRAYER FOCUS: Don’t Be Deceived.
Before J.R.R. Tolkien (1892-1973) and his Lord of the Rings Trilogy (1954), before C.S. Lewis (1891-1963) and the Chronicles of Narnia (1954) lived an even greater writer of Christian Allegory—a 17th century English street preacher named John Bunyan (1628-88). Bunyan wrote one of Christianity’s most enduring allegories, widely known as Pilgrim’s Progress (published in 1678).
The Pilgrim’s name is Christian, the protagonist of the allegory. Christian sets out on a journey from his hometown, the “City of Destruction”, to the “Celestial City”. Along the way, Christian meets an array of people and creatures who represent the influences—for better or for worse—we all encounter in our walk of faith. One of Christian’s greatest challenges is discerning what (and who) to believe. Some of the more dangerous influences include:
• Worldly Wiseman – a reasonable, practical man Christian encounters early in his journey, who urges Christian to give up his religious foolishness and live a contented secular life.
• Talkative – a fellow pilgrim who travels with Christian for a while, but whom Christian eventually rejects for valuing empty spiritual words over good deeds.
• Mr. By-ends – a user of religion for personal ends and social profit.
During the course of the story, each befriends Christian and travels with him for a while. As Christian discovers, each character presents a subtle, yet clear and present, danger to Christian’s progress towards the Celestial City. Bunyan’s excellent and highly enjoyable allegory offers a literary echo to what the Apostle Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians.
In Chapter 2, verses 6-7, Paul exhorts the Colossians to continue to live in Christ, to be rooted in Christ, built up and strengthened in faith—just as they had been taught. Paul warns against three things that confronted the church at Colossae:
1. False Theology. Primarily Gnosticism (and some forms of Jewish mysticism) that held that God did not deal directly with man and the material world, but that He dealt with the world through a series of angel-like mediators. Paul took care to show that Jesus did the work of reconciliation Himself (Col. 1:19-20).
2. False Humility and the Worship of Angels. The Gnostic prided himself upon the special visions of secret things which were not open to the eyes of ordinary men and women. Angel worship was another Gnostic heresy (and form of Jewish mysticism), that Paul was careful to warn the Colossians against (Col. 2:18).
3. Worldly “Rules”. Beware of rules that have the appearance of wisdom, “but lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:23).
The competing “philosophies” that threatened the Colossian Christians were an eclectic mix of early Gnosticism, local mystery religions, and Greek and Jewish mysticism. What made it so dangerous to the Christians of Colossae was its subtlety. It was not overtly sinful and licentious; indeed, it seemed high-sounding and highly intelligent. In our time we might refer to such philosophies as “spiritual but not religious”.
In the past half-century or so, the Church has seen the infiltration of certain alien theologies, such as the concept of “karma”. In Eastern mysticism, particularly Hinduism, karma dictates that “you get what you deserve”, i.e., when we are good, we deserve to receive good; when we are bad, we deserve to receive bad. In the flow of this logic, we should do good because it benefits ourselves, not others, which is fundamentally selfish.
Some might argue that Paul agrees with karma when he explains to the Galatians that “a man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7). But in the context of the very next verse, Paul clearly disagrees: “Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life” (Gal. 6:8). Paul is saying, in God’s logic, we do good not because we expect some karmic return, but because our goodness glorifies the Holy Spirit. As Christians, we are to do good, and to seek good, motivated by love and not selfishness.
Karma is revealed as a false theology not because it denies the consequences of sin, but because it denies the consequences of Grace. Karma defies Grace. In fact, we deserve death. But the great and wonderful message of the Cross, and Christianity, is that through that magnificent act of Grace, God offers us Life. Paul warned the Colossians not to be deceived by this kind of grace-preventing thinking, and to consider themselves dead to it.
In today’s Lectionary Prayer we pray that, with God’s help, we may pass through this temporary life and not be stripped of our eternal things—truth, faith, hope, salvation. We, like Bunyan’s Christian, and like the early church at Colossae, are confronted by forces and influences that compete for our allegiance and seek to divert our attentions. Sometimes those are events and circumstances. Sometimes they are other people. We guard against these false things by knowing what is true. It’s why we study the Word, why we pray, why we fellowship with other Christians. Don’t be deceived!
It’s Monday Morning. How well do you know the Truth? Are there any alien philosophies you might want to reconsider? As we prayed a moment ago, may God increase and multiply His mercy in our lives.
And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that. I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity” —Paul David Hewson, better known by his stage name, Bono, of the Irish rock band, U2.