HERESY (Errors, Lies, Mistakes)
How do heresies get started?
BIBLE READING: Colossians 2:1-23
KEY BIBLE VERSE: And now just as you trusted Christ to save you, trust him, too, for each day’s problems; live in vital union with him. Let your roots grow down into him and draw up nourishment from him. See that you go on growing in the Lord, and become strong and vigorous in the truth you were taught. Let your lives overflow with joy and thanksgiving for all he has done. (Colossians 2:6-7, tlb)
Heresies grow where knowledge of God’s Word is weak. The problem that Paul was combating in the Colossian church was similar to Gnosticism (from the Greek word for knowledge). This hearsay teaching contrary to biblical doctrine) undermined Christianity in several basic ways: (1) It insisted that important secret knowledge was hidden from most believers; Paul, however, said that Christ provides all the knowledge we need. (2) It taught that the body was evil; Paul countered that God himself lived in a body—that is, he was embodied in Jesus Christ. (3) It contended that Christ only seemed to be human, but was not; Paul insisted that Jesus is fully human and fully God.
Gnosticism became fashionable in the second century. Even in Paul’s day, these ideas sounded attractive to many, and exposure to such teachings could easily seduce a church that didn’t know Christian doctrine well. Similar teachings still pose significant problems for many in the church today. We combat heresy by becoming thoroughly acquainted with God’s Word through personal study and sound Bible teaching.
Heresies rely on human insight and wisdom rather than God’s Word. Paul writes against any philosophy of life based only on human ideas and experiences. Paul himself was a gifted philosopher, so he is not condemning philosophy. He is condemning teaching that credits humanity, not Christ, with being the answer to life’s problems. That approach becomes a false religion. There are many man-made approaches to life’s problems that totally disregard God. To resist heresy you must use your mind, keep your eyes on Christ, and study God’s Word.
Heresies are attempts to reach God by human means. We cannot reach up to God by following rules of self-denial, by observing rituals, or by practicing religion. Paul isn’t saying all rules are bad. But no keeping of laws or rules will earn salvation. The Good News is that God reaches down to human beings, and he asks for our response. Man-made religions focus on human effort; Christianity focuses on Christ’s work. Believers must put aside sinful desires, but doing so is the by-product of our new life in Christ, not the reason for our new life. Our salvation does not depend on our own discipline and rule-keeping, but on the power of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Heresies can be discovered through asking probing questions. We can guard against man-made religions by asking these questions about any religious group: (1) Does it stress man-made rules and taboos rather than God’s grace? (2) Does it foster a critical spirit toward others, or does it exercise discipline discreetly and lovingly? (3) Does it stress formulas, secret knowledge, or special visions more than the Word of God? (4) Does it elevate self-righteousness, honoring those who keep the rules, rather than elevating Christ? (5) Does it neglect Christ’s universal church, claiming to be an elite group? (6) Does it teach humiliation of the body as a means to spiritual growth rather than focusing on the growth of the whole person? (7) Does it disregard the family rather than holding it in high regard as the Bible does?