In his masterpiece The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis writes fictional letters from a senior demon to a junior one with advice on how best to lead a young Christian astray. Shortly after the young Christian’s conversion, the senior demon gives this advice, “All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy are to be encouraged.” That is, the junior demon should encourage the man to spend time in extreme devotional practices, or in self-denial, anything as long as it takes the focus off Christ.
In today’s passage, the apostle Paul deals with this very issue. We do not know exactly what the false teaching in Colossae was, but it seems to have been some blend of Jewish and Greco-Roman religious practices. These false teachers were claiming that if the Colossian believers really wanted to be spiritual, they needed to follow dietary laws, celebrate on appropriate days, and engage in the worship of angelic beings. They claimed to have insider knowledge received from visions on how to be spiritual (v. 18).
Paul exhorts the Colossian believers not to let these false teachers sway them. Claiming to have some kind of special knowledge on how to be connected with God, they were prideful, and their ideas came from an “unspiritual mind” (v. 18). The core issue was that with all of their rules and visions, they had “lost connection with the head” (v. 19). Paul knew that the only way to really grow as a Christian was through being connected to our Savior. These teachers took the focus off Christ and put it on following their own visions and rules. Paul advises the Colossians to consider the source of their teaching. This teaching was rooted in false spirituality.
It’s tempting to reduce spiritual life to a set of rules to follow. Many of us like rules because they give us a sense of control. While rules are often good, they can easily become a substitute for a genuine relationship with Christ and our dependence on Him. Evaluate your heart on this important issue. Is the gospel of Christ at the center of your life?
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