“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.” Colossians 2:8
There seems to be an elevating fear in various Christian circles today, in regards to people being deceived by false gospels that are not grounded in God’s word. It is a very heartfelt sentiment, one that is genuinely concerned for the fate of fellow believers and non-believers alike. The answer is: to stand on the word of God, to hold it most sacredly, to believe that it is the ultimate God-breathed truth, useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. We should not waiver from the truth revealed within its pages and should always consider the whole counsel of scripture whenever preaching or debating the gospel. God’s word is God’s word, from beginning to end, the literal, infallible revelation of God to man.
Anyone who abandons any part of the holy, inspired scriptures has been deceived and has believed a false gospel, which threatens to lead others astray. One cannot argue with any part of the scriptures or consider alternative understandings to what they literally say without falling into heresy.
Hush the heretic
Perhaps this is why the leaders of ancient Israel wanted to keep Jesus quiet. He would often take the scriptural understanding of the day and turn it on its head. In a culture that promoted robust discussion and even allowed for disagreement on scriptural interpretation, Jesus still ruffled too many feathers and rocked too many theological boats.
Jesus abandoned many of the popular and well-regarded positions amongst the religious people of his day. Instead of paying back the scriptural ‘eye for an eye’, Jesus told his listeners to love their enemies and forgive their debts. He admonished people for their methods of tithing, praying and worship. He walked among the outcasts, the lepers, the prostitutes and sinners, announcing to them they were entering the kingdom of heaven before those who had excluded them. He taught that God accepted and loved everyone, not just the upright Jew, but also the unclean gentile and the evil Samaritan. His was a message of Grace that had no room for religious striving or elitism under the law. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice”.
A new way
So what is Jesus doing? A disregarded sacrificial system of spiritual duty lays wasted on the road to Calvary. His mercy, freely given to those who are sacrificing Him to their god of control, ending the old covenant based on human responses to God and ushering in a new covenant, where Jesus took on man’s responsibility and showcased God’s mercy, fulfilling both the human and divine sides of the ledger once and for all. Salvation or spiritual wholeness in this new covenant is based solely on what Jesus did, not on any attempt on our part to enter the kingdom of heaven.
Here’s the problem: a literal, unmoving interpretation of scripture combines and confuses the old and new covenants, presenting a belief system that allows for Jesus to do the initial work of salvation, but that must be continued by man’s ability or desire to maintain wholeness - or holiness - through repentance, prayer, tithing, worship and belief. The old covenant is elevated to a position of equal importance to the new covenant, and has appeared to still supersede it in many ways. Scriptures declaring God’s goodness, love and forgiveness of all mankind are accepted, yet overridden by passages portraying him to be full of justice and wrath for those who don’t accept their acceptance.
The fullness of Christ
But what if there was a way to hold the entirety of scripture in tension, and find the means in which Jesus and the new covenant don’t necessarily abolish the old covenant, but fulfil it for us so that it is no longer a requirement. What if there was a way of rest, of faith and of trust in God to bless us, not because of what we do or believe, but because of what Jesus believed about us and did on our behalf?
What if we really did have the fullness of Christ dwelling in us because of the reconciling work of the cross, which we just need to trust in, in order to see? A holiness that wasn’t dependant on ritual or repentance, but an already given, unbreakable union with Christ, that once recognised, leads to all kinds of love and selfless action that the old covenant could only hope to inspire.
Faith and rest
Of course, we can still hold on to human traditions masquerading as old covenant practices. We can try to pull God down to earth or open heaven for some new blessing or spiritual breakthrough rather than relying on Christ, thus denying the fullness that has already been given through God’s grace. We can still hold to beliefs that we are only OK once we’ve said the magic words and dedicated our lives to denying certain aspects of human life. We don’t even need to call ourselves ‘Christian’ to do so.
Or we can rest in the new covenant and allow Christ in us to provide the outworking of our faith. A faith that is really his faith, since it is Christ in us that provides the gift of faith in the first place. A faith in love. A faith that knows, even in the midst of doubt or suffering, that we are OK, because we have a God who loves all his children and a high priest in Jesus interceding for us, even if we are unable or unwilling to pray for ourselves. A faith that places the old covenant in its right place, as something that was fulfilled by Jesus on the cross and as something we need not fulfil ourselves today in order to remain within God’s blessing.
Russell has a heart for community and reaching out to the marginalised and forgotten. He is getting to know the God of infinite goodness and is living a joy-filled life with his wife Belinda and three children in South-East Queensland, Australia.
See all previous articles by Russell Croft