Years ago, I met an academic from China, who told me that when on June 4, 1989, the people’s army turned on the pro-democracy movement in Tiananmen Square, Marxism and Maoism within him died. He said he knew then that if there was such a thing as truth, it must come from outside human invention – from God, if he exists.
That night he went home and read from cover to cover a book he had been given years before. It was a New Testament. Reading it through at least twice that night he realized that here was a book that was beyond human imagining.
I introduce this conversation because many today are being swept along by the tide of current opinion that denies the existence of God. Indeed, occasionally someone says to me, ‘I don’t know what to believe. It’s difficult to work out what’s true and what’s not.’ And while this kind of comment is often true for the non-churchgoer, it can also be true for God’s people.
In troubled times, we may be tempted to allow a sure faith in Christ to be subverted. We may be tempted to doubt the substantial truth of God’s gospel; we may be tempted to so focus our faith on the important issues of human equality – yes, they are important – but lose sight of a prior, vital love for God and for the Lord Jesus Christ. And, in the extreme, we may be so attracted by the voices of the ‘new’ faith of atheism, that we come to deny the reality and the significance of Jesus Christ, and the true freedoms that he brings.
Come with me to Paul’s words in Colossians chapter 2:8 See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ…
Deception. Paul was convinced that God’s people in Colossae were in danger of losing the freedom that they’d found through their faith in Jesus Christ. They were vulnerable to being carried away by an empty philosophy that was being persuasively marketed. The framers of these subversive ideas do not seem to have been promoting an immoral life. Rather, they were promoting a world-view that distorted or subverted the truth of God’s gospel and faith in the Lord Jesus.
Now it’s fair to say that Paul was not against philosophy in its simple meaning of a love for knowledge and truth. But his language here of philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, speaks of philosophy that has its source in human reasoning. For Paul, God’s gospel was supernaturally revealed in the context of God’s acts in history. We can only come to understand the significance of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ because God has revealed it. Yes, we need to use our minds to understand God’s revelation in Christ, but our starting point is with his self-revelation in the Scriptures.
Consider what Paul goes on to write: For in Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,
Divinity. God’s people in Colossae needed to refocus their thinking on Jesus Christ. They needed to ask again: Who is he? What does he mean for us? Paul says again what he has said in the previous chapter: Christ is truly God and man. While many find this hard to believe, the evidence is there that Jesus is a man who is also truly God.
Think of the miracles he performed— his ability to control nature, to heal the sick, to feed thousands, and his ability to raise even the dead. Furthermore, his actions reveal the compassion of a merciful God. Jesus didn’t do these things because he was a man of great faith. Rather, he did them because he was both 100% God and 100% man.
Philosophers and other religions may say that he was a great teacher or a prophet, but they don’t agree that he is God in the flesh. Yet, if the fullness of God lives in Jesus, if Jesus is truly divinity who walked amongst us, then he is the source of truth. Paul is not simply repeating what he has said about Jesus Christ in the previous chapter. Here he is telling us that in Jesus Christ we find the very essence of God.
God is love. And, notice, Jesus Christ doesn’t simply reveal a God of power and might, but one whose very nature is to show mercy. This is so important for us to know. Think of it this way. We say that God is love. But love is a relationship word. To say God is love, is meaningless unless God has someone throughout eternity to love. CS Lewis in Mere Christianity wrote: ‘Love is something that one person has for another person. If God was a single person, then before the world was made, he was not love.’
The very existence of the eternal Son of God who has taken on human form, that Paul tells us about in Colossians, assures us that God is personal, and because his central nature is to love, is also a compassionate and merciful God. Here is the God worth knowing – the God whose nature is not just power and majesty, but love and mercy. Don’t be deceived.
In John 1:14 we read John the Gospel writer’s testimony concerning Jesus Christ: And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.
In Psalm 1 we read: Happy are those … whose delight is in the law, the revelation of the Lord.
A prayer: Almighty God, the protector of all who put their trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: increase and multiply your mercy upon us, so that with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal: grant this, heavenly Father, for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.