False Teachers Part 5
FALSE TEACHERS: PART 5
Last week I attended a Workshop on Biblical Exposition, a ministry of the Charles Simeon Trust. One of the standard talks at these workshops is called ‘Stay on the Line’. Those of us who preach and teach God’s Word must say what God’s Word says. We must not go ‘above the line’ by adding to God’s Word, and we must not go ‘below the line’ by subtracting from God’s Word. Be disciplined! Stay on the line! Hit the mark!
The problem, of course, is that false teachers plant themselves in the Christian community (Part 1) and are always pushing their ‘above the line’ or ‘below the line’ ideas. If their character doesn’t give them away (Part 2), their doctrinal errors will. They might deny the identity or authority of Jesus Christ (Part 3), or they might mishandle and misapply the Old Testament Law, effectively putting the cart of obedience before the horse of justification (Part 4). Such errors are fatal to a healthy Christian life.
Critical Point #4: Over-Spiritualizing the Christian Life
Now in Part 5 we turn to another fatal error: over-spiritualizing the Christian life. To over-spiritualize the Christian life means that you 1) exalt the life of the soul and 2) denigrate the life of the body to such an extent that you end up in gross violation of God’s good design for your embodied life.
While some pagans express their unbelief by pursuing a lifestyle of immorality and excess, there are other pagans who express their unbelief by pursuing disembodied intellectual knowledge and spiritual experience. In fact, there is a whole philosophical tradition that regards the soul (the immaterial part of a person) as good and the body (the material part of a person) as evil. According to this body-soul dualism, the body is the problem: the virtuous soul is imprisoned in a vice-laden body, and at death the prisoner is set free. In the meantime, people ought to make every effort to rise above bodily experience, surpass the material world, and transcend physical preoccupations. Physical pleasures are out; intellectual pleasures are in. Marriage and consequent love-making are out; meditation is in. Certain foods and drinks are out; strict rules are in. Worldly labors are minimized; spiritual disciplines are maximized.
And let’s face it: on a surface level, this anti-physical spirituality looks spiritually impressive. But we must take a closer look. As Paul told the Colossians:
“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” (Colossians 2:20-23)
Paul’s way of reasoning with the Colossians gets to the real issue: whose authority are you living under? Are you obeying “the elemental spirits of the world”? Are you submitting to human regulations? Does your religiosity put self in the driver’s seat? Or are you “holding fast to the Head” (Colossians 2:19)? Is the truth of “the faith” (Colossians 2:7) serving as the solid foundation beneath your feet? It is only by immersing yourself in the Scriptures that you can distinguish truth from error and thus be equipped to live thoughtfully under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is a saying about a certain kind of person: He was so heavenly-minded that He was no earthly good. Now I will grant that there is a way to pursue heavenly-mindedness that is so wrongheaded that it does result in ‘no earthly good’. But someone has wisely critiqued the above saying and offered this corrective: the Bible reasons that heavenly-minded people do the most earthly good. The critic is exactly right! To continue with Colossians for just a moment longer, it is the people who set their minds on things above (Colossians 3:2) who proceed to go into their embodied earthly relationships and responsibilities and do a world of good: they live truthfully and peaceably with their fellow Christians (Colossians 3:9-15), they sing heartily (Colossians 3:16), and they “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). This everything includes displaying a myriad of graces in married and family life (Colossians 3:18-21) and in the workplace (Colossians 3:22-4:1). And a few verses later Paul instructs us to have a winsome presence in our interactions with unbelievers (Colossians 4:5-6).
As it happens, part of our winsome presence in the world is to take appropriate responsibility for our own welfare: “But we urge you, brothers, … to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12). “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies.” (2 Thessalonians 3:10-11) Living aimlessly and unproductively is profoundly un-Christian. But baking bread, washing dishes, shoveling snow, and working hard at your other jobs are met with our Lord’s blessing. And we shouldn’t fail to mention that enjoying that warm bread on a clean plate with a cup of coffee after you have shoveled the snow, is also met with the blessing of God.
But what you need to realize is that there are people who will tell you otherwise. They will tell you that the pathway to holiness runs along the track of abstaining from the good things that God created. Now abstaining from sin is a very good idea. But insisting that people abstain from God’s good gifts is, as a matter of fact, sinful. Paul’s denunciation of these heretics is clear:
“Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from food that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” (1 Timothy 4:1-5)
The contrast is stark. On the one side you have people being drawn into faith-denying, demon-sourced, heart-corrupting lies – and these lies include placing a prohibition on God’s good gifts. When you get wind of this stuff, run the other way! And in this case ‘the other way’ is the way of “[believing] and [knowing] the truth.” Know God’s Word! Know the comprehensiveness of “everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected” (italics added). Receive and utilize God’s good gifts “with thanksgiving”, which is to say, as an act of worship. To be clear, 1 Timothy 4:1-5 doesn’t obligate you to personally use all of God’s good gifts; you might have a compelling reason to abstain from a certain gift in a particular situation. But 1 Timothy 4:1-5 does obligate you to: 1) respect all of God’s gifts; 2) don’t trouble another believer for humbly enjoying God’s gifts; 3) don’t go ‘below the line’ by legislating man-made restrictions on the use of God’s gifts (and thus proclaiming ‘No’ where God has said ‘Yes’); 4) and live large-heartedly as a beloved beneficiary of God’s generous and creative gift-giving.
It is true, of course, that in our sinfulness we sometimes turn God’s good gifts into idols. But that is another topic for another day. The point of today’s topic is to be on your guard against demon-inspired party poopers: they will spoil not only your fun but also your fellowship with the Father. The Father doesn’t like it when His good gifts are spoken of as evil. As a son or daughter of the Father, you also shouldn’t like it when your Father’s generous gift-giving is maligned.
A Final Word
By all means, set your mind on God’s instruction (Psalm 1). Be biblically-minded and transformed in the depths of your heart. But do not think that what is happening in your heart and mind is supposed to stay there. It isn’t. It is supposed to bear the fruit of visible love and embodied righteousness in all of your everyday relationships and responsibilities. Be so Bible-saturated that you are compelled to go forth, even this very day, and do a world of earthly good. Earth, after all, is where we want God’s will to be done (Matthew 6:10). Receiving that early morning cup of coffee with a thankful heart is not a bad place to start!
 Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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