8 Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elements of the world, rather than Christ.
Being a Christian in our current times can be challenging. Everywhere we turn there are people who are trying to force Christians to change how they worship and who are proposing other ways to make Christianity more acceptable. Deceptions have spread across the globe like a swarm of locusts, attempting to devour anyone who is willing to stand with the truth that is in Jesus Christ.
Like us, the early church had issues that were causing the new Christians to be deceived into following false ideas and principles based on worldly teachings. At the beginning of his letter to the Colossians, Paul focused on the faithfulness of the believers. In this verse, he shifts to warning them to avoid false teachings. Many were claiming to be prophets of God who knew the right way to get to heaven.
Jesus Himself told His followers, “Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thorn bushes or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:15-16) Later, John spoke of these deceivers in 1 John 41. “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
Often Christians have someone in mind whom they suspect is a false teacher. This person may be promoting half-truths, but they are not being faithful to the whole Scriptures. Some people are drawn to these teachings specifically because they overlook certain sins that the hearer doesn’t want to believe are sinful. Paul wrote Timothy, “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, will multiply teachers for themselves because they have an itch to hear what they want to hear. They will turn away from hearing the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).
When Paul used the phrase “human tradition” in Colossians 2:8, he was reminding us that just because an idea has been believed historically does not mean it is true. The phrase in Greek is παράδοσιν τῶν ἀνθρώπων or paradosin tōn anthrōpōn. It is a reference to laws and regulations of society that have been handed down across the years.
Paul was stressing our need to be focusing on God’s eternal truths and not on the ideas or preferences of people. Peter also warned about this, saying, “There were indeed false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, and will bring swift destruction on themselves” (2 Peter 2:1).
Questions to Ask Yourself
So how do we recognize the teachers who promote false ideas? Here are some practical methods we can use:
- The message of a true teacher will always center on the gospel of Jesus Christ. False teachers may mention Jesus here and there, but they will ultimately deny His deity and power.
- False teachers usually make their appeal based on earthly passions, leading people back into sin. Often, they will urge you to focus on the things the world considers to be important.
- Do the teachings include the whole message of the gospel? As nice as they sound, the statements “God loves you,” “God wants us to feed the hungry,” and “God wants us to be happy” are not the complete message of the gospel, and they should be a red flag that something may not be right.
- Be careful when someone claims to have dreams in which God is showing them the future events and then gives advice about avoiding the bad times to come. It can be easy to get caught up in believing things we want to be true.
Pray for Kelly and Janice, Global Workers in our church family, as they serve in Europe. Only 1% of Europeans have a relationship with Jesus—99% are lost, but people are asking more questions about God in the pandemic.