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Chapter 5Jeremiah the prophet wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). This speaks of the internal corruption of our hearts and minds. It points to where sin comes from within us. Jesus taught that we are defiled from inside out and not outside in (Matthew 15:11). It’s not our environment or outside influences that make us sin. Jesus taught that sin starts in and proceeds out from our own hearts (Matthew 15:19-20). Sin begins in our hearts where evil thoughts, lies, and lusts are. We sin as those things work out from within and that is what makes us sinners all. This is our inherent natural condition.
The Bible teaches:
- Every man and woman is a sinner from their conception in the womb (Romans 3:9-10; Psalm 51:5; 58:3; Colossians 2:13). No one is excluded nor are there exceptions to this (Romans 3:23; 1 Kings 8:46; 1 John 1:8).
- Every one of us are incapable of ourselves of exercising faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:11). Of ourselves we cannot hear with faith (1 Corinthians 2:14; John 10:26), nor can we come to Christ in faith (John 6:44, 64-65; 3:19-20).
- Everyone of us naturally rebels against God and cannot do good (Romans 3:12-18). As we have previously seen, everything a person does apart from God is sin (Romans 14:23) because we naturally do not love God (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37), believe God (John 3:18), or glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
- Therefore, every man and woman of themselves deserve the condemnation of eternal punishment (Romans 3:19-20). Man by nature only merits death (Romans 5:12; Ephesians 2:3; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).
This is what is meant by a natural state of sinfulness. This is our native condition before God. Our hearts and consciences are defiled by sin. This is also why we are such bad judges of ourselves and our sinfulness. After the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, then president, Bill Clinton, referred to the act as evil. He didn’t mince words in denouncing Timothy McVeigh. However, three years later in his impeachment hearings when he was faced with the reality of some of his own sins, he justified himself by quibbling over technicalities, asserting a major difference between public and private life, and even questioning the definition of the word is. He was quick to denounce McVeigh’s actions as evil but just as quick to parse his own actions very carefully and refuse any admission of guilt.
This common human hypocrisy comes from within our deceitful hearts. We readily see the wrong in others but have a thousand reasons for the same or worse in ourselves. This internal deceit gives an important clue in finding the solution to the trouble, the judgment, we’ve been thinking about. We will one day face an objective and just judgment of our every thought, word, and deed and the solution, or escape, obviously cannot come from within us. We need to be delivered from sin, from ourselves and we need a deliverer.
I must begin with a warning though. There are numerous false solutions presented to us daily. Paul warned the Colossian church against such in his letter to them.
Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
– Colossians 2:8
He called them to beware, or be aware. He urged them to look carefully after their way unless they would end up being spoiled. Spoil means to carry off as in a spoil of war. He was concerned that they might be carried away or taken captive by false philosophy. Philosophy itself refers to the love and pursuit of wisdom and can refer to truth or falsehood. Paul is not condemning knowledge, thinking, or pursuing truth. His concern is the center and ground of the philosophy.
He paired philosophy with a vain deceit. Deceit means a trick and vain means empty. The emptiness is the key because that is where the trick lies. The deceit promises a way to God but is an empty trick because it cannot deliver what it offers.
Paul points to two false grounds of philosophy—tradition of men and rudiments of the world. Tradition refers to something given over or passed on, like something handed from person to person, or generation to generation. Rudiments are elements of teaching, or things in a row, i.e. a series. Paul means systems of instruction more rigorous than tradition. He warns against both and they are identified as false if they are “not after Christ.” Any tradition or teaching that does not teach the one way Jesus Christ taught and is not centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ is a false way.
We encounter both forms that Paul warned against in the world around us all the time. We encounter traditions in common thoughts about life that are perpetuated from generation to generation and we encounter rigorous systems of teaching that may be presented as a religion or presented as something else. Regardless of popular support, any notion or teaching that would intend to get men reconciled to God that is not after the teaching of Jesus Christ and is not founded on His work, is false.
Before we proceed, I want to take the next chapter to consider some common ways people believe will get them to God. Will they hold up to the test Paul gave the Colossians? Are they after the tradition of men and the rudiments of the world? Or, are they after Christ?
This is a portion of a book that I have been writing. I have decided to post it here in serial form. It is intended to be evangelistic. If the book has merit, I may seek to publish it in some form. Please feel free to share it and I welcome any feedback.