[ 7 minutes to read ]
If you’ve read this far, then you have considered some things that many people don’t want to think about. The real issues of life and death and the state of a person’s soul are serious matters. Many want to put it off until someday later. Many are flippant and not concerned. Some are serious and want help, so they turn to the world around them and find many answers to their questions and many ways are put before them.
In the last chapter we looked at Paul’s warning to the Colossians concerning false philosophies and vain deceits. Though people will acknowledge that deception is possible, most think they’re not deceived and that they can’t be deceived. Before we move on from the false solutions, I want to consider some of the most common deceptions I’ve encountered.
How do people solve the problem of sin, guilt, death, and judgment? Some try to ignore the problem and others try to reason the problem away. To ignore these serious issues, many give themselves over to something to occupy them. They may turn to alcohol or drugs to numb themselves. They may pursue adrenaline or pour themselves into their work. These things can keep the mind and body busy but they don’t solve the problem. They are what Solomon referred to as a “vexation of spirit” (Ecclesiastes 1:14), which means a grasping of wind.
Many others take a different track with this problem. They want to reason the problem away. Rather than solve the problem, they seek to remove it. Reasoning there is no God and that we humans are merely one iteration in an evolutionary process makes life meaningless. If this were true, there would be no such thing as sin or judgment. Of course, this still doesn’t explain guilt or death. This kind of thinking is identified in the Bible as the thoughts of a fool (Psalm 14:1) and one flattering himself that he is not a sinner (Psalm 36:1-4).
You can deceive yourself into playing or working your life away. You can drink or think your life away, but you cannot change the reality. You cannot assuage your guilt. You cannot avoid death. Death came into the world because of sin.
Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:
– Romans 5:12
Sin and death are ours by inheritance. There is no escaping it. After death comes judgment: “And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). We can deceive ourselves that this isn’t real, but it is and we will find out one day. We know these solutions are not true because they are “not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). They are not after the way that Jesus Christ taught and they are not centered and grounded in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Some more readily acknowledge sin and guilt. They live with misery, but they seek to deal with it through pain. There is a masochistic element in the world that seeks atonement through afflicting pain and suffering on themselves. This is the dark, grim root of the body modification movement—multiplied piercings, coverings of tattoos, self-tortures, surgical alterations, drugs, etc. They are deceived into thinking they can redeem themselves if only they can suffer the right amount of pain. No doubt, this has played a part in some of the human sacrificing throughout history.
This is also a “vain deceit” that is “not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Jesus taught about a man who died and went to hell in Luke 16:19-31. When the man died, he immediately opened his eyes in hell and was in torment by the flames. His pain was so great he requested only a drop of water for his tongue, which he could not and will never get. This man suffers in an infinitely greater way than we can ever inflict on ourselves, and yet that suffering does not make atonement for his soul. He hates the consequences of his sin but does not hate his sin as a transgression of God’s law and an offense against God’s holiness. You will notice from the account that his suffering will never make him love God and he will never be reconciled to God but will suffer just punishment eternally because he died without faith in Jesus Christ (John 8:21, 24).
Perhaps the most popular false solution is religion—a devotion to religious rituals and morals. It’s a common thought that people can ultimately be saved by being sincere in their religion, whatever that religion may be. I’ve heard two popular illustrations of this thought. First, some say it is as though God sits atop a mountain and the world is at the bottom around the mountain. Various religions are the various paths up the mountain. Some are steep. Some are rocky. Some are straight and some are winding. But all paths lead, one way or another, to the same place: God at the peak. Second, some say it as though God sits in the center of a large house with many different doors and windows in its exterior. The world is outside around the house and the different openings are the different religions. Some are tall ways. Some are narrow. Some are high and some are low. But again, all ways lead into the house and ultimately to God.
Perhaps you have heard or even thought this way yourself. It’s appealing to us to think that as long as a religion teaches love and acceptance and results in good that it should be sufficient to justify us before God. When Paul was at Athens in the first century, he encountered a society of people that were extremely religious. In fact, Acts tells us the “city” was “wholly given” to religion (Acts 17:16). They were so religious they tried to pay homage to all religions. They had multiplied shrines and temples and even devoted an altar “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” (Acts 17:23). Paul did not console them and congratulate them for their sincerity. He did not assure them that everything would be all right because they were devoted. Rather he told them they were “too superstitious” and they worshiped ignorantly (Acts 17:22-23). He told them they should repent of their religion (Acts 17:30) because a day of judgment is coming (Acts 17:31).
Conversely, Paul did console and comfort the Thessalonians because they had repented of their religion and turned to serve God alone.
For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
– 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10
False religion is “not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8), and is no way to God.
The last way I want to write you about is akin to the previous one. The most prevalent philosophy I’ve encountered is the hope that good works will get a person reconciled to God. I said it was akin to the previous one because sometimes it’s motivated by religion but it can also be completely detached from any religion. The basic philosophy is to do enough good works to outweigh your bad works so that you gain entrance to heaven.
We have already considered the teaching of Christ that shows this is a false philosophy. Everything we do without faith in Christ is counted as sin against us. There is no work good enough or amount of good works enough to substitute for complete trust in Jesus Christ and His work to save us. The Bible teaches that “every one” is ready to proclaim his own goodness (Proverbs 20:6), but we’ve already seen that we are not competent judges of ourselves or our works.
There is also a logical hole in this philosophy. It we are counting on our good works to outweigh our bad works, we have two problems that cannot be overcome logically. The first is that we never know the score. If you are really trusting the eternity of your soul to doing more good works than bad, how can you ever know where you are in the tally? The second problem is close to the first. What is the standard determining good from bad? Most everyone thinks they are a good person but each one has a different definition of what being good is. If we go to the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17) in the Bible and walk through them, no one has kept them. There is not one of us that can truthfully say we have kept them.
We know this is a false philosophy “not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Jesus never taught to do the best you can and try to do more good than bad. He did teach us to repent of all our works and believe in Him alone (Mark 1:15).
We cannot possibly cover every false way. I don’t have space, time, or knowledge enough to point out every single false way in existence. What we need is a test, a standard of measure by which we judge every way we encounter. That is what we will consider in the next chapter.
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.