Category Archives: Gnosticism

The Image of the Invisible

The apostle Paul wrote the epistle to the Colossians in order to stem the tide of a menacing heresy greatly affecting the churches in the region (cf. 2:4, etc.,). What is known of this particular heresy comes through the themes which Paul stresses in his epistle. This heresy, among other things, apparently diminished the authority and supremacy of Christ and His work of redemption and distorted the role of knowledge. Paul’s epistle to the Colossians and the Laodiceans responds to these errors.

In part, Paul’s response to these errors is to describe the magnificence of Christ. His description is nothing short of astounding. This brief description gives us only a literary glimpse into the glory of God, we see only the hinder parts as it were, yet we still tremble and shake in fear at His majesty and glory. Even more, we rejoice and are thankful to share in this glory with Him (1:12). Let us turn our minds to fathom the breadth and height of these glories.

First, Paul describes the Lord as the image (icon) of the invisible God (1:15). Not only is the Lord the image of God but He is also the “express image” (kharaktar) of His person (Heb. 1:3). Once Philip asked the Lord, “Show us the Father and it sufficeth us” (John 14: 8). Jesus replied “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me” (John 14:9). Jesus said “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father.” As Paul observed, “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 4:6). It is only through Jesus that we can truly know the Father.

Next, Paul states that the Father has made us suitable to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light (1:12). This is no small task seeing that our sins separate us from His holiness (Is. 59:2). But we have been made meet, or suitable, through His Son Jesus Christ. This inheritance is incorruptible, undefiled and fades not away and is reserved in heaven for us if we remain faithful (I Pet. 1:4). Indeed, it is that everlasting kingdom of Christ which has been prepared from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34).

Third, that kingdom of His Son is a Kingdom of Light (Col. 1:12,13). As Christians, we are called out from under the power of darkness and into His kingdom of His marvelous light (I Pet. 2:9). This is because God is light, clothed in unapproachable light, and in Him is no darkness at all (I John 1:5; Psalm 104:2; I Tim. 6:16). Being the image of God He is also the brightness of the glory of God (Heb. 1:3) and His glorious gospel brings the light of truth (II Cor. 4:4).

Fourth, He is the firstborn of every creature (1:15). The point that Paul makes here is that Christ occupies a special place in the world with God. The firstborn received special privilege and was given the place of preeminence (Psalm 89:27; cf. Deut. 21:15-17). This does not mean, as some try to interpret, that Christ had a beginning or was created. This cannot be since Paul further states “for by Him were all things created” (1:16).

Thus, Jesus is the Creator of all things. John wrote that all things were created by Him and without Him was not anything made that was made (John 1:3). John also shows that Jesus, the Word, was with God and was God (John 1:1,2). In the beginning, God said “Let Us…” (Gen. 1:26). That “us” included the Son, as well. Paul said God created all things by Jesus Christ (Eph. 3:9).

Therefore, He is before all things. The Lord is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the ending (Rev. 1:8). He is the first and the last (Rev. 1:11). Micah says that His goings forth have been from of old, even from everlasting (Micah 5:2). Moses said that God was from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90:1,2). Jesus, Himself, said, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Paul quotes Psalm 102:24-27 and applies it to Jesus Christ in Hebrews 1:10-12. Paul further states that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8). Not only is He before all things, but by Him all things consist. He upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb. 1:3).

Finally, Paul says that it pleased the Father that in Him should all the fulness dwell (1:17). That is, all the fulness of the godhead was present in Jesus bodily (Col. 2:9). Everything that is God was in Jesus. That is why He is head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.

Eric L. Padgett

As Ye Have Received Christ, So Walk

The church at Colossae was facing the insinuation into it’s sphere of influence the insidious doctrine of gnosticism. Many call it the Colossian Heresy. Regardless of whether it was in it’s incipient form or was full blown gnosticism, certain fatal errors were being thrust upon the congregation there that were corrosive to the well being of the brethren and antithetical to truth and Paul was attempting to thwart it’s advancement among them. In verse six of chapter two, Paul warns them, “As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in Him” (2:6).

In this statement, Paul reminds the brethren there to remember from whence they came, to remember the truths they were taught and to continue to abide in those truths. There was a danger of drifting from those established truths into something much more speculative and different than what had been originally delivered to them. This warning is not unique or novel to the brethren in Colossae.

For instance, Paul warned the brethren at Thessalonica, “Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more” (I Thess. 4:1). He follows this by saying that they knew the commandments given them by the Lord (2:2). In his second epistle to them, he warned them once again to “stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle” (II Thess. 2:15). Paul warned them not to change or leave the truth as it was delivered them.

These passages can be multiplied many times over. I Cor. 15:1-4: “Keep in memory what I have preached to you”; Gal. 1:6-9: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from Him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel, which is not another; but some would trouble you and pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:6-9); Heb. 10:23: “Hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering”; John 15:5-10: “If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love.” On and on the list could go and the lesson to be learned is clear enough.

Maybe it is the spirit of the times. There are those even in the United States who want to either tamper with the Constitution or disregard it altogether. They don’t care for the way the country was founded in the first place. But the constitution, even though it is a great document, is a human document. The scriptures are not, however! They are of divine origin! They should neither be altered nor disregarded but respected and treasured and strictly followed.

We would be wise to heed the inspired admonition to walk in the truths as they were delivered to us, neither adding to them nor taking from them (Prov. 30:5,6; Rev. 22:18,19). When I read the New Testament I find a pretty simple plan for the Lord’s church. There is but one church, one head, one means of entrance, one mission, one plan of organization, and one means of fellowship. After I obeyed the gospel, I also learned these things when faithful men of God taught me and reinforced these truths. I think I can say that today I stand exactly where I stood after I matured as a Christian years ago. Unfortunately, some are no longer walking as they received Christ.

In the Lord’s church today I see the use of translations from the pulpit that were exposed for their errors and weaknesses years ago by sound brethren. I see activities being countenanced that were once seen as superfluous and beyond the mission and purpose of the Lord’s church. I see a few blurring the lines of fellowship that once would have been denounced. I worry that many are no longer walking as they had received Christ.

Eric L. Padgett

God is Love

John is often spoken of as the “Apostle of Love.”  And there is no doubt that the word “love” is very much a part of John’s vocabulary.  It is found in his gospel account and in his epistles.  It is in his first epistle that the expression in the title of this entry is found (I John 4:8).  And yet, while John does speak of love, that is not the focus of his epistle.

John was writing to answer an insidious heresy.  If it was not full blown gnosticism it was at least proto-gnosticism.  Gnosticism is the view that all matter is evil.  The body was evil, the world was evil.  The problem this posed for the advocates of gnosticism was what to do with Jesus?  Jesus had a body.  Was it evil?  Some Gnostics, those of the Docetic brand, “solved” the problem by saying that the body of Jesus was only a phantom; it wasn’t real flesh and blood. The Cerinthian brand of gnosticism “solved” the problem by saying the power of Christ came on Jesus at His baptism and left before His crucifixion.  Thus, they denied Jesus had come in the flesh and died.

Their view also posed a problem with their own bodies.  If the flesh was evil, then what could they do with their own bodies?  They “solved ” this problem with one of two positions.  Some claimed because the body was evil, they had to control the body through ascetic practices.  However, others “solved” the problem by saying that because the body was evil, it didn’t matter what they did with it as long as they possessed special knowledge or enlightenment which only they knew.  Because they had this special insight, this “gnosis,” sin was no problem to them.

In his first epistle, John is answering these insidious false doctrines from the outset of the epistle.  John had heard, seen with his own eyes, looked upon and his hands had handled the Word of Life, Jesus.  Jesus was real, flesh and blood real.  Those who denied that Jesus had come in the flesh were “false prophets” and “antichrists” and were to be tried (I John 4:-3).  This is the reason John wrote the letter. 

Furthermore, sin was real.  John writes to make clear that one can sin but that Jesus died as a propitiation for our sins (I John 2:1-3).  If a person was to claim they had no sin, they were liars (I John 2:22).  Remember, this is the “Apostle of Love” who is calling the advocates of gnosticism liars and seducers (I John 2:26)!  Sin, John said, was the transgression of the law (I John 3:4).  Those who said sin was not real were liars and deceivers.

And this is where love comes into the picture.  Because God loved us, this proves Jesus came in the flesh and died for us (I John 3:16).  The reason John speaks about love is not because it is a gooey, blind to all sins, answer to all problems attitude, but because it defeats the Gnostic heresy.  God’s love was manifested when He sent His only begotten Son into the world to die for our sins, so that we might live through Him (I John 4:7-10).  God’s love disproves the notion that sin is not real and that Jesus did not come in the flesh, thus defeating gnosticism.

So when we speak about God being love, we are making a statement about our own spiritual condition, that sin, transgression of God’s law, is real (I John 3:4) and that Jesus really did come in the flesh so that we might be able to overcome sin (I John 5:1-4).

Eric L. Padgett