Thursday, March 1, 2018

Steer Clear of the Snake Oil!

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.Colossians 2:8

In my household, I’m way outnumbered. I have a wife and four daughters, and even our dog is female. I’m not just the man of the house—I’m the ONLY man in the house. So, I sometimes end up watching TV shows and movies that aren’t very … manly. One of these is the Hallmark series, “When Calls the Heart.” And I’ve got to admit, it’s actually pretty good.

In a recent episode, a stranger comes to the little Canadian town of Hope Valley in the early 1900s. He rides up in his horse and wagon, parks in a prominent spot, and launches into a sales pitch for his revolutionary elixirs, guaranteed to heal everything from stomach pains to a weak heart. This peddler was what we call a “snake oil salesman.” These scam artists scattered the frontier of North America, hawking worthless potions that not only didn’t cure these ailments, but often made them worse. And as bad as this was, it’s not nearly as bad as religious snake oil salesmen who peddle sham religion.

That’s what the apostle Paul was fighting when he wrote his letter to the Colossians in the first century. The new Christians in Colosse were being exposed to three human philosophies that were very popular in those days. All three of them looked SO good on the surface. They were marketed to make Christians think these philosophies could make their good Christianity even better. But the truth was, they were nothing but snake oil. They made big claims, but couldn’t deliver. Worse, each of these philosophies made the critical mistake of luring Christians to take their eyes off Christ and fix them onto other things instead.

And guess what? Some 2,000 years later, these same three philosophies have been repackaged and remarketed to a new generation, leading many Christians away from Christ. Here’s a quick snapshot of these three human philosophies and the lies they promote.

#1: LEGALISM’s lie: “Following rules will make you holy.” The false teachers who were infiltrating the Colossian church were peddling some legalism—strict Jewish rules concerning traditional food, drink and Sabbath day rituals. But Paul warned them in verse 16 not to let false teachers give them a guilt trip about following Jewish traditions that were irrelevant to salvation and Christian growth. He wrote in verse 17: “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” One of the greatest tragedies of both Mormonism and the Jehovah’s Witnesses is that they pull Christians from reality to shadow by saddling their followers with extra-biblical rules and legalism. These result in well-meaning worshipers taking their eyes off the reality of Christ to focus on a shadowy rule book instead.

#2: MYSTICISM’s lie: “Pursuing visions and spirit guides will make you more spiritual.” In Paul’s day, mystics would rattle on about a vision they had or some angel they had spoken to or some out-of-body experience they had. In our day, mysticism takes the form of astrology, which is simply looking to the stars for answers instead of to the Creator of those stars. Modern-day mysticism also includes Ouija boards, palm reading and Tarot cards. All that stuff takes our eyes OFF Christ and draws us into the shadows.

#3: ASCETICISM’s lie: “Treating your body harshly will restrain your sinful nature.” In the middle ages, Christian ascetics slept on rock-hard beds, wore scratchy underwear and deprived themselves of sleep for days at a time, all to try to keep their sinful nature in check. Did it work? Of course not. Because physical remedies can never cure a spiritual disease. Only Jesus Christ can tame us of our sinful nature. That doesn’t mean there’s not a time for staying up late in prayer or fasting. But these things were always intended by God to point us TO Christ—never to take our eyes OFF Christ. That’s where asceticism backfires. The harsh treatment of the body becomes the focal point instead of Jesus Christ.

You get the picture. If it takes the focus away from Christ, it’s not Christianity. Here are three simple questions to determine if someone’s teaching is true and good: Is it firmly grounded in Christ’s teaching in the New Testament? If not, reject it. Does it take your eyes off Christ? If so, walk away. Is the teacher walking the walk? If not, reject it.

Never forget that false teachers are marketing geniuses. Their religious products sound so good … but at the core, they’re nothing but hollow and deceptive philosophy that depends on the stuff of this world, not the stuff of eternity. As another great apostle, Peter, puts it in 2 Peter 1:3: “[Jesus Christ’s] divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.” As we lock arms and hearts with our fellow Christians in a Bible-based church, Jesus Christ is all we need.

Dane Davis is the Pastor of First Christian Church in Victorville. For more information, visit  and join us for worship Sundays at 10 am.

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