If you’ve ever felt pressured to “enhance” Christ, then join the club.
Sometime around 60 A.D. a strange brand of spirituality began confronting the new Christian converts of the city of Colossae. Judging from the description in Paul’s letter to that church, it was possibly a mixture of Kabbalah, elements of pre-gnosticism, and conventional Judaism. The promoters of that religious system used big words and esoteric concepts that dazzled the simple Christian believers. Area church folk began to feel like poor cousins, earthy, backwards, and short of pizzazz. It wasn’t long before some of them started saying, “I’ll have some of what they’re having!” The Colossians weren’t trading Jesus in, just spiffing Him up a bit.
Except it was an effort to make the Mona Lisa look like a Kardasian.
For some strange reason, Christians often think that the faith needs philosophical augmentation. It’s true that most of us lack a certain social refinement. According to Paul, “there are not many wise, not many noble” among us. This we freely admit. But such self-effacing terms don’t describe what we believe in. Not by a long shot.
“See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority” (Col. 2:8-10).
Philosophy means smarts, sophistication. Deceit means trickery. Tradition means ceremony. Elements mean base essentials. Those can’t fix up the faith. Not when the whole fullness of deity already dwells bodily in Christ. You can’t make Him better by adding the tenets of Buddha, Mohammed, Confucius, or the architects of today’s social ideology. They need Him, but not He, them.
How much of God is in Christ? All.
And any man or woman who receives Him, is then filled, because He is the fullness—the fullness of divinity, of humanity, of creation, and resurrection, of all rule, and authority.
Paul had to tell the Colossians that. Like prodigal children, they had to be told, “Hey, you just ate the fattened calf,” (c.f. Lk. 15:23), and trust me, after that ninety-ounce sirloin, you’ll be just fine if you don’t gorge on a bag of stale jelly beans.”
You’ve been filled. Stuffing yourself with anything beyond that point only means you’ll get sick. But it snares us every time—some element that we think we’re missing…or that Jesus is missing.
Back in the eighties, the New Age Movement got famous for fifteen minutes because it borrowed some words from the Christian faith—”love” and “light”—and used them like catch phrases. Today people do the same, once again borrowing “love,” “justice,” “equality,” etc., in other words, co-opting biblical vernacular to give their causes carte blanche credibility. But chipping off a piece of Mt Everest, and carrying it around in your pocket doesn’t mean you have the mountain.
Paul told those intimidated Colossians a few verses later, “Let no one judge you” (v. 16). In other words, don’t let anyone evaluate the Christ you believe in as being subpar. To us that would include suggestions to upgrade Jesus to some appropriate level of social wokeness.
Anyway, it’s hard to upgrade a mountain.