While rereading Pilgrim’s Progress, it struck me how simple were the instructions given to the main character, Christian. Just stay on the narrow way. Go straight. Yet time and again, Christian strays or is tempted to veer. The arguments for taking another path are often compelling and plausible.
The same is true for us. No matter how long we’ve been a Christian or how thoroughly we know God’s Word, the simple call to stay on the narrow way is difficult for us to obey. As one hymn says, we are “prone to wander.” For as simple as “straight ahead” seems, we’re easily sidetracked.
Writing to Christians in Colossae long ago, Paul offered counsel on recognizing the temptation to follow other ideologies or envision a better direction for our faith. His counsel is just as helpful today when we are not sure which way to go in our thinking.
Go the Way of Dependence
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 (Col. 2:8).
One way to know we’re being tempted to think differently than Scripture directs is if we’re drawn to something that isn’t “according to Christ.” Other translations say “based on”, “coming from”, and “depend”. If a philosophy doesn’t point us to Jesus, we simply shouldn’t pursue it! Christ is the source of wisdom, the one who supplies us with everything we need, and the one we live for.
We may think we’re just exploring new ideas when someone proposes a new social theory, or our favorite person on social media encourages us to follow a wise set of principles they developed. But Paul’s warning is clear: we might actually be taken captive. It’s important to stop and ask ourselves if these other ideologies serve to increase our dependence on Christ, the only one who can deliver true wisdom.
Go the Direction You First Began
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving (Col. 2:6-7).
Just before issuing this warning, Paul reminded his readers that they didn’t need a new way. They needed to continue in the direction they began in when they received Jesus in the first place. Part of living according to Christ, depending on Christ, is sticking with him.
It’s tempting to supplement our faith in Christ with faith in some modern, tangible ideas. We find some philosophies promise to help us make sense of the things in Scripture that we don’t like or agree with. But here Paul points out that it should be Jesus and his Word that help us make sense of new ideas, not vice versa.
Jesus is our starting place for finding wisdom and everything else we need for a godly life. We are rooted in him, built up in him, and established in him. In other words, we are utterly dependent on him. He isn’t just the only way to be saved; he’s the only one who can lead us in the way that is right.
Go Toward the Treasure
…that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments (Col. 2:2-4).
In these verses, Paul describes his concern for his readers. His earnest desire for them is God’s intention for us who read the words today. The reason for staying on the narrow path is simple: along it we discover treasure.
Why does this counsel tell us to depend on Christ and not on human tradition or the elemental spirits of the world? It’s not that God wants us needy and obligated. Nor does he tell us to continue in the way we were taught because he wants us stunted or stupid, instead of growing and learning.
Rather, we learn about the marvelous mystery of Christ when we stick to the narrow path. We grow in courage, we grow in love, and we gain riches of assurance of understanding. Every gem of wisdom and knowledge is hidden in Christ. We aren’t going to find any of these eternally valuable things by pursuing temporary, supplemental philosophies. Praise the Lord! When we’re not sure which way to go in our thinking, the answer is simply and entirely to depend on Jesus. He’s the one we’re seeking anyway!