Intellect Or Faith?
Colossians 1:1-29 is the setting for this study.
Which is more important, intellect, or faith?—that seems to be the question of the hour. Among Christians these two ideas fight for preeminence. Some think the two are mutually exclusive - you either have blind faith or you have intellect - but not both. Others say that our minds are the most important - our faith must proceed from our understanding and if the two contradict then the mind must reign supreme. This is especially born out of hundreds of years of rationalism in our western culture. If we cannot understand and explain something then it is simply not true.
Faith must precede understanding - our goal should be to know Christ’s mind - not our own. And becoming more mature as a Christian doesn’t mean that we get smarter - it means that we think more like Jesus. Does that mean we throw away our minds? Certainly not - but we also don’t elevate the mind above our faith. Our faith must precede our ability to understand something completely - there are simply things we will not understand because God is too complicated for us - so he "dumbs it down" for us.
Isaiah 55:8-11"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish,so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”
Believing what God said should come before understanding the mind of God. After we believe, then we can understand.1 Corinthians 2:13-14“This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
The book of Colossians is all about which is more important - the mind or faith. It involves an early form of a heresy known as Gnosticism.In the heresies Paul addresses 2 of them are in chapter 1: That spirit is good, flesh is evil. 2: That Christ could not be both human and divine. It is a form of proto-Gnosticism - that spirit is good, flesh is bad and that there is a special kind of knowledge available only to the initiates in order to know God.“
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, To the holy and faithful brothers in Christ at Colosse: Grace and peace to you from God our Father. We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, because we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints. . . the faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.”
Paul mentions faith, love, and hope - NOT knowledge. Our problem is that we put so much of a premium on our ability to understand and comprehend that when we don’t - we discount God instead of our intellect. Faith and love spring from hope - not intellect. Notice how the hope has two components: "stored up in heaven" and "that you have already heard about in the word of truth."
Hope from the Gospel - But notice that the source of the hope is not human generated emotion or philosophy. That’s the trap of Gnosticism and intellectualism - that our minds can figure out our future. The gospel is true - we just have to decide whether we are going to believe it or not. Once we believe the gospel - THAT is when we start bearing fruit and growing. People often have it backwards they have intellect challenging faith, instead of faith informing intellect. “For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Notice that he says "knowledge of HIS WILL through all SPIRITUAL WISDOM." Don’t pray for smarts - pray for a knowledge of God’s will through the Spirit.“And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God,” Life is not about how smart you get - but how your life mirrors that of Jesus Christ, and how He works through you, bearing fruit - that is the way to know God more. The more you give Him access to your life and respond to His gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) prods - the more you know Him - having His heart of compassion and self sacrifice. .....
....Paul addresses the first of the heresies: That spirit is good, flesh is bad, and that Jesus could not be both human and divine:“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”
In the Colossian church there were several misconceptions about Jesus Christ that Paul directly refuted in this section:Believing that matter is evil, false teachers argued that God would not have come to earth as a true human being in bodily form. Paul stated that Jesus Christ is the image -- the exact likeness -- of God and is himself God, and yet he died on the cross as a human being.
They believed that God did not create the world because he would not have created evil. Paul proclaimed that Jesus Christ, who was also God in the flesh, participated in the creation of the universe.
They said that Jesus Christ was not the unique Son of God but rather one of many intermediaries between God and people. Paul explained that Jesus Christ existed before anything else as the One True and Living God and is also the firstborn of those resurrected.
They refused to see Christ as the source of salvation, insisting that people could find God only through special and secret intellectual knowledge. In contrast Paul openly proclaimed the way of salvation to be through Jesus Christ alone ( see Acts 2:38). Paul continued to bring the argument back to Christ.
Paul confronts the errors - the heresy said that the mind was supreme - but Paul shows that our minds are actually an enemy of the truth before we have faith in Jesus. “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” Isaiah 59:2, “your iniquities have separated you from your God.” That’s what sin does - alienates, makes us “not a part” of what God is. It also makes us think unlike Him. So for us to imagine that our own philosophies can explain and understand God apart from faith then we are fooling ourselves.“
But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation- if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.” Again, Paul comes back to the theme of the mind and the body. God brought us back into relationship - not through philosophy or thought or some spiritual mumbo jumbo - but through the cross of Jesus Christ.
The Gnostics taught that the gospel was a mystery - but to know the answers you had to have special knowledge open only to a select intellectual few. It’s awfully convenient - and a great way to avoid debate over the truth - but the truth is that the mystery - that God was saving man through a man -- Jesus - was hidden, but now fully revealed.
The gospel is simple - don’t over complicate it
The truth is obvious - don’t try to obscure it by false intellectual arguments.
The problem is not with God - it is with us
Isaiah 1:18 "Come now, let us reason together," says the LORD. "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool." God will reason with us - but it always leads to dealing with sin first - then more knowledge is revealed. So don’t expect an unsaved person to understand anything more than the gospel. 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: "For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?" --But we have the mind of Christ.
Using human intellect to understand a divine God is a useless exercise - so just believe what He said:Isaiah 55:8-11, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”