13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You lock up the kingdom of heaven from people. For you don’t go in, and you don’t allow those entering to go in.
One thing is for sure. Religion and tradition will not save you. These religious leaders were highly committed to their way of doing religion and following tradition. But these things led them straight to hell and they were leading others to the same destiny.
The gospel of Matthew teaches us an important tactic of the devil. Religion is an invention of the devil to keep people from having a saving faith in Christ. Religion binds people and this is a distortion of true religion. True religion comes from faith in Christ and leads to freedom.
Jesus was bombarded by spiritual attacks throughout His earthly ministry. On the surface, it may look like his battle was with the scribes, the Pharisees and religious leaders, but we know that ultimately, His battle was with Satan.
Likewise, Paul was also engaged in spiritual battle throughout his ministry.
Where was the place of attack? Churches. Satan doesn’t have to work that hard in the world among unbelievers. He is the ruler of this age, He rules this world and those who don’t know Christ are his prisoners. But believers in churches, this is where Satan is most active. How did Satan attack churches? He sent false teachers into their midst.
Look at how clever Satan is. In the time of Jesus, Satan was active in crushing God’s people under a heavy load of legalism and empty religion so that they would reject Christ and eventually crucify him. But in Paul’s time, Christians had already accepted Christ. Strategy A of settling for religion and tradition and rejecting Christ outright didn’t work. So Satan resorts to Strategy B. Let God’s people keep Christ, but let’s mix in some other teachings so that over time, the focus on Christ gets lost.
Specifically for Paul, he faced many spiritual attacks from Judaizers, those who wanted to make Christianity look very Jewish in terms of practice. Let them preach the gospel, let them talk about Jesus, but let’s slip in Jewish traditions like circumcision. Sounds pretty harmless. See how sneaky Satan is. We are not dumb. If Satan spoke through his false teachers and they taught, Jesus, you know, He is not the Son of God, He didn’t resurrect, worship Satan instead, we would not fall for it. But Satan is far more clever. 2 Cor 11:14 – Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. I’m sure he would have kept the basic gospel message intact. But his strategy is to bury that message under other teachings and regulations.
In Paul’s day, there was a spiritually dark movement of Judaizers afoot. Judaizers who insisted in the very Jewish tradition of circumcision for all new converts, whether you were Jewish or Gentile. I’m sure the gospel was preached somewhere in there, but it got distorted by this religious requirement. The movement of Judaizers was like a disease. The core disease infected many of the churches of Paul’s day, but there were slightly different strains of this disease in each church.
Let’s look at the spiritual attack against the church at Corinth and the insight that Paul gives us.
2 Cor 11
1 I wish you would put up with a little foolishness from me. Yes, do put up with me. 2 For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, because I have promised you in marriage to one husband—to present a pure virgin to Christ.
Paul’s goal is to get the Corinthians to reach the end of their lives when they can be presented as a pure virgin to Christ. No idols, no other loves, no competing passions, no adultery with other things, only Jesus, that’s Paul’s goal as a minister. But due to the Judaizers, look at what happens.
2 Cor 11
3 But I fear that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your minds may be seduced from a complete and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if a person comes and preaches ANOTHER JESUS, whom we did not preach, or you receive a DIFFERENT SPIRIT, which you had not received, or a different gospel, which you had not accepted, you put up with it splendidly!
Look at who the chief deceiver is. The same serpent, the devil, who deceived Eve in the Garden is now deceiving the brothers and sisters at Corinth. What is his strategy? To add to the gospel the requirement of circumcision. The gospel + circumcision or the gospel + anything is no longer the gospel, a false gospel. It is no longer Jesus, it is another Jesus, a counterfeit Jesus, it is a gospel not inspired by the Holy Spirit, it is inspired by a different, demonic spirit.
Same thing happened at Galatia.
They began with the true gospel. With the real Jesus. And they crucified the works of the flesh and bore fruit of the Spirit. But along the way, they got deceived by this additional requirement of circumcision. Listen to Paul’s assessment. Gal 1:6-9 [READ]
If you are falling for a false gospel, then that’s the same thing as turning away from Jesus. I believe in eternal security, that once saved, you’re always saved because the Holy Spirit is given to you as a deposit and a guarantee so that we can have a certain amount of assurance. But passages like this make me wonder. Even if you began your life with Jesus and lived for Jesus for most of your whole life, what happens if you end your life and you are not walking with Jesus because you turned your back on him or fell for a false gospel, then what happens to that person? I’m not sure. It’s scary to consider the possibility of starting strong, but falling away from Christ eternally because you didn’t end well.
Let’s look at the situation at Philippi.
Phil 3:1-3 [READ]
Paul doesn’t look kindly at these Judaizers. Here, he calls them “dogs,” and workers on the side of evil. The last phrase can be applied broadly–those who place confidence in the flesh. Satan used the literal act of circumcision in the first century to distort the gospel. Getting circumcised or not getting circumcised is not a big deal today. But does it mean that there are no present day Judaizers. No, you can apply this deception for any spiritual leader who places confidence in the flesh, in their gifts, in their charisma, in their strategy. We should never place confidence in ourselves. We are confident only, solely because of Jesus. He is our confidence. Do not put confidence in man.
Let’s look at Colossae. This church is a mess. Their situation is different from the Judaizers at Corinth, Galatia and Philippi. This strain has mutated. It’s a blend of a bunch of the worst features of the Pharisaic rule keepers and Plato’s philosophy about needing to beat our flesh because the flesh was evil and this false teaching was hidden under a guise of pious sounding regulations and pseudo spirituality. The Colossian believers started with Jesus as the Head of the church. They were nourished by Him. But along the way, false teachers came in and caused the Colossians to lose their Head, lose connection to Jesus because they were focused on adhering to a set of ascetic practices more than they were loving and fellowshiping with Jesus. Following Jesus is so boring. Follow this program and you will scale the heights of spirituality and worship angels. Doesn’t that sound cool? This is what was happening at Colossae.
Satan will throw everything at you to cause you to lose your connection to Christ. And it will sound very pious. New visions. Worship of angels. Entering into higher visionary realms. It sounds great. But in the process, Satan has you right where he wants you because your focus on Christ has been lost.