A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ (2) (2 Cor. 11:3)
I fear the corruption of my sincere and pure devotion to Christ. So should you. To think that you are immune from the deceptive tactics of the enemy is both arrogant and dangerous. Paul feared that some of the Corinthians had been duped, or were on the verge of it. That is why he speaks so energetically of his jealous concern for them and the state of their souls.
There's nothing inconsistent with standing firm in my faith in Christ and rejoicing in the assurance of my salvation, on the one hand, and taking heed to the warnings and exhortations in God's Word concerning the threat of Satanic deception, on the other. But it's not my purpose here to account for their harmony. What concerns me, in light of Paul's language, is how the enemy's assault is launched and the resources I have in Christ with which to fight back. So let's look again at 2 Corinthians 11:3 in context:
"I feel a divine jealousy for you, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough" (2 Corinthians 11:2-4).
The parallels Paul draws are instructive. Eve obviously represents the church at Corinth. The serpent is a reference to Satan and, by way of extension, his emissaries in Corinth, the intruders who by cunning and theological deceit were seeking to draw away the Corinthians and undermine Paul's authority.
Contrary to what some have suggested, there is no indication here (or anywhere else in Scripture) that Eve had sexual relations with the serpent. "For Paul, the means of the deceit was not lust, but cunning . . . and the word noemata [thoughts, ideas, a reference to the mind], not somata [the body], is the subject of phthare [to corrupt, to lead astray]" (Harris, 741).
What is of greatest importance here is Paul's emphasis on the role of the mind, both in terms of how we relate to the Lord Jesus and how Satan seeks to lead us astray.
So I'll ask the question: Does your mind matter? Is it really important what you think and how you formulate your theological convictions concerning Christ, or is that the unique responsibility of highly educated "intellectual types", the sort who struggle to get in touch with their feelings and live in fear of relational intimacy? Isn't it enough, to use Paul's language in 2 Corinthians 11:3, that we have "a sincere and pure devotion to Christ"? What do accurate ideas have to do with our loving Jesus and enjoying his goodness and grace?
There are quite a few in the body of Christ who actually argue that thinking extensively about Jesus hinders passion for him. Digging deeply into God's Word is, they say, an excuse for maintaining a relational distance from our Lord. Putting our minds to work in carefully analyzing the biblical text and formulating theological truths, together with identifying false doctrine and denouncing it are all detrimental to genuine zeal and joy and heartfelt satisfaction in the Savior. God forbid!
Of course, it is always possible to regress into a Pharisaical and wholly intellectual expression of the Christian faith in which arrogant and haughty dogmatism quenches the Spirit. But that is far removed from what Paul has in view. The apostle clearly believed that there is no hope for a vibrant and saving relationship with Jesus apart from the accuracy of our theological assertions concerning who he is and what he has accomplished on our behalf in redemptive grace.
Your thoughts should feed and nourish passion for Jesus. Your thoughts should inflame your love. Your theology is the foundation on which the edifice of affection and devotion is built. Any alleged "sincere and pure devotion" that is not the fruit of thinking about Jesus is mere infatuation, a slight, vacuous, and fleeting feeling that will soon pass. No one expressed this better than Jonathan Edwards in his classic work, Religious Affections. He wrote:
"As there is no true religion where there is nothing else but affection, so there is no true religion where there is no religious affection. As on the one hand, there must be light in the understanding, as well as an affected fervent heart; where there is heat without light, there can be nothing divine or heavenly in that heart; so on the other hand, where there is a kind of light without heat, a head stored with notions and speculations, with a cold and unaffected heart, there can be nothing divine in that light, that knowledge is no true spiritual knowledge of divine things. If the great things of religion are rightly understood, they will affect the heart. The reason why men are not affected by such infinitely great, important, glorious, and wonderful things, as they often hear and read of, in the Word of God, is undoubtedly because they are blind. If they were not so, it would be impossible, and utterly inconsistent with human nature, that their hearts should be otherwise than strongly impressed, and greatly moved by such things" (as cited in my book, Signs of the Spirit, 56).
Reading v. 3 in its entirety indicates that the sincerity and purity of their devotion to Christ is the fruit of their minds! What one thinks about Jesus, how you understand or envision him, in a word, your Christology, is key to your Christian life and love. The word noemata, translated "thoughts", refers to our thinking processes and attitudes and ideas. Paul was keenly aware that the principal danger confronting the Corinthian church was intellectual deception, not moral corruption, and he feared that false doctrine about Jesus would corrupt and undermine heartfelt love and zeal for him.
The specific content of their "thoughts" about Jesus that threatened to diminish the sincerity and purity of their devotion must be noted. From what we've already seen in 2 Corinthians, the intruders were insisting that the true "gospel" was a "more triumphant, victorious, and self-centered Christianity, but which is in reality no gospel at all" (Carson, 86). It was a following of Christ that neglected the cross, undermined his sovereign lordship, and redirected the place of authority to the individual. Suffering was not essential to true discipleship but was the lot of those who failed to measure up to the triumphant and ever-victorious achievements of the super spiritual.
We face our own threats today, as D. A. Carson has insightfully explained:
"Christians are especially open to the kind of cunning deceit that combines the language of faith and religion with the content of self-interest and flattery. We like to be told how special we are, how wise, how blessed, especially if as a consequence others are gently diminished. We like to have our Christianity shaped less by the cross than by triumphalism or rules or charismatic leaders or subjective experience. And if this shaping can be coated with assurances of orthodoxy, complete with cliché, we may not detect the presence of the archdeceiver, nor see that we are being weaned away from ‘sincere and pure devotion to Christ' to a ‘different gospel'" (86-87).
Let us not for a moment downplay the spiritual dimensions of this deception the Corinthians faced or what we, in our own way, encounter today. Paul didn't envision these intruders as "casual competition," notes Carson, but as "the machinations of the archfiend" (86), i.e., Satan.
Nowhere is spiritual warfare more readily seen than in the "thoughts" and ideas and doctrines that Christians entertain of Jesus Christ. It is here, more so than anywhere else, that Satan launches his most underhanded and deceptive attack. If he can only slightly alter your view of Christ, if he can but plant silent seeds of doubt concerning his identity and the nature of his work on the cross, his victory is assured. Sincere, single-minded, pure devotion to the wrong Christ is not only useless, it is eternally perilous.
The bottom line is that it matters what you think! Take heed to your reflections on the Son of God. Be ever alert to those who would suggest some new and heretofore unknown insight concerning his person and work. Test rigorously against the inspired standard of the biblical text any and all claims about who Jesus was, the life he lived, the death he died, and the reality of his relationship to the church in this present age. More than being "right" is at stake. Heaven and hell are in the balance.