8 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.
When a citizen of one country travels to another, they are immersed in their host country’s culture and legal system. The laws may be the same universal laws as in every nation (e.g. do not murder, etc..), but the ideals and philosophies that surround the people may differ widely from nation to nation. As Christians, we live in a world that is not our home. We are resident aliens on this earth, operating by a moral system and ideology that is altogether separate from this world. Yet, before our allegiance shifted to the Kingdom of Jesus, we were at home in this world. The self-righteousness that is so evident on this earth was rooted deep within our core being. Indeed, every person born to man is slave to sin. Slave to that selfish motivation that claims the divine right of determining good and evil. Slave. Christians, however, are no longer slaves. We have been set free in Jesus Christ (C.f. Romans 6, Galatians 4, and John 8).
As our allegiance now resides with Jesus, we must be vigilant to ensure that we are not deceived or taken in by falsehood. Paul mentions three areas of life in which Christians must maintain an awareness: worldly wisdom, religion, and mysticism.
In modern society, education is sometimes elevated to an unhealthy prestige. A man who holds a doctoral degree in any subject is often called upon as an intelligent and knowledgeable source on various subjects, even if they do not pertain to his scholarly studies. Further, in many modern educational institutions, it is common to blindly accept the testimony and presupposition of professors simply because they maintain the rank of professor. In our modern climate, it is more necessary for Christians to learn discernment in the area of education than ever before. The adversary will strive to convince Christians that they are somehow not intellectually rigorous or honest. Yet, Christians are those who pursue Christ with a fierceness that is unparalleled. We seek the wisdom of God, not merely the observable realities so apparent to everyone, but that supernatural wisdom that contains all the mysteries of existence. A true believer does not avoid knowledge but pursues true knowledge with the aid of the inexhaustible fount of all wisdom. Oh Christian, do not allow the adversary to take you captive by empty deceit.
Where the adversary cannot succeed in the theft of the mind, he will attempt to confine you to ritual and practice. Much of the modern church in the west has fallen prey to the second category. We have forsaken the worship of God in favor of practices and rituals that appease our own sensibilities. We choose churches that meet our criterion of comfort and self-soothing. We rely on our practices to prove our own holiness rather than on a personal relationship with Christ. We insist we are right because we have always been this way and that is the way it is done. Christian, question these things. Just because you were taught them does not make them right. Likewise, just because you were taught them does not make them wrong either. Question the traditions you have been handed to ensure that you are obeying Christ.
The final category of awareness that Christians must cultivate is one of mysticism. It may seem foreign to our enlightened sensibilities, but mysticism still reigns in our culture. The mysticism of our modern culture is much more insidious than the open paganism so prevalent in the first century. The mysticism that many indulge in today is one of karmic understanding. That is, the idea that if we will take the right steps we can manipulate our circumstances, do enough good and our bad will be compensated for. Much like the mystics of old, this karmic understanding of God leads mankind into a type of bondage to their own sinful disposition. When a person believes they can manipulate their circumstances by behaving a certain way, they will inevitably run afoul of reality. Eventually, as the prophets of Baal discovered in 1 Kings 18, no amount of piety, self-mutilation, or license will bring about the desired result. This is simply because embracing mysticism as a rule for life is embracing a lie. Examine yourself. Question whether or not you really believe. Strive to ensure that you are embracing the truth of who Jesus is as your Lord and Master. Be diligent in self-examination, so that you can be certain that you are not falling prey to modern mysticism of the karmic understanding of faith.
Christians are captive to Christ. Rather than being held captive by these three categories of falsehood, a true believer has surrender completely to Christ. “See to it that no one takes you captive by…” Paul admonishes us to remain alert for falsehood and then provides an assumed opposition to the falsehood. Rather than simply avoiding being held captive by the false narratives of other philosophies, Paul assumes that we will be held captive to Christ. Indeed, to be captive to Christ is the very essence of Christianity. Nowhere else in Scripture is this more illuminated than in Romans 6, in which Paul discusses the former nature of slavery to sin as contrasted with the changed nature of slavery to righteousness. Believers are freed through their enslavement to Christ. Unlike the master of the Law of sin and death, Christ is the Master who leads His people into freedom and not bondage. He carries no whip and needs not force to coerce those whom He loves. Rather than punish, He raises up His own and imputes His righteousness upon them. Then, as a loving father would, He walks alongside His people teaching them how to live. This is the Lord to whom Christians are captive… willingly captive.