Simple and Pure Devotion to Christ

July 11th, 2007

This question was sent a few days ago in the mailing list for Hope Chapel.

How would you describe “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ”? This phrase comes from 2 Cor 11:3. I’d like to know what different people think about this.

We could answer that in many ways. If we simply take the phrase by itself, there are many aspects of “devotion to Christ”, and many senses in which we could talk about its simplicity and purity. It’s like talking about what the love of family means; each of us has a different perspective, and can provide a different answer. There’s value in that kind of meditation and sharing, helping each other see new aspects of the truth.

If we take the phrase as part of the passage in which Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, it has a more particular meaning. To figure it out, we don’t think solely (or even primarily) about our own experiences–rather, we look at the way Paul used the phrase. What was the broader subject when he said it? What did he compare it to, and what did he contrast it with? And then there are questions about the translation of the words–how well do the English words (like “simplicity”, “purity”, and “devotion”) convey the meaning of the Greek? That is, can we expand the meaning of the words at all?

The Verse and the Context: False Teachers

“For I feel a divine jealousy for you, since 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 Cor. 11:2-4 (ESV)

So, basic observations: Paul is concerned for the church, that they might be influenced by some false teachings, some false gospels. A sincere and pure devotion to Christ is involved with the gospel he preached to them, and he fears that they would be led astray into something else–something in opposition to the truth of Christ.

Unfortunately, Paul didn’t explain exactly what the false ministers in Corinth were preaching. It’s like we’re hearing half of a conversation; he’s addressing situations that the Corinthian church knew about, without stating everything explicitly.

Based on Paul’s comments in chapter 3–where he’s comparing the old covenant to the new–it looks like the “false apostles” (11:13) may have been Judaizers, who he discussed in Galatians. They were men who were caught up in devotion to the old covenant–who wanted to mingle works of the law with faith (Gal. 3:2-6). They wanted to be right before God based on the quality of their own works (4:9-10), instead of relying on the sufficiency of Christ alone. They wanted to make non-Jewish followers of Christ become circumcised (2:3-5)–“You can’t follow Christ unless you are also circumcised, you need to follow the Law to know Christ, you need to be Jewish to be Christian.”

Paul was so concerned about their adding things to Christ that he said:

“Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?” Gal 3:3-4 (ESV)

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Gal. 5:1-6 (ESV)

So, Paul’s words in Galatians seem to echo his concern in 2 Cor. 11. He fears that his brothers would be seduced, deceived, drawn away. He longs to guard them from all that would pull them away from Him–from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

The Phrase

So what does the phrase mean?

From the context, I think part of what Paul had in mind was the way it can be so hard for us to really grasp the gospel. It’s like he said in 1 Cor. 1:23: “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles”. For instance, even as Christians, we can become obsessed with our guilt, thinking that God’s love depends on how well we’re doing. When we mess up–especially with “big” sins–we can fear to return to Him, knowing how far we fall short. We can think, “If I just manage to do better, this fear in my gut will go away. If I work harder, I can earn His love.” Or we may go the other way, and delight in our own sense of self-righteousness, thinking we are good enough to stand before the throne of God on our own strength, on the strength of our works of the law. Or, we can lose sight of the gospel in a hundred other ways.

But we should be resting. Resting in Him. Trusting in Him, in His sacrifice, and knowing that we are God’s children by faith in Him–a gift we cannot earn. Knowing that our guilt is washed in His blood. And as a result, we should be seeking to serve Him with our hearts and lives, knowing that He is at work within us, growing our hearts, changing our character. We should be resting in simple, pure devotion to Him.

The Words

Simplicity. I have an expanded translation of the New Testament by Kenneth Wuest, given to me by my parents for Christmas a couple years ago–he uses as many words necessary to bring across the fullness of meaning. For simplicity, he adds, “single-hearted loyalty”. The Strong’s entry for the word says:

1) singleness, simplicity, sincerity, mental honesty
1a) the virtue of one who is free from pretence and hypocrisy
2) not self seeking, openness of heart manifesting itself by generousity

I wonder if openness of heart and freedom from pretence are related to child-like faith?

Purity. Here, Wuest adds “uprightness of life”. The Strong’s entry says the same, adding “chastity”.

Devotion. Hmm…Well, apparently there isn’t an exact word for “devotion” in the verse. (Here‘s the verse, with the Greek.) Many translations use the word, though; it looks like it comes from a preposition, roughly “toward”. So it’s something like, “simplicity and purity toward Christ”. I think I can see why they render it as “devotion”.

One thing we get from this is that Christianity–the gospel–is not about a form of intellectual assent. It’s not about knowing correct doctrine–it’s devotion. It’s about devotion to a person, to Christ–simplicity and purity toward Him. It’s a sad thing if we look for doctrine to the neglect of the Person. Jesus said in John 5:39-40, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” It is not possessing or knowing the Scriptures that saves us; it is He to whom the Scriptures point who saves us.

To Christ. The gospel is unique. It is exclusive, so that Jesus said that he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). It’s not about just having faith or sincere religion of some kind; the truth matters, the object of our faith matters. It is not “faith” itself that saves us, nor vague religiosity, nor spirituality; it is God who saves us, by the work of Christ, through faith in Him.

This also tells us that truth matters; throughout 2 Cor. 11, Paul talks about “another Christ”, “different gospel”, “false apostles”, “false brothers”. There were–and are–those who claim to be Christians, but who preach false gospels that will not save.

That can be a hard thing to come to grips with. That we must be willing to stand for the gospel, sometimes even against those who claim to be Christians. That we much sometimes confront one another over doctrine. That in matters definitional to the gospel & salvation, we must use firm, perhaps hard language. It can appear, well, contentious. Argumentative. Offensive. Not ecumenical. Not nice. Not loving. (And, done in the wrong spirit, it can actually be all those things.)

But as we love God and love each other, as we long to preserve one another from being led astray from simple and pure devotion to Christ, as we seek the glory of Christ, we must sometimes confront one another and call false gospels what they are–in love, with grace, from a heart-felt desire to serve and to edify.

In A Nutshell

In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand

No guilt in life, no fear in death
This is the power of Christ in me
From life’s first cry to final breath
Jesus commands my destiny
No power of hell, no scheme of man
Can ever pluck me from His hand
‘til He returns or calls me home
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand

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