An Example of Counterfeit Christian Spirituality

by Mike Ratliff

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 3:3 ESV)

While I was working today I received an email from my friend Ken Silva pertaining to a recent Tweet by Rick Warren in which he quoted Henri Nouwen. He had written a post about it as well. A copy of the Tweet is below. As Ken makes very clear in his post, Henri Nouwen was a Catholic mystic who practiced what is called today “contemplative spirituality” in order to reach some higher spiritual level. This “hiddenness” that Nouwen was talking about in this quote is not the same thing at all that Paul was speaking of as the Christian’s being hidden with Christ in God as we read in Colossians 3:3 (above.). No, this “hiddenness” is what the mystics try to achieve by seeking to find the “inner self” through their “contemplative spirituality.” When I was in High School and College in the 1960’s, this was called transcendental meditation. It is in no way Christian. So how is it that Rick Warren, who is not alone in this by any means, can blatantly go after Eastern mysticism and still be considered a Christian?

My friend Daniel Neades has also written a very fine post about Rick Warren’s Tweet. Here is the link.

The reason I have spent so much time on the Biblical definition of a “Spirit-filled” Christian over the last several weeks  is so that when the counterfeit is placed before us, we can easily recognize it. The mysticism that the emergence christianity (in all its forms) is pushing is a counterfeit of what God’s Word defines as being truly Spirit-filled. As we have seen, it is all based in abiding in Christ as His bondservant or slave. It is being so centered on God and not centered on self that we are ready to obey His Word even when we don’t really understand what it really means. It is not about legalism. It is not about antinomianism. It is not about wild so-called “spiritual manifestations,” no, our God is of order, not chaos. Being spirit-filled is being a living sacrifice who is continually turning from presenting his or her members to sin and, instead, yielding self to God for His use, His way, in His timing, no matter the cost.

The counterfeit takes many forms, but they all have one common denominator. They will be self-focused in some way rather than God-focused. They will be about the temporal rather than the eternal. They will be about self rather than the glory of God. If you take Rick Warren’s Tweet, which is a quote by Henri Nouwen, which says, “Hiddennes is the place of purification. In hiddenness we find our true selves” – Nouwen” okay, where in God’s Word are we commanded to put “finding our true selves” ahead of abiding in Christ, denying self, taking up our Crosses, and following Jesus? The more I learn of my true self, the more I turn in agony to my Lord in gratefulness and wonder that He would save a sinner like me. The accuser comes to me continually reminding me of my sins even from when I was a child and I agonize at times over that. But then I realize that my justification is based on the righteousness of another who is Holy and Perfect. His perfect righteousness was imputed to me when I was saved by grace through faith when I believed the Gospel and in repentance turned to Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. My unrightousness, on the other hand, was imputed to Him on the Cross. My sins, and if you are in Him so are yours, are forgiven because the price has been paid. When our Lord died on that Cross, it was as the propitiation for all the sins of all the people who would ever believe the Gospel and be saved, no exceptions. So, when we find our true selves, what do we see? We see people in desperate need of a Saviour and if we are in Christ then we see ourselves as in desperate need of being filled with the Spirit as we Abide in Him so we can serve Him as commanded. So, when we encounter the counterfeit christian spirituality of men like Rick Warren we can easily see that his religion is Christless and all about self and maintained by works righteousness.

What about this “hiddenness” stuff. Are we hidden in Christ? Yes, but that is not what Rick Warren was talking about because that is not what Nouwen was talking about. Nouwen, as I was saying earlier was talking about the focus of transcendental meditation or what is called ‘contemplative spirituality’ or ‘contemplative prayer’ now. It is an attempt to focus inward to the point that you supposedly find your “true self.” That is the “hiddenness” that they are referring to. This is the mysticism that the Catholic Mystics are pushing and the wolves in sheep’s clothing like Rick Warren are now pushing as well.

Here is Colossians 3:3 in the context:

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:1-10 ESV)

Colossians 3:3 is in bold. Doesn’t it take on a deeper meaning when placed in context? Are we to look inward to find our true self or are we to seek the things above, where Christ is? The answer is obvious. Christians are to die to this world and to self and abide in Christ. The phrase “your life is hidden with Christ in God” has a threefold meaning. The first is that believers have a common spiritual life with the Father and Son (1 Corinthians 6:17;2 Peter 1:4). The second is that the world cannot know understand the full import of the believer’s new life (1 Corinthians 2:14; 1 John 3:2). The third is that believers are eternally secure, protected from all spiritual enemies, and with access to all God’s blessings (John 10:28; Romans 8:31-39; Hebrews 7:25; 1 Peter 1:4).

Jesus said that without Him we can do nothing, so we must abide in Him and He will give us His Spirit so that we can obey His commandments. Our true identity is that we are nothing and bound for Hell outside of that relationship and because of what He has done so that we are in that relationship with Him. Therefore, when I see professing Christians going after all this false spirituality I know that what we are seeing in many cases are false professing Christians who are desperately seeking to have something more than what being simply religious offers. Our true identity in Christ is found in our abiding in Him and being Spirit-filled as living sacrifices, not in going after contemplative spirituality as Rick Warren and his friends are teaching.

Soli Deo Gloria!

20 thoughts on “An Example of Counterfeit Christian Spirituality

  1. What happened Scriptures like “no man ever hated his own flesh”….”I die daily”…….”He must increase and I must DECREASE”??

    Are these not applicable?
    Or relevant?
    Or true?
    Do they just disregard them?
    Skip over them?
    Use them out of context?

    It is another sign of the time!

    Lift up your heads, ye righteous…..redemption draweth nigh!


  2. Hi Mike,

    What a bizarre quote. I cannot even begin to know what it means. Like you said, who would even want to find “our true self?” I guess only those who think that would be a great thing to discover and when you “hide” yourself long enough you’ll find some sort of purification??!! I have a hard enough time dealing with what I see on the shallow surface and praying for the grace of God to help me with that. Nope, I don’t need to find any more of my hidden selfish self. I need more of Him and more resting in His perfect righteousness given to me through faith. The just shall live by faith.

    God bless, Mike!


  3. In the book “The Purpose Driven Life” by Dr. Rick Warren he talks again about this “true self” idea. Page 19: quote “the Bible says, “self help is no help at all. Self sacrifice is the way, my way, to finding yourself, your true self.” This is his quote from “The Message” from Matthew 16:25. But this is not truly Matthew 16:25. It is very different. When you look at the Greek or any faithful translation it is alarming to see how Jesus was actually saying the opposite to His disciples. It is the antithesis of trying to find “the true self”. Matt 16:24-25 from the New King James (for example) says: “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

    Jesus is telling us that we need to deny the “true self”, because it is naturally sinful. Rather than placing hope in the “true self” through self sacrifice or any other carnal means, we should deny the self. The “self” needs to die. Paul left behind the prideful hope he once had in himself, and placed His trust completely in Christ. He taught us to place “no confidence in the flesh” Phil 3:3.

    My hope is Christ, not in any “true self”. Phil 2:13 “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure”.


  4. I asked my 12 year old daughter what she thinks of the Warren quote. She said, “our true selves aren’t exactly good.” Wow, a 12 year old can see that finding our true selves would not be a place we really want to be in. If we feel good after finding “our true selves” it is likely again, that we are finding a counterfeit. Why not? If we will lie about who God is, we will lie about our true selves too. Sadly, it will be a very hidden place far from God where many will realize the horror of their true selves for eternity. Very scary thought.


  5. Excellently put Mike. It just goes to show that it doesn’t matter how much time you spend trying yourself to find answers, there are many things that you will be blind to until the holy spirit reveals it.
    Recently I have really been thinking about how utterly blind and utterly mad we all are. Really, we have no idea of how the universe and life really works. The only thing we mercifully know, is that Jesus is the way the truth and the life, God is faithful and true and that he has saved us from our sins and has given us his word to test what we experience.He is santity and truth, the world is madness and sin. Yes indeed ”He must increase, I must decrease”. No wonder as new creations we long to escape the assylum.These poor men are running in circles chasing their own tails. Which is quite frankly what my’ inner self ‘goes back to every time I take my eyes off our merciful Saviour.

    Glory be to Him alone.



  6. @Berean, you are right.
    People don’t want to ‘decrease’. They’ve changed it into ‘I must increase’. And when ‘I increase’, Christ is decreased in our life.

    @Mike, thanks for your articles.


  7. Mike, have you read Bobby Capp’s attempt to defend Warren over at Daniel Neades’ blog? Would you like to respond to him over there?


  8. Why are you judging others and not worrying about yourself. The Spirit must be discerned with the Spirits as Paul says. Don’t judge others discern your life with the Spirit. judging demonstrates that one is not in touch with the Spirit.


  9. Well Soma, how do you know that I’m not “worrying about myself? I do believe you have taken what Paul said totally out of context. We are told to reveal to the Body of Christ those who are wolves in Sheep’s clothing and are teaching what is not true, which is exactly what Rick Warren does. If you want to “contend” here then I suggest you read the rules for commenting here. I allowed your comment in this case so I could address this. Get your Bible out check out what I have taught with Scripture. That is the standard. If you will do that then you will also see that Rick Warren hardly ever teaches according to it.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  10. The Scripture is full of admonitions for us to judge.
    How can we know what the Truth is, or WHO has the truth if we do not judge ?
    People get hung up on this, the Scripture is clear that we are NOT to judge hypocritically. Using the same measuring stick on ourselves!
    There is a difference between judging someone’s life/belief against the Scripture and making a “judgment” about their eternal destiny!
    My pastor used to say, it is just as “JUDGMENTAL” to put someone in Heaven when they die as it is to put them in Hell if we are unsure!


  11. I had a panic with this,thinking that I might be judging incorrectly, so I went off to have a look what the word says;I was lead to this :

    ”Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.”

    Eph 5: 11

    Quite clear I think.
    Just thought that might be helpful.


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