No Legalism!

Grace For The Journey

9July  When the Bible says that Christians are “complete in Christ” (Colossians 2:10), God is stressing a fact that makes Christianity unique when placed alongside other religions.

Every other major religion is about

A person’s strict adherence to regulations:

Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, these are all religious systems

Based largely upon a person’s keeping rules and regulations

And so earning some kind of favorable standing before God.

Have you ever wondered how false religious systems come into being?  Religious systems exist because man is prone to worship something or someone.  Created in God’s image, man cannot help but worship something or someone.  It is our nature to do so.  In a famous quote often attributed to G. K. Chesterton:

“When men choose NOT to believe in God,

They do not thereafter believe in NOTHING.

They then become capable of believing in ANYTHING.”

What we need is someone to get us to believing in and worshiping the right thing!  This is precisely what the Gospel does.  The Gospel frees us from what once enslaved us so that we find liberty and completion in Christ alone and we worship Him.

Christianity is not about regulations.

Christianity is about Jesus.

Christianity is about our finding true identity, true acceptance, true meaning, and true purpose in Jesus Christ.  We have everything in Him and we find completion in Him.

Paul expands upon the Christian’s freedom in Colossians 2:16-23, a passage that calls for two main responses. In today’s post we will address the first:

1) Enjoy Your New Liberty in Christ!

If you are a Christian, you are free in Christ!  You have a liberty that frees you up from being enslaved to rules and regulations.  Verse 16 says, “So (or “therefore,” in light of the preceding truth about Christian freedom) let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths.”  Remember when reading Colossians that Paul is addressing false teachers in and around the city of Colossae.  They were teaching a strange doctrine that mixed Greek philosophy with Old Testament Judaism.

Verse 16 suggests that these false teachers were promising the Colossian Christians a new kind of religious experience.  According the false teachers, the Colossians needed only to follow certain rules and regulations and they could have a deeper knowledge of God.  In essence these teachers were saying: “If you really want to have a heightened sense of spirituality, follow these rules.  Just look in the Old Testament at all these regulations and religious observations. There is stuff there about certain foods to eat and certain festivals and special sabbath days, and so on.  Keep all this stuff and you will have real life.”

Paul responds that all of those legalistic requirements and rituals were simply a shadow of the real thing, indeed most important thing.  He is led to write in verse 17, “Which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.”

We must remember that

The Old Testament points to Christ!

Christ is the fulfillment

Of the Old Testament teachings.

Christ lived a perfect life and fulfilled all the requirements of the Old Testament so that Paul can say that Christians are likewise those who have fulfilled the requirements. Christ’s life and death is applied to the Christian by virtue of his or her union with Christ, connection to Christ.

What Christ has done

Is applied to the Christian.

So, when you read in the Old Testament about all those dietary laws and special days of religious observance, you are reading about things that point to Jesus.

Those holy days

And holy requirements

Point to the Holy One!

Don’t miss what Paul is saying in verse 17 . . .

The Old Testament rules and regulations

Are a shadow of things to come,

But the substance is of Christ.

A shadow is not the real thing.  A shadow is simply a pointer to the real thing.  Right?  If on a sunny day I see the shadow of a man, I am not looking at the real thing, but merely a pointer, or a symbol of the thing itself.  So the Old Testament rules and regulations are shadowy pointers  to the Lord and Savior.  What they “foreshadowed” has been “fulfilled” in Christ.

What they foreshadowed has been fulfilled in Christ.

So . . . If you have the real thing, you don’t need the shadow.  If you have the holy One, you are free from the regulations.

In Christ you have everything,

Complete salvation,

Complete forgiveness,

Complete acceptance.

This is why we don’t observe the Old Testament ceremonial law or Old Testament regulations about certain feast days.  Of course, Christians continue to observe the moral law, laws like the 10 Commandments for example.

These laws are followed

Out of gratitude to God

For His goodness.

They are not followed

As a means of earning

Salvation with God.

That is impossible!

But while Christians follow the moral law as a “Thank You Note” to God for His grace, Christians are not bound by the ceremonial law.  Those Old Testament rules and regulations were given to God’s people largely to help them understand the nature of holiness and what it means to be “set apart” from the world.  So, Paul reasons in verse 18, “Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind.”  Paul argues, “Don’t let anyone rob you of your liberty in Christ! Guard your freedom!”  The false teachers “took delight in false humility,” or self-denial such as the embrace of asceticism, a legalistic denial of things for the body.  They did this in a misguided effort to gain some sense of holiness.  They rescued the body from the enjoyments of certain foods and drink believing this somehow put them in greater favor with God.

These false teachers also suggested that one’s worship of angels led to a higher spiritual awareness.  Paul argues that these false teachers were those who “intruded into things they had not seen,” going on about alleged visions they said they had had, “vainly puffed up” in their “fleshly” or unspiritual mind.

Verse 19 states, “And not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.”  Paul is teaching that the Christian is to be connected to Christ: “holding fast to the Head,” which is Christ.

It is from Christ that the Christian

Receives all he or she needs.

The Christian is spiritually nourished not by the worship of angels or by keeping rules and so on, but the Christian is spiritually nourished by Jesus Christ!

Christians must “hold fast to the Head” – to Christ – “from whom all the body” grows.  We grow when we are connected to Christ and nourished by Him.

If you want to grow spiritually and enjoy the deeper things of God, you will find all of that is found in Jesus Christ.  Be sure to stay connected to the Head of the body, to Christ Himself!  Abide in Him.  Read of Him in the Word.  Pray to Him.  Participate in worship of Him.

Remember Christian . . .

In Christ,

God accepts

You completely.

The Gospel alone is what makes us acceptable to God, acceptable in God’s sight.  If we are Christians it is so liberating to know that we can do nothing to become unacceptable to Him!

This is not to say that Christians cannot break God’s heart when they sin, but it is to say that God always sees us in Christ; our completion is found in His complete atoning work on the cross, a work that God applies to us.  God always sees the righteousness of Christ applied to those who are Christians, those who are “in Him.”  Christians can do nothing to lose this acceptance with God.

Here is the important corollary that protects Christians from legalism:

Just as Christians can do nothing

To lose this acceptance,

So Christians can do nothing

To make themselves more acceptable.

Our acceptance is found solely in Christ

And we are COMPLETE in Him!

Always remember: “I am accepted by God not on the basis of my personal performance, but on the basis of the infinitely prefect righteousness of Christ.”  Christians have not embraced a shadow; they have embraced the real thing.  They enjoy the reality of being “in Him,” in Christ.  Therefore, they can truly say . . .

“When I sin,

God does not

Love me any less

Because His love

Is a perfect love

That pours through

His Son Jesus Christ.”

But remember the corollary . . . !

When I sin

God won’t love

Me any less

– And –

When I don’t sin,

Or when I do well,

God won’t love

Me any more.

Don’t allow legalism to creep into your faith and “rob you of your reward” (Colossians 2:18).  Our performance does not increase God’s acceptance of us.  God’s love is perfectly constant because it is a love bound up in His Son Jesus Christ, the One with whom we are connected through faith.

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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