Grace For The Journey
Today’s blog concludes our study of the last passage in Colossians 2, a section describing the Christian’s freedom in Christ. How appropriate these studies are in light of our celebrating freedom this past weekend! I have noted in yesterday’s post Paul’s stress on the Christian’s freedom from rules and regulations. As we studied that passage we saw that Paul is saying, in essence, “Enjoy Your New Liberty In Christ.” Today we will take up second action that we are to take:
Embrace Your New Life in Christ.
In a prior study, we learned that Christ has “cut away the old us,” our former lives before faith in Christ (Colossians 2:11). Paul uses a physical rite of circumcision metaphorically, teaching that Christians have been “spiritually circumcised.” God has cut away the old “body of flesh” that was enslaved to sin.
The Christian’s death to the old self is pictured in baptism: “buried with Him in baptism” (Colossians 2:12). Christians have died to the old (symbolized in the Christian’s immersion into water). But Christian’s have also been raised to walk in a new way of life (pictured in the Christian’s rising up from the water).
Paul comes back to that imagery of dying to the “old us” in verses 20-21, where he says, “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations – ‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle.’” Paul’s point is that . . .
Believers have gained
Approval from God
Acceptance with God
Through faith in Jesus Christ.
God regards Christians as complete in Him – Jesus Christ, the only One who successfully kept all the rules and regulations and fulfilled the Old Testament law in every respect. The sense is this: “If as a believer you have found acceptance in Christ and not in shadowy and empty rules and regulations, why then are you now going back to all those rules and regulations in an effort to gain approval from God?” The false teachers were peddling some kind of ascetic denial of things to the body. Paul references some sort of taboos in verse 21: “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle.”
We don’t know all there is to know about this false teaching, but it seems clear that it is a teaching suggesting one could find approval from God and acceptance with God by adhering to legalistic requirements. These are requirements, Paul says in verse 22, “Which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men.”
These rules of “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle” concern things that “perish with the using.” In other words, they are things that go away once they are used – things like food which is gone once it is eaten.
Paul’s point is that there is nothing inherently wrong with eating certain kinds of foods. It is not as though foods are everlasting, holding some strange mystic power. They are eaten and are gone. As Jesus taught in Mark 7:18-19, “Whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated.” In saying this, “Jesus purified all foods” (Mark 7:19).
Similarly, Paul declares in 1 Corinthians 6:13, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food; but God will do away with food and stomach alike.” The rules and regulations brought by the false teachers were of “the commandments and doctrines of men.” That is, they did not originate with God, but with man; man-made teachings added to the New Testament doctrine of the gospel.
These old legalistic teachings belonged to a temporal kingdom whereas Christians belong to an eternal kingdom. Verses 23 declares, “These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” Legalistic rules and requirements – rules added to the gospel – “have an appearance of wisdom.” They sound wise: “Don’t do this, do that,” and so on. Those who strictly follow the rules have “an appearance of wisdom.”
Strict rule-keeping makes one
Appear to be religious and humble.
Perhaps of you were raised in a religious setting that taught rule-keeping as a means by which to earn favor with God. You were impressed with a number of “Dos” and Don’ts.”
Moral commands are helpful to us,
Moral commands are not the gospel.
Strict adherence to legalistic requirements as a means to holiness is not the gospel. Strict rule-keeping is not part of the new life in Christ. The slavish keeping of rules and regulations is nothing more than a showy demonstration of human pride.
Paul warns that rules themselves “are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” The only way to conquer our evil desires is to abide in Christ. We must abide in Him, regularly “preaching the gospel to ourselves,” remembering that in Christ alone we find completion – complete forgiveness, complete acceptance, and complete power to walk in a new way of life.
We must remind ourselves regularly that we have died to the old way of life and that the power of Christ now lives within us. We must remember that it is through Christ’s living in us that we can live a life pleasing to God.
And don’t forget: When you err and sin, God still loves you just the same! God always sees the righteousness of Christ applied to believers. The power of Christ remains in Christians to equip them to live the way they genuinely wish to live.
Christians are free from sin’s enslavement. We can actually choose not to sin by allowing the power and presence of Christ to have His way. Rules and regulations “are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” Rules and regulations provide no help in conquering our evil desires, but the gospel does. And only the Gospel does.
Only the Gospel
Liberty and life
So, in our enjoying new liberty in Christ and in our joyful embrace of new life in Christ, we must guard against any crippling notion of legalism and moralism.
Simply being “raised right” does not mean one is saved. Moralism does not put a person in right standing with God – nor any greater standing with God. Hell will be highly populated with those who were “raised right.”
Simply being “raised right” does not mean one is saved. Moralism does not put a person in right standing with God – nor any greater standing with God.
Moralism is a slap in the face of the Gospel itself.
In some sense moralism is more dangerous to Christianity than some of the big “red letter sins” believers often rail against.
What is moralism?
- Moralism is the keeping of principles in order to achieve a status as those who are considered “good people,” good people who (as it is wrongly believed) surely must be accepted by God when He sees their improving behavior.
- Moralists are those who “do all the right stuff” or are “raised right” or raise their kids “right” and do everything else “right.”
- Moralism says: “I am not perfect, but I am good. I am a good, respectable citizen. I am a good neighbor and God helps those who help themselves.”
- Moralism is nothing more than a prideful embrace of self-sufficiency rather than our finding sufficiency in Christ alone.
John Piper, in addressing the dangers of alcohol, for example, explains why legalistic moralism is actually a greater danger to the church. He explains how Satan works to deceive Christians into thinking that alcoholism is worse. Here’s what he writes: “Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn’t look like one (legalism doesn’t look like a disease). Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world. Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one. Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength. Alcoholics don’t feel welcome in church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in church.” We may even add that legalistic moralism is a more dangerous disease than drug addiction, sexual infidelity, homosexuality, or criminal activity. We must not allow legalistic moralism to gain a foothold in the church! We must find our sufficiency in Christ alone. We are complete in Him (Colossians 2:10). That is the only way we will . . . Enjoy your new Liberty in Christ! And . . . Embrace your new Life in Christ!
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
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.”