Last week we began the process of thinking through our beliefs about God and the world around us. I tried, though inadequately I am sure, to press into what we are syncing our lives up to and therefore growing dependent upon. For instances, if one holds tightly the belief that Jesus is simply a spiritual master who achieved the highest level of enlightenment, they then often conclude that we only need to follow in his footsteps to gain a deeper awareness, a “Christ Consciousness.” In essence, to tap into our inner beings and achieve a divine level of enlightenment. This thinking does not account for sin, nor faith in Jesus’ finished work on the cross as our means of knowing God, as our means of right thinking, right philosophy, right believing.
Or what if someone holds the pervasive thought tightly in American culture, that I am only accountable to me and no one else. There is little room in that thinking for God’s standards, and you will never surrender to his word. You certainly will not see a need for the local gathering, because that is just a bunch of people meddling in your life.
Brothers and Sisters, what you think, or do (as we will see clearly this morning), matters. Ideas, thinking, has consequences.
This morning, our aim is to unpack more of the heresy in Colossae, with an eye towards what they were doing, that was driven by bad thinking. They had synced their lives up to various beliefs, and it was having a devastating impact on their lives. In looking at those things, I am praying that we can unearth deviations in our thinking that is driving bad practice.
Lets read the next section to see more…Col. 2:16-23
In the preceding verses from last week, Paul gives them Christ, Christ, and more Christ. He now turns the philosophy to specific statements and gives some insight into the practice that was driven by bad theology. He combats the bad theology with reminding them of their right to reject the pressures they are feeling; to hold firm to the teachings of Christ, to depend on his finished work. In essences, he reminds them of the freedom they have in Christ. The first imperative…
Let no one pass judgment…The judgement was happening by the placing of unnecessary restrictions upon them with things that do not and will never compare to Christ. So questions of judgment were being asked about these restrictions…you know those types of questions, the passive aggressive questions that are full of judgement. Like, “You believe what?” or “Um, what are you doing?” or this is a good one, “You sure you want to wear that?” Judgement being cast through questions, we know that game…so…What were those restrictions the Colossians where being questioned on: they seem to be OT regulations.
Though some scholars believe that maybe these regulations that are being imposed upon the Colossians could have more to do with pagan practices of appeasing the elemental spirits. A real possibility, considering that Paul makes a point to say that Christ has overcome the “elemental spirits” and that all the food laws very rarely mention drink. But that is really the main point here in chapter 2, that the church there was guilty of syncretism, the amalgamation of different religious and schools of thought. This is why scholars have had a hard time over the years pinpointing the specifics of the Colossians Heresy. It at times smells like Judaism (new moons, festivals, Sabbath observance) then at the next turn sounds like various pagan religions of that day (sensual mind, going on an on, details about visions).
They were off track for sure and so much so, that the false teachers, the philosophy according to human tradition, are now hurling insults at them, bringing down judgment upon them because there were not practicing regulations of…
Food and Drink - Lev 10:9, Drink no wine or strong drink, you or your sons with you, when you go into the tent of meeting, lest you die. It shall be a statute forever throughout your generations.
Lev. 11:2, Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth.
Festivals-Lev 23:2, Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, These are the appointed feasts of the Lord that you shall proclaim as holy convocations; they are my appointed feasts.
New moon (Num 28:11)
Sabbath (Jewish Related)
Ultimately, as verse 17 states, these things were shadows of what was to come in Christ. They were to make one aware of their need for God to make them holy, God has set the standard on how to approach him and be made well, they, regulations, were shadows to ultimately point to Christ…Christ has come, he is real not a shadow. These regulations of old are unnecessary. God has come in bodily form. Christ is not fictional, he is not a mere intellectual ascent, he walked, breathed, lived, died, and rose from the grave to live again! Why run to shadows when you can have the real thing!!! Why play around with mud pies when a real pie can be enjoyed! Shadows are meant to say something else exist, something else is making it. The shadow only declares the reality of what is real.
These observances pointed to the future reality of Christ, and certainly our need for something to take care of our sinfulness. But here, they had taken on a meaning they were never intended to have. This deviation was and will destroy the Christian community. The shadow is not true north, the act of obedience is not true north, but rather a way to trust Christ.
The second imperative—Let no one disqualify you…Let no one take away what Christ has sufficiently done on the cross. Paul refutes this disqualifying by reminding them that Christ is our Head—not your ability to control your desires, called here asceticism—the humble display of control to pridefully show your humility, tricking indeed.
Though humility is good, in the hands of pride, it becomes a means of arrogance. Arrogance covered in humility is nothing more than excrement covered in chocolate. At first, it is sweet, but soon it reeks.
Christ is our head, not angels or grand visions—not the ability to transcend earthly knowledge and receive enlightenment beyond the average Joe. It would seem the church, perhaps a predominant leader has been practicing pagan worship and received grand visions and is now calling the church forth to do that same.
Oh, we must have good gospel instinct to sniff out the wayward moves away from Christ…
No Christ is our authority, the one who has the right to declare us righteous and therefore our nourishment is from him not how well we perform. We grow because he nourishes. That’s what verse 19 says, “…and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.”
Then Paul moves from two imperatives to a realty that we have in Christ; which is we have died to those elemental spirits that are stealing away focus from Christ with human philosophy…so the appropriate question now is, “WHY do you still act and live as if you have not!?” “WHY do you submit to lesser authorities with their silly and unworthy regulations!?” You have DIED!!
In a mocking fashion, Paul gives us some tenants this deviation had, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch (referring to things that will perish as they are used!!!)…”, These human precepts and teaching, will not last. They have an appearance of wisdom but does not stop the indulgence of the flesh…does not have the ability to kill the flesh and right the heart. Only the God-man from Col 1:15-20 can accomplish such a feat!!!
What penetrating thoughts, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.” On the surface, a brilliant show of maturity, but fail in actually doing anything. Flashy but does not work. Appealing but of no real value. They can’t get the job done.
Brothers and Sisters, I must ask, Is what you are doing or thinking, in regards to Christian practice, placing your trust and dependence on Christ?
In an effort to explore that question I have a few thoughts…
Today’s heresy / Practices (where we forget Christ and do not allow him to reign supreme)
Works / Performance
As much as we try to guard against earning God’s favor, it continually finds its way back to our thinking. It is difficult to understand sinful man redeemed and the culture we live in has a hard time with grace. He, Christ, the God-man’s shed blood, is what reconciles us and is a better work than anything you can do or will ever do!!! Rest in his work and then live in freedom to do your work!!! It is tricky to call for holiness and then not pat ourselves on the back when we achieve it, thinking we have earned something. We have freedom, as Paul unloads here, freedom to do things not to earn God’s salvation, not to obligate God.
Like the Colossians, when we take our eyes away from Christ as the head of the Church, the great authority who’s work is sufficient, then we will inevitably appeal and depend on some type of works-based philosophy. God’s salvation in Christ does not work that way. He saved, we work to grow more dependent upon his finished work. Even down to symbolic gestures, all are shadows to put our gaze upon the one who creates the shadow; Christ.
Free Grace as a cautionary tale
“Free Grace” movement (especially as promoted by the late Zane Hodges) claims that we should not include a call to repentance from sin in our gospel presentations, and we should not tell people that genuine faith will always produce good works in a person’s life, because these things add “works” to the gospel. —Grudem
Now, I do hope that we have good gospel instincts so when we hear things such as “the gospel presentation should not include repentance,” nor be concerned with life change, we would step back and examine that for a moment. We know that Paul is emphasizing faith in Christ alone as the only means we are saved but we also understand that great reformation teaching that says, “We are justified by faith alone but the faith that justifies is never alone.”
You see it is in the details, tiny nuances, that with either drive us towards magnetic north or true north. The danger of this small change in gospel presentation that says, “Just believe no need to have a heartfelt sorrow for sin, no need to repent, just make the mental assent, that is all you need to be saved,” will condemn men and women to hell. It will give false assurance of salvation just as much as, “Don’t eat, don’t handle, follow the rules!” What we think and in turn do, matters!
If the mission of the church is understood to not emphasize the proclamation of the Gospel, it is not in step with scripture and Jesus himself. Mission cannot be solely about restoration, but rather the gospel in order to bring about restoration. We are called to bear witness to the Kingdom, it is God’s to build
The proponents of this thinking often fear that, unless evangelism is removed from the position of primacy within Christian mission, everything else will be removed altogether. My fear is that unless evangelism is recognized as uniquely central to Christian mission, we may end up making the lives of people in this world more comfortable while they continue down a road that leads to hell.
Ultimately…Is what you are doing, or thinking, placing your trust and dependence on Christ?
Salvation is through Christ alone, our worthy mediator. So our reconciliation through the shed blood of Christ should color our view of ourselves and the world around us.
Psalm 20:7-8, Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.