The Book of Colossians #11

 

Living By A Do And Don’t List
Colossians 2:20-23
 
The book of Colossians sets forth the absolute sufficiency of Christ and now by way of contrast, it shows us the deficiency of cults. In Chapters 3-4, we will look at the efficiency of Christianity, how it applies to every area of our lives.
 
Colossians 2:20-23
 
From time to time, we hear about some group who are led astray by a cult leader to commit suicide. 
 
Most recently, thirty-eight people were willing to follow their leader in suicide. The Heaven's Gate Cult had been followers of Marshall Applewhite for a period of time and we raise the question how is it that a man can get people to do something as drastic as this?
 
When you study the cult and find how they operated, you find that they operated in classic cultic fashion. They had a series of rules and regulations they went by. He orchestrated every area of their life. Every portion of the day was under absolute control of this leader. They wore certain cloths, ate certain foods and refrained from doing certain things. Everything was according to rule and regulation. 
 
They believed that if they could go by enough rules and obey enough guidelines, that somehow this would qualify them for a higher level of spiritual existence. It brought them to the point of suicide.
 
 
Several years ago on an even larger scale, there was a man named Jim Jones who got several hundred people to follow him in suicide in Guyana. How is it that several hundred people will follow a man all the way to suicide? 
 
Well, when you study the cult you will find that it had all the classic elements of a cult and especially this matter of going by rules and regulations. They all had their lives very carefully regimented by Jim Jones. He made every decision for them. He told them what they could and could not do that they were willing to follow him all the way to suicide.
 
Tonight I want to look at the third of four expressions of false religion. We’ve looked already at intellectualism – thinking our way to God. Then we looked at mysticism – going deeper into extra-biblical encounters and the spirit world. Tonight we’ll look at legalism – attempting to achieve a special level of spiritual life by observing a series of do's and don'ts
 
Unfortunately, legalism is not limited to the cults. It is also characteristic of many people and churches of the Christian faith. The idea that somehow Jesus Christ, the indwelling presence of Christ by the Holy Spirit, is not enough to help you live the way you should but you have to have a series of rules, regulations and guidelines to help you be what you should be. Legalism turns the Christian life into a misery instead into a glorious, wonderful blessing. 
 
It is the approach that Christian character and Christian holiness is defined on the basis of what you do and what you do not do. 
 
I do not mean by legalism that a church should not have standards for its leadership and membership. 
 
Occasionally people say when you have some guidelines and standards that you are legalistic. I’ve probably been accused of that. But in the New Testament you will find that there are given very exacting standards for leadership. 
 
There are standards for pastors, deacons and teachers. It does not mean that a church should have standards for its leaders. Nor on the other hand does it mean that there are not some things that are very clear cut in the Scripture which are forbidden by the word of God. 
 
There are some very clear statements in scripture about a number of things about which there can be no doubt. For instance, it is wrong to lie, steal, gossip, use alcoholic beverages and commit sexual immorality. 
 
These are matters that are clear cut in the scriptures. So just to be clear, legalism does not address itself to those clear-cut Scriptural standards of right and wrong. 
 
Legalism is completely different. Legalism is something that has plagued the Christian church since its very inception. We pick it up all through the ages of church history. 
During the middle-ages, there were certain monks who turned the Christian faith into a system of legalism. They would sleep on hard beds or sometimes no beds at all. They would whip themselves, go for long periods of time without saying a word or eating anything. 
In fact, it got to the point that they began to believe that you were worldly if you bathed or took care of your body. They thought that if you did anything for your body, it was legalism. Because of that, they acquired a little colony of lice. As they walked around and if some lice fell off of them, it was considered a sign of special holiness. 
 
My mother was on the opposite end of that: she believed you were a pagan if you didn’t take a bath!
 
Today we have the same kind of thing. There are some people that have a little list of rules and some things that you're not suppose to do. If you do those things, it makes you a worldly Christian and you're not as spiritual as you should be. Of course you move from Christian group to Christian group as you will find that they have different sets of rules.
 
For some, it is smoking or dancing or women wearing pants or makeup. Now I have always had a hard time with that one. I have always believed that a little paint helps even an old barn door. I feel like the ladies should be as gentle on us as they possibly can. 
 
I am talking about legalism. I am talking about turning the Christian life into a misery instead of a joyful, exciting Christian experience God intends for it to be.
 
That's what Paul is addressing here in verses 21-23. He puts in contrast to one another legalism which is a way based on outward regulation and Christianity which is life on the basis on inward transformation.
       
 
I want to look at the two and talk about legalism the way of outward regulation. 
 
1. OUTWARD REGULATION.
 
Outward regulation is imposing rules and regulations on your life. That is what is referred to in verse 20, "the rudiments of the world," that is the elements of the world, the ABC's of the world, the lists of rules of the world. 
 
Notice verse 20 again. 
 
That is why are you now confining yourself to a set of rules. What he is saying there is that Jesus Christ has delivered you from the bondage of this world. This world has its rules, regulations, and guidelines by which you are suppose to live. They tell you that if you are really going to live, you got to do that. 
 
Paul is raising the point that if Jesus has delivered you from one prison, why are you putting yourself into another prison? 
 
Notice again the latter part of verse 20.
 
What he is talking about here is, of course, the whole idea of rules as a definition of what the Christian life is. It puts the Christian faith into a straight jacket. It turns your life into a straight jacket. You are always checking to see if you are going by the correct rules. A legalistic church is a miserable experience. I feel sorry for people who belong to legalistic churches. There is no joy there, no victory and the whole Christian faith is based on a series of things that people don't do. 
 
Paul is saying if you let Jesus take you out of one prison, are you letting Him put you in another prison. 
 
Notice he discusses a little bit about what legalism is in verse 21 and following:
               
A paraphrase from Philip is helpful and says do you take the slightest notice of these purely human prohibitions. Don't touch this, don't taste that, and don't handle the other. This and that and the other will all pass away after use. 
 
Do you notice the negative there? Don't touch this, don't taste this, don't handle this, don't, don't, don't. It defines Christianity as a series of negatives. It places the emphasis upon the negative instead of the positive.
       
A lot of people think this is what Christianity is. That is, just a series of negatives and defined on the basis on what you do not do. That turns Christianity into a life of avoidance. You spend your life trying to avoid things all of the time. The focus is on the negative aspect of life. It's a poor way to live. 
 
You are not defined on the basis of things that you do not do. Legalism puts the focus on the negative rather than the positive. Legalism also puts the focus on the passing instead of the lasting.
       
verse 22
 
In the New Testament in particular, one of the big deals was this matter of different foods and what foods you could and could not eat so people were all caught up in that. What Paul is saying here is that these things are just passing. 
He said once you eat them they are gone.
       
In the opening part of Mark 7, Paul talks about some of the traditions of the Jewish people at that time and the washings. 
 
Mark 7:6-9
 
“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
      ‘ This people honors Me with their lips,
      But their heart is far from Me.
       7 And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
 
 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”
9 He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.    
       
Human rules and regulations are just that. They come from human understanding rather than what God says. Paul says in verse 22 that they "are to perish with the using”, they are not lasting, just temporary. 
 
It's so easy for Christians to get hung up on things that ultimately do not matter. There was a time when you were considered a worldly Christian if you wore wire-rimmed glasses. Sermons were preached against it. There was another period of time in Christian circles when if you had a beard, you were considered to be a worldly Christian. 
 
People are getting all hung up about things like that when we are in a culture where we are facing the drug problem, teenage pregnancy and things that are of real, real concern and some elements of the Christian elements get hung up on these little side issues that really don't matter. 
 
Notice what Paul says in verse 22:
               
"...after the commandments and doctrines of men?"
       
Legalism focuses in on human rules and regulations. The human rules and regulations get to be more important than what God says in the Word. He talks about legalism in this verse. 
 
Legalism should be rejected as shown in verse 23:
               
"Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body..."
       
He is saying here that legalism should be rejected because it leads to pride,"a show of wisdom,or a pretense of wisdom, "in will-worship." Self-imposed religion and false humility. 
 
He'll get proud of the fact that he doesn't do certain things and that he's strong enough not to do those things. A paraphrase, "I know that these regulations look wise with their self-inspired efforts at piety, their policy of self-humbling and their studied neglect of the body." 
 
Another paraphrase, "These rules may seem good for rules of this kind require strong devotion and are humiliating and hard on the body." It leads to pride. 
 
We ought to always be careful to differentiate between three things.
 
First of all, we need some absolutes. There are some things to which Scripture speaks and they are unalterable and unchanging. And every church and ministry and Christian needs to have those in imind.
 
Then there are some convictions. Convictions are those matters that God gives to a believer deep within his soul that are based on Scriptural principles. They may not be so easy to chapter and verse, but they are our convictions based upon our understanding of Scripture.
 
Then there are our preferences or traditions. Those are the things we do because Mom and Dad did, or Baptist have always done it that way. They don’t need any Scriptural backing, they are simply our preferences. 
 
Most of the time our differences of opinion are not about the absolutes or even the convictions. They are in regard to our preferences. “Well I think this or that. . .”
 
We will all agree on the absolutes. And we should live our convictions out of your heart as a conviction that God has given to you. But preferences are not to be imposed because they have no Scriptural basis. And if you’ll keep you preferences to yourself and live out your convictions and not change on the absolutes, you'll be a blessing and you'll draw people rather than drive people away. 
 
 
 
Legalism should also be rejected because it lacks in power. It really has no power to make you be what you should be in your heart.
       
Notice the last part of verse 23.
 
A paraphrase, "But in actual practice, they are of no moral value but simply pamper the flesh." Another paraphrase, "They only make him proud, have no effect when it comes to conquering a person's evil thoughts and desires." 
 
An outward remedy cannot deal with inward problems. Physical solutions do not solve spiritual problems.    
       
It's one thing to change because someone pressures you; it's another thing to allow the Holy Spirit to deal with you about your body as the temple of the Holy Spirit and you should take care of your body and not
neglect it. 
 
It's just according to which direction you're moving, from the outside in or from the inside out. The negative is only one-half of the Christian life. There is a positive. There are some negatives. There are some clear cut things that the Bible says that you should not do, but the emphasis is not to be on what you don't do. It is on the positive and what you do for the Lord, Jesus Christ. Legalism is the way of outward regulation.
 
The other side is the positive aspect. Christianity on the other hand is the way of
 
II. Inward Transformation.
 
Christianity is not being inhibited by rules. It is being inhabited by a ruler.
       
Verse 20
 
This is the King James Version. The word "if" should be translated to "since". 
 
Paul's not raising a doubt but talking to believers. This is pointing out that it took place in the past. We died with Christ some 2,000 years ago when Jesus died on the cross. 
 
The Christian faith has a death, burial and resurrection. Positionally 2,000 years ago you died with Christ. Personally that death became effective in your life when you received Jesus as your personal Savior. 
 
Baptism is the beautiful picture of the salvation experience. The people that are baptized are lowered into the water and come up out of the water. When you came to Jesus Christ, who died, was buried and rose again for you, you died and were buried. Your sins were buried and you are dead with Jesus Christ. If you are dead with Jesus Christ and crucified with Jesus Christ, that means that your eyes, hands and feet are dead. 
 
For example, a man who dies, speeding laws have no effect on him. He can't speed because he is dead.   A dead man is impervious to the allurements of the flesh, the enticement of the world and the temptations of the devil. If you go over to one of the funeral homes and you'll note a person in a casket; he's dead. 
 
I don't know why people say, doesn't he look natural? No, he doesn't look natural, he's dead! We have been crucified with Christ. He says that since you've been dead with Christ, why as the living in this world, are you subject to ordinance.
       
In Colossians 3:1 it reads:
               
"If ye, then, be risen with Christ..."
       
Not only have you experienced a death with Jesus Christ, but praise God, you have raised a resurrection with Jesus Christ. You have a brand new life. The new life in Jesus Christ is far better than the old life of sin. It's wonderful to be alive in Jesus. It's wonderful to come alive in Jesus Christ. I have a brand new life, joy, victory and happiness.
       
Colossians 2:20
 
You don't live in the world anymore. The good news of the Christian faith is that not only are you living in the world, but somewhere else.
       
We live in the world but somewhere else. We live in the atmosphere of the Spirit. We have a brand new life. We are living in the world, but in the Spirit. We are in the atmosphere of God. We are in the Lord. We are in Him. We have a new life. We begin to live this life not on the basis of laws from the outside but on the basis of life on the inside. We live on the basis not of the old law, but by the new law, love. 
 
Do this and do this, etc. It's wonderful to see how the Holy Spirit transforms a person's life. Somebody gets saved. 
 
Somebody comes to Christ in our fellowship and there are things in their lives that should not be there. You see it and everybody else sees it. They get in their Bible, they get in a Sunday School class to hear the Bible taught, they're in the services and listen to the Word and in their own daily life they begin to study the Scriptures. 
 
They begin to look at other Christians who model the kind of Christian life that God wants us to live in front of them. As they begin to grow in the Christian faith, God begins to work on the inside of their lives dealing with those things that should not be in there. 
 
God works on getting rid of those attitudes and dispositions that are displeasing to the Lord. A wonderful thing takes place as there is change on the inside, there starts becoming a change on the outside. 
 
The next thing you notice is a beautiful, happy, consistent, victorious Christian life. When you come to the Lord, in our fellowship you are not in a legalistic church. When you come to the Lord, we don't shove a rule book in your hand and say, "Go and live by those and you'll be a good Christian." We put a Bible in your hand and say, "Go and live for Jesus and have the time of your life!"
       
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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