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Weekly Word

Tuesday
Jul102018

Seeking the Things that are Above

Colossians 3:1-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 8, 2018.

Last week we talked about not turning to legalism as a legitimate expression of Christianity.  Yes, there are certain things that Christians should not do and others that they should do.  But lists of things we shouldn’t eat or drink, and special days we should observe in order to be holy has nothing to do with Christ. 

In our passage today we will see that we need to turn to Jesus rather than a list of regulations.  He needs to become our life, to become everything.  When it comes to the Christian life, we must never forget that Christ is everything to us.  He is the foundation on which we stand, the image towards which we are being transformed, the power by which it is all done, and the hope that lies before us.

So as we look at this passage, let us hear the words of life that teach us how to truly live.

We have died with Christ and been made alive with Christ

Back in chapter 2 Paul had reminded us that the fact that we have died to the world with Christ should refute the regulations of legalism.  Here in verses 1-4 of chapter 3 he continues to the other side of this truth.  We have been made alive with Christ.  Thus our life and how it is lived must be connected to Christ and not this world.  This means our focus or concern should be towards heaven where Christ is.  Christ is seated at the right hand of the Father.  His perspective and commands will be quite different from a person who is here on earth.  Ultimately it is the things of heaven, the things of Christ, that should concern Christians.

Now this could give rise to the phrase that a person is “So heavenly minded that they are no earthly good.”  However, this is not what Paul is getting at.  He is not talking about ignoring the earth, but rather about looking to Christ for our directions on how to operate in this world.  God is deeply concerned with this earth and the people on it.  That is why Jesus came and died on the cross.  When we look at life with His concerns and walk in His purposes and direction, then it does much good for this earth.  Thus to be heavenly minded as Paul means it, is to live in this life directed by the leadership of Christ.

In verse 3 he mentions that the things that make for our life are hidden from the world.  Christ cannot be seen by the world and His instructions to us cannot be seen either.  His connection to us through the Word of God and the Holy Spirit is not something that can be touched or seen.  Sure they should see how we live and the effects of these things in our lives, but they cannot actually see the influence.  Thus the world will not understand the reasons and motivations, which come from heaven.

In verse 4 we are told that when Christ is revealed from heaven in glory, it will suddenly become clear what we were living for.  In fact the glory of Christ will be our glory too!  It takes faith and trust in God’s Word.  We must believe that He will do what He has said He will do.  Christians are those who walk in the faith that though our life may not make sense to the world around us, it is directed by God Himself and will be rewarded in due time.

We put off the old man

Starting in verse 5 Paul uses several metaphors for the Christian life.  One of these is that of the old man.  It is a metaphor for our old life of listening to our flesh (body, mind, and heart) and following its desires.  We are told to put it off like we would do with the clothes that we sleep in at night, in order to then put on the right clothes to go about our day.

In fact, in verse 5 he opens with an even harsher metaphor- “put to death.”  The terminology can be a bit foreign to us.  The term “members” refers to the parts of us that are centered upon the things of the world.  These are expressed in certain sinful activities and conditions of our heart.  They need to be sacrificed on the altar to God by dying to their pull on us.  Paul lists several things.  Fornication is any sex outside of a committed marriage between one man and one woman.  Uncleanness is any impure desire or motive.  Passion is those afflictions of our mind and heart that push us towards sin.  Yes, passion can be a positive thing, but it is clearly about sinful things in this list.  Evil desire speaks for itself.  Covetousness is called idolatry because we allow ourselves to become a slave to the thing we covet rather than a slave of God.  It becomes god in our lives.  All of these things need to be put to death in our life.  This is something that has to be done daily, as they surface in our hearts and minds.  Like weeds we will not be able to completely remove all traces of them in this life.  But we can keep them from growing and bearing evil fruit in our life.  If we follow these things they will not bring us true life, no matter how alive one may feel when they first give in to them.  In the end these things will leave you empty and hopeless regardless of what Ashley Madison has to say.

In fact in verse 6 Paul reminds us that these are the things that are bringing the wrath of God.  Just in case we thought these were nice suggestions on how to have a better life, we are reminded that those who practice such things are in jeopardy.  This world may be progressing in technology, which gives it the allusion that we are somehow becoming better.  But, morally we are not progressing.  We are wallowing in the same muck and mire that mankind has always wallowed in.  The message of the Gospel is this, “Save yourself from this wicked and perverse generation by fleeing to Jesus before it is too late!”  We will all face the wrath of God one way or another.  We will either be alive when it is poured out at the end of the age or we will face it when we die and come before God.  Believers can face both situations with confidence because Jesus has taken the wrath of God that should fall on us, upon Himself.  We can stand in His presence with confidence because of Jesus and Him alone.

In verse 7 he reminds us that these things should be a part of our past.  It is how we used to live, before Christ.  This is the old life, but now Christ is our Master and Savior.  His Spirit has taken up residence within us.  Let us not fool ourselves.  We cannot continue to follow the ways of the world and the ways of our flesh and find life.  They can only lead us to destruction.  Like Joshua of old we must choose today whom we are going to serve, and may it be Jesus that we chose to serve.

In verses 8 to 9 Paul continues with a list of deeds that many would think of as “little sins.”  We are tempted to coddle them and allow them to remain in our life.  We can justify them in our heart more easily.  But Paul warns against such deeds of the old man.  Anger- I used to get angry about things, but Christ is calling me to leave anger behind.  I am to be directed by heaven, not my anger.  Wrath- My flesh is focused on justice and getting people back, but heaven reminds us that this is not our job and that we must let it go lest we fall under the wrath of God ourselves.  Malice- This is typically a deeper-seated, festering ill-will towards others.  Christians are to root this out and reject its seductive logic.  Blasphemy- It is not just untrue things we say of God.  It basically means to slander or say untrue things about any other.  Filthy language- Our old life learned all manner of crude and vulgar ways to express ourselves.  Such talk should be left in the dust.  We must let the Lord purify our speech.  Lying- How easy it is to lie to one another in order to get what we want or to protect ourselves.  Whether it is active lying where we state untruths or passive lying where we mislead people so that they make the wrong conclusions, lying is a form of manipulation that brings destruction into our life and the lives of those around us.

Jesus was none of these things.  If we have truly rejected the world with Him and are living only for Him, then these things should change.  There is no way around this truth.  Yes, it doesn’t just happen in an instant.  But it does happen nonetheless.

We put on the new man

We will talk more about this next week.  But let’s end on the positive.  If we are to take off the old man then clearly we must put on the new man.  Paul points out in verses 10-11 that the new man is renewed in knowledge.  Knowledge is key to our transformation.  We know that these things hold nothing but God’s wrath for us.  So why would we then hold on to them?  We also know that Jesus is not like these things.  So why would we continue in them?  We also know that Christ died to set us free from these things.  So let’s be renewed in body, mind, and heart.

He also mentions that we are renewed according to the image of Christ.  The renewal is not just a “new me.”  It really is a taking on the image of Jesus.  We are taking Him on and being transformed.  In that sense, Jesus is the new man.  We are all taking on the One New Man, Jesus.  WE are the students becoming like the master, as His Holy Spirit works within us to enable the transformation.

He ends this section by pointing out that the old distinctions are irrelevant when Christ is our everything.  It doesn’t matter what race or station of life a person is or comes from.  A believer in Jesus sees one thing.  Is Christ living within that person as well as me?  Christ is everything and all those distinctions are nothing.  How we interact with people, both believers and the lost, should have nothing to do with race, economic station, gender or what else.  It has only to do with Christ.  What does He think and what does He want.  The power of Christ has come to break all of these distinctions down so that Christ indwells every kind of person on the earth, and we can receive another believer as a brother or a sister in Christ, not because of earthly things, but because of the heavenly reality that Jesus dwells within us both.  Does Jesus dwell within you today?  Pray and ask Him to forgive you of your sins and become your Lord and Savior.  Let us put off the old man and put on the New Man!

Seek the Things Above audio

Tuesday
Jul032018

Threats of Deception III

Colossians 2:20-23.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 1, 2018.

Three weeks ago we were looking at Colossians chapter 2 and Paul’s concern that we not be deceived by those who promote legalism.  Now, legalists are those who say that they are accepting Christ, but continue to follow the Law of Moses in its regulations about food, drink, and holy days.   To them Jesus is not enough by Himself to save a person.  You must have Jesus and these regulations or laws.  Of course there is an opposite problem in which a person claims to follow only Jesus, but they live a life of sin and pleasure.  They claim to “only have Jesus and nothing else.”  But, in truth, they do not have Jesus.  Thus we must always remember that just as Jesus isn’t leading us into the bondage of legalism and regulations under the Law of Moses, neither is He leading us into bondage to the lusts of our flesh.

Today we will continue to look at Paul’s argument against legalism, which focuses on foods, drink, and special holy days.

Paul continues his argument against legalism

In verses 20-21 Paul challenges us with what we believe.  The Gospel that the Colossians received taught them that when they had put their faith in Christ they were dying to this world.  Before we came to Christ we were spiritually dead to God, but our flesh was alive to this world and growing in its passions and appetites (body and soul).  When we came to Him our spirit was made alive to God and we died to the allure of our own flesh, the flesh of the world around us, and the devil.  Thus to follow Jesus is to testify that you reject everything of this world and simply follow Christ alone.

Now Paul’s point has to do with this.  The doctrine (teaching) or beliefs that we have received are not truly believed if they do not make a change in how we live.  If we testify that we have died to the things of this world, then why are some “believers” continuing to live as if they are still alive to it?  Paul sees legalism as a person who is worried about the things of this world rather than the things of Christ.  They may be worried about what others think and how they appear to them.  They may be listening to the direction of certain teachers rather than listening to Christ and His Holy Spirit.  In that sense they are following what seems or feels right to them, rather than seeking what Christ is saying.

In verse 22 he comments that these regulations involve things that perish when we use them.  In other words, by its very nature of being a consumable, food and drink testify that they are not substantial issues.  In fact Paul uses three verbs that involve different levels of concern in this area.  Don’t touch; don’t taste; don’t handle.  He could have added, don’t even look.  Regardless, it is not the act of seeing, touching, tasting, or even handling that can make us holy or unholy.  Yet, these verbs are intended to highlight how  we start by touching something, then handling it (more involved touch), and then tasting it (taking it inside of us).  The legalist focuses on external things and keeping them at bay through a series of protective perimeters.  Yet, the true or big issues of life involve those things that will go into eternity.  It involves the things that are going on in our mind and heart, not our stomach.  Jesus stated in Matthew 15:11, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”  Also, in Mark 7:21 he added, “For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness.”

Of course the legalist will raise all manner of complaints against such arguments that they open the door for sin, etc.  But, let’s follow Paul’s argument further.  In verse 23 he notes that legalism seems wise.  Please remember that we are talking about people who think they are made holy by following such rules.  We are not talking about people who exercise self-control in these areas for others reasons.  I will come back to this later.

There are several issues of the heart that are not dealt with by the legalist.  The first is self-imposed religion.  The word is literally worship of your own will.  Rather than listening to Christ and following Him, they continue to fashion their own set of beliefs and actions by their own reasoning and thinking.  Before Christ a good Israelite needed to obey the Law of Moses as best they could.  But Christ brings in the New Covenant while fulfilling the Old Covenant.  Christ is not concerned with what molecules touch your hands, lips, or stomach.  He is concerned about bigger and weightier issues.  Though it looks pious, it really is a religious form of rebellion against God’s Anointed, Jesus.  Thus the legalist refuses to deal with the Lordship of Jesus and imposes their ideas, or the ideas of someone besides Jesus, on themselves.

The second issue that is not dealt with is that of false humility.  They appear humble on the outside because of all the rules and regulations that they keep.  However, in truth they are rejecting Jesus.  This is an extremely proud position.  Their outward humility is only a cover for an immense inward pride.  They are proud in their own thoughts and in their own accomplishments rather than in those of Christ.

The third issue that is not dealt with is the neglect of the body.  God gave each person a body as a tool in this life.  It does not need to be pampered, but neither does it need to be abused and neglected.  In fact, these legalists often went beyond drink and food, to the point that people would beat their bodies and cause physical suffering as a means of becoming more holy and closer to God.  What our body needs is Spirit-led care.  It is the Holy Spirit of God who teaches us: not to be gluttons, to beware how our actions in this area affect us and others, and to fast from time to time as we pray.  There is nothing holy about neglecting the body and neither is there anything holy in living for the appetites of our stomach.

At the end of verse 23, Paul gives the clincher to this whole argument.  He knows that the true Gospel of Jesus Christ is not just powerful to save us categorically (i.e. I am now on the right side), but actually to keep us from indulging our flesh in sin.  It quite literally saves us from the bondage of sin.  There is a contradiction in the life of a legalist.  They look like they are controlling the flesh, but they are actually feeding their own lust in a different way.

When the Bible talks about the flesh, it is not just talking about the body.  The flesh is both external and internal.  The body does have its favorite appetites in many areas.  However, our mind is just as “fleshly” in that it has its own desires and will, the things that seem right and proper to them.  Also the heart is “fleshly” in that it has its own emotions, wishes, and loves.  The legalist focuses on that part which others can see, but has surrendered the battle in the other two areas, where it is most important.  They satisfy the flesh of their mind and heart just as much as those who reject God and pursue sex, drugs, and rock and roll.  They just do it in a different way.

Let us remember that the Gospel of Jesus is powerful to transform our lives: body, heart, and mind.  It is not enough to harness the body and let the mind and heart run wild.

Now I promised earlier that I would come back to the issue of a person choosing to exercise self-control in the area of food or drink for proper reasons rather than legalism.  The example I want to use is that of choosing not to drink alcohol.  Many Christians have tried to create a kind of legalism around alcohol.  Yet, other Christians have gone to the other extreme and drink alcohol to an unhealthy level.  IF we approach the issue like a legalist we see the alcohol itself as a kind of Kryptonite that can rob us of holiness.  Personally for myself I have chosen to completely refrain from alcohol, but it has nothing to do with a belief that doing so makes me holier than those who do drink it.  Rather, my choice was made for the sake of Christ and my relationship with Him.  Before I came to Christ, the devil had used alcohol and my abuse of it as a powerful and destructive weapon in my life.  Partying and drinking was such a big part of my life and my identity that I chose to walk completely away from it in order to only follow Jesus.  In fact, I know that the Holy Spirit led me to completely abstain from any alcohol as a message to my own flesh and to the devil.  “I want nothing with you and am going to follow Jesus.”  The difference is that the decision is not made for the sake of the physical thing and what it can or can’t do to me, but for the sake of the eternal relationship I want to have with Christ.  Anything that causes us to be enslaved to our body, heart, or mind and against Christ must be jettisoned because it draws us away from Him.  Let us follow Jesus and be taught by His Holy Spirit, rather than following the self-made lists of man that only dress up the outward, but leave the inside as the dry bones of a dead man.  Jesus is Life, and that more abundantly!

Threats III Audio

Tuesday
Jun192018

Being a Righteous Man

Psalm 139:1-12; 19-24.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Father’s Day June 17, 2018.

Our passage today is not so much about fathers as it is about something that every father has to face.  It is necessary for a man to recognize the greatness of God and choose to walk in righteousness before Him.  This is not just for his sake, but also for the sake of his family, and the people around him.  When you step back and look objectively at our culture, there is not a lot of encouragement for a man to be righteous.  In fact, the word has become despised and is projected out of the mouth as if something vile was being expectorated.

Yet, Scripture calls men and women to reject self-righteousness, and embrace the righteousness of God.  This is not an excuse to sidestep the responsibility for decisions we make.  Rather, God’s plan is to set us in a place of safety because of the righteousness of Christ.  From that place of safety we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to hear God and obey Him, thus living out the righteousness of Christ.

In our psalm today we will follow David as he meditates on the truth about God and hopefully we will recognize how it should impact our souls and our lives.  Dads, may you choose to be a righteous man in the eyes of God, rather than in the eyes of this world.

Recognize the omniscience of God

Though David does not use the term omniscience, the word was created in order to name what David is talking about in this psalm.  He defines the truth that God knows all things in a multitude of ways.  In fact, the Bible is filled with a constant barrage of the teaching that God knows all things.

In verses 1-4 David speaks of God’s knowledge regarding the outward and the inward parts of our lives.  In regard to the outward, he mentions the fact that God knows when we are sitting down or rising up.  He knows what path we take and when we lie down.  In regards to the inner life, David mentions that God knows our thoughts even from afar off, and that He already knows the word that is just on the tip of my tongue before I say it.

In a day and age where governments and businesses at all levels seek to have more and more information regarding everything that we do, we can understand how this could be a scary thought.  With man all knowledge is used to restrict and control, and thus an omniscient government would exercise maximum restriction and control upon the people.  However, God is not a tyrant who wants control, despite the propaganda campaign that has been waged against Him.  If He was, we would not be having this conversation right now.  No matter how many years man spends trying to become as omniscient as God, we cannot escape the fact that He is already there, and knows us all completely, inside and out.

In fact in verse 5 David recognizes that he is completely surrounded by God.  He is hedged or enclosed by God, behind, in front, and even has His hand upon him.  Thus God is not only beholding everything, but everything is also within His purview.  Nothing is outside of God’s knowledge and ability to do something about it.  This sets up the next point that God is omnipresent.  But before we go that, let us take a moment to be amazed with David.

When you truly realize the absolute omniscience of God and spend time thinking about its ramifications, you should be filled with amazement, awe, and even a healthy sense of fear.  In verse 6, David recognizes this, but also that God knows us better than we know ourselves.  His level of knowledge is so great that we cannot even come close to attaining it.  All truth brings us to a decision place, where we must choose how we are going to respond to it.  So let’s read on and see how David responds.

Recognize the omnipresence of God

The omniscience of God is wrapped up in a similar idea that God is present everywhere at once.  That is, there is no place that God is not present.  Now notice in verse 7 that David couches this in the language of fleeing.  This should remind us of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  After they had sinned and heard God coming to visit with them, all they could think to do was run and hide from Him.  Of course their attempts to hide were futile, not because they lacked hiding skills, but because nothing can hide from the God who is omnipresent in all places.  Now David expresses that this futility is not just physical but also spiritual by mentioning heaven and hell first.  Of course if we went to heaven God would be there because it is His throne.  But God is in hell?  First, the term translated hell here is technically a word that refers to the spiritual aspect of the grave.  It is the holding place where all spirits, wicked and righteous, go to await Judgment Day.  Thus for the wicked it is a dry, dusty, thirsty, hot place.  But, for the righteous it is a place of peace and rest.  This holding place, or “the grave,” was created by God and is always before Him.  Thus even in death one cannot escape God.  Some live this life believing that there is nothing after death.  They assuage their conscience with the frail hope that there will be no accounting for this life.  But David recognized that God is not just everywhere in the universe, but also in the place our spirits go to when we die.

The futility of fleeing applies to geography too.  Like Jonah, one cannot even flee to the farthest places of the earth, but that God would be there trying to lead you back to the righteous path. And therein lies a twist.  David recognizes the goodness of God in that though he is clearly thinking of ways to flee from God, he recognizes that no matter where he goes, God uses His omniscience and omnipresence not to crush us, but rather to lead us and to hold us (vs. 10).  It is a scary thing for man through his technology to become omniscient and omnipresent, but God who already has these things can be trusted.  He is actually trying to help you, not control you.  Men’s hearts cannot be trusted with ultimate power.  But God has proven Himself time and time again through the millennia.  How great is the grace and patience of our Creator.

David even contemplates being in a place of complete darkness, and yet recognizes that God would see us there.  Sure, science tells us that there are all manner of wavelengths outside of the visible spectrum.  So our military can brag about “owning the night” because they use night vision goggles to pick up the infrared spectrum.  Thus the one who designed our eyes to pick up only a portion of this spectrum must be able to recognize every spectrum.  Yet, this is not what David means.  God is spirit and as such does not have “eyes” that pick up a larger spectrum of the electromagnetic radiation all around us.  Even if a human cooled themselves down to absolute zero and was encased in a shield designed to block out all radiation (Gamma, x-ray, etc.), yet God would still “see” you there and ask you, “What are you doing here?”  This had great encouragement for David because there were times when he was driven far away from the dwelling place of God, the tabernacle.  Yet, God is not held to a particular geographical place on earth.  Thus what could be seen as scary has a comforting side to it.

In fact this is what David goes on to recognize in verses 13-18.  We looked at these verses during Mother’s Day.  So if you want to check out the commentary on those verses go to the entry for May 13, 2018.  Suffice it to say that David recognizes that God was there when he was being formed in the womb.  God created us, knows us intimately, and thinks a great number of thoughts about us.  He is the ultimate loving Father who agonizes over the plight of a child who is far, far away from where they need to be.  God created you, intimately knows you, and thinks about you all the time.  Why would you run from Him?

Respond properly to these truths

In verses 19-24 David moves to his response to this contemplation.  Instead of running from God, David chooses to go towards God.  If Adam and Eve would have truly known the heart of God, they would have fled the serpent at first sight, and ran towards God.  Even after their sin, they should have run towards God, not away.  Only God has salvation and healing for us.  This is the proper response.

Now verses 19-22 can make some people squeamish, at least here in western civilization.  It seems to contradict Jesus who tells us to love our enemies.  It is important to recognize that David is speaking as a man under the law, and not as the Messiah who had come to lead Israel out from under the Law of Moses.  Still, it is better to recognize that the teaching of Jesus is a bit more nuanced than just that we love our enemies.  If you have ever tried to love someone who was bent on wickedness and rejecting the ways of God, then you know the agony of seeking God’s will in this matter.  What does it mean to love someone?  Jesus in no way suggests that the righteous should jump on the same side as the wicked and help them on their way.  Even Jesus warns us that we must make a choice that leaves the world behind in order to follow Him.  “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.”  Luke 14: 26.  Ultimately all people must decide for themselves what side they are on, the side of the wicked or of those who follow God’s righteousness.  David has made his choice.  He hates the wicked with a “perfect hatred.”  Of course, being a man of war, it is no shock that he gives such a full-throated declaration of being on God’s side.

We should also notice that David is talking about people who actually hate God and His way.  It is one thing to care about people’s souls and love them enough to share the truth of Christ with them.  But when they spit it back in your face and say all manner of evil against God and Christ, then we cannot say, “O, isn’t that nice.  Blessings, brother.”  C.H. Spurgeon, a British, Baptist preacher of the 1800’s said about this, “To love all men with benevolence is our duty, but to love any man with complacency would be a crime.”  Thus through the years the adage, “love the sinner, but hate the sin,” was created.  The sad truth is that some people will not be separated from their sins and will cling to them in rage against God, no matter how much you love them.  Thus love is not complacent about the lost condition of the wicked, but instead lays down its life in order to open their eyes to Christ.

The last two verses of this psalm focuses on our response towards God.  We should open ourselves up to God and embrace His omniscience.  David has come full-circle.  A righteous man is not righteous because he is so wonderful.  He is righteous because even though his flesh wants to run from God, he has run towards God.  He has opened himself up to God in trust and in faith saying, “O God, search me and show me where I need to change!”  “Teach me the way to live that gives life everlasting!”

Men and women, how can we be righteous?  Not by pretense and image-tending on the outside.  Only by choosing to be vulnerable to The One whom you cannot fool and to whom you cannot defend yourself.  He is The One who loves you better than you can love yourself.  The well known ABC’s of salvation say it well.  We must admit that we are sinners in need of a Savior, believe on the Lord Jesus with full faith, and we must confess this faith in Jesus publicly that all men may know that we have chosen the path of God’s righteousness.  Amen!

Righteous Man audio

Monday
Jun112018

Threats of Deception II

Colossians 2:11-19.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on June 10, 2018.

Today we will continue talking about deception, to which we are all vulnerable.  Christians are not supposed to be gullible, easily tricked people, at least in the area of doctrinal truth.  We of all people have been given a sure record of truth and warned to be on guard against the devil’s schemes.  It is sad that so many people get caught up in many different kinds of deception.  Let’s look at the next verses in Colossians 2.

Remember what you have in Jesus Christ

In verses 11-15, Paul reminds of what they had in Jesus.  Some of the deceptions that the Colossians were facing had to do with ritual observance of things in the Law of Moses.  We know that the Acts 15 council had settled the issue regarding ritual observance of the Law.  No Jew or Gentile could be saved by ritual observations.  Still, it was common for certain teachers to travel around attempting to draw Gentiles into the belief that they had to obey certain things in the Law of Moses.  It is possible that the deception was not about what was needed for salvation, but instead what would make you more spiritual.  Regardless, Paul point Christians back to Jesus and reminds us of the great spiritual advantages that we have in Him.

First of all, he brings up the issue of circumcision.  This was a powerful symbol of rejecting the world and our own sinful flesh.  It represented complete obedience to God and a change in identification.  It marked people as belonging to Him.  The people of Israel took great pride in this difference.  However, Paul reminds these mostly Gentile believers that they have a circumcision that was not made with hands (human hands).  In other words, it parallels the idea in the Bible that believers have a work that is done internally and with the help of the Holy Spirit.  This is much greater than a work done on the external by another human being. 

This is similar to how we are born into God’s Family, which is not by the will of man, but by the will of God.  Those who were born into God’s people of Israel because their parents decided to have a kid had a lesser status than those who were born into God’s people by the Holy Spirit.  Gentile believers (even Jewish believers) had a greater or higher circumcision in Christ.  They didn’t need to add a lesser circumcision.

Also notice that it is called a circumcision of Christ.  In Joshua 5 we find that the children of Israel who were being led into the Promised Land by Joshua had not been circumcising their children for 40 years.  Thus after they had crossed the Jericho river in miraculous style and were several miles from the walls of a formidable walled city-state, they stopped and Joshua had all the uncircumcised males circumcised.  This was a crazy move militarily.  But it was important for them to deal with their disobedience before moving forward.  Joshua is a type of Christ who is our great leader.  Jesus is leading us into the Promised inheritance that God has for us.  But first we must wait and be circumcised in our hearts with a spiritual circumcision.  Jesus teaches us the greater circumcision, that of the heart done by the help of the Holy Spirit.  Paul refers to it as a putting off of the body of the sins of our flesh.  Interestingly enough Paul even connects this to water baptism.

It is clear that water baptism symbolizes a spiritual death and a spiritual resurrection.  But notice that we are “dying” to our flesh and its desires.  We join Christ in putting aside the hopes of this flesh and its desires.  Instead our hopes and desires are in God alone.  Thus we are spiritually raised up to a new life by the Spirit of God.  This is a partnership of us and God.  In verse 13 Paul points out that though they used to be spiritually dead in an uncircumcised state, now through Christ they are spiritually alive and forgiven of every trespass.  Therefore those in Christ have received the higher spiritual reality that was symbolized by those lower, physical commands in the Law of Moses.  As a young Jewish boy would join the people of Israel by circumcision, so a young Christian joins the people of God by a spiritual circumcision which is symbolized by the act of water baptism.  In this ritual there is no distinction made between male or female.

Paul also reminds us in verse 14 that our record of debt has been cancelled.  He clearly envisions some kind of list of our sins or trespasses against God.  This list or record of our offenses would condemn us if it is allowed to stand.  We would be dead men.  Yet, Paul points out that Christ has moved this list from standing against us through two methods.  First he wipes out the charges (some versions say blot out).  Regardless, if Paul had written this in the 21st century, he would have probably said deleted.  Secondly, he takes this list of now blotted out or wiped out charges and nails them to the cross.  To Paul, Christ was not just dying for our sins on the cross.  In Him our sins are being nailed to the cross, where they will be left forever.  The charges themselves are dead and cannot stand against us.

This leads to a powerful statement in verse 15.  At the cross Jesus disarmed our spiritual enemy and triumphed over them.  Though Satan is still dangerous, he can no longer use our sin as a guaranteed way of slaying us.  Through Christ, the work of Satan and his minions is nullified and abolished.  The only way that Satan can destroy us now is by convincing us to not take Christ at His Word.  If he can con us into remaining in our rebellious, disobedient path then he wins by convincing us to do for him what he cannot do to us.

Reject the threats of legalism

In verses 16-19, Paul walks forward the threat of those who rely upon the observance of the Law.  Up to now he has only mentioned circumcision.  But verse 16 brings up the areas of what food and drink you consume, and what days you observe as holy.  Notice that it is introduced with the word “so.”  This point of rejecting legalism is strongly linked to the triumph that Jesus has obtained over our spiritual enemies.  The practical implication of His victory is that we cannot be judged on these ritual matters of the Law of Moses.  Neither can your past be held against you.

Now food and drink is mentioned because the Mosaic Law had much to say about foods.  There was a long list of prohibited foods that no Israelite was supposed to eat.  However, foods cannot make one more spiritual or more sinful.  In fact that was not the point of those Old Testament laws.  Similarly celebrating particular days as holy cannot make you more holy or the lack thereof make you unholy.  Just as our circumcision in Christ is spiritual, so the food that we eat is spiritual as well.  Jesus and His teachings are our spiritual food.  Instead of going back to the lesser symbol, Christians are called to press in to the thing that the lesser commands pointed towards.  Also, through Christ we have entered into the Sabbath of God (Sabbath means rest).  For the believer everyday is a day of rest because we are in Christ every day.  This does not mean that we have no decisions to make in these matters, but that the dietary and ritual commands of the Law are not binding on Christians.

Though Paul says “let no one judge you,” the point is not trying to stop their mental reasoning.  Rather, it is about not being influenced and deceived by the judgments that they do make.  In other words, let them think what they want, but don’t let it influence how you think and act.

In verse 17 Paul gives the spiritual truth that we are to use as our guide in these matters.  Christ is the substance and the Law of Moses is the shadow.  Clearly Paul is talking about the non-moral laws (dietary, ceremonial, and holy observances).  These things are not the substance of what God was concerned about, when He gave those laws.  They were a shadow that gave evidence to or pointed towards something of greater substance, which is Jesus himself.  Circumcision, feast days, Sabbaths, and food are not what are important.  It is what they are trying to tell us about Jesus that is important.  This is what we should follow.  The reality of Christ’s first and second coming is a substantial thing that caused a shadow to be cast back in time.  Because he was coming, God gave Israel commands that would prepare them and the world to receive Jesus.  Many of the laws were not moral laws inherently.  Of course once God commanded them, disobedience would be a moral issue.  But that is not my point.  My point is that the purpose for these laws that involved things that weren’t inherently sinful, was to help Israel see the shape and form of The One who was to come, Messiah.  Now it would be said to remain enamored with the shadow of a person when they have actually come into the room.

Legalism is really a form of stubbornness that refuses to enter into all that the Law was pointing towards.  Legalism honors Moses while dishonoring the God whom Moses obeyed.  Moses himself will stand up in judgment against those who use the Law as a means of righteousness because the Lord whom he followed was greater than all those laws.  However, all of this said, I must emphasize that these arguments cannot be used for the moral laws that are found in the Law of Moses.  Thus, no apostle of Jesus ever said, “Let no one judge you in sexual immorality, or in theft, or in murder…”  These actions are inherently sinful and will never be acceptable in God’s sight no matter how spiritual a person thinks they are.

In verse 18 Paul warns that to give in to this legalism would cause one to be cheated of their reward.  Deception has a cost and is a real threat to our stake in Christ.  Paul lists some of the things that the deceivers took delight in.  First, they love false humility.  The outward shows of devotion can be a cover for pride.  We should follow Christ and His leading and not the false humility of those who glory in their outward ritual observances.  Second, they loved to worship angels.  Though Paul does not go into detail, no being in heaven or on earth should be worshipped but the triune God- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Thus those who develop great systems of heavenly or earthly beings to which they pray for help, may seem spiritual.  But they are not, because they resist the Holy Spirit and the teachings of Christ and His apostles.  Third, they glory in great visions of things they may or may not have seen that puff up their fleshly minds.  This is an area where charismatic Christians are very vulnerable.  We are sometimes so desperate to prove that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are still in operation that we will put up with people who claim to have had visions of heaven, but are motivated by their sinful desires and puffed up pride.  We must be hungrier for Jesus and our relationship with Him, then for a spiritual gift that someone else claims to have.  The gifts of the Spirit are walked out in relationship with Jesus, who sent the Holy Spirit.  So how does this jeopardize our reward?

It does so by separating us from Christ and towards a person or system of fleshly works who cannot save us.  Thus what Paul says in the negative about these fleshly teachers, we should embrace in the positive.  We must hold fast to Jesus through whom we have true spiritual growth.  No matter what manner of persuasion or deceit comes our way, we must let nothing separate us from Jesus.  Of course deceivers often do not present themselves as a means of being separated from Christ.  However, they always promote teachings in such a way that Christ is never quite enough.  You also need this: (insert the current false teacher’s list here).  When we hold fast to Jesus and Him alone then we have the One who is the source of any true spiritual growth and any real spiritual inheritance that we may have.  He is the one who baptizes us in the Holy Spirit ad leads us forth in victory.  Let us reject all threats of deception and walk with Christ, who is the substance of all that the Law of Moses and the Prophets of the Old Testament pointed towards!

Threats of Deception II audio