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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