“We must start with the doctrine, and out of that will come the life, the experience, everything we need.” I just read this great quote from Martin Lloyd-Jones. He says this in one of his sermons from the Gospel of John. How true it is and yet how ill thought of by most Christians these days. In contrast, I think of a popular song being played on the Christian Radio Stations that says, “Love, is the only thing that matters.” Without proper doctrine, (an accurate knowledge of who Christ is, what He has done on our behalf and the proper response to it) we cannot even know what real love is. Love is hugely important, but it is so far from “the only thing that matters” that this song and this line of thinking takes us from the Christian truth into gross error by emphasizing one attribute of the Christian over others that are just as important.
This is the problem that Paul is dealing with in Colosse. Not an overemphasis on love, but the need of some there to add to what Christ has done in order to feel secure in their faith; the neglect of the Person and Work of Jesus Christ in favor of man-centered external religion that makes them feel more like Christians. In this case it takes the form legalism, but those who resist legalism and tell us that we cannot be Christians (or at least “good Christians”) unless we follow their skewed version of the Faith are just as guilty. We need to move in and focus on what Christ has accomplished on behalf of His people and revel in that amazing Gift. We need to understand the profound nature of our Justification and all that it entails. Once we arrive there and live out of God’s great and gracious goodness, we will begin to live a life of love and one of obedience. That is why the Apostle is calling these Believers back to the fundamental understanding of what happened on the Cross in order to correct their errors with regard to the way they conducted their religious observances.
Colossians 2:13-17 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. 16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
Here is the Doctrine that supports everything else that we do. It begins with an honest assessment of our sin! That is true love. But the most amazing love that is demonstrated is that while we had pushed ourselves away from God’s standard (in trespasses) and His Person (in the uncercumcision of our flesh), He came to us and He “made us alive!” He took on human flesh and died as the Sacrifice for Sin in order to re-instate the rebels who would trust in Him. His work on the cross was so complete that every trespass that I have made (or will make) was dealt with as He was nailed to the Cross.
The interesting conclusion that the Apostle makes from this in verse 16 seems like a stretch at first. He tells these Christians that no one can hold them to any religious observance in addition to being held to the eternal consequences of their moral failures. Christ satisfied the Divine demand for ultimate justice, but He also removed the necessity of temporal rituals. No once can say you need to worship Christ and in addition, perform any ritual related to the Old Covenant. Paul goes on in this section and mentions other “self-imposed” religious observances as well. There is no ritual that Christ has not given that can be added to simple trust in Christ. This does not mean that we don’t need to go to church or that we can live an immoral life. We have been saved from sin, not to it. We have been saved from our own brand of false religion, and cannot continue in self-styled religion, either legalistic or licentious. Paul goes on in chapter 3 to talk about those parameters.
Suffice it to say that we cannot fellowship with one who claims Christ and lives immorally, neither can we fellowship with anyone who says, “If you do not worship the same way I do (music style, Bible translation, dress code) you are not saved or have an inferior faith. It is actually the one who adds to Christ whose faith is inferior. Paul puts it this way in Colossians 2:18 “Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,”
The point of all of this is that our Christian life is based on what God has accomplished for us through Christ. It is His sufficiency that creates and maintains my standing before God. If I think I have to add to it in any way, I have demonstrated that I do not believe His perfect gift of forgiveness and imputed righteousness is enough. If I think that I can earn or keep His favor my wearing the right clothes, listening to the right music or by marginalizing those who disagree with me though embrace the Savior, I need to realize that all I am doing is adding to my condemnation by holding a standard higher than the one that was given to me by Christ.
Calvin puts it this way as he comments on verse 16; ” He says, therefore, that it is not in the power of men to make us subject to the observance of rites which Christ has by his death abolished, and exempts us from their yoke, that we may not allow ourselves to be fettered by the laws which they have imposed. He tacitly, however, places Christ in contrast with all mankind, lest any one should extol himself so daringly as to attempt to take away what he has given him.”
And so we must must ask whether this is the case with ourselves? Is there anything that we add to our faith in Christ in order to feel secure in our faith? Is there anything that we try to impose on others and judge them as lacking if they do not comply to our standard? Again, this is not just the “legalist” who looks down on the person who does not hold their standard, but any Christian who looks down on the person who does not walk and worship like them.
Audio of this message is available by clicking the link below.
Substance is of Christ – AUDIO
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.