Life apart from Christ can look incredibly legalistic. Todd Wagner shows us how we fall into the trap of legalism to prove ourselves "right" or "just", but we learn that the only sure defense against this age of emphasizing works over grace is to be "rooted up in Christ and established in faith" (v. 2:7), and to let the law of love govern us.
Don't Let Them Fool You, Just Keep Trusting Him
From Futile Speculation to Futile Regulation: The Foolishness of Life Apart from Christ
Experts Are Everywhere but Can They be Trusted: How to Respond to Philosophy's Challenge
Our Journey to Get the Stain of Spaghetti/Sin Out of Our Lives
Why The Light Has to be Left On
What You Lose If You Leave This Chance To Serve This King
Our Colossal Christ and What You Must Quit When You Know Him
The First Thing We Ought to Pray for and Pursue
Investigating the Colossal Claims and Obligations of the Gospel
Welcome. We hope you have come here this morning with a sense of your weakness. Maybe even some of you come with a bit of pain looking for healing and hope. I want to tell you you're at the right place. Not because it's an unusually cold high school auditorium but because it's a place filled with people who want to declare to you this morning or remind you of the completeness of what Christ has done for you in the midst of all your hurting and to satisfy all your hoping. Let me pray for you.
Lord, I thank you for this room full of friends and their desire and your working in their life to create a circumstance that would compel them to make their way out on a cold, overcast morning into a colder still room to hear about truth that alone can warm the hearts of men. I pray, Father, as we gather together this morning that we wouldn't be too concerned about anything other than truth.
We thank you for the truth that has already been declared through song and for the hope we have been given by the way we've been greeted and by the way we've been cared for, by the fact folks got up early to make coffee, put signs up, park us, and to work hard in order that we might meditate just on the truths of who you are and what you've done, both through the medium of music and the arts and then also just through a time of reflection on your Word.
We are very capable of impressing ourselves with what we do and what we bring to you. We just ask this morning that you would free us from the bane of that self-reliance, and remind us of the greatness of what you have provided. Lord, we this Thanksgiving weekend want to be overflowing with gratitude that you have met us in our weakness.
Those of us who say we know you come this morning not offering to you any deeds we have done in righteousness, not pointing out any immoral acts that we have escaped from being active and present in our life, or by submitting a resume that talks about why we're better than others. We come, Father, knowing that apart from what you have done for us, we are hopeless.
I pray for our friends who are here who are heavy-hearted or who are burdened by what they are concerned they need to do in order to earn your favor. I pray you would use this time this morning, Lord, to warm their hearts, to wrap your love around them as we talk about the truth you have revealed for us in your Word. Nothing would please us more.
Lord, we relish in and look to understand more the hope we hunger for. We thank you how you might use this morning towards that end. We pray it would develop in us a response that the world could not mistake as anything other than authentic worship in response to you. Change us, Lord. Continue the good work which you have begun in those of us who know you that others may come. Amen.
One of the things I like to look at in the Dallas Morning News is the religion section, just to see what they are saying is going on out there in the religious world. Yesterday, they had a little story on some things that are going on within the Jewish community. Now the Jewish community is near and dear to the hearts of those of us who are here this morning because our faith has sprung out of the promise that was given to a group of people God elected to reveal himself to.
He chose to show the watching world who had turned away from him and developed their own philosophies, their own love of wisdom. Through their own reasoning and ideas they suppressed the truth of God which was evident within them. They established their own systems of right and wrong of worship and even their own idea of what God was and who God was.
God decided to break through the hard-heartedness of humankind that left the revelation of God to reengage with them. The way he did that was by selecting an individual who he would make a great nation from. This nation was to be a kingdom of priests that God, through them, would reveal to the world what they could never know in their darkened minds themselves.
He spoke to them that he might speak through them. That was the system God decided to employ. He used a group of people who were descendants of a man named Abraham, who had a son named Isaac, who had a son named Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, who became the father of 12 tribes that represent the known nation we have today that for almost 2,000 years did not exist as a people group, and yet, lo and behold, in 1948, they were regathered together and made a nation again.
This is the people who God said he was going to work through to accomplish his sovereign purposes that one day all the world would come to know the God of Abraham, the God of the Jews who was, in fact, never the God of only the Jews, but the God of all humankind. What God did is he revealed himself to Abraham. He was either going to say, "Abraham, I'm going to set your people apart. I'm going to set your people apart in a number of ways, but it's going to begin with a right and clear understanding of who I am."
It has been said by many men, "You tell me what a man thinks about God, and I can tell you everything you need to know about that man." Because the world had come up with its own ideas about what to think about God, it had become perverse in practice, in ethics, and in its beliefs, in its principles. God said we have to set this thing right. We have to get it back to where it should be.
He told Abraham, "I'm going to explain to you who I am so that you can order your life accordingly and that we might have relationship again, because you can't love me and serve me if you don't know me. I want the whole world to know me. I'm going to have you and your people be the means through which they notice something different, so I'm going to set you apart.
I'm not going to remove you and put you in some isolated village. I'm going to put you in the world, but you're going to live above it in terms of morality and wisdom and ethic, in the way you love and treat each other, in the way you handle conflict, in the way you treat the weaker people in society, and in the way you give thanks for all that you have. You're not going to attribute it to your own greatness. You're going to attribute it to me."
That was God's plan through the Jewish people. One of the things that happened was in the law God gave Israel, in order to reveal to them his holiness and how they should begin to live, to show them a morality that spoke of the excellence and perfection of God, men took that revelation, and they began to build upon it all kinds of traditions.
They also began to treat God as if he was some empty, heartless, emotionless taskmaster. They took the 613 laws God have given them which were to suggest his holiness and were to establish a separateness between the people of God and the people of the earth in all the areas I just mentioned. They began to come up with father laws that gave them son laws and grandson laws and on and on. They developed a system of traditions that became a burden to the people.
Now let me tell you what was going on in the Dallas Morning News yesterday. This is a whole article that says "Lighter Duty." It says, "New devices help modern Jews observe ancient Sabbath laws." Now the Lord had given Israel festivals and sacrificial practices based on the lunar calendar. He gave them a day in the middle of the week.
He gave them both annual and monthly and weekly events that were to remind them of who he was as an act of worship and relationship to him. The festivals were to celebrate God's provision and God's goodness in some very practical way that God was going to use to demonstrate his relationship with Israel to the world.
The new moons which we'll talk about briefly in a little bit were this monthly sacrificial system which was to remind them of God's grace and forgiveness to them. The Sabbath was a day the Jewish people were to just rest and not do any work because it was in their DNA to be hard-working, industrious people who could think the reason they were set apart and blessed in ways others weren't is because of their own industry and their own diligence.
God was going to say, "No, you need to know everything you have is going to be the result of my good pleasure towards you." The Sabbath day was to be a day they would rest and not do anything to advance their place in this world but just to enjoy God and remind themselves he went before them.
In fact, God instituted a Sabbath year every seven years that they were to celebrate. Something the nation of Israel never did. God said, "I will be so for you that if you do what I ask you to do and walk with me for the years that I call you to, I will so bless you during six years that you won't have to work the seventh. You can have an entire Sabbath year where you don't need to go through the ritual of harvest and the ritual of sowing, but I will bountifully provide for you so you can have an entire year just to enjoy each other and relish in my goodness towards you."
He said, "I want you to repeat that every seven years. Give the land a rest. You get rest. The nations are going to marvel at you and wonder how that happened," but Israel never did that. There are all kinds of Sabbath laws. The Sabbath was made for man, though, and not man for the Sabbath. Man always messes us up. They came up with these laws that became not a blessing to the people, a place of rest, but they became a burden.
Let me just flip through a few highlights of this article. It talks about how the Jewish people today, those who want to practice a bit more orthodoxy, are individuals who are burdened by this idea that they have to fulfill Sabbath law, because there are all kinds of rules related to the Sabbath. There are 613 laws, many of which or almost all of which the rabbinical schools have come up with laws that are implied by that.
For instance, they were not to do any harvesting or sowing or planting on the Sabbath. The rabbis, therefore, took that to mean you have to be careful to when you pull a chair away from a table, if you had a dirt floor you don't drag that chair across the floor. Because when you do that, it will till the earth, and you will be plowing. They were told they couldn't do that. At the same time, you could not lift the chair because that would be carrying a burden.
There were all these rules that were made. A Jew would have all kinds of different burdens and would be concerned they didn't keep the Sabbath and, therefore, they thought not be holy because they drug their chair out or lifted their chair up and moved it back. Before sunset on that Friday, on Sabbath eve, they had to make sure the chair was exactly where it could be close enough to the table, yet not so close they couldn't squeeze in there and be seated. Because you can't drag or lift the chair on the Sabbath. This continues.
Let me just tell you the ridiculousness of this before I show you some of this. There was recently a rabbi who ruled in Israel it was legal to pick your nose on the Sabbath, and it was not a violation of harvest laws. Now you laugh at that, and I laugh at that, but I will tell you that is the ridiculousness and the burden which people who try and establish their righteousness through practices, the silliness of where we can take it and the depth we can go to on our own trying to attain to righteousness.
This is what's going on today. It says that because the Jewish law prohibits turning electrical devices on or off, you used to not be able to strike a match or light a fire on the Sabbath. It had to be lit before you moved into it and not do the work to gather wood. You gather wood six days, get plenty of wood there, and you just rest. Get the fire going and let that fire burn throughout the Sabbath.
Since we're now living in a system where you don't light a lantern to have light, you're not allowed to turn electrical devices on or off. They have come up with technology, all kinds of new ways to help the Jew who is burdened by this. They have come up with a lamp that runs from sundown Friday through sundown Saturday. The lamp was always on.
Since you're not allowed to turn it on or off, though, they have now invented a lamp with a shade you can spin in order to keep the light in or let it emit out. Foolish, isn't it? You can't flip a switch, but you can spin the shade. On it goes. Let me just read some of these things to you.
"Jewish observance has always been difficult, but today's Jew can rely on technology and product engineering to make life a little easier. The KosherLamp is one of several new products geared toward easing the rigors of the traditional Jewish lifestyle. 'You are seeing a desire among people to observe the commandments, but perhaps with a minimum of fuss and without spending vast amounts of time…'" says one professor who is the author of American Judaism.
What's so interesting about these examples is they're always talking about being separate from secular society as a result of practicing them and yet it uses the benefits of modern society in order to do it. There are all kinds of forbidden activities such as turning on lights, changing digital displays, or triggering the heating mechanism in a home, so they come up with all different types of things. One of the things they mention here is a stove that can be worked.
I have a friend who was in Israel who was walking down the street, and this Israeli woman came tearing out of her house, Friday, just after sunset. She was in a panic because the pilot light in her stove had gone out. By her custom, she was not allowed to relight the pilot light. She could turn on the igniter, which sent a spark to the flame that was there in order to allow it to combust and have gas for her family to heat the water to boil whatever it is she was going to boil, but she could not light the pilot light.
She had to find some pagan Gentile to come into her home, strike the match, and light the pilot so she could continue with her meal. It goes on to say what's interesting is that only the elite can afford these new devices. It says only the upwardly mobile Jew can afford these conveniences. I read this to you because it's almost Biblical in its annoyance when you read what we're doing today and compare it to the things that offended God in the past.
This senseless legalism and attempt to fulfill the law in a way that made you in your own mind righteousness, and somehow impressed God with your religiosity. God said, "You've missed it all along. This is all about your heart being grateful for who I am and what I've done for you, and you resting and delighting in me. They were never to be a burden to you."
That is why Jesus again and again took on the religious leaders of the day who had created traditions of men that they said would make men righteous. There was a group of men called Pharisees who were the legalists of the day, who enforced these laws, who came up with these laws, and even made provisions that they themselves could escape the laws.
They burdened people. They confused people about who God was and what ultimately made individuals righteous in God's eyes. I want to tell you, that's exactly what we're going to look at today. We're going to look at a little section of Scripture. We're working our way through a book called Colossians.
If you have your Bible, turn there with me. You'll find out there was a group of folks who came alongside some individuals who were living then who had found satisfaction and fulfillment in Jesus Christ and were being told that was not satisfaction to God and they needed to add to whatever they believed Christ had done with their own practices, beliefs, and abstentions from foods, dress, and things of that sort, and do these other things to be truly spiritual.
Last week we looked at the idea that folks came alongside believers who said they had heard from God, revelation from God, and these Gnostics, these lovers of wisdom, these individuals who said they knew more than you because they spoke to wise men. They came back to take these believers in Christ captive through their empty philosophies and foolish speculations.
They came along and said your wisdom is not complete. Paul said, "Let me tell you something. Your wisdom is complete. You don't need to hear the philosophies of men because perfection has spoken. The fullness of God has spoken. The one who all the fullness of God dwells in bodily form, who has been to heaven and back, who has existed from all eternity has told you what reality is, where truth comes from, the destiny of man, and the purpose of history. Don't let them take you captive by their foolish speculations."
Now where he is going to go this week is those same individuals were going to come and challenge Christianity and attack Christianity from another perspective. Last week they challenged them from an intellectual sense of, "We know better than you and anybody who can tell you, even if they're God, how to live your life, and don't say you have found wisdom."
This week they're going to come and challenge people of faith by saying, "Don't say you have found righteousness, spirituality, and perfection. You are not ever secure. You have to keep working and striving and performing." Last week it was let no one take you captive through their empty and futile speculations. This week Paul is saying don't let anybody take you captive and hold you prisoner by their foolish regulations.
We're going to pick up in verse 11 and work our way down through verse 18. He says, "Your perfection is complete because the fullness of God not has spoken, but the fullness of God has suffered. Don't become a slave to practices. Become a lover of the one who suffered for you." Let me just say this. This is some heady stuff when you first read it, but I think you're going to find out this speaks right to the heart of something that burdens you. What your heart always hungers for, which is in fact a Shabbat, which is in fact a rest, something that will deliver you from the flood of judgment which is sure to come.
Our good friends, Paul and Sarah Stehlik named their child, Noah. The name Noah means rest. It was a very symbolic name to them as they were in the middle of a time that there was a lot of change in their life. They realized God knew what was going on. Adding a child to it was going to be craziness. They knew living in relationship with God was going to put them in a good place. They named this gift from God rest. Noah.
Noah was a man who called men to trust in the provision of God. His prophet who stood in the midst of wickedness and sin and built an ark, a respite from the coming flood of God's judgment and his torrent of righteousness and justice that would pervade the entire earth. Noah called men to leave their foolish speculations and their foolish striving after life, and said, "Come with me. Get on board." Anybody who trusted in God's man, God's prophet and walked on the ark of his provision experienced rest and was lifted above judgment.
Isn't that what we all want? We want rest. We want to escape the justice due those who know they are not righteous in and of themselves. This week, you're going to find what is being tackled here is the idea that you don't let them take you captive and make you work yourself to death through their futile and foolish regulations.
There are many folks who are burdened by this idea of performing certain tasks and practices and ceremonies and rituals. If you don't bow at a certain time of the day in a certain direction every day, if you don't fast on certain days, if you don't dress certain ways, or if you do certain things, you will not be considered righteous by God. We're going to address it.
I will tell you, even as philosophy has intimidated Christians into silence, legalism has stolen from followers of Christ the joy they have been given as a gift from God. We all know how foolish a person can be when they get in a spiral of legalism. I'll give you some examples there that we just shake our head and go, "I can't believe people think that's somehow more righteous to spin a lampshade than it is to turn a switch on and off as some symbol of rest."
I love the story of the guy, in fact, who walked into a bar over in Dublin. He ordered three tankards of ale. He starts drinking them, a sip from each one. Then he walks up to the bar and orders another round when he had finished those three. He goes back and sits down. The bartender walks over to him and says, "Listen, I don't want to meddle in your business, but you know what, those things have a tendency to go flat. You would enjoy your beverage a lot more if you just ordered one and drank it. Ordered another and drank it. Ordered another and drank it."
The guy said, "Hey, listen. I appreciate your concern, but I have a brother in America, and one in Australia, and I am here in Ireland. We used to have a glass of beer together every day, in fact two. When we were all split up for different reasons, we determined we would always remember each other by going through this practice. We would find our own little pub, go into it. We'd order three glasses of beer. We would drink from each one remembering each brother."
The guy said, "All right. Makes some sense to me. It's a nice little ritual." He left the guy alone. This continued for about year until one day that guy walks in, and he orders two glasses of beer. He goes and sits down. Everybody in the bar is silent because they knew what this guy had done for the last year. They knew what this meant.
When he went to up to order the second round, the bartender said, "Hey, I don't mean to intrude upon your grief, but I want to just express my condolences at the loss of one of your brothers." The guy looked at him and said, "No, no, no. You don't understand. There's nobody who is lost here. It's just that my wife and I just joined the Baptist church. I'm not allowed to drink, but my new religion has not affected my brothers at all."
We laugh at that, but we come up with all these little games and rationalizations and justifications in order to allow ourselves to think ourselves righteous. Yet we continue to do certain practices and things that abhor God. That is why God said again and again throughout the Old Testament this little phrase. There was a mark God gave the Jewish people that would set them apart as individuals who were initiated into the citizenship of Israel.
People who had received favor from God because he had revealed himself to them. They, as individuals within that revelation, still had to choose to believe the goodness of God and have faith in him and give themselves to him, but there were privileges given to all individuals who were citizens of the nation of Israel. What would mark you as a citizen of that particular nation was an act called circumcision, which was the removal of some dead flesh, which made it difficult for men to have hygiene in their private areas.
On the eighth day, a flint knife would remove the foreskin. It was called circumcision. There were men who thought because on the eighth day they were circumcised…. What's interesting is you know we don't circumcise our babies anymore on the eighth day. Did you know that? I asked my doctor why we don't or why they did. I had the chance to participate with him in the circumcision of my sons. He said, "I'll tell you why. It's interesting. We have found there is a spike in Vitamin K in the human body on the eighth day. Vitamin K is something that is introduced to the body which causes the blood to clot."
He said for some reason on the eighth day, Vitamin K jumps in a kid, but now, through modern medicine, when we give your kids shots right there in that nursery, one of the things we inject into him is Vitamin K. So before he goes home with Mama, we don't make him wait eight days to go through this experience. We just do it right there 24 hours into his little existence. We put the stuff in him that God gives him on the eighth day so we can get this process rolling.
Isn't it interesting that God said you wait eight days and then you do this? Anyway, many men thought when you did this all of a sudden you were somehow righteous before God. Because this nation God had chosen to reveal himself to, you were a part of through this act of circumcision. All through the Old Testament God says stuff like this, "I wish you would circumcise your heart, and not just your private areas, men."
There was an act Jews would do whenever there was something that would break their heart, or there was a consequence because of their sin. They would take their garment, and they would rip it when somebody would blaspheme God, which is to say to attribute to him some characteristic which is not true of who he is or deny him some characteristic of who he says he was.
If you remember from the movie The Passion of the Christ, if not from reading your Bibles, when Jesus did not deny he was the Son of God, and he said, "I tell you, you will see the Son of Man coming in glory," Caiaphas ripped his garment. God says all throughout the Old Testament, "Oh that you would rend your heart and not your garment." In other words, "Enough of this outward masquerade of having a broken heart. Enough of this dead act of thinking that because you cut off a little dead skin from your body you are somehow righteousness."
Because the circumcision we're going to talk about today, the circumcision of Christ, doesn't deal with just a little dead skin, it deals with the entire dead flesh which can never, ever please God and causes men to be unhealthy spiritually before God. Because the flesh lives in rebellion against God as a result of sin.
Let me just read this stuff. It sounds heady, but you will find it speaks deeply to your soul. I believe it is a text which answers the greatest criticism and challenge to Christianity that exists today. You ask most people if they are at a place where if they die they know they would attain to righteousness and have a relationship with God.
If they say, "Yes," over 90 percent of the people you ask, run your own little experiment this week, will say, "Well because I lived a decent life, because I've done more good than bad, my philanthropy has outweighed my self-indulgence. I am not as wicked as these men, which I would not put in heaven, but someone such as me, who hasn't been perfect but has done more good than evil, I think I'll make it." They will give you answer based on dead works.
When I say dead works… The Bible uses that term, dead works. The term legalism is never in your Bible. Do you know that? But the idea is prevalent throughout. Just like the word Trinity, lest you be intimated when the Jehovah's Witness knocks on your door, is never in your Bible. That is a term which we have applied to a concept the Scripture teaches that God is three and yet one
Legalism is a term which we apply to the existence of an ideology that is thick in the Scriptures. It has to do with dead works. Now dead works do not equal the good works which followers of Christ do in reliance upon the Holy Spirit as an expression of the love of Christ. You were created for good works but not to perform certain acts and rituals and behaviors that you would then submit as a resume that would make you ultimately acceptable to God.
Let me give you a definition or two of legalism and we'll go from there. It's a definition that says simply this. The essence of legalism is trusting in religious activity rather than trusting in God. It is putting our confidence in a practice rather than in a person. Without fail, this will lead us to love the practice more than the person. Do you understand that?
It is trusting in religious activity as opposed to trusting in God. One man said it this way. "It's moral behavior that is not from faith. It is an idea that your biblical standard of conduct or regulation is what's going to give you an ability to look God in the eyes and say, 'Aren't you glad I was as good as I was and shouldn't you accept me?'"
Watch what it says here in the book of Colossians, chapter 2. We already know he says, "Don't let folks take you captive by their foolish speculations." Now Paul is going to come alongside and say, "Don't let them take you captive by their foolish regulations." Look here in verse 11. It says,
"…and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ; having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead."
Let me just stop right there. Because you're kind of reading that and you go, "What in the world does that have to do with me?" Go back to verse 11. Let's take a look at it. It says simply this, "You were in Christ." Who is…who? "The one whom all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form. The one who has made you complete. Who is head over all rules and authority. In him, this God-man, you have been made complete. You were circumcised with the circumcision made without hands."
In other words, God did something man couldn't do. He removed the body of the flesh, not just some little piece of foreskin through the circumcision, not through some flint knife but through the sword of the living Word of God which dealt with the need in your heart. What would happen when you were a young man who was circumcised, you were given all the rights and privileges of a citizen of Israel simply by a divine decree, an act of sovereignty you received by nothing more than your birth.
What Paul is writing here is saying, "Look, the moment you became a child of faith, at that very moment through no work of your own, all you did was believe what God in his grace drew you to believe. When you received the provision of God through the sacrifice of his Son, at that moment you received everything a citizen of heaven is entitled to. Only because you were born at that moment. You were made new and born again. Christ did something that no human hand and no human effort could ever do. He dealt with the flaw in your heart. It is a gift by a sovereign act of God that all you did was walk into it by his divine grace."
You don't let anybody tell you that you need to do something else to earn it. You cannot be born somewhere by your own choosing. God chose to draw you and to ignite in you and to spark in you a desire to find mercy alone at his hand. Even as he revealed it to the entire world. He has brought you to a place, not because you're smarter or better than somebody else.
Even as he revealed himself to Abraham, if you are here this morning and you are aware of the mercies of God, that he is a wonderful, merciful Savior, you can be thankful God has opened your eyes and darkened the heart of you in your unbelief and allowed you to see truth. In doing so at that moment, you were born again and made new. Old things were gone, the body of death, and new things have come, a mind that loves Christ and seeks to honor him. Not through dead works, but through a principled relationship that is rooted and defined by love for God and all that is right and true.
Look what it says in verse 12. It says right there that you became an individual who was "…buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead." Not only were you given all of the rights and inheritances as a citizen of the kingdom of God, but in that moment you achieved right then what is the greatest idea in pursuit of every religion and ideology known to man.
Immortality was given to you. You didn't earn it. You didn't ascend to it. You didn't climb to it. You were secured in your position before heaven. You were promised deliverance from death because you identified with Christ in his being nailed to the cross. You identify with the power of God made known through Christ in his raising to the dead.
You are now with Christ, who has already been positionally put into place where he has shown to be acceptable to God. Where he now sits at the right hand of the Father until he comes to return and get those who by faith have been identified with him and take them to where they already positionally are.
You have been made righteous by your identification with Jesus Christ. This is the idea that Paul develops all through Romans 6. He says, "Don't let anybody tell you that through some human act you're going to become righteous before God. Or that through some human effort you would someday ascend to place that you would be promised immortality in heaven. It's been accomplished perfectly by the one who is ruler over all authority and who himself is God in the flesh."
Look at verse 13. Let's keep going with what he says here. "When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions…" Look what he has done. He has delivered you from the kingdom of darkness and brought you into the kingdom of light.
When you were apart from Christ, the way the Jews would note that men had not received the revelation of God…. There were other nations that practiced circumcision, but none as an act of faith to show their agreement in the relationship that they have with God. When David was on the battlefield with a guy named Goliath, he saw Goliath. He said to Goliath, "For who is this uncircumcised Philistine [who dares] taunt the armies of the living God?"
What David is saying is, "Who is this guy…I don't care how big he is…who dares curse the people that God has determined to bless? Who is this guy who is over there and by being able to see him in his battle array, I can tell something about what he does not believe." Apparently they wore rather loose shorts back then as they went into battle. David knew exactly who he was. A Philistine. A man who was darkened and in rebellion before God.
David said this Philistine is unrighteous, and he has no standing before God's people. Therefore, I don't care that I am just a shepherd boy. God is for me. Who can be against me? So he said, "Come on. Let's get it on, because you're not fighting me. I defend the honor and the finished work of God's declared promise to this nation that there will be no enemy who will come upon it. Bring on your giant." God displayed his greatness by having that little shepherd boy slay this great ungodly power.
That's what Paul is saying you were. "Look. You were this Philistine. You were this unrighteous entity who had no relationship with God. All of a sudden, God in his grace through the work of Christ has made you alive, a part of the blessed people. He has forgiven all your transgressions. He alone has been the means through which you have been moved from darkness to light. Don't leave him. Don't trust in another resource or another way."
Look at verse 14. He says, "…having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." Back in that day and age, when you would have a debt, they would take your name and they would paint it on wood.
They would take that little piece of wood with your name on it and they would post it in the town square. All people who would go through the city, and they would go, "Ah. Todd Wagner has gone bankrupt. He has debts he did not pay." Nobody would do business with Todd Wagner until he had repaid his debt in full.
I could literally starve to death until I repaid my debt because everybody would say, "Do not trust that man. He is a liar, a thief, and a cheat. He will say he will pay you back for something, and in fact, he will not." There is a certificate of debt that you will not cancel out. Your name will not be removed from the blemish until you pay your debt in full.
What it says is he has taken your debt, and he has nailed it to the cross in the person of Jesus Christ. He has taken it out of the way. It is tetelestai; it is paid in full. It has been well said when Jesus was on that cross and he yells out, "My God, my God. Why hast thou forsaken me?" He could have answered, "Because of Todd Wagner's debt. That's why I'm nailed to this cross." That's why you're there. Insert your name if you're an individual who knows you had a debt you could not pay. He who had a debt he did not owe paid it for you.
God publically displayed it and said, "This debt is cancelled." When you would finally repay your debt in that day and age, they would take an x, and they would mark it right there over your name. They would cross it out and say this man no longer is blemished. This man no longer is bankrupt. This man is now an acceptable citizen you can do business with and relate to.
In heaven there is a cross over my name. My debt has been cancelled out. Paul says, "Why would you look somewhere else to pay a debt that has already been paid?" Look at verse 15. He goes on to say right here, "When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him."
Whenever a conquering hero would come and defeat an army, he would take the boys, and he would parade them naked through the streets as they went home. He made a public display of them. That word right there disarmed is best translated stripped. What would happen in this day and age is the Gnostics came along, these people who lived, and said, "Look it, you have to be careful you don't offend certain good angels or you don't somehow make way for evil forces that threaten you."
These people would go through certain practices and rituals where they would curse the gods of darkness. They would try and appease the gods of light. Paul is saying, "Look, you don't need to somehow rebuke these dark figures who are out there. They have already been slapped and sent away naked. God has publically displayed their futility on the cross. He has triumphed over their wickedness through him."
The idea here is in the verses prior to this, verses 11-14, is God dealt with the fruit of our rebellion. Here it says in verse 15, God dealt with the root, if you will, of your rebellion. The Enemy which deceives you, which calls you away from God. The one who is Prince of this World, who rules the minds of the unbelieving. God has silenced him and shown him to be futile in his rebellion against God. He has paraded his futility through the cross and the subsequent resurrection and left him naked and without ability to fight.
The movie The Passion of the Christ does a great job of this, if you haven't seen it. When Christ is finally nailed to that cross, where he is publically displayed, that God has paid the debt and the ransom that was held over us, the wages of our sin which was death and the subsequent fruit of our rebellion. Once it had been paid and dealt with, you saw that satanic figure just melt and flow away and run at the work of Christ that God had accomplished. Screaming, slapped, and running away naked. That's exactly what Paul is saying has happened right here.
Why would you leave that? That's why it says in verse 16, "Therefore no one is to act as your judge…" Because all of this has happened, don't let people come alongside of you. It doesn't mean we shouldn't judge each other in terms of morality. That is not at all the context here. It says, "Don't let somebody judge whether or not you're worthy to stand before God or not."
I have been with folks numerous times when I have shared with them when I asked them if they're at the place where if they die they think they'd go to heaven. They go, "Well, I'm not really sure, but I sure hope so because I've been fairly good person." I look them in the eye and say, "I want to tell you something. I know for a fact when I die I am going to go to heaven." They look at me, and they go, "That is a very arrogant thing to say."
I go, "Quite the contrary. Ask me why I believe I know when I die I am going to go to heaven. I'm not going to give you any of my resume. I'm not going to give you anything about me other than the fact I know I was a Philistine deserving judgment and death. That God in his goodness plucked me from the kingdom of darkness and put me in the kingdom of light.
He had my debt. He took it, and he nailed it in the person of his Son to a cross that dealt completely with my sin. That I might be found acceptable before him. Because God's perfect provision has been made known in the heavenlies, God didn't just wink at my sin, he dealt with it severely. It was free to me, but it was not cheap. It was extremely expensive. He poured out his wrath on his Son.
Through my belief in him, and through my identification with the one who has been crucified dead, buried, and resurrected again as a sign that God has been satisfied with his provision, I know I will stand before God based on the work he has done and accomplished for me. You on the other hand have told me you think you can ascend to the high place and present a resume eventually that would impress God enough to say, 'Yes, though you are a Philistine, you are a good Philistine.'"
"Let no one," he says, "take away your security through their dead legalism and the practices they want you to subscribe to." Don't let anyone judge you in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. There are some who will tell you if you are going to be a good Christian you should continue to practice Jewish festivals and Jewish celebrations.
I will tell you, I have no problem with those festivals or celebrations, but if you think there is something more spiritual about going through a festival which only anticipated what we have already realized and seen accomplished in Jesus Christ, you are kidding yourself. It's fine to go back and see what they pointed to, what they were the shadow of, but a shadow is simply the darkened form of a substance that is real.
The substance that is real is here. We don't need seven festivals throughout the year to remind us of God's goodness to us. We live 24/7, 365 days a year relishing in the goodness of what God has done and provided for us. We don't need a monthly reminder of the sacrificial system God has given us by his grace to sustain us until the time that is judicially dealt with our sin.
We remember it every day with a spirit of gratefulness. We don't need a day that we rest specifically and don't do any work as a reminder that God has gone before us. We rest in Christ every day in the finished work of what he has accomplished for us.
Let me walk you through why this idea is crazy. Let me just give you 10 quick reasons. A guy named Joseph Stowell came up with these, and I think they're right. I'll give you a little commentary to them.
1._ The problem with legalism is it always requires that new laws be invented for new situations._ In other words, instead of teaching principles that can govern your life, underneath the law of love, what you always have to do is invent for every situation what your behavior should be. Jesus was asked what the greatest law was.
They said, "Look, Moses gave us 613 laws. You know we have come up with different derivatives of each of those laws until we have complete manuals that tell us how to do every single thing. What's the most important law?" Jesus said, "I'll tell you what. I can narrow it down to one. That is that you love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. There's a second one that basically is akin to it. That is that you love your neighbor as yourself. For on these two things hang all the laws and all the prophets."
In other words, what Jesus is saying is this. Your relationship with me is what will ultimately define how you should act in a given situation. You're no longer to be somebody who lives according to dead works. That doesn't mean, by the way, that we don't do good works. Dead works or works of the law are works which we try and perform in order to merit for ourselves favor before God apart from the mercy of Christ.
Good works are what we do as a result of our reliance upon the Spirit as an expression of our joy and our love relationship with Christ. Here's the idea. When my wife and I got married, we did not determine to write a prenuptial agreement that was going to define how we would act in every situation.
First of all, we didn't know what situations were coming at us. We didn't know how our life would change when we had one kid or two kids or three kids and on it went. We had no idea all the different things that would confront us as a couple. For us to try and write a law about what I think is acceptable for her to do and for me to do, what kind of free time I get, what kind of free time she gets, what kind of help we'll get her at a certain point, and what kind of time I'll get away with guys at a certain point. To write all that in there and say, "Okay. We'll covenant together this will be the deal."
We didn't go through that. In fact, if we did do that, every time we'd come to a new situation, we have to write the law. It would be wearisome. What we did when we got married is I said, "I want to tell you something. I am going to leave everything I have ever known. I am going to adjust it and refocus it in order to pursue oneness with you. Everything I am bringing into this marriage is now open for discussion. If it threatens my ability to communicate love to you and my desire to be yoked to you, I will change it because I love you. That will be the law which governs me.
Not only that, but everything that happens from this day forward, I will run through the grid of asking myself, 'Will this drive me closer to my wife or will it drive me further apart from her?' If it will move away from you and hurt our relationship, I will not pursue it or admit it to exist in my life. Because the law of love is what will govern us."
When you come into a relationship with Christ, it's not about writing a law for every situation. It's about the law of love governing everything that you do. There is morality, great morality, as a follower of Christ, but it's a morality that is based on how I can honor God and show him my care for him, not so that I might be seen as righteous as in his eyes (we're already married by faith), but because I will adjust or refocus every relationship or activity to show my allegiance to Christ.
I will determine what comes into my life by asking, "Will this drive me closer to Christ or take me further from him?" I'll ask myself, "Is what I'm about to do going to discredit the ministry? Discredit my relationship with God? Is it going to hurt another brother or is it going to show my love and concern from them?" That will inform me.
2._ It's futile and crazy because accountability to God is replaced by accountability to men._ We come up with a system that we say, "This is what makes you righteous." We're no longer worried about what God thinks; we're worried about what you think and what's going to impress you. If I go here and dance. If I have this glass of wine with my turkey. If I have this beer with my pizza. Will you think I'm righteous?
If I watch this movie that's rated this, what will you think it makes me? Instead of asking myself this: "If I watch this movie, what's it going to do to my mind? What's it going to create in me a hunger and a thirst for? Will it drive me further to Christ or will it cause me to seek life apart from him?"
When you become legalistic, it changes where your ultimate accountability is. Everybody is watching each other and judging each other and deciding who is really righteous in this community and who isn't.
3._ It reduces a person's ability to personally discern._ In other words, all it does is it sets up laws that we know this is right and this is wrong. It encourages folks to not grow in maturity. It's a bunch of moral whats and no moral whys. What I'm trying to do as a parent to my children is I'm not trying to raise obedient children as much as I'm trying to raise healthy adults. As my kids get older, I start to say to them, when they say, "Dad, can I go see this movie?" I want to say, "Well, what's in the movie? Go to kids-in-mind.com. Go to screenit.com. You read what's in that movie, and you make a decision as to whether or not it's good for you."
Now while they're still younger, I'm going to help come alongside of them and say, "You may think that's not a problem. Let me just tell you what that stuff does when it enters into your mind. Here's a way to think through and factor that through. I want you to understand not just what I want you to do; I want you to understand why you would do that as a person who knows God is good and he loves you and he gives you order for the purpose of giving you life."
What happens when you become a legalistic individual is it takes away your ability to discern because you never have to ask the Spirit of Christ to lead you. You never have to grow in the knowledge of his will. You never have to be a person who lives with skilled, principled living because all you do is just go to the law. It says, "What should I do in this circumstance?" God says, "Wed your heart to mine and do what you think will glorify me and bless your fellow man."
4._ It creates a judgmental spirit._ "I am better than you are because I do a better job with a list." What typically we do, by the way, is we make lists that make us look good. It's not surprising the church has decided to make homosexuality one of the sins that absolutely cannot be on the list. By the way, it is a sin that can't be on the list. The church has done right in saying that's something that is abhorrent to God and damaging to man.
Isn't it amazing the church has not decided to take the same vengeance towards marriages that are not loving and cherishing and honoring and mutually submissive and caring, where roles are specific but humility and love is defined. We've even taken a shot at divorce and made that a big issue for a long time.
How many of us are living in marriages that really aren't defined so much by marriage as of oneness but are really defined by marriages that are just not divorced. How many of us have talked a lot about sins we don't struggle with, but we don't talk much about gossip or slander or pride or arrogance or anger? We make a list that I can do better in than you.
5._ What happens with legalism is that Pharisees or individuals who take to it confuse personal preferences with divine law._ In other words, we say, "Look, I think this is what a holy man should do, even though divine law hasn't been absolutely clear on it." For instance, one of the ones that has been very thick in the communities I grew up and around, even before I knew Christ, was the whole idea of drinking.
We've just said, "Look, I don't think spiritual people should drink. Maybe I don't even like the taste of wine." So spiritual people won't have wine. The Scriptures don't say you shouldn't drink wine. The Scripture says that drunkenness is a sin. I will tell you this. More people are going to go to hell, tens of millions more will go to hell, because of legalism than alcoholism.
Let me read you a little excerpt from a guy by the name of John Piper. He did a great job with this when he was trying to lead his church, which for a long time had as a part of its membership the requirement that not only that you took a humble position before the cross of Jesus Christ, that you walked with him and abided with him and that, by obedience, were baptized into a relationship with him but that you also made a commitment to not drink.
That's what it took to be a member of John Piper's church for a long time. When he was teaching through Colossians, he became convicted that was a wrong view. Let me just read you what he had to say. "Listen as I uncover," he wrote, "one of [the Enemy's] great plots." He is here referencing the fact that Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. What he is saying here is that sometimes things can look like they're good when in fact all they are is a wolf in sheep's clothing.
He said, "Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn't look like one. Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world. Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one. Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength. Alcoholics don't feel welcome in [their] church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in church.
Therefore, what we need in this church," he said to his people, "is not front-end regulations to try and keep ourselves pure. We need to preach and pray and believe that 'Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision, neither teetotalism nor social drinking, neither legalism nor alcoholism is of any avail to God, but only a new creation (a new heart).' The enemy is sending against every day the Sherman tank of the flesh with its cannons of self-reliance and self-sufficiency."
In other words, if you don't drink, don't dance, don't do this, that's what makes you righteous. Now we tell you, there is a way to dance which is not righteous. We all know it when we see it. There's a way to drink that's not righteous. We know it when we see it. To say you don't dance at all, you don't drink at all, that doesn't matter one lick to God.
"If we try to defend ourselves or our church with peashooter regulations, we will be defeated, even in our apparent success." In other words, if we say, "This is what makes somebody righteous," the Sherman tank of sin is going to overtake us. "The only defense…" Now watch this. It sounds like he is a Paulist. "The only defense is to 'be rooted and built up in Christ and established in faith; Strengthened with all power according to his glorious might for all endurance and patience with joy…'" Watch this. "'…holding fast to the Head…'"
That's Paul's point. Don't let philosophers push you off divine wisdom, and don't let Gnostics and Judaizers and legalizers come alongside and say, "Leave your Jesus. Believe in him, but add to it these sacraments, add to it these observances. No, you hold firm in Christ. "'…from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together…grows with a growth that is from God.' From God! From God!" he says. "And not from ourselves." See, the Pharisees always confuse personal preferences with divine law.
6._ It produces inconsistencies._ Because like I said, we pick certain sins to put on our list in order that we might appear more righteous than others.
7._ It creates a false standard of righteousness._ As if food, drink, or certain practices on certain days or certain behavior on Sunday mornings or certain dress is what makes us holy.
8._ It became a burden to the people who practice it._ Jesus says, "Are you weary? Is your heart heavy? Come to me, and I'll give you life. Don't worry about whether or not you should spin the shade. Don't worry about whether or not you should light the stove. Trust in me. That's what righteousness is."
9._ It was strictly external._ It was a masquerade when your heart of sin was hidden beneath. Jesus says, "I'm not really impressed if you cut some foreskin off yourself. I want to know you've dealt with your wicked flesh. Has it been crucified? Don't impress me with your rent garment saying that you're grieving. Rend your hearts. Don't honor me with your lips while your hearts are far from me. That's why the next one is true, and this is a problem.
10._ Because it was rejected by Christ._ He said, "I alone and my sacrifice for you is the means through which you can be acceptable to God." Paul says, "You have found it. Don't let anybody push you off it." He also says, "Live in thankfulness for it." Let's pray.
Lord, here's the point of today. We have found in Christ everything we need to be acceptable to you. That you took perfection and you poured out wrath on it. That you took our guilt and our debt before you, and you nailed it to a cross in order that we might be found acceptable in your sight.
Father, we want to be a people who live not by law that it can be defined by attaining to a standard men would applaud, but we want to be men and women who deal with our sin in the way you say our sin should be dealt with, with your full wrath being poured out against it. If we die for what we have done then all we have done is paid the debt we have owed, and we have no life left to live. We have been vanquished before you in your justice.
Yet we have found again in this little book you have given us, a reminder that your love for us has gone before us, and you made him who knew no sin to become sin in our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in this Jesus. You have then declared us righteous, so we don't want to let anybody be our judge in regarding what we do or don't do.
It doesn't mean, Father, we shouldn't spur each other on to love and good deeds, but it means we should not consider ourselves spiritual for any other reason than we have humbly come to the awesome, powerful, mighty cross and stand in wonder before it and humility under it and walk away from it seeking to leave and adjust everything in our life to show our gratefulness and gratitude towards you and to filter everything through, asking ourselves, "Will we, by this, exalt the name of Christ further and grow closer to his likeness and embrace it if it does and flee from it if it doesn't?"
May that be what defines our life as we celebrate this mighty and wonderful provision which is the cross of Jesus Christ where the fullness of God died for me.
We love what the Lord does because it's in me to want to impress you with how well I can do. On a day where we're talking about the one thing that will impress him, I think he lets me sometimes fumble. Because this is not about the giftedness of men and how they speak or how they live. It's about the mightiness of the cross.
If you're somebody who is here with a heavy heart and who is hopeless and burdened, we invite you to the cross. Not to gifted men, not to systems of righteousness the world will applaud, but a law of love that says I have seen grace and I will by the goodness of God and my reliance on his Spirit respond to it as fully as I can.
If you are still seeking to make yourself as somebody who is acceptable to God through any other means than his perfect provision for you, where he deals fully with the body of flesh and makes you new and in being born again invites you to be a full recipient of the citizenship of heaven where you identify with the one who has already been seen as acceptable, and the firstfruits have been raised from the grave and has ascended to sit at the right hand of God, where you are with him positionally and will join him one day forever, then we invite you to come.
If you have embraced this Jesus and love this mighty cross, then you learn to live in such a way that will reflect that love and serve your fellow man. If you're looking to have your burden lightened, will you come to this cross? If you have come to this cross, will you go and live underneath the law of love? You have a great week of worship.
From a book that is 2,000 years old comes evidence that has been preserved about the greatest truth the world has ever known and how it can transform our lives. The book of Colossians walks through the radical change that happened to some in an ancient east Asian city, revealing the struggles they faced, the resistance they met, and the transformation they found as a result of the hope they had. Join Todd Wagner as he studies the Colossians scene to discern how their journey can reveal truths that can change us.