Out of the Shadow of Religion

Currently, I am doing a sermon series through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the believers located in and around the city of Colossae.  This coming Sunday the passage being addressed in located in chapter 2, verses 8-23.  I have really enjoyed translating it from the Greek through which I have been, I think, going deeper into Paul’s mind as he wrote to these believers and the situation(s) they were facing.

Paul, in this letter, is really emphasizing the supremacy of Christ but there is more that he is emphasizing and it especially comes out in this passage from chapter 2 – freedom.  These followers of Jesus were being bombarded by teachers who were telling them that it was necessary to follow this rule or that rule or a list of rules.  There were restrictions and requirements to which these teachers were telling these believers they needed to adhere.

Additionally, these restrictions and requirements came from a secret cache of knowledge which only the teachers possessed.  That meant that, in order for these believers to be able to truly follow Christ, they needed to come to and be dependent upon these teachers to do so.

What I just described is not grace but religion.  Religion is humanity’s creation of rules and restrictions and requirements in order to gain acceptance by God.  It is also used as a measuring stick of a person’s spiritual maturity.  Unfortunately, just like the situation Paul was addressing almost 2000 years ago, there are those who constantly are making Christianity (which is GRACE, not a religion) into a religion.

I find it interesting how Paul connects what these “teachers” are doing with the “elements” of this world.  These are the lists of rules, regulations and requirements to which people are supposed to adhere to be truly “spiritual.”  In verse 16 Paul says, “Let no one judge you regarding food or drink or in respect of a feast or a new moon or a Sabbath, which are a shadow of things to come, but the body is Christ.”  

The Greek word for shadow is directly related to the word for body; it is a variant.  The idea is that the shadow looks real, is shaped very similar to the actual and real body, but it is empty.  That’s the reason why Paul says in verse 23 that these “things indeed have a reputation of wisdom in self-imposed piety and mock humility and severe treatment of the body, but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh.”

Since a person with faith in Christ has died with Christ and therefore also died to the elements of the “world system,” a person no longer is under the authority of that system, but the authority of Christ, the Head.  Therefore, a follower is no longer subject to the ordinances of the “world system” such as “Do not handle; do not taste; do not touch.” (verse 22)

But take a look at what many have made Christianity out to be.  It is much like the “world system” of rules, requirements and regulations.  I was taught growing up that consuming any amount or type of alcohol was a sin; alcohol is evil and was not to be touched.  I was taught that playing cards were of the devil. (playing cards were a common pastime in my family of origin)  I was taught that music with any type of beat (rock and roll) was straight from the pit of hell. (I love music with an awesome lead guitar and a driving beat!)  

For every one of these teachings, there were convincing arguments (though wrong).  And these teachings had “a reputation of wisdom in self-imposed piety and mock humility and severe treatment of the body,” but it was only a reputation, nothing more.

The reasoning goes that abstaining from these things would keep me pure and that’s what a truly spiritually mature Christian does.  

This very morning, I read a blog post this morning from a pastor saying that one reason parents should make their children attend Sunday morning worship is because God commanded it; he used the commandment creating the Sabbath as his rationale.  How does this rationale jive with Paul’s words in verses 16 & 17 of this passage as well as his words in Romans 14:5-6a?  I don’t think it does.

If Paul were writing today regarding these types of teachings, I think a letter much like the one he wrote to the Colossian believers would be written.

Are there some believers for whom drinking is a sin?  Yep, but that’s because, due to a variety of reasons, they abuse alcohol and, therefore, should abstain.  But if a person enjoys the fruit of God’s creation and does so in a manner of moderation and thanksgiving, for him/her it is not sin but actually an expression of his/her freedom and connection (read spiritual maturity here) with the Head of the Body.

There are some who would respond with the charge that this type of teaching encourages and allows sin, licentious behavior, to occur.  The key to what Paul is saying is the connection with the Head of the Body – Christ.  As part of the Body, a believer has direct connection with the Head and the control the Head has over every part of the Body.

Just like our head, our brains, control our bodies and our actions, Christ, as Head of His Body (the church), controls His body and its actions.  Having rules and regulations and requirements are an extremely poor substitute for the control of Christ.

Look, because of faith, I have been crucified (killed, dead) with Christ and made dead to the regulations of the “world system” and raised with Him to new life which gives me a direct connection to the control and authority of the Head – Christ. He is the Master, as Paul says in Romans 14, before which I stand or fall.

When Christ was hanging on that cross, God took the “world system” of religion with all of its rules, regulations and requirements and nailed it to the cross forever cancelling its force, bond and authority.  And, while Christ came down from the cross and out of the tomb 3 days later alive, that “world system” remains nailed to that cross never to be removed.  

And grace stepped in and filled the void. So those of faith in Christ are not controlled by any system but by the Head and His direction which is grace.  It is Christ controlling me and all who follow Him that will stop sin from running rampant in my life and the lives of other believers, not some system of lists or rules, regulations and requirements.

I will not be party to any group who wants to get out a  hammer and pull out the nails still holding that system to the cross and thereby tossing grace out of the window.

I have been brought out of the shadow of religion through Christ and I absolutely refuse to step back into that shadow!


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