All of us can be intimidated. There is no question about it. One of the things that concerns me very greatly is not so much the intimidation that occurs in the world, but the intimidation that Christians suffer in our day. We are being intimidated on a massive and very effective scale. I think that it is time for us to say, "Hey, we know we are being intimidated. We don't want to be intimidated. We are not going to be intimidated. We want to reevaluate where we are and what we have as Christians to see whether or not we need to bend to this kind of pressure." The Christian is perennially intimidated by good-looking, exciting-appearing false doctrine. Any good pastor, good elder, good teacher, or any responsible Christian should be warning his fellow believers or his flock about that intimidation.
Now, the letter to the Colossians is an open rebuttal to false teachers. It states the basic truth of Christianity at the very outset, and then tackles the heresies that deny the truth. The basic truth of Christianity is Christ: Christ is sufficient; Christ is all; Christ is God; Christ is Savior; Christ redeems; Christ is everything you need. That's the message. And after stating that message as powerfully and as potently as he can (Col. 1:15-2:7), Paul then attacks the heresies that would deny it and say, "It's fine to have Christ, but there is more than that." And the poor Colossians, who up to now had thought that Christ was all they needed, that they had everything in having Him, and that they had received everything in being saved, were now being told that they were a long way from having received what God wanted them to have. They were being told that there were more things for them to seek for, higher levels for them to reach, deeper depths of spirituality to go to, greater humility and greater piety. The intimidation was mounting so much that they were very tempted to say, "What is it? We are going to join you. We want it!" So Paul writes this letter to tell them that Christ is all they needed. Colossians 2:10 is a summary of the first part of the letter: "And ye are complete in Him, who is the head...." You are complete in Christ. That's the point. There isn't anything lacking; there isn't any insufficiency.
As we come to Colossians 2:8-23, we come to the little section in the middle of the book that is the heart of the letter. It is Paul's frontal attack against the heretics that were beleaguering the church in Colosse. There were four different aspects to this heresy, and it seems as though this particular error came out of the theology of the Essenes. This heresy had four areas: Philosophy, Legalism, Mysticism, and Asceticism. It is in those four categories that Paul places his argument. We have already looked at how Paul dealt with the subject of human...
I. PHILOSOPHY (vv. 8-15)
The next one we want to look at is...
II. LEGALISM (vv. 16-17)
The heretics had not only said, "You are not going to cut it because you don't know human philosophy. There are things that you haven't yet learned," but they also said, "You must commit yourself to the religion of human achievement. It is Christ plus works righteousness." Beginning in verse 16 is Paul's answer to that kind of intimidation. And it is here that the rather Jewish aspect of the Colossian heresy stands out.A. The Submission To The Shadows (v. 16)
"Let no man, therefore, judge you in food, or in drink [lit. `eating or drinking'], or in respect of a feast day, or of the new moon, or of a sabbath day"
Paul says to the Colossian Christians, "Those people are trying to intimidate you with legalism. They are trying to judge you on what you eat, what you drink, whether you attend Passover, Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles, the Feast of Lights, whether you make your sacrifice on the first day of the month (the new moon), or whether you prescribe to all the laws and rules and rituals of the Sabbath day." Those heretics were saying, "It isn't enough to know Christ; you have to know Christ and keep the Jewish law." There was even some Greek and pagan ritual mixed into that heresy, so it became very confusing. Their whole point was this: Salvation and spirituality are based on Christ plus keeping certain rituals.
Now legalism is simply subscribing your spirituality by your ability to keep man-made rules. Obeying God's rules is obedience, not legalism. But subscribing and defining your spirituality by your submission to man-made rules, or to those rules which God had made and now set aside for this age, is legalism.
1. The External Judgment (v. 16a)
"Let no man, therefore, judge you..."
If Christ has given you complete salvation, complete forgiveness, and complete victory (vv. 11-15), if everything is complete in Him, then don't let anyone make a spiritual judgment of you depending on what you do or don't do as ritual. No doubt the Colossians were facing great pressure to conform to legalistic patterns...and mostly Jewish ones at that. Remember, Colosse was a Gentile city, and the people did not keep Jewish legalistic patterns. They weren't being asked to maintain something that was in their heritage; they were having dumped on them something they didn't even understand. So Paul is warning the whole group against suddenly losing their freedom in Christ and giving up their spirituality to externals. That was a serious danger.
a. The Establishment of Freedom
Paul is saying, "Don't sacrifice your freedom in Christ to circumscribe your life to man-made rules. Christ has cancelled the bondage of the law."
1) Colossians 2:14 -- "Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances...nailing it to His cross." The ritual system ended at the cross--He destroyed it forever. Since He has gained complete victory once and for all over that system, Christians have no need to subscribe to it. To become entangled again in a legalistic system is pointless and harmful.
2) Galatians 5:1 -- "Stand fast, therefore, in the liberty with which Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." Christ set you free to be free; now don't go back to legalism. It would be ridiculous for the Lord Jesus Christ to open the gate of our prison and set us free only to put us in another cell. He set us free to stay free.
b. The Evaluation of Freedom
Paul says to the Colossians, "Don't be beguiled, don't be tricked, don't let anybody make a spiritual judgment on you on the basis of your external behavior. Don't let anybody evaluate your spirituality on that basis."
1) The Needless Criteria
There will always be people who will want to judge everybody's spirituality by what they do externally: How they eat, what they eat, how they drink, what they drink, whether they keep all the Christian routines, and whether they appear to be Christians on the outside. The problem with that kind of evaluation is this: Somebody who isn't a real Christian can qualify on every one of those counts. It isn't that true Christians won't manifest certain behavioral patterns...they will, but phony people can always conform to externals. That is not a good method for judgment. There are Christians who will see a person with a cigarette and immediately give a definition of that person's spirituality. There are Christians who might see someone take a glass of wine or beer somewhere and immediately say, "That person is not a Christian," or "That person is carnal," because they have a certain external standard they feel Christians should live by.
Now that is not the way to evaluate spirituality. That's what Paul is saying: "Don't let anybody judge your spirituality on the basis of your eating or drinking." Whether you do or do not eat meat offered to idols, or do or do not drink wine is not the criteria. Those things are not necessarily the spiritual criteria by which a man can judge. When you judge in that manner, you make Christianity a game that you can play on the outside. When spirituality is based on externals, the problem of hypocrisy sets in.
a) Titus 1:14-16 -- "Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth." In other words, don't base your life on works. Verse 15 says, "Unto the pure all things are pure, but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled. They profess that they know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate" (vv. 15-16). There are some people who can mask themselves in externals, but who internally are reprobates. That's not the way to evaluate someone's spirituality.
b) Romans 14:5 -- Some people obey the Sabbath, some people don't; but that is not the criterion for judging spirituality.
c) 1 Timothy 4:2-3 -- "Speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving by them who believe and know the truth." Here are some people who have all kinds of rigid rules: You can't eat this or that, you can't get married, and so on. They are nothing but hypocrites and propagators of the doctrines of demons (1 Tim. 4:1).
That is not the way to evaluate. The problem is that some people will conform to all the externals and be nothing but carnal hypocrites. So Paul is saying to the Colossians, "Don't let those people rob you of your liberty."
2) The Necessary Restriction
Now there are some people who can make me restrict my liberty. They are the weaker Christians or the people that I might offend who are open to Christ. They are not false teachers. I do not need to restrict my liberty for the sake of false teachers. When a weaker Christian's conscience is at stake, which won't let him do certain things, then you shouldn't do them either because you don't want to wound his conscience (Rom. 14-15). In Acts 15 the Jerusalem Council said, "There are certain things that are all right to do, but don't do them, for the sake of the unsaved Jews in your community who would be offended." But when you are dealing with false teachers, Paul says to go about enjoying your liberty, and don't let them restrict it with their works-righteousness system. For them it is not just a personal conscience issue, it is a satanic lie right out of the pit. They are trying to say that Christ is not enough to save you, not enough to make you spiritual, and not enough to mature you; you have to have works righteousness. But you don't need to respond to that.
2. The External Standards (v. 16b-c)
a. The Specific Foods (v. 16b)
"...in food, or in drink..."
1) The Old Testament Roots
Those standards undoubtedly have Old Testament roots. There were certain prohibitions in the Old Testament relative to eating and drinking. Here are some that may be familiar to you:
a) Leviticus 10:9 -- "Do not drink wine nor strong drink, thou, nor thy sons with thee, when ye go into the tabernacle of the congregation, lest ye die...." In other words, "Before you go in to minister before the Lord, don't take any wine or strong drink." There were certain prohibitions for the priests, in this case relative to drink.
b) Numbers 6:3 -- "He shall separate himself from wine and strong drink, and shall drink no vinegar of wine, or vinegar of strong drink, neither shall he drink any liquor of grapes, nor eat moist grapes, or dried." The Nazirite vow was a vow of abstinence. There were certain things in the Old Testament that indicated what a child of God, in a certain position within the economy of Israel, was permitted to do.
c) Judges 13:4 -- "...drink not wine nor strong drink...." That was relative to Samson.
So, there were certain laws in the Old Testament that God had given relative to eating and drinking. The purpose of those laws was either to create a unique situation, or to keep the people from eating something that would be harmful to them nutritionally. But the primary issue in the Old Testament was that God wanted a peculiar people. God wanted His people set apart in certain ways and from certain things. By virtue of the kind of diet God had prescribed, Israel had a hard time having relations with the peoples of the country in which they lived because they couldn't eat together. God wanted it that way; he didn't want them to intermingle.
2) The New Testament Revelation
In the New Testament, those laws were set aside.
a) Mark 7:15 -- Jesus made the first statement to abolish those laws: "There is nothing from outside of a man that, entering into him, can defile him...." That was revolutionary and shocking to the Jewish mind because they always thought that you were defiled by what you ate. But it was what came out of a man that defiled him: the envy, the murder, and the evil thoughts. So Jesus had abolished that.
b) Acts 10 -- The truth that those laws were abolished was further stated by illustration in the vision Peter had.
c) Acts 15 -- At the Jerusalem Council it was formally declared to be abolished.
d) Romans 14:17 -- "For the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit."
So everything spiritual is internalized, and there are no longer dietary laws.
But the false teachers continued to give the number one satanic lie of the ages: Christ is not enough. It has to be Christ plus works. Every false system in the world says that you are saved by works. Christianity is the only system of religion in the entire world that is purely a system of grace. Why? Satan counterfeits it. The only way you can counterfeit grace is by works. So the heretics held to their stand, saying that there had to be Christ plus works righteousness. But Paul says in Galatians 5:2 that if you have Christ plus anything, you lose Christ.
b. The Specific Days (v. 16c)
"...or in respect of a feast day, or of the new moon, or of a sabbath day"
In other words, don't let anyone determine your spirituality on the basis of whether you go to a Passover, or Pentecost, or the Feast of Tabernacles, or the Feast of Lights, or any of the festivals listed in Leviticus 23, or a new moon (Numbers 28:11 says that sacrifice was made on the first day of the month of the new moon), or the Sabbath day.
1) Holding to the Standards
Now some people still hold to those things as the standards of spirituality. You hear people say, "I'm a Christian." I have asked someone on occasion, "How do you know you are a Christian?" He says, "I go to church on Easter, on Christmas, and a few times in between." Does that make him a Christian? He says, "I don't smoke, I don't drink, I'm nice." That's one perspective. The other perspective is this: "I don't believe those people are Christians. They don't come Sunday nights. The true church prays on Wednesday nights." You can hear people say, "How can he be a Christian, he smokes?" "I don't know if he is a Christian, I saw him with a can of beer." What kind of an evaluation is that? You could probably say about those kind of people, "I don't know if they are Christians, I heard that they gossip."
Gentile Christians never were subjected to that Jewish legalism. Why was it imposed on them? Satan wanted to convince them that Christ was not sufficient. That is why Paul says, "For in Him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in Him..." (Col. 2:9-10a). You are totally saved, totally forgiven, and totally victorious. That is the whole message of verses 11-15.
2) Holding to the Sabbath
Paul says, "Don't let anybody hassle you about the Sabbath." The Apostle Paul includes that because it was being made into a legalistic imposition. The Jews kept the Sabbath, even some of the Christian Jews. Paul said in Romans 14 that if a weaker brother still had his conscience inclined to the Sabbath, having been raised in it, don't hassle him. But don't tell a bunch of Gentiles who know nothing about it, that they have to abide by it to be saved.
From the beginning, the Gentile church had met on the Lord's day, the first day of the week. In Romans 14:6 Paul says, "He that regardeth the day, regardeth it unto the Lord; and he that regardeth not the day, to the Lord he doth not regard it...." Either way it's fine, he is the Lord's. In order to be sensitive to the Jews, particularly in Jerusalem, the early church probably kept the Sabbath because that was the day off from work. They surely had to work on Sunday since it wasn't the day off. It is very likely that they worshiped together late Saturday evening after the Sabbath, and early Sunday morning before they went to work. They began their worship on the first day of the week, but that didn't mean that they had the day off. They still maintained observance of the Sabbath--they rested--and then they worshiped in the interval between the Sabbath and when they had to start work. For example, Paul preached right through midnight until morning (Ac. 20:7-11). They had to squeeze it in so as not to offend.
So Paul is giving a strong warning against being intimidated by people who want to impose a legalistic system. He says, "Don't let it happen!"
B. The Substance of the Shadow (v. 17)
"Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ."
All of those rules and legalistic things were just shadows. A shadow anticipates the arrival of someone, and the Someone arrived. You don't need the shadow. The people who lived under those rules were content to live in the shadow side of religion where fear lurks and inhibitions abound. Paul says, "Get out of the shadow, the reality is here." We can say it this way: Why regard as indispensable ordinances certain things relative to eating, when the One foreshadowed by Israel's manna is offering Himself as the true Bread of Life? How can the observance of Passover be considered a means to spiritual perfection when our Passover Christ has already been sacrificed to perfect the saints? What justification could there be for demanding Gentile converts to observe the law of the Jewish Sabbath, when the bringer of eternal rest has already granted that to us? And if that was true in relation to Old Testament regulations that God had made, it was certainly true with respect to the many man-made rules that God didn't have anything to do with.
The point is that the errorists were trying to convince the Colossians that Christ wasn't enough to save. They were denying the all-sufficiency and the preeminence of Christ. That's the worst lie there is. The ordinances and the rituals exist, but they are external.
You say, "Are you saying that we should do all of those things, that we ought not to come to church, we ought to smoke and drink, and do anything we want to do? Is that what you are saying?" No, I'm saying just don't judge spirituality on that basis. True judgment will take place when God "will make manifest the counsels of the hearts..." (1 Cor. 4:5b). That is the principle. Paul says, "Look, spirituality is not a matter of external ritual, but a matter of an internal relationship with Jesus Christ. Don't let anybody intimidate you based on what you do or don't do in order to determine if you are spiritual or not."
Having discussed philosophy and legalism, Paul moves to...
III. MYSTICISM (vv. 18-19)
The errorists were also trying to intimidate the Colossians in the area of mysticism. You say, "What is mysticism?" Mysticism is a deeper or higher religious experience based on some personal, subjective intuition. Someone might say, "Well I have had an experience that I can't define, but I have touched God." That is mysticism. The heretics were claiming this: "We have a higher, broader, deeper, and greater mystical union with God. We've obtained a humility and a piety unlike anything you have ever experienced. We have connected ourselves up with the aeons, the demigods, and the subgods, and climbed the ladder to the presence of the one true deity." You even hear that kind of talk from people today.
A. The Insufficiency of Higher Knowledge (vv. 18-19a)
"Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshiping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding the Head..."
The New American Standard Version puts it this way: "Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self- abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head..." What is Paul saying? Don't let anyone tell you that you are disqualified from obtaining the prize of spirituality because you haven't reached the level of self-abasement, or understood the worship of angels, or haven't had the right visions. Those people are inflated by their own fleshly minds. The one thing they are not doing is holding fast to the Head. And who is the Head? Jesus Christ. They say, "Salvation is Christ plus my visions, plus my experiences with the angels, plus my deeper experience and my higher experience."
Now, that is the heart of the heresy that was to plague the church for centuries. It became known as Gnosticism. Gnosticism became a very prevalent heresy in the early church. It taught that to become a Christian, you had to have a greater knowledge, a higher knowledge, and a deeper experience with God that came through a knowledge of various emanations and subgods, one of which was Christ. You just ascended the scale of these subgods to God. You had reached a point of great humility and great piety when you had experienced those mystical things. Now that is very intimidating because you don't have any idea what the people are talking about. I had someone say to me, "Jesus came into my room, put His arm around me, and talked with me." What can I say? I don't relate to that.
1. The Danger of the Fraud
Paul says, "Don't let anyone deny you of your prize." What is the prize? It is the prize of spirituality, salvation, and completeness. Don't let anybody tell you that you are disqualified and you don't get the prize because you didn't attain the higher knowledge, or the special kind of self- abased, pious humility, or the higher knowledge of the various angels, or the super visions. In verse 16 Paul says, "Don't let the legalists condemn you," and here he says, "Don't let the mystics condemn you." In other words, don't let them intimidate you by what you haven't experienced in order to make you think that you don't really know God at all because you have never had any of those experiences. Paul says that they don't believe Jesus is enough, that it is Jesus plus some superknowledge, and that's a lie right out of hell.
2. The Details of the Fraud
a. Delighting in Humility
Paul says that those people delight in humility. They are so happy to be humble. Their own humility thrills them. They are proud to be humble. They are like the character Uriah Heep in the novel David Copperfield who says, "I is umble." One writer said, "Humility! The sweetest, loveliest flower that bloomed in Eden, and the first that died, has rarely blossomed since on mortal soil. It is so frail, so delicate a thing, 'tis gone if it but look upon itself; and he who ventures to esteem it his proves by that single thought he has it not." Their supposed humility was nothing but ugly pride.
b. Worshiping Angels
They also worshiped angels. What good is that? There is only one mediator between God and man, and the man is Christ Jesus. They were worshiping angels and denying the one mediator. William Hendriksen says that there is evidence that angel worship was rather prevalent in the region of Colosse at that time. We know that the Essene community leaned toward angel worship. One of the writings of the Essenes says to carefully guard the names of the angels. But angel worship is forbidden in the Bible. The Apostle John tried to worship an angel twice (Rev. 19:10; 22:9). The angel said, "...See thou do it not! I am thy fellow servant....Worship God..." (Rev. 19:10). Even the angels forbid it.
c. Taking a Stand on Visions
In verse 18 Paul says, "...taking his stand on visions he has seen..." (NASB). These people say, "I am sorry about you. I have seen things beyond what you have seen. I have comprehended things and know the secrets not known to ordinary man. I take my stand there." That is very intimidating. They make you feel like a second-class Christian. I have never seen anything.
They are all very intimidating--the superpious, hypocritical, self-humiliating people who have deeper experiences with angels, see visions, and receive special revelations, while the rest of us are sitting around at the Bible studies just trying to understand what it says on the page. So Paul says to the Colossians, "Don't be intimidated! Don't let anyone take your prize away and say, `You are disqualified from spirituality because you haven't had the greater experience.'"
3. The Denunciation of the Fraud
The truth is, he is "vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind" (v. 18). Those people were guilty of the worst hypocrisy there is--spiritual pride, and they were devoid of the true spirit. In addition, they were "not holding fast to the head..." (v. 19a; NASB). As a Christian you need Jesus Christ and nothing else. He is all in all. You don't need special visions; you don't need conversations with angels; you don't need some kind of self-imposed piosity; and you don't need to keep a bunch of rules.
B. The Increase of the Body (v. 19)
"...holding the Head, from whom all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God."
In other words, just hold to the One who holds the whole church together. Don't be intimidated. Don't let those people tell you that works, self-righteousness, false humility, angel worship, and special visions and revelations have to be added to the sufficiency of Christ to bring you to spirituality. That's a lie right out of hell that wants to dishonor Christ. I think the greatest satanic lie today is that if you are a Christian, you still haven't got all you need. That is a lie. You don't need anything else. You are complete in Him. Peter says that you have received "all things that pertain unto life and godliness..." (2 Pet. 1:3). The lie is insidious and intimidating to people. The Lord Jesus is the Head; He holds the body together and brings about the growth. As the head of the physical body contributes to the growth by the pituitary gland, so the Lord Jesus causes the growth of the body. He is all you need to grow to maturity and spirituality.
Philosophy, legalism, and mysticism are out. The last thing that they tried to use to intimidate the Colossian Christians was...
IV. ASCETICISM (vv. 20-23)
You say, "What is an ascetic?" The dictionary defines an ascetic as somebody who lives a life of rigorous self-denial. An ascetic is somebody who sells everything and goes to live in a monastery. The religious phonies in Colosse were saying that the only true spirituality comes in self-denial. I think the church has been intimidated by this for centuries: The only truly spiritual people are those who become monks or nuns and go to live in a monastery. Or the only truly spiritual people are those who have nothing; they sell everything and live in absolute, abject poverty. That is extreme, rigid abstinence.
A. The Perversion of Self-Denial (v. 20-21)
"Wherefore, if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances (touch not; taste not; handle not"
Paul says, "Your union with Christ in His death has caused you to die to the rudiments of the world and to be separated from human religion--the human religion based on philosophy, legalism, mysticism, and self-denial. The redeemed are set free from self- styled, man-made rules designed to make you holy. The world says, `If you want to be really holy, give up everything, deprive yourself, and go live in total abstinence.' If you do that, you are simply modeling yourself after the system of religion in the world."
1. The Background
Many ascetics believed that the body was evil. Some monks regarded it as a sin to take a bath because they would see their body. There are writings that attest to that. They felt that marriage was an experiment of the serpent which would separate them from the Lord. Why? They would see someone else's body. Athanasius boasted of the devotion of Anthony, who never changed his vest nor washed his feet--and that was praiseworthy. Antonius proudly related that such was the holy asceticism of Simeon the Stylite that when he walked vermin dropped of his body. Some of the early church fathers, in a fit of asceticism, castrated themselves as an act of self-denial, seeking by such rites to attain holiness.
Now, I'm not saying that there should never be any self-denial. If God so desires that you and I live like Hudson Taylor, accomplish what he did, and be God's man in the place that he was, then that's glorious. But he never did it to attain spirituality, he did it because that was God's call to him. That's the difference.
2. The Basis
Notice that verse 21 says, "(Touch not; taste not; handle not." In other words, no more oil, no more wine, no more meat, no contact with a stranger, no touching of a religious inferior. Those things aren't spiritual. A simple diet and simple clothing were necessary for spirituality.
B. The Perishing of Self-Achievement (v. 22)
"Which all are to perish with the using) after the commandments and doctrines of men?"
In other words, why are you attributing inherent value to what is passing? God doesn't expect all of us to live in poverty. If that is where God calls, and that is His plan for you, then that is glorious. If God chooses to give you things like he did Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Job, and bless you, then that is glorious, too. God doesn't say that it is sinful to be rich, He says to make sure that if you are rich, do good and share your riches (1 Tim. 6:17- 18). It isn't a question of whether you have riches or not, it's how you hold what you do have. But spirituality isn't determined by that. Spirituality isn't Christ plus poverty, Christ plus never taking a bath, Christ plus going to live in a monastery--it isn't Christ plus anything. All of those things are going to perish. They are just the commandments and teachings of men--just human religion.
C. The Preoccupation with Self-Glory (v. 23)
"These things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body, not in any honor to the satisfying of the flesh."
This verse is really difficult to translate, so I am going to give you my translation with a little broadening so you can understand it: All regulations of this kind have a reputation for wisdom, they intimidate and appear to be the divine wisdom. A man keeps all the rules, has the higher visions, communes with the angels, receives revelations, and is in abject self-abasement in poverty, all because of self-made humility and unsparing treatment of the body. But it is of no value because it serves only to satisfy the flesh. That is simply carnality--trying to glorify yourself as the one who can either save or make himself spiritual.
Self-styled ritual, self-styled mysticism, and self-styled poverty for the sake of apparent piety and holiness just panders the flesh. That religion is godless because the people worship themselves. Their humility is fake because it is nothing but a masking of spiritual pride. And their self-denial is a false standard because it is an effort to make themselves more holy than others. In all of those exercises they serve only to indulge their carnal flesh. The Colossians were being intimidated by them, and you and I have been intimidated by the same type of people. You say, "You mean we have them in our world today?" Yes. Such ascetics may not be quite so common in our society, but it is worth considering their existence.
I want to close by drawing this discussion into our present day. When someone says to you, "Spirituality is Christ plus external behavior-- Christ plus what you eat, what you drink," that is ritualistic, narrow- minded, legalistic, hyperfundamentalism. And that is very intimidating. I can remember being in a situation when I was greatly intimidated. I actually became paranoid about the things I did because I felt that those were the only things that were validating my spirituality. A man came to me one time and said, "You are not spiritual." And I said, "How do you know I'm not spiritual?" He said, "Because you don't go to prayer meetings." I said, "What does that have to do with my spirituality? How do you know I don't spend all day and all night in prayer?" He said, "Spiritual people go to prayer meetings." So I have gone through that kind of legalism and I know what it's like. You don't need to be intimidated by that. There are some things that are moral issues, but you don't need to let some narrow-minded person intimidate you and force your spirituality outside of those issues.
Second, spirituality to some people is Christ plus a special vision or Christ plus a special experience. I have heard people say, "Have you experienced the deeper life?" I say, "What is it?" I have never understood what they were talking about. I went through some of my college days with real anxiety in my heart because I couldn't experience the deeper life. Somebody in a testimony would say, "Since I had the second blessing," or "Since I realized this certain thing I've experienced the higher walk." I didn't know what they were talking about, and I felt like I was just doing the same old thing. Some people were higher, some were deeper, and I was neither. I went through that kind of intimidation.
I am trying to tell you what Paul said, "If you have Christ, you have everything." If you have His Word, you have all you need; if you have His Spirit, you have all you need. Don't let anybody tell you that you need to add a system of works righteousness, special visions and revelations, and an ascetic life-style of self-denial. If you are looking for your spirituality in any of those areas, you just bypassed it. And I would add this: Don't you be guilty of intimidating someone else. Don't you think that for the most part we tend to intimidate people by what we say; we tend to encourage them by what we are?
Focusing on the Facts
1. What is it that often intimidates Christians? What should the pastor, elder, or teacher be doing about that intimidation?
2. What is the basic truth of Christianity?
3. Define legalism. What were those who held to the heresy of legalism teaching the Colossians?
4. Why didn't the Colossian Christians have to circumscribe their lives to man-made rules? Support your answer.
5. What is the problem with judging a man's spirituality by what he does externally? Support your answer.
6. For whom should Christians restrict their liberty? Why? For whom should Christians not restrict their liberty?
7. What were some of the Old Testament restrictions relative to eating and drinking? What were the purposes of those laws?
8. What happened to the Old Testament dietary laws in the New Testament? Who was responsible?
9. What is the only way to counterfeit grace? How does every false system teach that you must be saved?
10. Since Gentile Christians were never exposed to any of the Jewish ceremonialism, why was it being imposed on them?
11. Why did the early church begin to meet regularly on the first day of the week?
12. What does the term "shadow" refer to in Colossians 2:17? Whose arrival did the shadow anticipate?
13. How will the true judgment take place?
14. What is mysticism? What were the heretics claiming?
15. What did the heresy of mysticism become known as? What did it teach?
16. What was the prize that Paul did not want the Colossians to be defrauded of?
17. What were the three aspects of the heresy of mysticism that threatened the Colossians? Explain each one.
18. What was the worst hypocrisy that the false teachers were guilty of?
19. What is the greatest satanic lie that is being proclaimed even today?
20. What is an ascetic?
21. When is self-denial appropriate?
22. What is the ultimate outcome of "the commandments and doctrines of men" (Col. 2:22)?
23. What one word sums up what Paul is saying in Colossians 2:23? In what way does that word describe a person's spirituality?
Pondering the Principles
1. How do you evaluate another individual's spirituality? Is it important for you to make that evaluation, or should you avoid such an evaluation? Look up the following verses: Matthew 7:6, 15-20; Galatians 1:8; 1 John 2:18-23; 4:1-6; 2 John 7-10. According to those verses, what should we be evaluating? Look up the following verses: Matthew 18:15-17; 1 Corinthians 5:9-13; Galatians 6:1. According to those verses, what should we be evaluating? How do you resolve those verses with Matthew 7:1-5? What is the first thing that any believer should do before he evaluates someone else? Read John 8:1-11. What would you have done if you had stood with the scribes and Pharisees? Although we don't throw literal stones today, we often do throw stones in the form of verbal assaults or gossip. How do you do in this area? Make the commitment in your evaluation not to condemn others, but to evaluate their doctrine according to God's Word and to restore a brother caught in sin.
2. Read 1 Corinthians 8:1-13. According to those verses, when should I restrict my behavior? Why? What are some of the things that we might do today that would put a stumbling block in the way of a weaker Christian? Have there been some times that you have caused a weaker Christian to stumble? What should you have done in those situations in order to prevent what happened? When you wound a fellow believer, who have you really sinned against? In order to remind yourself how to behave in regard to a weaker brother, memorize 1 Corinthians 8:9: "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak."
3. Have you ever been intimidated by any kind of false doctrine? Give some examples of when it has occurred. How did you respond? How did you feel? Did you sense that you were doing the right thing or the wrong thing? Having studied this lesson, how would you respond now if those intimidations were to occur again? What is the most important thing for you to do in order to avoid succumbing to further intimidation?