Continue to Journey with Him

Original Date: 
Sunday, July 17, 2016

Colossians 2:6-23 Jesus is Better: Continue to Journey with Him

Diet Fads
Let’s talk a little bit about diet fads. Have you ever noticed how certain diet or exercise plans will become a big deal for a while, and then over time we never really hear about them anymore?

I don’t mean to pick on anybody in particular here, because I think this is something that we’ve all fallen into in one way or another. We’re all looking for that fail-proof, easy to maintain, always effective way to lose weight and stay in shape. So, again, I’m not singling anybody out. We all get pulled into this stuff.

But there have been all kinds of diet fads:
• In 1925 the Lucky Strike Cigarette company launched a “Reach for the Lucky instead the sweet” campaign. The always healthy “smoke instead of eat” diet.
• In the 1930s the Hollywood Diet advocated eating a grapefruit for breakfast every day.
• In the 1950s the Cabbage Soup Diet promised you could lose 10–15 pounds in a week by eating a limited diet including cabbage soup every day.
• In 1975 a Florida doctor introduced—I’m not making this up—a Cookie Plan, selling cookies that were supposedly loaded with amino acids. I don’t know if amino acids help you lose weight, but he tried to convince people they did.
• In the 1980s a dietary supplement called AYDS (with a Y) was pulled off the market when the AIDS crisis (with an I) became widespread.

More recently we have had low carb/high protein diets; liquid diets; meal plans; supplemental shakes; caveman diets, and more.

Plus, there are the workout videos. In 1982 Jane Fonda started the aerobics craze with her workout video and slogan “No pain, no gain.” Then there was Jazzercise. Billy Blanks made Tae-Bo popular. Richard Simmons made us sweat to the Oldies. Now there are fitness apps and FitBits and apparently Pokemon Go is being touted as the new way to get in shape.

And then there are the gadgets. These are some of my favorites. Suzanne Somers sold the thigh master. Chuck Norris sold the Total Gym. Who can forget the ShakeWeight? Just shake this baby for 15 minutes a day and watch the pounds melt off.

My current favorite weight loss gadget is the Flex Belt. This is a belt that you wrap around your stomach and then turn on to provide electrical stimulus to your abdominal muscles. Supposedly, this causes your muscles to contract and relax and provides you with a workout without even having to get off the couch.

It’s my favorite because it reminds me of something my grandparents had in their basement. I guess back in the day somebody had the idea that you could jiggle the weight off, so they came up with a vibrating belt weight loss machine.

Now, my Grandpa was a tinkerer; and he rarely saw something in the store that he didn’t believe he could build himself. So I think the one he had in his basement was one he made with a washing machine motor. But he had one, and I don’t know if he and grandma ever used it, but the grandkids loved to strap it on and see how long we could stand the teeth rattling vibrations.
Again, I’m not trying to pick on anybody who has tried any of these diets or exercise plans (although, if you are a serious ShakeWeight enthusiast I might pick on you a little bit). But I think we all know the real key to weight loss: eat less, exercise more.

It’s really that simple. We need to pass on seconds, skip dessert, and go for a walk. Eat less, exercise more. But you probably won’t get a lot of people to subscribe to your video channel if that is the advice you are giving. You aren’t going to sell a lot of books if all you are saying is: eat less, exercise more. It’s simple. But we all know it is true.

That, Josh Harris suggests, is a pretty good analogy for what is going on in Colossians. Not about dieting, but about the spiritual life. As I have been describing, there were all these ideas for how to connect with God. They were not necessarily anti-Jesus, but they were Jesus Plus. Secret knowledge that could be added to Jesus for a fuller life. They were spiritual fads.
And what Paul is advocating is pretty simple—it doesn’t have the pizzazz of secret knowledge or trendy philosophy—but it is what the Colossians (and us) need:

Jesus. Just Jesus.

Jesus is better, Paul is saying. You don’t need anything more than Jesus. Anybody who is preaching anything other than Jesus is leading you astray.

Don’t fall for the fads. Don’t get pulled in by the trendy. It’s simple, but it’s vital. Jesus.

The Colossian Heresy
I’ve been talking about it for the last three sermons, but this week we are actually going to get up close and personal with the Colossian Heresy. Today Paul is going to address head-on the false teaching that was trying to make its way into the Colossian church. I’ve said that we don’t know exactly who the false teachers were, or exactly what false religion they were promoting; but Paul gives us a bunch of clues to what they were teaching in our text today.

He sums it up in Colossians 2:8:

8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.

This is the problem statement for our passage today. There were these teachers who were teaching a “hollow and deceptive philosophy.” It depended on “human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world.” One commentator summarizes the false teaching—and we’ll see bits of this as we move along today—as a blend of Judaistic legalism, ascetic denial, and angel worship.

But the real key is found in the last four words of this verse: “rather than on Christ.” The problem is this false teaching is replacing Jesus. Taking the place that only Christ should take. And Paul says that these false teachers are trying to take the Colossians captive—like slave raiders on the African coast—they are in effect leading people away from Christ.

So what should we do? Well, it’s the same message we’ve been getting the last three weeks: Jesus Only. Look to Jesus. This time, we see it in verse 6. Colossians 2:6-7:

6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

I’m going to let verse 6 serve as our big idea this morning. I think it summarizes everything we are going to see in our passage today, and it effectively ties the first half of the book to the second half of the book. Paul says: Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him.

Everything you know about Jesus--that He is the firstborn over all creation and the image of the invisible God and the Head of the church and the One who is supreme over everything who has reconciled all things to Himself and rescued us from the dominion of darkness—all of that should lead you to continue to live your lives in Him. The Greek word translated as “live your lives” is literally the word for walk—so Paul is saying that now we have started on this journey with Jesus, we should stay on it. Keep walking with Him. Don’t go in a different direction.

There is a connection between who Jesus is and what He has done, and how we should live as a result. Just as we received Him as Lord, we need to continue to live our lives in Him.
So let’s use the two parts of that verse as a guide as we move through the rest of chapter 2.

Pictures of the Cross
First, Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord. Paul starts with what we know about Jesus. He starts with who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. Look at verses 9-12:

9 For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.

Paul begins by taking us back to the Christ hymn of Colossians 1:15-20. He reminds us that Jesus is the image of the invisible God (v. 15). That “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him” (v. 19). Jesus is not just a good man. He is not just an enlightened teacher. He is, in fact, God in bodily form. He also references the powers and authorizes, which we were told in 1:16 are under His creative rule.

The word Paul uses here, “fullness,” is apparently a dig at his opponents. They were teaching that their spiritual fads would bring fuller lives. That they had the secret to “fullness.” So Paul is correcting them, telling them that true fullness is found in Jesus.

This is part of what it means to receive Jesus as Lord. It is understanding that Christ is supreme over all.

Then Paul begins to describe what Jesus has done for us. And he does so by choosing an unusual word picture. He compares what Christ did on the cross to circumcision.

Now, it is always a little bit awkward to talk about circumcision. But it comes up quite often in the Bible.

Maybe you are aware that throughout the New Testament there was an ongoing debate about whether Gentile believers—those who had no genetic connection to Judaism, which included the Colossians (and most of us)—could be considered a part of the church without following the Old Testament ceremonial laws. Chief among those laws was the one requiring all males to be circumcised. So, in the New Testament, circumcision becomes a kind of shorthand way of referring to the idea that the Old Testament law needs to be followed. It was, apparently, one of the things at issue in Colossae.

So now, Paul uses circumcision as a word picture of what Jesus has done for us. Since circumcision involved the cutting of the flesh, He talks about how our old, fleshly selves have been cut away by Jesus at the cross. He connects the old rite of circumcision to the new rite of baptism, and says that baptism is a picture of what Jesus did. That is to say: Christ died, Christ was buried, and Christ rose from the dead.

And the key, Paul says, is that we are now included in what Christ has done. This is something theologians call “Union with Christ”, and it’s the idea that when Christ died—we died. When Christ was buried—we were buried. And when Christ was raised—we were also raised to new life. Notice the prepositions. Verse 11 says: “in him you were also circumcised.” Verse 12 says we were “buried with him” and also “raised with him.”

Christ has already done what is needed. We don’t need to add anything to it. There are no rules or regulations that we could follow that could make our position with God any more secure. In Christ, it is as secure as it could be.

Then, in verses 13 through 15, Paul gives a different word picture of what Christ has done for us:

13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins,14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

This is one of my favorite pictures of what happened on the cross. It’s a picture of Christ as a warrior. Christus Victor, Christ the victor.

The idea is that we all owe a debt to God—“the charge of our legal indebtedness.” And there are these “powers and authorities”—which we talked about a few weeks ago, this is Paul’s way of talking about spiritual forces of evil—which condemn us for our debt. The language here makes me think of the language Paul used in verse 8, that idea of “being taken captive.” These powers and authorities see our indebtedness and they want to haul us away and enslave us in Satan’s work camp. They want to hold us prisoner, constantly reminding us of our guilt and shame.

But then Christ the Victor comes along—and here I picture him something like Chuck Norris—and He disarms these powers and authorities. That is, He does battle with them at the cross, and He wins.

That phrase--“he made a public spectacle of them”—is a reference to the Roman military tradition of a victory parade. Whenever a Roman army would win a big battle, somewhere out on the frontier, they would march back triumphantly through the streets of Rome, with the commanding general at the lead, and all the conquered and captured enemies following along in a humiliating train behind him.

That’s what Jesus has done for us at the cross. That’s what we receive when we receive Him as Lord. That is where our fullness and hope and salvation come from.

Out of the Shadows
So, the second part of our big idea. Just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him. Continue to live your lives in him. Now Paul is going to directly address some of the spiritual fads that were tugging at the Colossians. Verses 16 and 17:

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

You see the “therefore.” This is where Paul is moving from what we are in Christ, to how it changes the way we live. From the indicative to the imperative. The rest of the letter is going to be concerned about the implications of having Christ in our lives. And Paul starts by talking about the false teaching they must resist.

These verses talk about religious observance. Again, this is the idea that the Old Testament ceremonial laws—about diet, about religious festivals and first of the month observances, and Sabbath day—still need to be observed. The idea here is that religious observance, the maintenance and observance of certain rituals, earns you extra credit with God. And, more than that, there is the idea here that we would pass judgment on others according to how well they observe these rules.

And Paul’s response? Don’t let it happen! Don’t let anyone judge you on these issues! Because they are shadow, but Christ is the reality. They were pointing to things to come, and Jesus is what they were pointing to.

There is actually an important interpretive principle being given to us here, which explains why we no longer follow so many of the rules in the Old Testament. We no longer worship at a central temple, because Jesus is the new temple. We no longer sacrifice lambs on an altar, because Christ was the ultimate sacrificial law. We no longer practice circumcision as a religious ritual, because we were circumcised with Christ at the cross.

And so, even on the idea of Sabbath, we have to be careful how much we judge the actions of others. Obviously, Sabbath observance is one of the 10 commandments, and can be connected to the first week of creation. And yet, we’ve switched our day of worship from the seventh day to the first day—the Lord’s Day—and we no longer hold to all the Old Testament restrictions. It seems to me that the principle of taking Sabbath rest is still important, but we have a lot of freedom in deciding what that looks like in our lives.

Paul’s point is that keeping these religious observances is not the key to the spiritual life.

So, again, in verses 18 and 19 he talks about super spiritual activities:

18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19 They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

As I’ve said, the religious heresy in Colossae seems to be a weird stew of Jewish law and mystical experiences. Here Paul is talking about people who deprived their bodies and had weird visions and worshipped angels.

The phrase “false humility” probably refers to asceticism. It’s born out of the idea that our physical bodies are bad, and that true spirituality is only achieved when we break the shackles of our physicality. So it involves extreme forms of fasting, sleeping in uncomfortable or cold places, wearing uncomfortable clothing or rags, and other ways of hurting the body. It’s called “false humility” here because people who do this sort of thing are usually acting like they are very humble—“oh, I don’t need any food”—but they are in fact subjecting themselves to such extremes so people will see how spiritual they are.

And the goal of all this self-imposed suffering is to have visions. To see deeper truths. To get in touch with “angels”—who are probably demons—and gain secret insider knowledge.
It all looks very spiritual of course. It all looks very intense. I think of Tibetan monks living in the highest mountains or the worst of the Christian monastic movement when guys would live on the top of poles in the desert or go for years without speaking a word. But Paul says that folks who do this sort of thing have in fact lost connection with the Head, with Jesus. For them, there is an appearance of spirituality and wisdom, but it is a nullifying of the value of what Jesus has done. It’s an effort to add to the work of Jesus which, in the end, makes the work of Jesus meaningless in their lives.

Verses 20-22:

20 Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.
So here, Paul is talking about basic legalism. Here is the idea that rule-keeping can make us right with God. “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”

I think of old rhymes like:

Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew
and never go with girls who do.

Or this one:
Lips that touch wine
shall never touch mine

It’s the idea that Christianity can be defined by what we do, by superficial adherence to outward laws. Old-time Baptist preachers used to talk about the Big 5: Dancing, Drinking, Smoking, Gambling and Theater Going. When in fact, it was possible to keep all these rules, and still be very, very far from God.

Don’t get me wrong. Paul is not opposed to morality. He certainly believes that a relationship with Christ will affect your behavior, and that you’ll focus on admirable things (cf. Philippians 4:8); but he knows that slavish adherence to a human centered list of rules is not going to earn us a thing with God.

The key is that connection to Christ. Our union with Him in His death, burial and resurrection. He’s done everything there is to be done. And when we make our lives about anything other than Him we are being taken captive by hollow and deceptive philosophy.

He sums it all up in verse 23:

23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

You can look spiritual with your list of rules, and your extreme religious practice, and your mystical worship services, but they are all spiritual fads. What we need is not nearly as sophisticated or trendy—it’s actually very simple—it’s Jesus. Just as we have received Him as Lord, we must continue to live in Him.

2 Questions
So, allow me to conclude with two questions.

First, have you received Jesus? Have you accepted what Jesus has done and accepted Him as your personal Lord and Savior? Can you say that you have died, been buried, and raised again with Christ? Are you one of those who Christ has set free from Satan’s work camp? Was it your bill of indebtedness that was nailed to the Cross along with Him?

Jesus has done everything we need in order to be right with God. There’s nothing we can do to add to what He has accomplished.

But still, there is the need to receive Him. We all need to confess with our mouths “Jesus is Lord.” (Romans 10:9) To not do this, to refuse to receive Him and believe in what He has done for you, is to choose to pay your debt yourself. It is a choice to be left in the cold.

So you can receive Jesus as Lord, even right now. You simply need to bow your head and acknowledge Him as Savior and Lord. You can begin your journey with Him today.

Second, are settling for shadows? If you have received Him, are you being pulled in by spiritual fads? Are you attempting to build your Christian life on religious observances, or spiritual experiences or scrupulous rule keeping? Having been rescued by Jesus, are you now trying to earn your salvation?

Don’t do it. Don’t let anyone or anything disqualify you from the salvation Jesus has already won.

The key to losing weight is simple: eat less, exercise more.

In the same way, the key to being connected to God is simple: simply Jesus. Jesus is better. Continue to journey with Him.