The apostle Paul has been in the midst of describing to the Christians in Colossae what makes Jesus so great. Paul concludes this section with a grave warning. He is very concerned for the spiritual condition of these Christians. He does not want them to be swayed by the teachings of others that will pull them away from the simplicity and sufficiency of Christ. Our Lord Jesus is sufficient for salvation and is all that we need. Paul’s concern is that Christians will become disqualified (2:18). Whenever the scriptures warn us concerning disqualification, we must sit on the edge our seats with great concern so that we do not fall into disqualification ourselves. As we study Paul’s warning, be sure to observe the various principles and teachings that will disqualify us from having a relationship with our Lord.
Old Testament Regulations (2:16-17)
The first warning of disqualification concerns teachings that tell Christians that they need to go back to the Law of Moses to be in obedience to the Lord. Paul declares that the things found in the Law of Moses, that first covenant given at Mount Sinai, were only a shadow of the things to come. The things that you read about in the Old Testament were all foreshadowing someone who would come. The person the Law of Moses was pointing to was Christ. The laws concerning sins and sacrifices were all needed to teach the people and get them ready to understand why Christ needed to come and die for our sins.
When we go back to the Old Testament and bind the laws and regulations that were commanded to the people of Israel we are disqualifying ourselves. This is not to say that the Old Testament does not have value. We cannot understand the substance which is Christ until we properly understand the shadows that God revealed through the Law and the Prophets. Paul is not contradicting himself when he taught:
For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 ESV)
We learn key principles and concepts from the Old Testament. But we error if we go back to the Old Testament and import the laws from that covenant into the new covenant of Christ. People were teaching the Colossian Christians that they needed to keep the food and drink regulations of the old covenant. People are still doing this today. There was a book that came out in 2002 called What Would Jesus Eat? The author, Don Colbert, M.D., states, “If you truly want to follow Jesus in every area of your life, you cannot ignore your eating habits.” Other authors have used the example of Jesus to promote the eating of fish. My book with that title would have a one sentence answer to the question, What Would Jesus Eat? He would eat anything he wants. We disqualify ourselves if we think that we are in obedience to the Lord by obeying the food and drink laws of the old covenant.
Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. (1 Corinthians 8:8 ESV)
And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. (Mark 7:18–20 ESV)
Eating is not godliness. Abstaining from certain foods does not commend us to God. The world is getting food religious. You are more holy and more moral and more righteous if you drink wheat grass. Vegetarians and vegans are considered a divine way of eating.
Food is not the only place where many go back to the Old Testament laws and bind them on Christians. Most go back to the Old Testament command for tithing, the giving of ten percent. Many teachers will command their churches to give ten percent to receive a blessing from God. The tithe is not found in the new covenant of Christ. The new covenant commands us to give according to our ability (1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 8:3, 12). Some religious groups use a special class of priests. However, a special class of priests is found in the Old Testament. The new covenant of Christ teaches that all Christians are priests before God (1 Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 1:6). Some religious groups teach the keeping of the Sabbath. The Sabbath was commanded to the people of Israel in the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 5:14-15). The Sabbath is no longer commanded in Christ. Paul even mentions in Colossians 2:16 that we are not to be judged concerning Sabbaths. Friends, Sunday is not the Christian Sabbath. The use of mechanical instruments was commanded in the Old Testament for temple worship, but is not commanded of Christians. The only instructions given are to sing (Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). We will be disqualified if we look to the regulations and laws of the Old Testament and import them into the Law of Christ.
Mystical Experiences (2:18-19)
Rather than holding fast to Christ, we want to find shortcuts in getting to know God. A few weeks ago we noted the fascination that people had because of the book, The Shack. Rather than learning about God for ourselves, people want to read a book that will give you special insight into the nature of God. Things do not change. Paul warns about the teachings that would disqualify these Christians in the first century were of the same nature. Exercising pious self-denial, false humility, claiming to have seen visions, worshiping angels, and puffing one’s self up with special knowledge. For some reason we think that we are missing out on something are start seeking mystical ways to be approved by God.
We will see people today also claim to have special visions from God. Paul warns us to not believe them. Do not listen to what they are saying. People will claim to have special experiences and feelings. Others claim to have special miraculous gifts. People will claim to have Holy Spirit experiences. Everyone wants to have a spiritual experience and many claim to have such experiences. People will continue to teach that they have a higher spirituality because they have something or experienced something that you do not have.
Society has only accelerated this nonsense making the mundane things in life a religious experience. You are more godly if you bring your own bag to the grocery store now. In many places you will be looked down upon with disdain for not bringing a bag. We need to eat organic. We must drive small cars. We need to read self-help book, practice yoga, get in touch with your inner self, take homeopathic medicines, and wear shirts made from hemp. Is this not the spirituality of today? If you are Prius driving, Oprah watching, hemp wearing, bag bringing, yoga exercising vegan, you have reached the highest spirituality! If you enjoy doing anything of these things, that is certainly your choice. But do not think that your activity is bringing you any closer to God. Do not believe that you are more spiritual or that you are gaining any divine favor through your actions.
All of these things are used to suggest that these activities make us closer to God. Paul tells us that these things are human precepts and teachings (2:20-22). Godliness is not obtained through keeping these various regulations that people come up with today. Many of these things will even have the appearance of wisdom. We get pulled in because the arguments and reasoning sound good. However they are promoting self-made religion, not God. They are of no value in our pursuit of holiness and godliness (2:23).
“Experiences” never trump Christ and his word. We do not need to be intimidated by people who claim to have experiences. Accept what the word tells you that you have. You have everything in Christ. You are not lacking anything when you are his true disciple. Enjoy what you want in this life bound by the regulations given through Jesus as found in God’s holy word. Do not accept the regulations of the world and human teachings.
I know the problem. It seems so boring to receive the word of God and nothing more. We want to have some special experience. We want a Holy Spirit intervention. We want to see a vision. We want to believe that someone has received secret knowledge that we must learn. We want to read a book written by a guru who will give us the secret to life. Those are exciting things. So we want to believe in faith healers, tongue speakers, ghost seekers, and other secret abilities. Paul’s point is that you have all you need when you have a relationship with Christ. You know all that you need to know when you know God’s holy word. Here is our warning: if we listen to these teachers who claim that they have received something more or that we need to do something more, we have become disqualified. Human teachings, even binding regulations from the Old Testament, do not bring us near God, but separate us from God. All you need is in Christ and his holy word.