Three Deadly Distractions

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Three Deadly Distractions

Colossians 2: 16-23

Bill Bright used to tell a story about a woman married to a tyrant. He didn’t like the way she kept house. He didn’t like the way she did laundry. He didn’t like the way she ironed his clothes. He didn’t like the way she dressed. He didn’t like the way she conducted herself in public. He constantly criticized her for everything. Early on in their marriage he handed her a list of 25 rules for her to follow.
She hated it. She hated him. You can imagine how frustrating it was to her to have to constantly check her list to see if she was pleasing him – and to stay out of trouble. She usually failed and each time got a tongue lashing from him. He made her feel miserable and small.
Then one day, much to her great joy, he died. She soon fell in love with and married a wonderful man. They loved each other very deeply. She practically broke her neck to please him. Sometimes she would even bring him breakfast in bed. One day she ran across that old list from her first husband. As she read it, feelings of anger and inferiority returned. Then she started laughing. As she checked the list she realized that she was now doing all that was on the list for her new husband and more. And she was doing all this with great joy because she loved this man so much.

Throughout the history of the church there have been “perfection police” who have inserted themselves as the rule and authority on how we are supposed to think, act and do. They determine what we can do and not do. Where we can go and not go. What we can eat and not eat. How we should dress and not dress.
You’ve heard it before: “Christians never drink, don’t smoke, never go to movies, don’t play cards, don’t read novels, women don’t wear pants (and certainly not shorts), women don’t wear too much jewelry or make-up, men don’t wear any jewelry besides a wedding band. On and on it goes. Pastors must always wear a coat and tie (but nothing loud); wear black suits to funerals. He must drive a nice but conservative car. A convertible or even a Jeep would not be suitable for a “man of God.”

Before we jump into our text this evening, allow me to make some observations about legalism.

1. We tend to think others are legalistic, but that we’re not. The fact is that we’re all legalistic by nature. We tend to judge others by our own standards of what is acceptable and what isn’t. In essence, we think our sins smell better than other people’s. As I’ve said before, we have very little tolerance for people who sin differently than we do.

2. Legalism is highly contagious. While it’s usually less conscious and systematized in our minds than it was among the Pharisees, legalism can spread like a bad virus through an entire congregation. That’s why Jesus reserved some of his harshest criticism for legalistic list-makers in Mark 7:6-8: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

3. Legalism can take a vibrant faith and make it dull and lifeless. It can evaporate enthusiasm, jettison joy, and stifle spirituality. Instead of finding freedom through Christ, many believers become burdened by the church.

4. Legalism produces large quantities of self-righteousness, judgment and condemnation. It majors in guilt and misguided sacrifice, urging its followers to evaluate their relationship with God on the basis of standards and scores ­ and expects others to do the same. Superficial spirituality short-circuits the work of grace.

5. Legalism makes us narrow and divisive. The legalist insists that everyone live up to the standard they have adopted. In other words, everyone needs to be like me. When we think this way, we miss the delight of diversity in the church.

6. Legalism makes it impossible for people to see Jesus. There is nothing that pushes a seeker away faster than a list of rules and regulations. We inadvertently portray Jesus as a drill sergeant instead of the Savior.

Most of us fall into legalism without trying to do so.

At the heart of Paul’s message to the Colossians is the warning about three deadly errors that were creeping into the church. Legalism, mysticism and asceticism were beginning to gain a foothold in the Colossian community.

I          Lose the Legalism (16-17)

Legalism is the religion of human achievement.
Do not sacrifice your freedom in Christ for a set of manmade rules. Insomuch as Christ was the end of the law for everyone who believes to become entangled in a legalistic system is pointless and harmful. In Galatians 5:1 Paul calls it a yoke of slavery. Legalism is useless because it cannot restrain the flesh. It is also dangerously deceptive, because inwardly rebellious and disobedient Christians or even non-Christians, can conform to a set of external standards or rituals. That Christians be not intimidated by such legalism was Paul’s constant concern. He dealt with legalism in Titus 1:14-15; Romans 14-15 and 1 Corinthians 8-10.

Many of the Jewish believers continued to circumcise their children and be zealous for the law. The book of Acts records that they recognized that believing Gentiles did not need to observe these practices (Acts 21:20-24; Acts 15:28-29; 21:25). Unfortunately some the most zealous of the Judaizers tried to impose the Mosaic law upon the Colossians as a means of spiritual growth. When the optional became mandatory, Paul decided to act. He said, “Let no man judge you.” This phrase is the translation of one Greek word. The tense of the verb indicates that the heretics and their converts were constantly criticizing the lack of legal conformity within the church. Five areas are listed.

A       Food (Lev. 11)
This is a throwback to the Jewish dietary regulations that made a distinction between “clean” and “unclean” foods. The Pharisees extended the restrictions by requiring the people to bath and to wash their hands before eating. Even Christ himself taught that food was neither moral nor immoral (Mark 7:18-19). The biblical principal that developed in the New Testament taught that all foods should be received with thanksgiving (Acts 10:15; 1 Cor. 10:25-26; 1 Tim: 4:3-5). The heretics taught that certain foods helped the mind to develop spiritually, whereas others prevented that goal.

B       Drink (Lev. 10:9; Num. 6:3; Lev. 11:34-36)
Drink probably had to do with the Levite and Nazirite restriction of drinking strong drink.

C       Festival (Ex. 23:14-18)
The King James uses the word “holyday.” A festival was one of the Jewish celebrations, such as Passover, Pentecost, the Feast of Tabernacles. These were the three major festivals in which Jewish males were to worship in Jerusalem, by offering sacrifice.

D       New Moon (Num. 10:10; 28:11-14)
Since the Jews were on the Lunar calendar, the first day of the month was a day of rest, worship, fellowship and eating.

E        Sabbath Day (Ex. 20:8-11; 31:12-18)
The Sabbath day pointed to Saturday the day of rest in which the Jews were to reflect upon creation and their covenant relationship with God. Christians however remember the work of spiritual creation by gathering at the church on Sunday, the day on which Christ rose from the dead.

Paul explains the weakness of legalism by calling the Mosaic law with its moral and ceremonial regulations, a mere shadow of what is to come.

II       Miss the Mysticism (18-19)
Mysticism can be defined as the pursuit of a deeper or higher subjective religious experience. It is the belief that spiritual reality is perceived apart from the human intellect and natural senses. It looks for truth internally, weighing feelings, intuition, and other internal sensations more heavily than objective, observable and external data. This irrational and anti-intellectual approach is the antithesis of Christian theology.

Verse 18 is possibly one of the most contested passages in the New Testament. It is both difficult to translate and to interpret. “Let no man beguile you” Is the translation of a word that is only used here in the entire Bible. It literally reads, “Let no man defraud you.” How can someone defraud us of our reward? There are a number of interpretations of how this could be done, but the most probable one is that we are to let no one distract us with false teaching and cause us to waste precious time that could have been spent in spiritual progress.

There are four participial phrases that describe the false teacher.

A       They delight in self-abasement and worship of angels
Genuine humility is caused by the Spirit of God. The heretic took delight in his humility. It is false, because it is done for external appearance.

B       They take a stand on visions they have seen
Some of the worse excesses of the modern day charismatic movement are derived from visions.

C       They are inflated without cause by their fleshly mind
They feel superior because of what they think they know. Believers should grow in spiritual knowledge as they are taught by God through His word. These false teachers are “puffed up.” The imagery being that of a set of bellows.

D       They do not elevate Christ
The present participle “not holding” shows that the false teacher is continually not elevating the Savior. This continually done, because the false teacher is worshiping angels. There are four named areas that the heretic denies Christ.

1        Christ alone is head of the body

2        Christ nourishes the body

3        Christ unites the church

4        Christ increases the church

III     Avoid Asceticism (20-25)
Asceticism and legalism are partner in humanistic religion. Asceticism promotes self-denial, and deliberate rejection of material comforts in order to develop spiritual sensitivity. It usually leads to fasting, celibacy and the monastic life. Initially it gives the impression of total dedication, but it actually is contrary to grace living and to the practice of a believer’s position in Christ. These people have succumbed to a Gnostic dualism that says that the body is evil and the spirit is good.

This philosophy eventually found its way into the church. According to the church Father Athanasius, Anthony, the founder of Christian monasticism, never changed his vest or washed his feet. He was outdone, however by Simeon Stylites, who spent the last thirty-six years of his life atop a fifty foot pillar. Simeon mistakenly thought the path to spirituality lay in exposing his body to the element and withdrawing from the world. Believers who practice asceticism are ignorant of three basic facts:

A       The ignorance of  Ascetics

1        Believers died positionally in Christ
The phrase “if ye be dead” is a first class conditional statement, which literally is to be interpreted as “since you died with Christ.” At conversion believing sinners are baptized in the Holy Spirit into Christ. The result is a positional, judicial identification with Christ in His actual death on the cross. Believers died with Christ and in Christ when Christ satisfied the righteous demands for the broken law of God. This fundamental truth must be known and appropriated in order to live a victorious life over sin.

2        Believers have been separated from the elementary principles of the world

3        Believers do not need to yield to legalism

B       The description of legalists and ascetics
Legalists and ascetics always emphasize the negative. They assert that spirituality is measured by an absence of prescribed sins rather than by the presence of positive virtues.

1        Do not handle
This could be talking about sexual abstinence for those who were married and the prevention of marriage for those who were single.

2        Do not taste
Avoiding specific foods was necessary for the food of the soul. Quite often ascetics have been and are vegetarians.

3        Do not touch

C       The weakness of asceticism

1        Legalists look on self-denial as a spiritual discipline and strength.
The opposite is quite true. A legalist is weakness and obstacle to Christian living.

2        Asceticism originates with humans

3        Asceticism is hypocritical

4        Asceticism cannot overcome the power of the sin nature.

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