Week 8 – Colossians 2:16-23 “We are FREE in Christ Jesus”

Welcome to week 8, as we finish up Colossians chapter 2! After this week we will have 2 more chapters to study and just 4 more weeks!

Today we’re going to see how important it is to know our freedom in Christ and the danger of being drawn away by rules and regulations set into place by man. The Colossian church was being pressured not only by Jews who were holding on to old covenant requirements; but they were also being pressured by the Gnostics who were telling them to worship angels and treat their bodies harshly in order to gain special knowledge from God. Both sides were a vain attempt to achieve closeness to God apart from Christ. And Paul says, “No! Absolutely not!” Let’s get into verse 16 to begin our study today. Here is the link to your notes & homework for Week 8: Col PN 2.16-23

Colossians 2:16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 

  1. We are FREE in Christ Jesus, no longer under the law.

The tense of the words “therefore let no one pass…” means they in fact WERE letting these heresies influence them.

Paul acknowledges this is happening, and I want you to STOP LETTING IT HAPPEN. Paul also speaks to this in 1st Timothy.

1 Timothy 4:1-5

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

Remember in today’s passage, Colossians 2:16-17, Paul is talking about 5 things they are being pressured about: what they eat & drink, the festivals, new moons (which could also be a reference to the mystical influence as well), and the Sabbath. In modern English, The Message translation says, “So don’t put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.”

In 1 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul talks to Timothy about false teachers’ lies regarding forbidding marriage and abstaining from certain foods. In both segments of scripture, the idea is that we are NOT to return to the Law or any other bizarre regulations that were not part of the new covenant with Jesus. We are not to be duped into believing that by keeping these rules that we are somehow becoming favored in God’s sight or getting closer to Him. The way to gain favor in God’s sight is by loving the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind and strength; it is not by keeping rules! We are free in Jesus Christ!

I want to give just a couple of examples in different religions: Hindus are not permitted to eat meat; Mormons are forbidden to have caffeine or alcohol; devout Jews who have not accepted Jesus as Messiah obviously eat kosher foods only (which are prepared only in specific ways, only from certain parts of the cow, do not eat pork, etc.), Muslims are forbidden to eat pork and have certain times of day that they must bow facing east and say prayers to a false god, and Catholic priests are forbidden to marry, Jehovah’s Witnesses are forbidden to celebrate birthdays or any holidays. We could go on and on about the restrictions involved in food/drink, holy days and Sabbaths. Where the freedom that Christ Jesus brings is not recognized, there is only slavery to those things!

But, praise be to Jesus! We are in a NEW covenant: the covenant of grace. Our sacrificial lamb has been slain once and for all (Hebrews 10:10), completely fulfilling the law and setting us free from it. We are also, by Jesus, set free from the world’s way of thinking and the pagan attempts to gain access to God apart from Him. Listen to this passage from Romans 14.

Romans 14:17-21

For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating or drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

We are FREE in Christ Jesus!!! To be more like Him is the goal!!! Not to do enough of certain things, say enough certain prayers, nor to say “No” enough to certain things. It’s about living in love and having a heart and mind captive to Jesus. When our hearts and minds are captive to Christ alone, we serve Jesus in righteousness, peace and joy as Romans 14 just said. Serving God in THIS way is pleasing to Him.

Most of us worship corporately on Sunday…but everyday should be about worship!  Gathering corporately is not some rule we have to keep to make God happy; He tells us not to forsake gathering together for our own good!  Millions of people in America show up to church each week to get their check-mark and then go right back to living life for themselves, never giving God a second thought until the next week. I have been one of those people before!  This is grieving to our God; He does not want any physical consecration without true heart consecration. David said it so well in Psalm 51:16-17

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Because we are in Jesus, and because we love Him, we are then free to fast from certain things for a period of time. We do NOT fast in order to manipulate God into doing what we want or somehow to gain His attention or favor. BUT, as we consecrate ourselves in specific ways, it is for our benefit to focus on Him and to be captivated by Him rather than those other things (i.e. foods, electronics, social media, or whatever we may be fasting from). The main thing is that we have our sights set on Him, desiring for our hearts to be right before Him.

Colossians 2:17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

It’s this idea that Christ is what matters, He is the substance; all these other things that are religious and make you look very pious, they are a vapor…nothing compared to the substance of Jesus. One translation says these things are a shadow but the body casting the shadow is Jesus. Why look at the shadow when the real thing is standing right there in front of you?!

Hebrews 10:1

The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship.

 

Philippians 3:8-9

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—

Galatians 5:1

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Paul then goes on to tell the Galatians how foolish it would be to accept circumcision, because in the new covenant in Christ Jesus (Galatians 5:6), “neither circumcision or uncircumcision count for anything, but only faith working through love.”

Perhaps one of the greatest segments of scripture to flesh out exactly what v.19 means is in Hebrews 9. If anything we have discussed has ruffled your denominational feathers thus far, please read the entirety of the book of Hebrews, and particularly chapter 9. I pray that the Lord will bring great clarity to the freedom we have in Christ Jesus! But, for now, I want to read Hebrews 9:9-10. The author is talking about, in vv.1-9, the ceremonies of sacrifice and offerings under the old covenant in the tabernacle; then the priest would make the offering or sacrifice for himself and all the people to cover their sin.

Hebrews 9:9-10 NLT

This is an illustration pointing to the present time. For the gifts and sacrifices that the priests offer are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them. For that old system deals only with food and drink and various cleansing ceremonies – physical regulations that were in effect only until a better system could be established.

Again, because the old covenant is no longer in play – we must guard our hearts from believing that anything but Jesus will save us. It is Him; and we are so thankful, amen?! Jesus IS the better system!

Sidenote: Colossians 2:17 calls these things a “shadow” of what was to come, but Jesus is the substance; here in Hebrews 9:9 the old covenant is called an “illustration” pointing to our present time; later in Hebrews 9:23, the tabernacle and everything in it were “copies” of things in heaven. I find it so interesting that what we experience day to day in this life seem like the greatest reality possible because it is our reality right now. But, brothers and sisters, there is a greater reality to come! One where we spend eternity in the presence of our Living Savior…Glory!

Colossians 2:18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

  1. We are free in Christ Jesus, by holding fast to Him as the Head, not puffed up by human ways of thinking.

“Let no one disqualify you” is the same tense as in v.16, Paul is telling them to STOP letting people disqualify them. It’s the idea of an umpire making calls. Basically, Paul is telling them to silence these self-appointed umpires. They have no right to make the call of what rules and regulations you ought to be upholding if they have nothing to do with the truth of the Gospel!

Aceticism is the severe treatment of the body; severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence. The belief here was the more severe you were with the body, the more spiritual you were. Not only was the Colossian church being influenced by this, they were being pressured to do it! It was a vain attempt to impress men and impress God. This is not talking about a holy fast or consecrating yourself to the Lord for a period of time where you pull away from indulgences to focus on Jesus, as we talked earlier. Paul is talking about doing these things with the false belief that these things will save you. There is a HUGE difference!

The pagan mysticism practice in that day was to worship aeons of angels. If you will remember back to the 1st week of our study, we discussed how these pagan beliefs had Jesus as one of these levels of angelic beings. So, someone in their midst was “insisting” in asceticism as well as the worship of angels. Friends, we worship NO ONE but the One True God!

The third thing Pauls lists here has to do with visions. I wholeheartedly believe that God speaks today in visions and dreams to His people (see Acts 2:17 which is repeating what was prophesied in Joel 2:28)

Detailed visions, as Paul is speaking of, would have been “secret knowledge” they claimed to have that others did not have access to; it would have been a source of great pride and lofty thoughts of oneself being so enlightened above others, claiming to be superior. We must guard against these things as well, my friends! If the Lord does speak to you and I in visions and dreams, then we are to glorify His Name alone! The influences in the Colossian Church were not glorifying God. They were, as it says, “puffed up without reason by their sensuous minds.”

There is no secret knowledge in Christ. You may have heard it said, “The ground at the foot of the cross is level.” Jesus is revealed to us! We do have revelation, and personally, I believe it is often a progressive revelation the longer we walk with Him. But, the revelation of who God is isn’t exclusive to the time you’ve been a believer; and it’s available to all who call upon His name. He is no respecter of persons (Romans 2:11); he does not play favorites. God is not impressed with you and then, subsequently, wanting to get on board with our great experiences and ideas. He is God; we serve Him; let’s not get that mixed up!

The next verse we will look at is Colossians 2:19

and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

You may remember this concept of being “held together” or “knit together” from Colossians 2:2, when Paul is telling them how he’s been praying for them and the church at Laodicea for their “hearts to be encouraged and that they would be knit together in love to fully understand God’s mystery, which is Christ Jesus.” He repeats this same word again here in v. 19. But, what I want to take a look at is the second half of v.19. He is warning them not to come under the yoke of slavery to man’s rules or the law. He’s telling them that those things are from people who are disconnected from Jesus, the Head. It is by Him that the body is held together.

The ones who are insisting on these rules and regulations are not Jesus-focused people. When the focus leaves Christ Jesus, this is where things always get off course. Disconnected from the head means there is no “true north.” If you cut the head off anything, it does not survive. If a person cuts himself off from Jesus, he has no direction. AND beware, if a man has no direction and claims to – he is a dangerous person to follow! Remember, it is Jesus Christ, Him crucified and raised to life to overcome sin & death. He is who saves.

Colossians 2:20-22 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings?

  1. We are free in Christ Jesus; we died to the ways of the world.

 Do you remember all the scriptures we discussed last week about us dying with Christ, being buried and raised with Him? Basically he’s telling them, “Y’all just got out of all these rules, why do you want back in them with someone else?”

We will discuss more of this next week, in Colossians chapter 3.

Colossians 3:2-3

Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

And Galatians 3:2-3:

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

We don’t need rules to purify or save us! We have Christ, and once we have Him, we will put the rules on ourselves out of love and obedience to Him; not to a church, not to a religion, and not to impress people! But, because we love the Lord our God, it pleases us to walk in righteousness and be free from sin!

What Paul is saying is, “Guys! This is not Christianity, this is legalism!!! This not the gospel – this is not Jesus!” We have to know that creation is good; God made it for our enjoyment…within His holy and protective boundaries! (i.e. sex within marriage of 1 man and 1 woman = beautiful; sex outside of marriage of 1 man and 1 woman = destructive)

Mark 7:14-23  

14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 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, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

In day 4 of the homework, we will visit this whole subject of sin and grace pretty heavily. But, I love how Jesus teaches us here in Mark 7 about our hearts, it’s what’s inside, the sin nature that defiles, not food! And praise God, that is why we need Jesus and that is why we can have Jesus; oh how we need Him!

Colossians 2:23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

  1. We are free in Christ Jesus; He is the One who sets us free from our own flesh. 

We DO NOT need these things – we need HIM, we need Jesus, and He is the Only One!

“Many of the things we do are cultural and have nothing to do with Jesus. There are so many denominational biases and human traditions in the church. These rules are actually a barrier to spiritual maturity because it gives the false sense of “I’m doing so good, look at all the things I don’t do and my checklist of things I do for God.” It leads us down a path of “self-righteous” acts instead of faith and repentance as an on-going lifestyle.” – Bob Utley

I grew up this way. I knew how to make it all look good. And I definitely knew how to make it all sound good. But, God looks at the heart. And that is what Paul is telling them. You can check all the boxes in the do and don’t categories and still not walk one step closer to Jesus. It is a repentant heart and a humble spirit that draws you near to the throne of grace.  It’s obeying Him when He tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind; to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  As I quote earlier from Galatians 5:6, it’s not about circumcision or uncircumcision, it’s about faith expressing itself through love.  And take a look at what Paul says to the Corinthians…

1 Corinthians 13:1-3

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.  And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.  If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

When it says in verse 23 of Colossians 2 that those things, those rules, those regulations have “no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh”, I have experienced this in my life.  I would check off enough items in the “good girl” category, so I figured I deserved a few sins to indulge my flesh.  I was so deceived in my way of thinking because I had one foot on the narrow path and one foot on the wide path the lead to destruction.  I lived with a double mind, thinking it wasn’t that big of a deal if I sinned every once in a while.

It WAS a big deal. I was deceived. I knew what was right, but I was so deceived by my own flesh and by the world, that I did not see what I was doing was breaking the heart of my God who rescued me out of that darkness. But, again, just as v.23 says, all the outside stuff I could do to make everyone else think I was good, did NOTHING to stop me from indulging in my flesh. And it surely didn’t fool my Father in heaven. Praise God Almighty, He did not allow me to stay in the immature, hypocritical state very long. He broke me out of that prison of darkness, which I subjected myself to again, after I was already free.

Paul is telling the Colossians not to take back a yoke of slavery after you are free.  You and I can take a yoke of slavery to the law or to sin; either one imprison us from experiencing Jesus’ freedom and love that He died to give us. Oh yes, I am free in Christ Jesus, He is the One who set me free from my own flesh. He does it daily. How about you?

Next week, we will study Colossians 3:1-15, and it’s all about putting on the NEW SELF. We have absolutely died to the law and sin and the flesh, now we must put on our new self in Christ Jesus!!!

For now, I want to give you the opportunity to worship right where you are. As we did last week, it’s about 7 minutes. Please play the video and respond to the Lord your God in worship. He is worthy of it, and He is so very worth it! I want you to take a moment and respond to the Lord, I wonder what He might reveal to you as you meditate on the words of this song…

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