Spiritual Bullying Pt. 3
Good morning and welcome to Dishman Baptist Church. It has been a very eventful week around here but this moment - here with all of you as we prepare to dig into God’s inerrant, inspired Word is certainly one of the highlights of my week.
Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is Christ. Let no one condemn you by delighting in ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm. Such people are inflated by empty notions of their unspiritual mind. He doesn’t hold on to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and tendons, grows with growth from God. If you died with Christ to the elements of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”? All these regulations refer to what is destined to perish by being used up; they are human commands and doctrines. Although these have a reputation for wisdom by promoting self-made religion, false humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence. So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.
Why? Why? Why?
Why? Why? Why?
Colossians 2:20-22; Colossians 2:8; Romans 6:6; Romans 6:16-18; Colossians 1:2; John 17:16; 1Peter 2:9; Hebrews 11:13; Psalm 119:19; Colossians 2:14; Genesis 3:2-3; Mark 7:6-9
For all of his posturing and humble speech of being a fool or being timid in his speech, Paul really was a master at developing, supporting and closing an argument. For this entire chapter he has been delivering a polemic against the false teachings that were beginning to creep into the worship of the Colossian church, skillfully weaving his argument as he would a tent in the marketplace. Paul returns to the two contrasting themes that he has highlighted throughout this chapter - the believer’s identification and participation in the death of Christ and the elements of the world which would seek to distract the believer from the reality that they should now live in.
Paul begins by posing the question “If you died with Christ to the elements of the world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?” You will recognize of course that we don’t expect much of dead people. No one expects the dead to pay taxes or to participate in the continued activities of the life that they have left behind. If we have died spiritually to our fleshly nature and the elements of the world then we should no longer submit or participate in the requirements of that nature.
Paul does this through the use of this rhetorical question - a tactic that he uses frequently and effectively to bring back wayward believers and to remind them of the truths that they have been taught. He has already made the case that they have been crucified with Christ and warned them against falling victim to the false philosophies being taught by these teachers - some of which were grounded in the “elements of the world”.
Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elements of the world, rather than Christ.
Here Paul uses this question to remind the Colossians of several points with respect to their Christian life.
First is that in dying with Christ they are in fact no longer beholden to the elements of the world. In Romans 6 Paul makes this point
For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be rendered powerless so that we may no longer be enslaved to sin,
and then later in that same chapter
Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey—either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness? But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching to which you were handed over, and having been set free from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness.
While there is great truth in the beginning of this question - it is the truth that he introduces now that is the most beautiful for the Colossians and for us today.
“Why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?” Paul is reminding the Colossians of the truths of their new nature. Those who have been crucified with Christ no longer belong in this world. Instead we are strangers in a strange land. Paul is reiterating the truth that he had given the Colossian believers at the very beginning of the letter.
To the saints in Christ at Colossae, who are faithful brothers and sisters. Grace to you and peace from God our Father.
Paul calls the Colossian believers saints - set apart ones specifically set apart for God’s purposes. There are several reminders for us in Scripture that we share the same new nature as the Colossians and that we too are in fact saints. In His high priestly prayer, Christ prayed
They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
And in his letter 1 Peter, the Apostle Peter writes
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
and the writer of Hebrews writes
These all died in faith, although they had not received the things that were promised. But they saw them from a distance, greeted them, and confessed that they were foreigners and temporary residents on the earth.
Those who were pronounced to be saints from the Old Testament could look to the testimony of David in Psalm 119
I am a resident alien on earth; do not hide your commands from me.
Saints, beloved family, we share the same spiritual DNA. If we have died along with Christ we also do not have to submit to the fleshly nature but instead should be waring against that nature recognizing that it is no longer, and never was, by laws and regulations that we can achieve salvation but solely through the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
Paul challenges the Colossians “why do you submit to regulations?” The word for submit here is the same Greek verb (dogmatizo) that Paul used in Colossians 2:14
He erased the certificate of debt, with its obligations, that was against us and opposed to us, and has taken it away by nailing it to the cross.
In effect what Paul is saying is that by submitting to these regulations - the legalism, mysticism and asceticism - being forced upon them by the false teachers they are attempting to cancel Christ’s payment of their debt and to pay it themselves.
Paul lists three commands that are probably not specifically what is being said to the Colossians but instead are hyperbolic sarcasm. The prohibition against tasting does point back to their leaglistic concerns regarding food and drink and the Mosaic Law.
The admonitions not to handle or to touch are interesting in that they are repeated but really the two Greek verbs really only mean to touch. So the question could be asked why Paul repeats them here. There is a sense that anytime that false teachers go beyond what Christ has already given us that it leads to sin and failure. This makes me think of another time where the concepts of eating and touching something were put together in a situation beyond the commands of God.
It was in the Garden when the serpent approached Eve. He poses the question as to whether God had said that they could not eat from any tree in the Garden - but it is Eve who takes it the further step.
Sometimes the most dangerous false teachers we face are those we meet in the mirror every morning.
The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit from the trees in the garden. But about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden, God said, ‘You must not eat it or touch it, or you will die.’ ”
Eve goes beyond what God had actually commanded and the Fall results.
Any time we go beyond what God has commanded sin is the inevitable result.
The other danger that this has is that it focuses our eyes on the here and now instead of the future that God has promised all of those who believe in His Son. Paul goes on to say that all of these refer to things destined to perish with use and are in accordance with the teachings of men. This was a sin that Paul was very familiar with. Raised as a Pharisee he was well acquainted with the traditions of men and the requirements that they placed on people. Paul is quoting both Christ and Isaiah here.
Christ in Mark 7 quotes Isaiah as well
He answered them, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines human commands. Abandoning the command of God, you hold on to human tradition.” He also said to them, “You have a fine way of invalidating God’s command in order to set up your tradition!
Abandoning the command of God you set up your own tradition, because the all mighty self is the greatest danger to our faith in Christ.
False teachers will always focus your eyes off of eternity, off of God and on to yourself.
False teachers - the Osteens, and Meyers, the Jakes and Johnsons - they will always focus your eyes off of eternity, off of God and on to yourself. What can I do now. How can life be better now.
Sometimes the most dangerous false teacher we face is the one you carry around inside of you.
The All-mighty Self
The All-mighty Self
Paul lists three dangers that all stem from the same source - the all mighty self. Paul even acknowledges that to the human mind this seems to be a legitimate ideal to have. He says that these matters have the appearance of wisdom. The NASB translates the verse this way
These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.
These are matters which have, to be sure - of course this makes sense to the depraved mind because at the root of all sin is one of two emotions which are two sides of the same coin. Pride and selfishness. He says these take the appearance of wisdom. Wisdom is much sought after - I think of the popular culture idea of the wise man who has withdrawn and lives in a cave on the top of a mountain that people seek out for his wise pronouncements. They also seem wise because they appeal to our vanity, our pride and our desire to achieve something on our own. And so Paul gives these three examples for us to be wary of.
The first is the danger of self-made religion. Paul has already alluded to the folly of angel worship. But there is also the worship of self.
This false religious system is rampant in our day.
It is the system that promotes the good of the individual over the good of society, the truth of the individual over the truth of any other system and the desires of the individual over those of any outside source but especially God. It is characterized by the personality trait we call narcissism - or the excessive interest or admiration of self. It has even been identified as a personality disorder according to the DSM-V. Some of the symptoms include
A grandiose sense of self-importance
Preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love
Belief that one is special and can only be understood by or associate with special people or institutions
A need for excessive admirationA sense of entitlement (to special treatment)
Exploitation of others
A lack of empathy
Envy of others or the belief that one is the object of envy
Arrogant, haughty behavior or attitudes
What the world characterizes as a disorder the Bible demonstrates as natural human depravity as a result of sin.
But this is the mindset of much of the world today - not only millenials but across all generations and societal spectrums. It is this love and worship of self that leads us to be dissatisfied at work when someone else gets a promotion we wanted. It is this love and worship of self that leads us to kill unborn babies. It is this love and worship of self that tells us that our truth is what’s important and valid and that we can define anything according to that truth rather than the objective standards that have always governed truth.
It is this love and worship of self that all too often leads us to any form of dissatisfaction with our lives or situation because we deserve more from God than what He’s given us. It places us on the throne and has God be subject to our whims and desires. And it is the most natural state for all humans - every single one of us struggles against this self religious state - as a result of Adam’s sin. And it happens at every age - we see this in the infant that cries and throws a fit when he or she doesn’t get his way. But this religion is deadly and false.
Speaking on this religious tendency Martyn Lloyd-Jones said “ I would say that the greatest sinners in the world are the self-satisfied, self-contained, good moral people, who believe that, as they are, they are fit to stand in the presence of God. Moreover, they are in reality telling God that He need never have sent His Son into the world as far as they are concerned, and that the Son need never have died upon the Cross. There is no greater insult to God than that; but it is precisely what they are guilty of. There is no greater sinner in the universe than the man who has never seen his need of the blood of Christ. There is no sin greater than that—murder and adultery and fornication are nothing in comparison with it.”
Charles Spurgeon said it this way “Self-righteousness is as much an insult to God as blasphemy.”
Nearly as dangerous as the concept of self-made religion is the practice of self-promoting humility. Paul here uses the same word that he used for ascetic practices in verse 18 - where he highlighted that these false teachers were promoting themselves based on how humble they were.
This form of humility often mutates into pride where we actually revel in how humble we are.
John Calvin once said “The most effective poison to lead men to ruin is to boast in themselves, in their own wisdom and power” - and I would add humility to that list.
The Proverbs have much to say about the contrast between pride and humility.
Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.
A person’s pride will humble him, but a humble spirit will gain honor.
specifically. This is the false humility practiced by the Pharisees in Jesus day and unfortunately many of those who would try to place themselves on the forefront of the Christian scene today.
The final category that Paul warns us against is that of extreme asceticism that demonstrates itself in self-abuse. There are many different ways this can manifest itself in the Christian life. The primary way that it has been demonstrated throughout history has been the physical punishing of an individual for their own sins. If there was ever anyone who could have said that they should have earned their way to Heaven by scrupulous living it would have been Paul or the reformer Martin Luther. Paul lived the rigorous life of a Pharisee and he amassed an impeccable pedigree.
although I have reasons for confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he has grounds for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised the eighth day; of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; regarding the law, a Pharisee; regarding zeal, persecuting the church; regarding the righteousness that is in the law, blameless.
The reformer Martin Luther was another who lived such a lifestyle as to have hoped to have earned his way to Heaven. He is quoted as having said “When I was a monk, I wearied myself greatly for almost fifteen years with the daily sacrifice, tortured myself with fasting, vigils, prayers, and other rigorous works. I earnestly thought to acquire righteousness by my works.” He worked so hard in fact that he came not to love God but to hate Him - seeing Him as a ruthless taskmaster who required more than any person could bear up to. Luther was said to have been in the confessional so much trying to remain right with God that one of his mentors is reputed to have told him “Brother Martin, why don’t you go out and commit some real sins, and come back when you have something to confess?”
There is another level to this that unfortunately is the most prevalent practicing of self-abuse today. You don’t see many people carrying around cat-o-nine tails or whips for self-flagellation. No we modern pietists have become far more crafty than that. The whips we carry with us are invisible. They are mental.
They are the most insidious form of self-abuse.
They are the notions we carry around that say we can’t be forgiven unless we’ve sufficiently beaten ourselves to a mental pulp and then there is so much shame involved in that that we piously think ourselves to broken to ever be acceptable. They are the lies that we tell ourselves that either God could never forgive me for that or that even if God can forgive me, I can’t forgive myself. My dear friends, beloved family, if you are here today and this is you - you are deep in the clutches of self-flagellation of a mental sort - let me tell you that Christ can and will forgive you, that He loves you and that if He can forgive you then you certainly can forgive yourself. Don’t continue to take His rightful place on the throne of your life and think that you can’t forgive what is only His to forgive. Surrender to Him this morning and abdicate the throne in favor of a more benevolent and loving ruler.
The misunderstanding of Martin Luther in those early years is the same misunderstanding that underlies all of these attempts at self-justification. Paul explains it here saying that these are “not of any value in curbing self-indulgence”.
None of these can address or solve the fundamental problem within man.
In fact, each of them does nothing except feed the fleshly indulgences of man in different ways. All of them fill the pride of man by feeding the vain desires of a man - whether it is self-made religion where he thinks he is on the throne of his own life, self-promoting humility where he is seen to be more humble or pious than his peers and so it becomes a source of pride or through his rigorous self-denial and self-penalization that again becomes a source of pride - all of these are designed to set a man apart from others and to make him seem better. None of these will address the certificate of debt that Paul refers to in verse 14 and none of these can deliver eternal life to the practitioner. It is as the old saying goes the heart of the problem is a problem of the heart.
Only by setting our sights higher can that be achieved.
Set Your Sights Higher
Set Your Sights Higher
It would have been very easy for me to have cut the sermon there and to leave you with a puritanical finger wag telling you not to give in to self - but that would only be half the message. It would be no better than the moralistic teachers because all I would give you is a warning without explaining how this is done. How do we fight the urges within each of us that attempt to get us to lean towards the lures of self-made religion or self-promoting humility.
Paul tells us in the very next verse and so I didn’t just want to stop at verse 23 but to press on to chapter 3 verse 1. We’ll cover a bit more of this next week but I don’t want to leave this hanging. Paul moves on to say that if you have been raised with Christ. He started the section we’re looking at this morning reminding the Colossians that they had died with Christ and now he reminds them here that they have been raised with Christ. When we died with Christ we died to the elements of this world and the requirements imposed by self-made religion, the need for self-promoting humility and the payment found through self-abuse and self-condemnation. But we didn’t stay there - we were also raised with Christ to the hope of something better. The hope of something more.
Paul tells us not if you have been raised with Christ but a better reading for us today is that SINCE you have been raised with Christ he says don’t focus on the here and now because it is destined to perish, it is destined for futility, it cannot accomplish anything for you - but instead focus, actively seek the things that are above.
The Christian author Ted Dekker once wrote a book entitled “The Slumber of Christianity” and in it he said this “Christianity’s foundation rests on a living hope that fills us with an inexpressible joy for that which is to come. Without this hope, our faith will fail, we won’t have the power to withstand our trials and we will slip into a slumber.” In another section of the book he says this “It is by fixing our eyes on the light of eternity that we see clearly the pleasures of this life.”
Paul says to seek the things above - where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. And let me tell you that Paul is not encouraging us to seek the streets of gold, or the never ending Oreo buffets (at least I hope there are those - the golden Oreos not the chocolate ones), or any other pleasures that we could assume might be there. He wouldn’t even tell us to seek Heaven for the fellowship of past family members who have preceded us in getting there - He tells us what we are to seek, or Who we are to seek rather. We are to seek Heaven for the glorious pleasure of the physical presence of Christ. Commenting on this passage Dr. MacArthur says “To be preoccupied with heaven is to be preoccupied with the One who reigns there and His purposes, plans, provisions and power. It is also to view the things, people, and events of this world through His eyes and with an eternal perspective.”
This verse holds the only verb in the imperative sense in this whole passage. This is a command - it is something that Paul is encouraging us to do. To seek Christ - in fact this verb zeteo is in the present sense meaning that it is an ongoing continuous action. We should constantly be seeking Him and looking for what we can be doing for Him in this world always with the mindset that that next world is guaranteed for us so this world isn’t the priority.
Charles Spurgeon said this of our mindset when it comes to thinking of Heaven:
“Above, beneath, around, within, without, everywhere it is heaven. I breathe heaven, I drink heaven, I feel heaven, I think heaven. Everything is heaven. Oh, “what must it be to be there?” To be there is to be with Christ.”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones said it this way
“Unmixed joy, and glory, and holiness, and purity and wonder! That is what is awaiting us. That is your destiny and mine in Christ as certainly as we are alive at this moment. How foolish we are that we do not spend our time in thinking about that.”
What am I saying? Am I saying that we wont have troubles here? Or that we should simply walk around with a Pollyanna attitude that says that our problems here don’t matter. No - of course not. But we mustn’t forget what we have in front of us. We mustn’t overlook the glorious promises of Scripture that when the trials of this life are done that we have a rest awaiting us. The commentator Matthew Henry said this
“We are never told in the Scriptures that we should look forward to death; but we are told very frequently that we should look forward to Heaven.”
That is Paul’s point here - that we should be looking forward and seeking the things that are above. And seeking ways that we can experience some of that joy (we’ll never experience it perfectly this side of Heaven) here now. And we can do that best by seeking Christ every day and in every moment.
So here’s the question. It’s now the first Sunday of April. The year is a quarter spent. The flush of a new year is gone and for many of us - if we made them - our resolutions have long since been abandoned. But how are you doing? We’ve gone back to business as usual in our lives and we’re just seeking to get to the next day, the next week, the next paycheck, the next whatever.
What about your spiritual lives? Some of us are far past the flush of those early days of our Christian walk. Where are you looking? Are you still actively seeking the things above or have we become like the five virgins who have run out of oil and need to go get more? Have we become like the watchmen who have fallen asleep at the door because our Master has tarried too long? Are you actively looking forward to what is to come?
Maybe you’re here today and you’re trapped in the all mighty self - you’re slaving away in a self-made religion or trying to maintain the facade of a self-promoting humility. Maybe you’re languishing under the unforgiving whip of self-abusing ridicule and deprivation of the beautiful truths of the true Gospel. Today is the day to be set free - but you can’t do it on your own. It is only possible through the cleansing blood that was shed on the cross. It is only possible through the infilling of the Spirit of Christ regenerating your heart and setting you free from all of those false systems that can never regenerate the human heart or condition. Experience the freedom that has been promised to you and set your sights on that mountain, that hope that we have in Christ.
Know that today we stand on the shores of Jordan and we look across - but one day soon we will cross over and be able to sing with the angels the words of the hymn
“We will sing on that day Hallelujah bless Your name We will bow at Your throne Singing Hallelujah we are finally home”