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Col 2_16_23 What is Controlling You

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Text: Colossians 2:16-23

Title: What is controlling you?

Theme of the book of Colossians: Jesus Christ: The preeminent and all-sufficient Savior
Theme of Text:
You are complete in Christ, not through man’s vain methods.  

Proposition: Man’s ideas can only constrain you; Christ can change you!


I went to a Christian school for elementary, junior high, and high school. I had many friends in the Christian school that went to my church. You might be thinking, well, it is great that you were able to Christian school. I believe it was very good, but let me tell you of a problem that was prevalent among the students. Our problem was legalism. I don’t think it was intended legalism, but I’ll tell you, it was a problem with my friends and me. I had many friends that went to Christian school with me for years. We knew how to act, we knew how to dress, and we knew how to stay out of trouble. On the outside, we looked like good kids. On the inside, we were just conforming to a bunch of rules. That is how many of the kids that have graduated from that school were. The problem is that when someone graduates from the school, they don’t have the strict rules over their head. They are on their own. They graduate, and then go out and ruin their lives because they don’t have the rules. I ask you, was the problem the rules or their heart? It was their heart! Christ needed to change their heart. Conforming to a rule will never bring change. Fortunately, Christ worked in my life and I realized that only Christ can save me and change me.

In this passage, Paul talks about the problems with the false teacher. He confronts the issues with which the believers at Colossae were dealing. Paul does not hold back on his teaching. He boldly confronts incorrect teachings of the false teachers. Paul knew that these false teachers were misleading people about Christ, so a correct understanding of Christ had to be given. Paul addresses three problems in this passage. The three problems addressed are legalism, mysticism, and asceticism. Each one has major errors. The biggest problem is that the false teachers promoted their religious ideas and methods over Christ. These methods are worthless since a believer is complete in Christ. A Christian should not be controlled by human religious methods or ideas but by the Head, Jesus Christ.

Proposition: Man’s ideas can only constrain you; Christ can change you!

Let’s look at three key point from this passage.

1.      You can only be saved by Christ

2.      You can only be growing through Christ

3.      You can only be controlled by Christ

1.      You can ONLY Be Saved by Christ  v. 16-17

a.      Salvation is not through legalistic means

The annual festivals, the monthly new moon sacrifice, and the Sabbath were not meant for salvation. The false teachers were promoting that these religious observances were required for salvation. Even though Christ had come as the Messiah and had done away with the ceremonial aspects of the Old Testament law, many people were saying that a person had to practice these religious observances for salvation.

This is legalism! Legalism can be its own type of religion. Legalism is saying salvation and spirituality comes from Christ and human works. In verse 16, Paul is saying, do not let anyone judge you or hold you these things: food or drink, festivals, new moons, or Sabbaths. Colossians 2:14 says that Christ wiped out the handwriting of requirements or the law. In Acts 15:10, Paul said that the legalistic requirements are something that one cannot bear, known as a “yoke of bondage or slavery.” Galatians 5:1 states that Christ has made us free from the “yoke of slavery or bondage.” There is no food, festivals, or physical sacrifices that are required for salvation!

These five things that are mentioned (eating, drinking, festivals, new moons, Sabbaths) all concern the Jewish law. Christ has abolished each one. Mark 7:18-19 abolishes the food and drink regulations. Sabbath requirements are talked about in Hebrews 8 and Galatians 4:10-11.

They were a shadow of the things to come!

b.      Salvation is only through Jesus Christ

The religious observances were only a shadow of what was going to come in Christ. The Old Testament Law had many elements that pointed to the coming Messiah. All of Israel was waiting in anticipation for the Messiah. Unfortunately, many people rejected Christ as the Messiah. Paul says here that Christ is the true reality of the shadows. A shadow is not reality, it is simply a portrayal of reality. Unfortunately, people were making these shadows (the religious requirements) more important than the reality-Christ. It is pointless to focus on a shadow if the reality or body is standing in front of you. Since Christ has come, these religious observances or shadows have no value. A person can only be saved through Jesus Christ! (Galatians 3:24-25)

Illustration: If Chien Ming Wang (the great Taiwanese pitcher for the Yankees) was here with us now, we would not be focus on his shadow and be impressed with his shadow. We would be looking at him and focus on him. A shadow is not the reality or the true identity.


Application: Some of you might be thinking, “Good, none of us are legalistic. We don’t live by these strict rules that Paul is talking about, nor do we require monthly animal sacrifices.” That may be true, but I believe that legalism is alive and well! Legalism is often connected with Jewish law, as in this passage, but it does not have to be. Legalism can mean treating biblical standards of conduct as regulations to be kept by our own power in order to earn salvation. Have you been trying to keep a specific standard to earn your salvation? Do you think you will earn your salvation by going to church every Sunday? Some people are misled to think that if they go to church every time possible, comb their hair the right way, wear the proper attire, and look good in front of the pastor and the church, then they will really be a Christian. Church attendance does not mean you are a Christian, nor does having “constrained conduct” save you from sin! Christ is the only means for salvation! Don’t trust in your own good conduct to get you to heaven, trust in Christ! No amount of good works or legalistic conduct will amount to righteousness.

I want to be careful to make sure that you don’t think that since you have accepted Christ as you savior, you can now fulfill the desires of your flesh. This is incorrect. The New Testament gives specific commands for Christians to obey. Obedience to the command does not bring salvation, but salvation should bring a desire to obey the Savior!

We must note that this passage also has application in another area as well. You should be trusting Christ as your means for salvation! Nothing else can save! Do you believe that? If you believe that then you must leave the religious practices of your previous religion. Some of you might still practice Buddhism, Taoism, or ancestor worship, even in a small form. You might think, “Christ might not be sufficient for salvation, so I must continue too follow my old religious ideas. I will still offer sacrifices or prayers to ancestor or other god’s just to make sure that I’m going to be ok.” That is incorrect thinking! Christ is the only GOD! He is sufficient for salvation and if you trust him as you savior, then Colossians 2:10 says that you are made COMPLETE in him!


Proposition: Man’s ideas can only constrain you; Christ can change you!


2.      You can ONLY Be Growing Through Christ  v. 18-19

a.      Growth does not come through:

Paul says do not let anyone “cheat you or your prize.” Paul doesn’t want the believer to be pulled down and controlled by an earthly force that does not have any merit. A person should not let some prideful misled individual steal them of their temporal blessings or eternal reward. When a Christian is controlled by something other than Christ, then they are not blessed with the growth that is possible through the Savior!

How were they being cheated? The false teachers were saying that their visions, humility, and angel worship were the means to true growth. They wanted people to follow their ideas. The false teachers were promoting an empty form of worship. These teachings had two major problems: they were not connected to Jesus Christ and they were promoting themselves. There religious ideas were rooted in extreme pride.

Let’s look at the specifics on how the people try to grow through their own methods: Visions, false humility, and angel worship:

                                                             i.      Man’s visions

The false teachers were promoting their own visions over Christ. They were the supposed means of growth! Many cults and false religions base their teachings on human visions. Some of them might even believe some of the Bible, but when there is a debate between the Bible and a human’s vision, the vision usually wins! These visions are a result of a fleshly or worldly mind. The whole teaching behind these visions was to promote a man.

Since the Scriptures have been completed, we don’t need another type of revelation. Human visions are irrelevant. Do not let someone fool you into thinking that their vision is greater than scripture! It is not! In Christ, we are complete, so we don’t need any other visions to complete us or the Scriptures.

Today this is most commonly seen in the charismatic movement—where Scripture is a distant second in importance to visions and revelations.

Illustration: When such intimidation came from the sixteenth-century mystical charismatics of Martin Luther’s day, the great Reformer was very firm with them, clinging to biblical revelation and the centrality and sufficiency of Christ. In particular, the followers of Thomas Munzer and the radical Anabaptists gave great prominence to the work and gifts of the Spirit—and to mystical knowledge. Their cry, expressing their super biblical experience, was “The Spirit, the Spirit!” Luther replied, “I will not follow where their spirit leads.” When they were granted the privilege of an interview with Luther, they gave their cry “The Spirit, the Spirit!” The great Reformer was not impressed and thundered, “I slap your spirit on the snout.”- MacArthur.

                                                          ii.      False humility

The actual word for humility here is the same word used throughout the New Testament to describe humility. The only contradiction is that this humility is coming from someone that is puffed up or exalted in his or her own mind. They were delighting in their self-humility. This is pride! This false humility is to be ignored by false teachers and it is to be out of our lives!

Illustration: Trying to impress someone by false humbleness. It is the desire to have someone look at you and think you are humble and spiritual.

Humility can lead to pride. When you start to think that you are humble, then you need to watch out for the pride in your life. Pride is a terrible sin that is like a vacuum. It sucks out the love for someone else and replaces it with love for ourselves.

Depression and loneliness are other forms of pride. You start to think that you are not good or that you don’t have any friends. You start to look at how others should view you better. This is rooted in pride! Do you have to be accepted by other people to feel good about yourself? that is pride!

                                                       iii.      Angel Worship

This is a manmade philosophy promoting the idea of worshiping angels instead of Christ. This is possibly a display of the false teacher’s false humility. Some say that God is too holy to be directly worshiped by sinners, so the angels act as a mediator between God and man. This is completely incorrect since 1 Timothy 2:5 states that Christ is the mediator between God and man. Angels are not to be worshiped; Matthew 4:10 states that we are supposed to only worship God!

Illustration: Why catholic person worshiped an angel/Mary instead of Christ.

b.      Growth comes through the Head of the church: Jesus Christ 

True growth is not a result of anything that man does; it comes from being united with Christ. There is no spiritual growth for the Christian or the body (the church) apart from union with Jesus Christ our Head. When someone promotes his own method of spiritual growth or gain, it is simply a vain idea that is rooted in pride. Only through Christ can you have true growth!

Ephesians 4:15-16 (NKJV)
15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

John 15:4-5 (NKJV)
4 Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. 5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.

2 Peter 1:3 (NKJV)
3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,

Illustration: Have you ever seen someone without an arm? How about a missing leg? Have you ever seen someone without a head? No person can function without a head. Just as the head supplies the physical body with the support so that the various parts can function, so Christ is the support of the church. The head gives unity and control to the body, so Christ gives control to the human body. Joints and ligaments hold the body together, but the head controls it! Too many people are trying to be the spiritual head and the means of growth!

Application: Some people want to do more things for God so they will “feel spiritual.” When a person starts to think of himself as spiritual or thinks he “feels spiritual,” that is when there is a problem. You must understand that we are not righteous apart from Christ! He brings salvation and he brings growth!!

Proposition: Man’s ideas can only constrain you; Christ can change you!

3.      You can ONLY Be Controlled by Christ v. 20-23

a.      Manmade regulations are temporal

Paul says, “If you have died with Christ, then don’t submit yourself to foolish regulations that do not help growth.” These are ridiculous ascetic regulations that do not bring true change! The regulations that the false teachers were promoting were only temporal. They would go away and not be worth anything. True change from Christ is permanent!

What is Asceticism? Austere and self-denying; some ancient religious and philosophical groups required this discipline as a matter of policy (often to show one’s lack of attachment to mortal, bodily pleasures and pains). Asceticism grew in popularity in late antiquity, influencing the shape of later Christian monasticism. IVP Background Commentary.


When a man makes a rule, it is only valid as long as there is someone to enforce the rule.

Illustration: When you tell your three year old to not eat the cookies, he will usually only obey that until you have left the room. People will usually only goes the speed limit when the police officer is following him.

If a man makes a regulation or a strict standard for himself without Christ, he will only be able to maintain that standard through a strong will. Manmade regulations cannot truly change a person. Many of the false teachers were trying to impose strict religious standards. These standards did not have any use against the power of the flesh. Having outward regulations does not mean that you will have inward change. The flesh is stronger than man made restrictions; the only way to conquer the flesh is to be growing from God by holding on to Christ. The flesh is extremely powerful; therefore, man in his own power cannot change himself.


Illustration: Among ascetics, the most celebrated were Simeon the Stylite of Syria and Daniel the Stylite of Constantinople. Simeon spent 37 years dressed in uncomfortable hair shirt sitting on different pillars, each one loftier and narrower than the last. The last pillar was 66 feet high. He died in AD 460, aged 72. Daniel lived 33 years on a pillar, and was many times nearly blown off by the storms from Thrace. He died in AD 494. The story of Simon Stylites has been very popular. by and living for years on top of a high pillar and spending his time in prayer.

Anatole of France was deeply impressed by this and desired to emulate St. Simeon. Not being able to secure a pillar, he improvised one by placing a chair on the kitchen table in his home. There he sat arrayed in a garment almost as uncomfortable as a hair shirt, intending to spend the rest of his days in fasting and prayer.

The cook and the rest of the family did not see eye to eye with him, and altogether missed the point of his intentions. They succeeded in making life so miserable for him that he discontinued his project. He wrote: “Then I perceived that it is a very difficult thing to be a saint while living with your own family. I saw why Jerome went into the desert.”

—Wilbur E. Nelson (Paul Lee Tan, Encyclopedia of 7700 Illustrations)



The number of the man made religious regulations is enormous, and their variety is wide, often strongly influenced by geographical and cultural considerations. They range all the way from “thou shalt not wear lipstick” to “thou shalt not wear two-tone shoes in the morning service in San Francisco!”

I do not want to be misunderstood here. That certain practices must be avoided in certain places and under certain circumstances cannot be denied in the light of 1 Corinthians 8–10 and Romans 14. (The principle is not a uniquely Biblical one, as the Peace Corps, no doubt, can testify.) And furthermore, the New Testament itself contains a number of moral and ethical commands and exhortations. With the latter commands and exhortations we must have no quarrel, and with the former principles, found in 1 Corinthians and Romans, we must be satisfied. On the other hand, we must beware of adding specific regulations, not sanctioned directly by Scripture, to the New Testament statements. The conversion of New Testament principles into specific universal regulations is dangerously wrong. It inevitably leads to the establishment of rules, almost always of a negative character, as the approved standards of the godly life. The tendency to pride and offensiveness is obvious and, in fact, this self-satisfaction is seen throughout the Christian world.

Not only do the regulations in the realm of morally indifferent things provoke an emphasis on the negative. They also tend to turn our attention away from the positive—the earnest study of the Word and the development of our union with Christ into a vital, moment-by-moment communion with Him through the Spirit. Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 120; 120:205-206

Illustration: More Rules- Spurgeon

I have found, in my own spiritual life, that the more rules I lay down for myself, the more sins I commit. The habit of regular morning and evening prayer is one which is indispensable to a believer's life, but the prescribing of the length of prayer, and the constrained remembrance of so many persons and subjects, may gender unto bondage, and strangle prayer rather than assist it.

Charles Spurgeon, in Wycliffe Handbook of Preaching & Preachers, W. Wiersbe, p. 235

b.      Christ’s power is eternal

Christ is the only one that can bring true change! Throughout history, man has attempted to change himself by setting strict rules and regulations. These attempts have been futile! The only way that a person can be really changed is through Jesus Christ. Human restrictions and regulations can only change a person in the temporal; but when Christ changes a person, it is eternal!

In two Sunday, I will be preaching from Colossians 3. This chapter should be well known by every Christian. The things stated in that chapter will help lead to proper conduct. A Christian should have the characteristics that are mentioned in chapter 3, but those things do not save a person! Only Christ can truly save and change! When Christ saves a person, it is a decision for eternity.

Maclaren says, “There is only one thing that will put the collar on the neck of the animal within us, and that is the power of the indwelling Christ.”

The Cross has closed the door upon the past with its bondage to the world and its precepts. It is not right to impose regulations upon someone that are of human origin with no specific Scriptural support.

Rom 6:1–14; 7:1–6 ; 2 Cor 5:14; Gal 2:19

Proposition: Man’s ideas can only constrain you; Christ can change you!


Proposition: Man’s ideas can only constrain you; Christ can change you!


Let me illustrate this one last time.

Illustration: At Bible College, we had a handbook with hundreds of rules in it. The leadership at the college tried to have a biblical principle for every rule. They wanted the rules to promote Christian accountability and discipline. This was very helpful since most had a biblical principle behind the rule, but some of the rules may not have had a specific verse and passages, such as the rule, “Do not walk on the grass.” This rule was not going to change an unsaved person to a saved person; neither was it going to change a bad kid to a good kid. This was simply for proper conduct. Many rules or regulations are designed for good conduct, but they cannot change a person’s heart.

6:50am devotions: just because I got up to do the devotions did not mean that I was spiritual or a good Christian. I was just conforming to the rules. But, it if I got up and actually spent time with Christ and meditated on Him, then that time would bring growth.

Rules, regulations, or good conduct cannot truly change a person; only Christ can change a heart!

You must understand that human methods and works do not save a person from sin, nor can they bring true change. No amount of man made religion, visions, or restrictions will change a lost person to a saved person, nor will it change an immature believer into a mature saint. Christ is the only way for growth. You can only be made complete in Christ!

Would you please ask yourselves the following questions?

Do you trust in human religious ideas to save you from sin? or Have you been saved by the power of Jesus Christ? You trust in Christ to be saved!

Do you have true fellowship with the Head, Jesus Christ?

Are you growing in your relationship with God?

Is Christ controlling you, or are you simply being constrained by human rules?

Do not be controlled by the world’s religious ideas; be controlled by Christ!

2 Peter 1:3 (NKJV)
3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,

Proposition: Man’s ideas can only constrain you; Christ can change you!

One of my favorite stories comes from a man who used to be in our church. He and his wife were close friends of our family, but they have now moved to another part of the country. We really miss their joyful presence. When he was a youth worker many years ago in an ethnic community, he attended a church that had Scandinavian roots. Being a rather forward-looking and creative young man, he decided he would show the youth group a missionary film. We're talking simple, safe, black-and-white religious- oriented movie. That film projector hadn't been off an hour before a group of the leaders in the church called him in and asked him about what he had done. They asked, "Did you show the young people a film?" In all honesty he responded, "Well, yeah, I did." "We don't like that," they replied. Without trying to be argumentative, the youth worker reasoned, "Well, I remember that at the last missionary conference, our church showed slides--"

One of the church officers put his hand up signaling him to cease talking. Then, in these words, he emphatically explained the conflict: "If it's still, fine. If it moves, sin!" You can show slides, but when they start movin', you're gettin' into sin. 

C. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, Word, 1990, pp. 160-161.

Passage Illustration: 

Let me take you back to the city of Colossae for a moment and illustrate this passage. We find a young man named Epaphras, sitting on a stone bench near a closed down wool store. The store had once been home to one of the greatest manufacturers of Black Wool in the whole world, but now that the great trading road goes through Laodicea, the company has been moved to a better location. Epaphras sits here on his lunch break eating a small meal made up of a piece of bread, some pork, fruit, and tea. Feeling the warmth of the noon sun, Epaphras, relaxes and enjoys his meal. After a few minutes, a Jewish man comes along. He politely nods to Epaphras and sits down next to him.

-The Jewish man kindly asks Epaphras, “What do you do for a living?”

-Epaphras states plainly, “I was once a worker at one of the nearby wool factories, but now I am a preacher of the Gospel of Christ.”

-The man says smiling, “Oh, so you are a religious man. So am I; I have heard of Christ. I think he is a nice man.”

-Epaphras says, “Well, I actually believe that Christ came as a Man, and that He IS God. He died to save men from their sins. He is the prophesied Messiah.”

-The Jewish man remarks, “I believe Christ is good and that he even might be the Messiah, but how can you know he is the Messiah?”

-Epaphras eagerly states, “I know because he fulfilled the prophecies of your Jewish scriptures; and because he has changed my life.”

-The Jewish man then replies, “Well, are you going to go the New Moon Sacrifice tomorrow?”

-Epaphras says, “No, why do you ask?”

-The Jewish man replies excitedly, “Well, because you should also follow the Old Testament laws if you are going to follow Christ. He might not be sufficient for salvation.” Then, pointing to the food, the Jewish man adds, “In fact, you should probably not eat that pork since the Jewish laws forbid it.”

-Epaphras kindly says, “Well, I believe that Christ has done away with the festivals, new moons, and dietary restrictions of the Law.”

-The Jewish man replies heatedly, “What? How can you say that?!”

-Epaphras says, “The dietary regulations, festivals, Sabbath, and Sacrifices were just a shadow or indication of what Christ came to do. Christ is sufficient for salvation, and I don’t need anything else to be complete. I’m complete in Christ!”

-The Jewish man stands up and says, “Well, I don’t like what you’re saying. I’m going to leave. I think you better keep the law and come to the New Moon festival tomorrow just in case you are wrong.”

Epaphras remains there eating his lunch and thanking this Savior Jesus Christ for his sufficient sacrifice. A few minutes have gone by, when another man comes up the bench where Epaphras sits.

-Epaphras kindly says, “Sit down and have a little bit of my food if you’re hungry.”

The middle-aged gentleman with slightly graying hair kindly denies by saying, “No, that is ok, I really don’t like sitting on benches, I’d rather sit on this dusty, dirty road.”

-Epaphras says, “Well, that is ok. Would you like some food or water?”

-The gentleman says, “No, I couldn’t possibly think about drinking some of your water or having any of your food.”

-Epaphras sits silent a moment, and after thinking a moment, he asks, “Have you heard of Jesus Christ?”

-The gentleman answers, “Why yes, He is the one that died on the cross to save people from their sins. I think he is so amazing! In fact, he is so great that I don’t worship Him.”

-Epaphras inquisitively asks, “What do you mean?”

-The man replies, “I believe that he is so amazing that I should worship angels instead.”

-Looking surprised, Epaphras answers, “Well Christ said, “You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only’ ” (Matt. 4:10).

-The gentleman replies, “Well, that may be true, but I have had a vision that I should worship angels instead. In my vision, I saw that I wasn’t good enough to worship Christ so I had to worship angels.”

-Epaphras asks sarcastically, “When and why did you have this vision.”

-The gentleman states boldly, “I have visions all the times. It is usually after I have not had any food or sleep for a while. These visions come to me because I am not wise enough to understand anything else.”

-Epaphras then remarks, “Interesting, Christ has said that he is sufficient and that we are complete in him. We don’t need visions nor do we need to worship angels. You cannot grow without Christ.”

-The gentlemen gets up and says in an irritated fashion, “We’ll I’m good enough for that. My visions are greater than anything else that I have ever heard. I’m going to grow because I have visions.”

Epaphras kindly states as the gentleman is walking away, “True growth only comes through Christ from God.”

Epaphras resumes eating his lunch and begins to praise Christ for the beautiful day. He thinks about the great growth and change that has happened to his life since that day that he trusted Christ as his savior. Shortly after he finishes eating his fruit, a man walks up to him. The man is dress in unique attire. Epaphras is amused to see that he is wearing an extremely thick coat made up of some of coarsest, itchiest material known to man. This must be uncomfortable. Epaphras notices that the man looks extremely pale and frail. He carries but one piece of dried bread and a small container of water.

-Epaphras asks this unique looking character, “Are you ok? do you need some help?”

-The unique man answers, “No. Why do you ask?”

-“Well, you don’t really look like you are very healthy, and you look like you haven’t been outside for years.” Epaphras replies.

-The unique man, sensing a chance to share his piety, says, “Well, you are right. I have not been outside for three years. For the last three years, I have sat on a very uncomfortable stone chair in the middle of my house. While sitting there, I was only allowed to eat a piece of bread and a cup of water each day.”

-Surprised, shocked, and horrified, Epaphras asks, “Who made you do this?”

-“Well, no one made me, I put these rules on myself.” replies the unique man.


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