Read Colossians 2:20-23
After years of Ministering to the church of Colossae, the minister, Epaphras ran into a false teaching that was above his ability to combat. So he traveled from this city in Asia minor to Rome, where Paul was in prison. From there Paul wrote this Epistle which answers that false teaching. Let me illustrate what happened.
When you garden flowers, you will find that there are such kinds as annuals and perennials. Annuals are those flowers that sprout up and bloom for one season and then die. You need to harvest the seeds and replant them every year.
Perennials on the other hand come back year after year. They sprout up and bloom, and when the blooms die the plant remains until the next blooming season. Every season, out of that old stalk comes new foliage and flowers.
Like these perennial flowers there are perennial theologies and heresies that rise up every generation from the sinful human heart. The same old sin sprouts up new foliage and flowers every season.
This is most often done, not by rejecting Christianity, but by taking the morals or ceremonies of Christianity and mixing them with the World’s teachings. This is called syncretism.
Syncretism means to mix together. Specifically, syncretism in Colossae was the mixing of the Christian faith into the old standard pagan philosophies and superstitions. Basically, it is not Biblical Christianity; rather it is the old paganism latching onto Christian virtues and ceremonies for the purpose of serving self.
This is what the Apostle Paul called “Man made religion” (2:23). He elaborated in Colossians 2:21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!”
The roots of sin run deep within us, so every generation of Christians must fight this battle. Today we must battle self-made religion. “self made religion” comes in many forms, but they all have the same goal of self service. They are “man made” and “man serving.”
Purity was Paul’s desire for the churches. Read Colossians 2:1-2, it reads that Paul desires them to know real and true knowledge regarding Jesus. Jesus is Paul’s answer to syncretism because Jesus’ person and work were to reconcile us to God, to serve God, not to serve man.
Here is the main point of the passage. You should not be like the world, because the world latches onto all religious things to serve the self, not God. Put off serving self, and put on serving God, because Jesus has reconciled you for the service of God.
The Christian life is a life of service to God. We serve God because He has made us right with Him and has enabled us to serve him. Paul said in 1:13, “He rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (1:13). So we serve God because he first served us. But notice the result, we are in a kingdom. And Christ is our king whom we serve! This was what Paul meant when he called himself, and their minister, Epaphras, “Bondslaves” in 1:7. The word “bondslave” in the NASB could be more clearly translated “Slave.” The implication is that the Christian life is serving God, not self.
All man made religion serves the self. True religion is rooted in God saving man, and causing man to serve God. From beginning to end, God glorifies himself. So here is the question: Does your religion serve you or serve God? What is you motivation for calling yourself a Christian? Is it social status? Is it the feeling of self worth? Is it family pride?
There are many subtle ways we can take the true religion and mix it with the world. Though difficult, and always incomplete this side of glory, our task it clear. We are slaves to Christ because God has transferred us into the Kingdom of His beloved son.
The world, and your flesh devilishly tell you, “serve yourself, and assert your self-interest” But the Bible tells you, “Trust in the Gospel and Serve God.” This is the message of the book of Colossians, and the message to us today. Let us journey into this book and see the riches our Lord has for us in His Word.
During Paul’s second missionary journey in the 50s, he preached for two years in the port city of Ephesus in a school called “The School of Tyranus.” While there, in Acts 19:10 we read that “all Asia heard the Gospel.” By “Asia” Luke refers to what is the modern day nation of Turkey. In that day they called it Asia. How did all of this region hear the Gospel if Paul was preaching in a set location in the coastal city of Ephesus? The answer is that he sent out preachers to plant churches by preaching the Gospel.
The Preacher sent to Colossae was named Epaphras. Paul talked about Epaphras in Colossians. In 1:7 He mentioned Epaphras as a “coworker” a “minister” and a “bond-slave of Christ.” This man planted their church in the 50s. While Paul was preaching in Ephesus, Epaphras was preaching in Colossae. So the word of God was founded in these areas.
Somewhere down the road, false teachings crept into the church. So Epaphras came to the Apostle Paul for help on how to answer this heresy. Paul wrote the Epistle to the Colossians to combat the false teachings and build up the church on a solid foundation of the Gospel.
Simply put, Epaphras came to Paul for help with syncretism. That is why the book was written. Paul recognized that this was a serious problem, as he had written about it elsewhere, such as Romans 1, and preached against it while in Athens in Acts 17. His concern is still relevant for us today since the world still pressures us to conform to its mold. Our flesh still desires self service, and our minds crave self assertion. Our whole person, spiritual and physical, is still marked with remaining sin. This means that even though we are made right and alive with Christ, at the same time, we are sinners until glory. There should be progress in the Christian life. If there should be progress we need to know the enemy. The enemy is both within and without. It is our person and the environment in which we live. We live in hostile territory, with an enemy within our own members.
Os today I have two points which I want to bring to bear upon you from the text. First: The Nature of false teaching is that it makes religion self serving. Second, the answer to the false teaching is that Jesus redeemed us that we may serve Him.
- 1. The Self Made Nature of False Teaching
This sermon is an introduction to the book. So my goal for this sermon is to bring to bear the main point of the book to you. So let us constrain ourselves to verses 2:20-24. This is the meat of Paul’s argument.
Paul described the false teaching in verse 20-21. There he mentioned that they had engaged in these practices. Which he numbers as “Do not handle, Do not taste. Do not touch.” In verse 21. So the Colossians were engaged in some of these practices. This false teaching and practice had crept into the church. This was some kind of abstinence from food and drink. Likely it was based in the Old Testament dietary laws.
What follows is what Paul thinks of this sort of thing. There are three incisive things Paul says about them.
1. It is ultimately useless before God.They are “destined to perish with use.” (22a) This basically means that these practices will come to no real avail. They don’t do anything. They are what they are, but they have no real spiritual significance.
2. They are the imaginary teachings of men. (SeeVs.22b). This means they are made up! They are fiction. They originated in the imagination of some human.
3. These teachings appear to be wise, but ironically have no practical power over sin, which is the real human problem. Notice this irony in verse 23. These people are like monks. They are really disciplined and holy looking. They starve themselves. They do abusive acts to their bodies, which Paul calls “self abasement.”
I don’t know if you have ever been in a situation where someone calls some teacher or Yogi a “Holy Man,” but I have. Usually what they mean by “Holy man” is someone who goes through all these rites of passage that unearth some untapped, unused secret power within. You may think of Ghandi as this sort of Holy man. It is accompanied by extreme starvation and meditation in order to gain this power.
Today, this is popular in the church today, and I do not doubt that some of you are interested in, tempted by and possibly engaged in some sort of practice like this. Like extreme spiritual discipline groups, meditation sessions, self realization, and many other forms of both religious and secular self help forms. In here I would place speaking in tongues, mystic spiritual disciplines, transcendental meditation, frenzied worship services, un-explained ceremonialism, invocation of saints or angels, prayer shawls, faith healers, and anything that you can use to puff yourself up in thinking you are making yourself right with God. I warn you from the Word of God, this is a wrong path. It is a wrong path because it assumes that you have this power within, when the Bible declares that even the good works of the sinner are filthy rags in the sight of God (Is 64:7). There power within is of no ultimate good before God. It is made up, and imaginary. And it does not even apply to the real issue that you have, an legal and moral alienation from almighty God.
It reduces the human problem by way of making sin lighter. It makes the problem a matter of not enough work, and not enough realization of dormant potential. The problem is, whatever potential there may be, if a criminal is a criminal, he must be punished for his crimes. And if a sinner is a sinner before God, and unable to conquer sin without God, then doing something to circumvent that inevitably, mathematically, and clearly going to lead to destruction.
According to the Holy Spirit speaking in Paul’s pen, the irony of this kind of life is that though it 1. Appears useful, it is Useless. 2. Though it appears “wise” and like a holy man would act, they are really just imagined. 3. Though it appears practical for life, they miss the real practicality. There is a 5,000 pound elephant in the room, and its name is “Adam’s Sin.”
Sin is the real and most practical issue to fight. It is the most pertinent because it has ultimate worth and eternal consequences before God. Sin is the most pertinent enemy because it taints everything we do.
Here is the most diabolical irony, these practices really still serve man, not God. They tell you that you are not as bad as you really are. They underestimate sin. And they devalue God’s justice, because it says that he too does not care about sin as much as you getting your problems taken care of. What is amazing is that even good and godly things can be hijacked by this sort of teaching.
- 2. Paul’s Answer- Jesus’ Reconciliation by Death
If you pay down a debt, that is one thing, but what happens to you when you try to pay a police officer when you get stopped for speeding? Well it is something different because it is a criminal infraction, not just a loan. This is a crude analogy, but I simply want to point out the kind o terms we are dealing with. Legal penalties are irrevocable. You cannot commit a crime and have it waved, and the justice system still be called just.
There are basically two ways to think about the human condition. Pagan theology of their day taught that man in the flesh was fallen. It was like he was in debt to god and needed to “pay penance” to get back out. Jesus’s vicarious death is the real answer to the human condition. The human condition is not a moral bank account, it is a moral and legal criminal case. The crime is high treason against the God of the creation. The punishment is death. Paul leads off with this in verse 2:20. He gives the major premise, “If you have died with Christ.” (Read verse 20). He saying, “If you have realized that these elementary principles which are ultimately useless, made up, and impractical, and you have turned from them and trusted instead in Christ, because you are convinced that you are a sinner, and that no amount of self abasement, of self starvation, or self help is going to lift you up out of that status as a criminal before the just and Holy God, how is is possible that you can turn back to those same self serving practices.”
These two systems of salvation are totally opposite. They exclude each other mutually. They defy one another because one says “you can do it,” but the other says, “Jesus did it!” Jesus died on you behalf, versus you work on your own behalf. The Gospel is that Jesus is God who took on flesh in order to die the criminal death of the believers. Those who recognize their sin and turn to him in faith that he died for them will one day rise again with Jesus to live forever in the new heaven and new earth.
How much more so with God who is just in the very perfection of his character. He is justice. He is perfect justice. He is always at every moment as just as he ever will be. His justness in his own character is fully realized. This is our problem. We are not in debt to God, and we cannot pay him back. Rather we are in legal trouble with God.
Tonight, if you recognize that you are a sinner, and that you need that legal reconciliation, you should turn from your sins and trust that Jesus dies on your behalf.
Jesus is Paul’s Answer to the colossian false teachers. The answer is not only for the Colossians but for every human. This is the human condition. The human problem is sin, a moral and legal infraction against God himself.
So Paul’s answer to the Colossians is the answer you as well. All religions in the world make a mistake in assuming that men get right with God by overcoming some king of physical estrangement… The reality is that the human condition is legal condition. This is what the Bible teaches.
The Answer to the Human Condition was the Cross of Jesus, on the basis of the Cross he makes his new creation.
As we began, I told you that all religious endeavors made by man serve man. The Colossians had made for themselves a religion of self service by these starvation and self-abusing practices. Though they seem to beat up on the body, these practices really feed and build up pride.
In the same way, you are in danger of this same sin. It may be in a different form, but you have the same human nature, and the same ability to delude yourself into thinking,”wow I am really doing something.” This feeds pride, denies sinfulness of sin, and the significance of sin’s greviousness before God.
So I bring to you the same message that Paul did. Jesus died for the sins of the believer. If you believe in him, you have died with him. So, do not return to these other means of self salvation. The verdict is in. The thing has been called, you are a sinner who need a savior, so stop treating yourself as a sinless angel. What the Word says is simply this, trust in Christ alone, not yourself. And, go on living as if Christ saved you, and not you having saved yourselves because this underestimates sin.
This is God’s word to the Colossians. And this is God’s word to you this Lord’s Day. May we seek the truth in Christ and grow in grace as a young church, like Colossae.