Avoiding Extremes (part two)

holier_than_thounutsAs we come back to our study in Colossians this weekend, we’ll be reading vs 11-23.  Of course, here it is in the Message

As we started chapter two, we looked at the extremes we want to avoid when it comes to our efforts to live out the teachings of Christ.  We want to avoid the extremism of isolation…our maturity is developed in the context of community.  We want to avoid learning for the sake of learning…our goal is to live what we learn.  And we want to avoid the extreme of turning Christianity into a cause…God revealed Himself through Jesus, that’s the core of our message and mission.

OK, in vs 11-12, Paul talks to the Colossians about circumcision.  Circumcision was the primary evidence of a man’s identity with the Jewish people, the people of God.  It was a ritual that was required under Mosaic law in order for a person to be sure he was a part of God’s team (which, when choosing teams, gives a whole new meaning to “shirts and skins”….heh heh…but I digress).

Paul says that the means by which we are now made God’s people has nothing to do with rituals we perform with our abilities…but then he goes right on to describe baptism…which is a ritual that we perform in the church.  What’s the difference between these two rituals?  What comes out as the focus in baptism?  So then, what is it that makes us right with God, according to Paul?

Then in v13-15 Paul shows that the law as actually against us (v14)_…that is, because we couldn’t keep it, it was always evidence that we were sinful.  It’s Jesus’ death on our behalf that takes away our sin and gives us a clean slate.  So, if we have a clean slate…what more do we have to do to be right with God?  Go to church more?  Get our doctrine straight and compatible with accepted orthodoxy?  What is required of us in order to be part of God’s family?

In v16-19 Paul says some strong stuff.  Has anyone ever put you under pressure to tithe?  Anyone ever given you the stink-eye because you went fishing instead of to a church service?  Have you ever felt condemned by people who brag about their times of prayer or ecstatic experiences?  Do you ever feel totally inadequate in your faith when you hear someone rant about what a Christian should wear or drink or who a Christian should vote for?  What does Paul say about that stuff?  If we allow those outward things to control our sense of value and worth…what happens to us?  Don’t get distracted by shadow puppets…look for the real thing.

Then in v 20-23 Paul identifies the biggest folly of all these extremes.  A false notion that was perpetuated then and is still prevalent today.  What is the best we can hope for if we live our lives in conformity to strict outward regulations?  What will it result in?  What good does it do?

I love this passage.  It was one that I “grazed” on for months after coming out of the legalistic system I’d been involved in.  If you’ve struggled with feeling like you can’t keep all the rules right…if you’ve felt condemned by people or preachers who seem to have it all together and look so holy…this passage is for you.  Take it in in deep lungfuls…breathe the sweet air of freedom.  Once you start breathing that air, you can remember how to really live.

3 comments

  1. I am so grateful that I am a part of a fellowship that sees the truth. We remember that Jesus did “pay it all” and we do not have to do anything more. No rules or regulations required.

    In my past, I always knew something was not right about putting on the “superior religious costume” and it sure seemed to contradict the sciptures.
    This makes me ask myself, as in The Message, “if with Christ, I’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind me, why do I let myself be bullied by it? ”

    To be free and not under any bondage of religion is truly a great way to live. In fact, it’s the only way to really live in Him!!!

  2. Shirts and skins …. ouch!!!

    Golda — well said.

    I have lived most of my Christian life trying to prove to others and myself (mostly myself) that I was serious about “my religion”. I grew tired of hearing that I wasn’t serious about my Lord because I didn’t give this amount, go to this guy or gal’s meeting, or (my all time favorite) attend Wednesday night services — cause everybody knows that only hard core, totally committed Christians go on Wednesday nights.

    And yes, as you (and Paul) wrote, it is all about appearance. How does it look? Actually, as with most things religious, it is about Pride. Not in the name of Love, but in the name of “Me”. Look at me, see what a good christian I am, see how much I love God (and you don’t), see me, look up to me, be like me. Paul was right, does sound “infantile” all of this “me, me, me” stuff. Sadly, that is it’s only reward. The momentary feeling that you have arrived however only lasts until the next person mentions something that you might’ve done, if you really loved Jesus. And then you are at it again.

    We become like the guy on the Ed Sullivan show that twirled plates on sticks. Here we are, trying to keep all of Christian-ey plates spinning and continuing to add more (to show how serious we are). Then finally one day, tired and exhausted and no longer able to keep them spinning, our plates crash to the ground. It is then that the words of our Lord can breathe life back into our tired, lifeless souls, “Hey, if you’re tired and worn out, come over and sit by me — I know a better way, an easier way. No plates to spin, to people to impress, no quotas to meet. Just love and life, my life and my love. ” As Golda wrote, to experience that sort of freedom is the only way to truly live.

  3. Golda– funny though…even though I know this truth, it’s hard for me to really live in freedom from the “bullying” kind of religion. It’s almost a daily thing for me to have to remember and confront in my thinking.

    John– I’ve thought of myself as the “plate twirling guy” many times. I read a quote from someone that a pursuit of harsh asceticism will produce either monks or madmen. (Monks and Madmen would be a great name for a band, wouldn’t it?)
    I love your picture of Christ inviting us away from all that. May it be true for us all.

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