Do Not, Do Not, Do Not

Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations; “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using; according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)

Before Paul put his trust in Jesus Christ, he lived a life almost completely focused on pleasing God by keeping the law. Before he was a Christian, Paul knew and lived the essence of legalism through and through.

So, we should not be surprised that Paul knew how to perfectly describe legalistic religion: do not . . . do not . . . do not. Legalistic religion is always defined more by what we don’t do than by what we do.

Make no mistake about it: Christianity is a moral religion. Our Christians faith has clear moral boundaries. Yet at its foundation, Christianity is a religion of positive action.

Paul also knew the key to living above legalism. It is to remember that you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world. Our identification with Jesus in both His death and resurrection (as mentioned before in Colossians 2:12) becomes the foundation for our Christian life, instead of our law-keeping.

A life of law-keeping centers on things which perish with the using. We touch them or eat them; they are temporary things that pass away. These things are not the things that matter most, the ultimate realities. The truth of what Jesus did for us on the cross is greater than any rule about what we should eat, or any other aspect of legalism.

Legalism is all arranged according to the commandments and doctrines of men. Human rules and claimed truths are emphasized above the law and truth of God. What Paul wrote about these things is true; these things indeed have an appearance of wisdom . . . but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. We might regard this as the greatest indictment against legalism in the Bible. At the bottom line, legalism’s rules have no value in restraining the indulgence of the flesh.

All such legalistic rules may have an appearance of wisdom, but they have no real value. Legalism doesn’t restrain the flesh; it feeds the flesh in a subtle, powerful way. That is why sometimes the most supposedly religious people can be filled with the most unbearable pride. The devil doesn’t mind you having lots of religion as long as he can make you legalistic and proud.

We need to reject all self-imposed religion, which is man reaching to God, trying to justify himself by keeping a list of rules. Christianity is God reaching down to man in love through Christ. Receive His love and renounce your pride today.

 

Shadows and Substance

So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)

Sometimes little words mean a lot, and the first word of Colossians 2:16 is just that. The opening “so” is important. It connects this thought with the previous thought in Colossians 2:13-15. Because Jesus won such a glorious victory on the cross, we are to let no one judge you in food or in drink or in other matters related to legalism. A life that is centered on Jesus and what He did on the cross has no place for legalism.

The core of legalism is the idea that our standing with God is based on what we do. When we are good, He loves us more and when we are bad He loves us less. Under legalism, if I eat and drink the right things, God loves me more. If I observe the right days and rituals, God loves me more.

Jesus established the New Covenant, based on grace and not on law. Under grace our standing with God is based on what Jesus did. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we look at the Old Testament laws about food and drink and days in a different way.

The Old Testament law had certain provisions that are done away with in Jesus, regarding such things as food and sabbaths. It isn’t that those laws were bad, simply that they were a shadow of things to come. Once the substance – Jesus Christ – has come, we don’t need the shadow any more.

The point is clear: days and foods, as observed under the Mosaic Law, are not binding upon New Covenant people. The shadow has passed, the reality has come. So for the Christian, all foods are pure (1 Timothy 4:4-5) and all days belong to God.

Christians are therefore free to keep a kosher diet or to observe the sabbath if they please. There is nothing wrong with those things. However, they cannot think that eating kosher or sabbath observance makes them any closer to God, and they cannot judge another brother or sister who does not observe such laws.

Don’t look to what you eat or drink or days you observe to make you right with God. Jesus did it all at the cross. Rest in Him and live in the freedom to do or not do those things, knowing your standing with Him is based on what Jesus did, not what you do.

Disarmed

Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. (Colossians 2:15)

In this part of Paul’s letter to the Colossians, Paul described the many different aspects of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. There was a handwriting of the accusations and debts against us, and at the cross Jesus wiped it out. Then He took that erased page out of the way, and then Jesus and nailed it to the cross.

Next in verse 15, Paul described something that Jesus did at the cross that maybe you never thought of. At the cross, Jesus disarmed principalities and powers. The words principalities and powers describe ranks of hostile angelic beings (Romans 8:38, Ephesians 1:21, Ephesians 3:10, Ephesians 6:12). Because of what Jesus did at the cross, they don’t have the same weapons to use against Christians that they have against those who are not in Jesus.

 

The greatest powers of the earth at that time – Rome, the greatest governmental power and Judaism, the greatest religious power – conspired together to put the Son of God on the cross. Here Paul shows us again the paradox of the cross: that the victorious Jesus took the spiritual powers behind these earthly powers and stripped them, held them up to contempt, and publicly triumphed over them.

We can only imagine how Satan and every dark gleeful demon attacked Jesus as He hung on the cross on our behalf, as if He were a guilty sinner. They thought they had won against the Son of God. They didn’t win; they lost whatever armor and weapons they had against the Son of God and His people.

Paul wrote in another place that if the rulers of this age – by which he meant both the spiritual powers of darkness and their earthly representatives – had known what would happen on the cross, they would have never crucified Jesus (1 Corinthians 2:8). They were defeating themselves and they didn’t even know it.

Against the believer, what weapons do demonic spirits therefore now have? They are disarmed, except for their ability to deceive and to create fear. These are effective “weapons” that are not tangible weapons at all. Demonic spirits only have power towards us that we grant them by believing their lies. The weapons are in our hands, not theirs. We will one-day see how afraid they were of us.

Perhaps Satan, for a moment, thought that he had won at the cross. But Hell’s imagined victory was turned into a defeat that disarmed every spiritual enemy who fights against those living under the light and power of the cross. The public spectacle of defeated demonic spirits makes their defeat all the more humiliating.

Christian, this is your joy. This is your confidence. This is your triumph. Walk in this truth today: at the cross, Jesus disarmed principalities and powers, and triumphed over them.