All of Christ for All of Life
Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Christ Alone

13 November 2020 – Colossians 2:16-23

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. – Colossians 2:16-23 (ESV)

David Strain comments:

[Paul critiques the false-teacher’s approach to the Christian life as being superficial]. In verses 22 and 23 he says two things. First, these sorts of approaches are, he says, “according to human precepts and teachings.” Mere behavior modification is not God’s method of sanctification. Now hear me carefully there. Mere behavior modification [is not God’s method of sanctification]. True holiness always requires the modification of our behavior, but it doesn’t originate there. It doesn’t start there. Holiness does not consist only in the implementation of strategies designed to break bad habits while the heart is unchanged. That’s the world’s way, not God’s way. This is human precepts and teaching, not God’s strategy for the renovation of our lives. And after all, that’s all the world could ever hope to do. Right? It can only deal with externals and behaviors. It can’t touch the heart. The Gospel changes the heart. So first, Paul says this is not God’s strategy. It’s according to human precepts and teachings.

The second part of his critique is that this has the appearance of wisdom. So, he’s willing to admit this is attractive. It has some draw; some pull to it. We are drawn toward it. Oftentimes, actually, when we find ourselves stumbling and falling into sin and our consciences sting and accuse us and shame overwhelms us, “How come I’m back here again? I thought I’d put this behind me. How is it possible I’m back here again? I’m so ashamed!” That’s the moment when we’re most in danger, when shame stings most acutely, of giving in to a merely behavioral strategy, for looking for three easy steps so I never do that again. And not actually recognizing that the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. The heart of the matter is the matter of the heart. We need the strategies for behavioral change to be sure, but if that’s where your focus lies, you will always be doomed to failure. In fact, worse than that, when you stumble and fall even after implementing the merely external behavior modification strategies that you have developed, your shame will be so much worse, your guilt so much more crushing.

Actually, it’s been my experience as a pastor, that the most narrow, the most judgmental, the sourest, harshest, most legalistic Christian, the one most inclined to adopt all sorts of external rules in addition to God’s law to stop them from sinning are often the very ones hiding the worst patterns of besetting sin and secret shame in their own lives. I’ve just found it to be a general rule of thumb that the harsher and more restrictive the prescription and the nastier and judgmental the person, the deeper the guilt and the more pernicious the sin that’s festering still away all unseen in their private lives. Legalists are almost always antinomians in secret. Legalists are almost always persistent, habitual lawbreakers in secret. That’s why they’re legalists in public; they’re overcompensating. I don’t know if he actually said this, if it originated with him, but I’ve heard it attributed to William Still – you’ve heard me quote it before. … He said that “There are some Christians who look like they’ve been baptized in vinegar.” You know the type? They come across as really serious about their faith, they are paragons, you know, of orthodoxy and virtue, but boy are they sour and sharp and unforgiving.

Real holiness, real sanctification is never of the vinegary variety. It is sweet and humble and attractive, never harsh and acidic. That’s the world’s approach to religion and you died to that … when you were united to Christ. Why are you still submitting to regulations like this? It’s just a baptism of vinegar. It will make you sour and rob you of joy and it won’t deliver in the end. It has no value of stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 92
Q. 92. What is a sacrament?
A. A sacrament is an holy ordinance instituted by Christ; wherein, by sensible signs, Christ, and the benefits of the new covenant, are represented, sealed, and applied to believers.