Have You Died with Christ?

20 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— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 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 2:20-23)

I love how Paul leads us to practical teaching regarding what we say we believe, regarding our faith. There are theological, biblical truths that we hear about and that we read about, and for most of us we agree with them. However, often times we come face to face with a variety of situations where we must either prove our beliefs by our actions or we prove that we may not really believe what we said we believe. 

For instance, the Bible is clear that we are not to lie, right? Ephesians 4:25 is one place we see this: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”

We know this, right? We are, as God’s redeemed children, as Christians, we are to speak the truth. Jesus is truth, God does not lie and hates lying. We belong to Him, and from a love of Him we are to speak truth. But then there is this thing that comes along, this particular situation, and in our minds we may begin to waffle on this. In this one case, we may reason, it seems okay to lie. It may, in our minds, seem best to lie, and so we reason it out, we contemplate it, and we begin to build arguments in our mind as to why it is best to lie, and all of the sudden after much contemplation we say, “Yes, in this instance it will be good to lie.” And so we lie.

Do you see what has happened? Our theology is challenged by a particular set of circumstances and we begin to sway a bit, to search for answers outside of biblical truth, and in our creativeness or cleverness of our flesh we do the opposite of what we have said we believe.

Our stated beliefs are often challenged by our circumstances. Paul helps us with this. He helps us to keep our theological beliefs in the realm of practical living. He helps us not to so easily separate stated theology and practical living. He makes sure that we can see that theology, biblical truth, and practical living are to mingle with one another and that they go hand in hand as we simply live life in this world.

One place that we see this clearly, that is practical application of theological truth, is in Romans 6…

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. (Romans 6:1-14)

Live as you have been called, live what you say you believe from the Bible, live as those in Christ, as those who love Christ! With a focus like this, the Christians in Colossae could have been better guarded against the false teachers they faced.

One way Paul helps them to face a coming temptation to waiver from what they had been taught as truth is by reminding them of their past experience with Christ, their initial salvation, and then He points them to a path of living with Christ in view. If this is happening then they, and we, will not be preoccupied with this world and living in our non-Christian past. Right? This is to say, “Remember now who you have become in Christ, and what it means to live in Him.” That alone, those two things alone will guard us from error.

Here is another thing I want us to think about. Merely separating ourselves from what we see as the “world” or the things of the world should not be our primary indicator of spirituality. It is not just an effort to avoid all that the world may promote that leads to a firm spiritual walk. If that were all there was to being a Christian, then let’s simply hide away from technology, cut off communication from others, and put all forms of what we may see as indulgences out of reach. If we do all that, will we be holy? Will we be living a life pleasing to our Lord? No, not really. We can’t just see what everyone else is doing wrong, and use those things to measure our spiritual maturity. Our spiritual maturity has to do with our relationship with Jesus Christ, our hearts and the motives of our hearts, what we love, whom we love. Are we motivated to love our Lord, to walk with Christ, to live out His Word, to make Him known, to enjoy Him? The Christian life is not just about don’ts, it is much more about do’s, loves, godly desires, and so on. The church at Colossae was struggling here. 

Paul begins with this: “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”

He is saying, “If you have been born again and you are now part of a new realm of living, living a life of loving the Savior, then why are you putting yourself under the rules of a system that is not of God? Why are you giving yourself to a dogma that is man-made and enslaving to you? Why are you going back to follow teaching that is outside of God’s Word?”

and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:15)

What that says is that we, as Christians, are here and have been saved to live for Jesus. It is that simple, to live for Jesus. If this is true then Paul is asking the question, “Why are you voluntarily choosing to live for these false teachers whose ideas are not God’s will for you? Why would you, why are you choosing a different path?”

It is simple confrontation, and a good thing to ask. But for us, we must also consider the same question. When we have a problem in life – does anyone here have a problem they are dealing with? When we have a problem, why is it that we first of all go to the internet and Google an answer for a spiritual issue, an issue of emotion – fear, worry – a question about relationships, like, how should I talk to my spouse, relate to my spouse, how to raise my children, how to make a decision, or what about my weird thinking or my habits, or where did we come from, or why is the world so dark, or is marriage for me, or is dating okay, or should I move out, or what church should I attend, why do we look for answers to the many question about life we have on the internet or at the bookstore or from secular thinkers? Why do we go there first? Sometimes, aren’t we seeking advice from false teachers, that is teachers who are peddling an alternative view to the Bible, when we should be looking to God’s Word?

Why am I so drawn to a particular sin? Well, what does the Bible say about habits of life and desires to sin? And what does the Bible say about breaking those habits? And what does the Bible say should replace those bad, sinful habits? Be careful where you look for answers to life’s issues, be careful that you, we, are not searching among false teachers in our quest for truth. Back in the Colossians’ day, the false teachers were coming through the doors of the church. Today false teachers are at our fingertips, we can access them 24/7. Where are we getting our direction for life? What are you being fed? 

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 (Colossians 2:20)

What sort of rules or regulations?

21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? (Colossians 2:21-22)

Rules! What do these things refer to? Well, we don’t really know for sure what the specifics were. We do know some things though. First, the phrase, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” is probably correctly put in quotes, meaning they were the exact words of the false teachers, probably like a mantra, something repeated often. “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch.” Each of these may be a general call to asceticism, which is simply a depriving of the body in the name of religion. This comes from a belief that the body is material and is bad, and depriving it would set the spirit free from the body.

And so a general theme of the ascetics would be to just, “Don’t handle, don’t taste, and don’t touch.” Like, only do what you have to do with the body to survive, and in doing so you will not be tempted to enjoy anything, to give the body anything that may be pleasurable. Just eat what is plain so you don’t like it too much, like, I don’t know, oatmeal without butter, or brown sugar, or milk. Just live in black and white, don’t attempt to enjoy any color in life. Just avoid those things. A nice meal, with spices and herbs and dessert, including ice cream, don’t do that, you might enjoy it too much and forget that you are spiritual. 

These are the kinds of things being taught. The thing is that God created this world with color, and things for us to enjoy, and He created these bodies with the capacity to feel and to enjoy things around us. A good meal, a beautiful sunset, a beach with crystal clear water, majestic mountains, a hand to hold, the warmth of the sun, a flower to smell. 

We are never to worship anything of this world, and there are certainly things that we are not to indulge in, things that really would be sinful, but God has also given us things to enjoy in a spirit of thanksgiving to Him and acknowledging Him as a kind provider.

So put that brown sugar and butter in that oatmeal, and thank God for giving us something to make it taste good! No seriously, we don’t have to deprive ourselves of some good things, while of course being good stewards of our bodies and in a spirit of thanksgiving.

It’s crazy, frankly, when religion, or Christianity, becomes a contest in who can reduce it down to the most mundane, cold, boring, difficult, or miserable state. Crazy that spirituality becomes that! Paul told us…

30 If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks? 31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:30-31)

If you can truly do what you do for God’s glory, in agreement with His Word, not some man’s idea, then so be it. 

What we need to be able to separate is what is true religion given by God, and what is man made religion. Paul said what they were being challenged with was the latter, that is man made religion – “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 2:23)

The appearance was of religion and spiritual maturity, but they were not that. They had an outward form that indicated some kind of ability to be disciplined. They had all the appearance of something good, but they were not good, these were not good things.

It is like how we sometimes view other people. “Wow, they get up at 6:00am, have a Bible study, cook a healthy breakfast from scratch, keep the kids on a strict schedule, demand obedience the first time, listen to classical music, and have a fish symbol on their bumper. Wow, they must be really spiritual!” Really?

We can equate some of the oddest things to spiritually, and even raise those standards as if everyone must follow them. These things do not necessarily promote Christian living or loving God. They may even do the very opposite in promoting pride and judgmentalism, right?

I remember years ago a popular Christian leader said that if a man has facial hair, he is in rebellion against God. Or if a woman wore blue jeans, she was a rebel before God. Try to support those ideas biblically. Good luck with that. But we get so messed up! These things are what Paul says is going beyond what is written.

I have applied all these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn by us not to go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6)

One person says it is dishonoring to God to dress up for church because it is an act of pride, of showing off, of drawing attention to oneself when we should be worshiping and honoring and drawing attention to Christ. Another says it is dishonoring to God to dress down for church, to not wear your best or give your best to God in your dress. Who is right? Which one is spiritual? What does the Bible say? Only that we be modest. But we have over the years allowed many people to slip in their man-centered beliefs, and some of them have controlled many by them, and the sad thing is it really has the effect of taking our eyes off the important, our walk and love for Christ, and focused us on immaterial small matters of outward appearance.

21 “I hate, I despise your feasts,
and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.
22 Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals,
I will not look upon them.
23 Take away from me the noise of your songs;
to the melody of your harps I will not listen.
24 But let justice roll down like waters,
and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:21-24)

This is what God thinks about outward appearances and following man-made rules and regulations. What He loves is honest worship, justice, and true righteousness. Not man-made rules that fake religion.

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 2:23)

Rules are sometimes given in an attempt to stop sin. Like, if I take away everything from my child, then my child will no longer have an ability to sin. Now, sometimes it is wise to take some things away, no question about that. But let’s not fall into the wrong thinking that taking things away will change a heart. The mantra of don’ts, “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch,” did not and will not remove temptation to sin, nor will it convert a heart. It may make it worse. The mark is being missed if that is the only emphasis. Again, the solution to sin is putting on Christ, living for Christ, seeking Him in all things, a relationship with Him. 

I mentioned earlier that we must be careful where we go for answers to life’s issues. And I alluded to the truth that the answers are in God’s Word. Even today, we have seen an example of living under worldly philosophies, but the Bible, God’s Word, never stops at defining a problem, it also provides solutions. So if we are not to just deprive ourselves of anything good in hopes of spiritual growth or spiritual experience, then what are we to do? 

Here is what we are to do. In chapter 3 Paul gets into the solutions. I want to read part of it today. We are not going to study it today, we will begin chapter 3 next time, but I want to read a portion of it so that we can hear it and begin to look forward to looking at it in more detail in the weeks to come.

You want solutions to living in this hard world, dealing with hard things in life? Here you go…

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all. 

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:1-17)

That is good stuff! I can’t wait to look at these things more with you in the coming weeks.