Readings: Colossians 1-4; Philemon.
Often when I read the book of Colossians I focus my attention on that amazing passage in chapter one which speaks of Jesus’ supremacy over all things. I’ve regularly read those verses at the beginning of Sunday services, or during times of sung worship, to encourage the congregation with the incredible nature of the God we serve.
Today as I read the book, I decided to direct my attention elsewhere. Sometimes when there’s a particular section of Scripture which has spoken to us powerfully in the past, we can end up reading them to the exclusion of other passages which the Holy Spirit may want to use to speak to us as well.
One of the misconceptions of Christianity is that it is a religion of rules and regulations. Our doctrine of sin and repentance has sometimes been misunderstood (or misrepresented by the church in the past) as a dogmatic focus on do-gooding. As followers of Jesus, we are called to behave a particular way, but we are not condemned for our mistakes – quite the opposite! Paul tells us in Romans (which we read a few days ago) that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Being a follower of Jesus does not mean that we are bound to a set of rules; rather, it means that we are free to live a righteous life.
You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honour at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.
So put to death the sinful, earthly things lurking within you. Have nothing to do with sexual immorality, impurity, lust, and evil desires. Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. (Colossians 2:20-3:5, NLT)
The religious following of rules is not the “life in its abundance” which Jesus came to give us. We are no longer held captive by the Law of Moses; we are set free to live abundant lives in Jesus. Rules don’t help us to live righteously; if anything they bring us condemnation. Paul shows us a better place to focus our attention. Our old life died with Jesus on the cross, so our focus is now on heaven. If we set our eyes on heaven and heavenly things, we will naturally find ourselves behaving righteously. We still need to implement discipline into our lives. Paul tells us to put to death the earthly things lurking within us. This is not at all passive! However, our focus is always our eternal life in Jesus, which does not begin at our death but starts at the moment we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
Are there things you need to put to death in order to live righteously? In what ways do you need to focus your life on heavenly things?