Christianity: Not about Regulations!

Christianity: Not about Regulations!

“Christianity: Not about Regulations!”
(Colossians 2:16-23)
Series: The All-Satisfying Christ (Colossians)

Rev. Todd A. Linn, PhD

Henderson’s First Baptist Church, Henderson

• Take your Bibles and join me this morning in Colossians, chapter 2 (page 793; YV).

We are preaching our way through this small letter and we come to the end of the first half of the letter, the end of the more doctrinal material, chapters 1 and 2. Then Paul will turn to more practical matters in the second half, chapters 3 and 4. Doctrine always preceded duty. Paul gives the theology first and then the practical application of that theology.

So Paul’s main point so far is that the Christian finds absolute and complete sufficiency in Jesus Christ. The work of Jesus Christ upon the cross is the basis for the Christian’s salvation, acceptance, and joy.

To have Jesus Christ is to have everything. The Apostle Paul stresses that the preeminence of Jesus Christ is both a fact and the key to experiencing true life. Lasting peace, joy, purpose, and meaning are found exclusively in Him. He says that Christians are “complete in Him (Colossians 2:10).”

He stresses this completion because there were false teachers that made their way into the church at Colosse and they were claiming that these Christians were not complete; that they were incomplete and that they really needed something more to experience the deeper things of God. The false teachers were saying, in essence, “If you really want to have a heightened sense of spirituality then listen to us. You have Christ, but that’s not enough. If you really want to be “full” then embrace our teaching.”

And their teaching was a mixture of Old Testament legalism and Greek pagan teachings that claimed to “fill” them with all they needed to experience the deeper things of God.

Paul’s response is found in the key verses of the Book, Colossians 2:9-10:

9 For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily;
10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.

If you are in Christ, you are complete. You are full. In Him dwells all fullness and you are “full” in Him, full-filled in Him. You are complete in Him; having complete forgiveness from God and complete acceptance by God.

Most recently, Paul has said that Jesus Christ has taken all the requirements that were against us and nailed it to His cross. He has taken that which condemns us—namely the Old Testament Law and all of its righteous requirements and He canceled them by living to fulfill those requirements against us and by dying in our place taking upon Himself the penalty of our breaking those requirements. In doing so, Christ has completely disarmed all the powers of darkness to which Christians were once enslaved. So we left off with this teaching about the Christian’s freedom through Christ’s work in both life and death.

And Paul now expands upon that freedom Christians enjoy in verses 16 and following. He writes of the Christian’s freedom with regard to certain foods and festivals and how the Christian should not be enslaved to legalistic observation of rules and regulations, or new strange teachings, all of these things leading to the Christian’s disconnecting from Christ who is the Head of the body of Christ.

• Let me invite you to stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word as I read the first four verses of the text.

16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths,
17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
18 Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.

• Pray.


The title of the sermon this morning is, “Christianity: Not about Regulations!” Christianity is about freedom in and through Christ. When Paul says that Christians are “complete in Him,” he is stressing a fact that makes Christianity unique when placed alongside other religions.

Every other major religion is about a person’s strict adherence to regulations: Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, these are all religious systems based largely upon a person’s keeping rules and regulations and so earning some kind of favorable standing before God.

Have you ever wondered how false religious systems come into being? Religious systems exist because man is prone to worship something or someone. Created in God’s image, human beings cannot help but worship something or someone. It is our nature to do so.

As G.K. Chesterton said, “When we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.”

So what we need is someone to get us to worshiping the right thing and that is what the Gospel does. The Gospel frees us from what once enslaved us so that we find liberty and completion in Christ alone and we worship Him.

Christianity is not about regulations. Christianity is about Jesus. Christianity is about our finding true identity, true acceptance, true meaning, and true purpose in Jesus Christ. We have everything in Him and we find completion in Him.

So for the Christian there are two main responses to this passage. Number one, Paul says:

I. Enjoy Your New Liberty in Christ (16-19)

If you are a Christian, you are free in Christ. You have a liberty that frees you up from being enslaved to rules and regulations. Verse 16:

16 So (therefore; in light of the preceding truth about the Christian’s freedom) let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths,

Apparently, the false teachers were saying, “Hey, if you really want to have a heightened sense of spirituality, follow these rules. Just look in the Old Testament at all these regulations and religious observations. There is stuff there about certain foods to eat and certain festivals and special sabbath days, and so on. Keep all this stuff and you will have real life.

To this Paul responds that all those legalistic requirements and rituals were simply a shadow of the real and most important thing. He says all those old rules and regulations—verse 17:

17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

We must remember that the Old Testament points to Christ. Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Testament teachings. Christ lived a perfect life and fulfilled all the requirements of the Old Testament so that Paul can say that Christians are likewise those who have fulfilled the requirements. Christ’s life and death is applied to the Christian by virtue of his or her union with Christ, connection to Christ. What Christ has done is applied to the Christian.

So Paul is like, “When you read in the Old Testament about all those dietary laws and special days of religious observance, you are reading about things that point to Jesus. Those holy days and holy requirements point to the holy One.

Specifically, Paul describes in verse 17 the Old Testament rules and regulations as “a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” A shadow is not the real thing. A shadow is simply a pointer to the real thing. Right? If on a sunny day I see the shadow of a man, I am not looking at the real thing, but merely a pointer, or a symbol of the thing itself.

So the Old Testament rules and regulations are shadowy pointers to the Lord and Savior. What they “foreshadowed” has been “fulfilled” in Christ. So if you have the real thing, you don’t need the shadow. If you have the holy One, you are free from the regulations. In Christ you have everything, complete salvation, complete forgiveness, complete acceptance.

This is why we don’t observe the Old Testament ceremonial laws of dietary restrictions and Old Testament regulations about certain feast days, and so on. Those were rules and regulations given to God’s people to help them understand holiness and what it means to be “set apart” from the world, holy requirements that foreshadowed and pointed forward to THE Holy One, the Lord Jesus Christ. So, Paul reasons:

18 Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

Paul says, “Don’t let anyone rob you of your liberty in Christ.” Guard your freedom. These false teachers “take delight in false humility,” or self-denial such as an embrace of asceticism, the legalistic denial of things to the body in an effort to gain holiness—not eating this or not drinking that.

And these false teachers also suggested that one’s worship of angels led to a higher spiritual awareness. They were those who “intruded into things they had not seen,” going on about alleged visions they said they had had, “vainly puffed up” in their “fleshly” or unspiritual mind.

19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God.

Paul is teaching that the Christian is to be connected to Christ, “holding fast to the Head,” which is Christ. It is from Christ that the Christian receives all he needs. The Christian is nourished, spiritually nourished, not by the worship of angels or by keeping rules and so on, but he Christian is spiritually nourished by Jesus Christ!

Christians must “hold fast to the Head,” to Christ, “from whom all the body” grows. We grow when we are connected to Christ, nourished by Him. If you want to grow spiritually and enjoy the deeper things of God, you will find all of that in Jesus Christ. Be sure to stay connected to the Head of the body, to Christ Himself. Abide in Him.

Read of Him in the Word. Pray to Him. Participate in worship of Him.

In Christ, God accepts you completely. I think this is where most of us today find application from this passage.

The Gospel alone is what makes us acceptable to God, acceptable in God’s sight. If we are a Christian it is so liberating to know that we can do nothing to become unacceptable to Him.

This is not to say that Christians cannot break God’s heart when they sin, but it is to say that God always sees us in Christ; our completion is found in Him complete atoning work on the cross, a work that God applies to us. So God always sees the righteousness of Christ applied to those who are Christians, those who are “in Christ.”

So we can do nothing to lose this acceptance by God, amen! And—and this is the important corollary that protects us from legalism—and, just as we can do nothing to lose this acceptance, nor can we do anything extra to make us more acceptable. Our acceptance is found solely in Christ.

Always remember: “I am accepted by God not on the basis of my personal performance, but on the basis of the infinitely prefect righteousness of Christ.”

Because I have embraced not a shadow, but the real thing, I have the reality of Christ applied to me. When I sin, God does not love me any less, because His love is a perfect love that pours through His Son Jesus.

When I sin God won’t love me any less—and—when I do well, God won’t love me any more. Watch out your tendency to legalism! Our performance does not increase God’s acceptance of us! God’s love is perfectly constant because it is a love bound up in His Son Jesus Christ, the One with whom we are connected at Union Station. We are united with Christ.

These leads to the second response to the text. There are two; the first is “Enjoy Your New Liberty in Christ,” secondly:

II. Embrace Your New Life in Christ (20-23)

Remember from last week that Christ has “cut away the old you,” remember that from verse 11? You’ve been spiritually circumcised, God’s having cut away the old body of flesh, the old body of flesh enslaved to sin, the old you. You died to the old you.

Our death to the old us is pictured in baptism, verse 12: “buried with Him in baptism.” You died to the old life. Your baptism pictured death to the old you, and life in the new you. You were raised to walk in a new way of life.

Paul comes back to that imagery of dying to the old you in verse 20. He says you “died with Christ from the basic principles of the world,” the spiritual powers that Christ defeated on the cross and paraded through the streets for all to see —recall the imagery from verse 15: “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”

So Paul’s point is, “If you died to the old way of life and you died to the things to which you once were enslaved, things like rules and regulations you were keeping in an effort to gain acceptance with God—all the while failing and so increasing in guilt and shame—enslaved to sin by the forces of darkness,” if you died to the old way of life, then why have you now begun to enslave yourself again to powerless rules and regulations, things that are only shadows?!”

See it there in the text, verses 20 and following:

20 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—
21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,”

Paul’s point is you have gained approval from God and acceptance by God through Jesus Christ. God regards you as complete in Him—Christ who is the only One who successfully kept all the rules and regulations and fulfilled the Old Testament law in every respect. So if you have found acceptance in Him and not in shadowy and empty rules, why then are you now going back to all those rules and regulations in an effort to gain approval from God?

The false teachers were peddling some kind of ascetic denial of things to the body. There were these taboos in verse 21: “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle.” We don’t know all there is to know about this false teaching, but it is pretty clear that it is a teaching that suggested one could find approval from God and acceptance with God, which is to say one could find meaning, purpose, and completion by strictly adhering to legalistic requirements. These are requirements, Paul says in verse 22:

22 which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men?

These rules of “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle” concern things that perish with the using. In other words they are things that go away once they are used—things like food which is gone once it is eaten.

Paul’s point is that there is nothing inherently wrong with eating certain kinds of foods. It is not as though foods are immortal and hold some kind of mystic power in and of themselves. They are eaten and are gone and, according to Jesus in Mark 7:18-19, “Whatever enters a man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and is eliminated.” In saying this, Jesus “purified all foods.”
Also Paul in1 Corinthians 6:13 declares: “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food; but God will do away with food and stomach alike.”

These rules that the false teachers in Colosse have stressed are not divine in origin, but are human and man-made. Paul says in the second part of verse 22 that these commandments are “according to the commandments and doctrines of men.” This is stuff man has added to the New Testament teaching of the Gospel.

These teachings work in opposition to the teachings of the Gospel. These old legalistic teachings belong to the temporal kingdom and Christians belong to the eternal kingdom. These things do not contain real life, but only emptiness. They are only shadows. The real is found in Christ alone. Verse 23:

23 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.

Legalistic rules and requirements—rules added to the Gospel—“have an appearance of wisdom.” They sound wise: “Don’t do this, do that,” and so on. Those who strictly follow the rules have an appearance of wisdom. Strict rule-keeping makes one appear so religious and so “humble.”

Some of you were raised with the “Dont’s.” Don’t do this don’t do that. Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew—and don’t run with those who do!”

Moral principles are helpful to be sure, but moral principles are not the Gospel. Strict adherence to legalistic requirements as a means to holiness is not the Gospel.

Strict rule-keeping is not part of the new life in Christ. The slavish keeping of rules and regulations is nothing more than a showy demonstration of human pride, and, the rules themselves “are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh,” which is to say, “they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence (NIV),” or, “they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires (NLT).”

The only way to conquer our evil desires is to abide in Christ. We must abide in Him, regularly preaching the Gospel to ourselves, remembering that in Christ alone we find completion—complete forgiveness, complete acceptance, and complete power to walk in a new way of life.

We must remind ourselves regularly that we have died to the old way of life and that the power of Christ now lives within us. We must remember that it is through Christi’s living in us that we can live a life pleasing to God.

The cool thing about the Gospel is that we have freedom in Christ and forgiveness in Christ. If we goof up and sin, God still loves us just the same. God still sees the righteousness of Christ applied to us. And the power of Christ remains in us to equip us to live the way we genuinely want to live. Christians are free from sin’s enslavement. We once were not free to not sin, but now we are free to not sin. We can actually choose not to sin by allowing the power and presence of Christ to have His way.

Rules and regulations “are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.” Rules and regulations provide no help in conquering our evil desires, but the Gospel does. And only the Gospel does. Only the Gospel provides liberty and life in Christ.

So in our enjoying new liberty in Christ and in our joyful embrace of new life in Christ, we must guard against any crippling notion of legalism.

Moralism is the keeping of principles in order to achieve a status of those who are considered “good people,” good people who are surely accepted by God when God sees their improving behavior.

Moralists are those who “do all the right stuff” and are “raised right” and raise their kids right and do everything right and the culture approves of their doing that which is right and so they find their sufficiency in their moralism. Moralism says: “I am not perfect, but I am good. I am a good, respectable citizen. I am a good neighbor and God helps those who help themselves.”

Ultimately, moralism is nothing more than a prideful embrace of self-sufficiency rather than our finding sufficiency in Christ alone.

Al Mohler, in an article entitled, “Why Moralism is Not the Gospel,” writes: “Hell will be highly populated with those who were, ‘raised right.’”

Just being raised right does not make one saved. Moralism does not put a person in right standing with God nor any greater standing with God. Moralism is a slap in the face of the Gospel itself.

This is why moralism is more dangerous to Christianity than some of the big “red letter sins” Christians often preach against.

John Piper, in addressing the dangers of alcohol, for example, explains why legalistic moralism is actually a greater danger to the church. He explains how Satan works to deceive Christians into thinking that alcoholism is worse. Here’s what he writes:

Legalism is a more dangerous disease than alcoholism because it doesn’t look like one (legalism doesn’t look like a disease). Alcoholism makes men fail; legalism helps them succeed in the world. Alcoholism makes men depend on the bottle; legalism makes them self-sufficient, depending on no one. Alcoholism destroys moral resolve; legalism gives it strength. Alcoholics don’t feel welcome in church; legalists love to hear their morality extolled in church.

We may even add that legalism is a more dangerous disease than drug addiction, sexual infidelity, homosexuality, or criminal activity.

We must not allow legalistic moralism to gain a foothold in the church. We must find our sufficiency in Christ alone. We must remain connected to Him. In Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form and we are complete in Him, filled to the full in Him, fulfilled in Him.

If we joy in the Lord we are less likely to boast of our victories and we are more likely to be compassionate toward those who have failed.

If we don’t joy in the Lord, if we don’t find our sufficiency in Him, then we will try to find our sufficiency elsewhere, somewhere else and something else, something like religious, legalistic, moralism.

Enjoy your new liberty in Christ.
Embrace your new life in Christ.

• Stand for prayer.

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