One of the more common perceptions is that Christianity is all about “doing the right thing” and not committing sins. Being religious means being pious and observing a list of do’s and don’ts. But that is just plain wrong!
Consider what Paul says in Colossians (2:16, 20-21):
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day….
Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?
Those are liberating words we wish most churchgoers would take to heart. Right? It may be news to many non-churchgoers that Paul in the Bible rejects the notion of living by a list of rules. Indeed, many churchgoers have quite missed the point in that respect. But Paul is not saying that sin does not matter.
In the next chapter of Colossians, he writes: (Col. 3:5-9)
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming…. you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other….
And shortly thereafter, he states: (Col. 3: 12-14)
…. clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Is not this just another list of do’s and don’ts? He says one thing, and then he contradicts himself in the very next chapter of the same letter. Right? Well…, no. He is saying something quite different.
I left out verse 17 of Chapter 2 on purpose because I wanted to compare the two statements first in order to focus on the difference. Verse 17 gives us a clue to the difference between the two statements. Paul says that the rules regarding eating, drinking, the Sabbath, etc. (i.e; the “Law”) are “a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”
Paul goes on to describe the type of person who focuses on the do’s and don’ts:
Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. (Col. 2:17-19)
Paul calls such people “unspiritual.” Ironic, is it not, that many non-churchgoers think of the self-righteous, pious person when they conjure up a picture of a “Christian”; and, of course, they want nothing to do with that! Such a “puffed up” and self-righteous person is only a shadow; he is not the real thing. The reality is Christ, not a list of rules. The reality is a person in a relationship with Christ!
The list of rules lacks any value, ultimately:
These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Col. 2:22-23)
It is the reality that we need! Paul tells us the reality is in Christ (Col. 3:1-2):
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.
We are flawed by sin. (Rom. 3:10) Sin is in our nature, and we separated from God by that sin. (See Is. 59:2). Though we are separated from God, God has offered us redemption from the very thing that separates us. (Rom. 6:23) They way we access that redemption is simply to receive it, and to let go of our own striving and pride, to die to that sinful self and to live for God.
For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Col. 3:3-4)
Salvation requires the surrender of self to God.
Now, we come back to the passage that I compared to the list of rules above (Col. 3:5-17)
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
We do not follow a list of rules; we follow after Christ who is our savior! We put sin to death because we do not want to be separated from Christ; we are being renewed in His image! We have set our minds on Christ, to be like Him, to know Him, to be conformed to His image, to let Him rule in our hearts! We do not want the shadow; we want the reality! We do not live a religious life self-imposed; we live a changed life that flows out of our relationship with God who saves us and calls us to Himself!