- 2 Thessalonians 2:13-17
- Colossians 2:13-23
Dear friends in the Lord Jesus Christ,
Today is the third sermon on the topic Jesus Christ only, no if’s, no but’s.
In our first sermon, we drew the conclusions from Paul’s theology about the Person of Christ in Colossians 1:15-23, God’s mystery kept order wraps for ages till the fulness of time. To know Him is to listen and learn from the Gospel, which is the God’s revelation about his plan of salvation which He made possible, and executed, in Jesus Christ. To know Christ is to know God’s treasures of wisdom for all eternity. This stands in stark contrast to the Gnostics, who taught that man can be initiated into some kind of esoteric knowledge of the gods, and then eventually reach into eternal life by virtue of constrained self-help knowledge only available to those who received the spark of life.
In our second sermon on this topic, we considered the notion of sacramentalism. Both the Gnostics and Christians with a Jewish background who argued that only if one receives, or goes through, an initiation process.
- For the Gnostics, it was withdrawal from this material world into the airy-fairy world of unknown angels and drifting off in some kind of always-escapable core life-giving knowledge which sees God as incomprehensible, unknowable, and transcendent.
- For Jews it was circumcision. He who is circumcised is automatically included into the covenant people of God and counted as the privileged.
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is this: faith unites us with Christ—we are in Him, or in-Christ— which means that what He did to meet the righteousness of the Father, we don’t need to do because we can’t work out our own righteousness. Being in-Christ by faith, his work becomes ours. The sacraments of Baptism and Communion is a sign, not of what we have done or are doing, but what God in Christ has done for us. That’s why Paul states:
For in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. (Colossians 2:9–10, NKJV)
And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, (Colossians 2:13, NKJV)
Which this in mind we say, Jesus Christ only—no if’s, no buts!
Although God commands us to be baptised and to celebrate Holy Communion, the sacraments are signs and seals of what Christ already completed; these signs remind us of this fact but does not add to our salvation. We cannot say that baptism, or any other initiation right, saves anyone. What saves us, is the grace of God in Jesus Christ. This we need to believe with all our hearts. There are scores of baptised people who will end up in hell because they are never circumcised at heart—think of Ananias and Sapphira who were members of the new church in Jerusalem, who must have been baptised, but lied to the Holy Spirit and died on the spot. On the other hand, some unbaptised people put their faith in Christ and die in Him—think of the thief on the cross next to Jesus.
Son, once again, we have to say, Jesus Christ only—no if’s, no but’s. Why? In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. (Colossians 2:11–12, NKJV)
Moralism and legalism
We have come to the verse in Colossians 2 which tackles the problem of morals. Paul writes:
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, (Colossians 2:16, NKJV)
Moralism is the idea of attaining some better standing before God by following some rules of self-discipline to improve one’s chance of getting into heaven.
Interestingly, both the Gnostics and the those who clung to the New Testament as if Jesus never came to fulfil the Law, had observed these things: forbidden food, religious festivals, New Moon celebrations and Sabbath days. And we even have them today amongst those who promote legalism; in some cases, it is just more refined.
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. (Colossians 2:16, NIV)
The Gnostics, in more than one way, were the forerunners of the Modern-day New Age. Their ideas were not new then, and it is not new now. It actually takes us back to primitive theology were earth, air, water and wind – or broadly – all nature is worshipped. Man is his own god, and god is in every man. There is no sin, hell or Satan. We cannot know God fully, but we can work our way up to Him by sticking too strict self-imposed rules of self-self-improvement and self-purification. Knowledge is the big thing, but it is secretive knowledge, airy-fairy stuff.
The Gnostic New Agers have their taboos in food and easily become vegans. “You cannot eat anything you killed – that’s to disturb the balance in nature!”
As Christians, we know how the answer this: the world and everything in and on it belongs to God who created it in and by Jesus Christ. We don’t worship it, and we understand that God gave us the mandate to cultivate the land and have dominion over creation – believing that we are accountable to Him for the way we do it; it is not ours to abuse it any way we like. Paul clarifies this in 1 Corinthians 8:
… for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live. (1 Corinthians 8:6, NIV)
Messages from angels
Gnostic saw themselves so spiritually advanced that they even speak to angels and receive messages from them! They must ’ve been special! Is that something to strive for? No! The only voice I have allegiance to is the voice of God who spoken what He wanted to say in the Bible. And yes, I need to read it more and more and put every effort into understanding it.
But the practices of the legalists go even further:
Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. (Colossians 2:18, NIV)
It can so easily happen that trying so hard to be good, includes the attitude that those who have not attained what I have achieved cannot be Christians. Some people are so humble, they are actually proud of it. This is what this text says.
Jesus told a parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others:
The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. (Luke 18:9,11, NKJV)
Selling all you have and giving it to the poor is a good thing, but this can also become a show: Look at me, I’ve made the sacrifice, and you continue to live in your fancy house and drive your expensive cars. Even being humble can be wrong at times, especially if someone wants to tick the box and climb another notch to perfection.
When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he had something similar in mind. He made a list of the gifts and comes to this conclusion:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1–3, NIV)
Special calendar items
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (Colossians 2:16–17, NKJV)
The same applies to religious festivals and New Moons. Some in Colossae assigned a particular weight to these days, and those who participated in it looked down on others to did not. This was added as a necessary observance to show that one had really come to faith. Once again, it was Christ-plus. It was a way of adding good works as steps to God, a method of self-improvement. We have Earth Day celebrations!!
When it comes to celebrating the Lord’s Day, we understand that the Old Testament Sabbath fulfilled in Christ. So, in strict terms, we do not have a sabbath day anymore – we don’t keep to the restrictions of a Sabbath journey; we don’t have morning and evening sacrifices of lambs and bulls anymore; we don’t have special services by special ranks of people lighting the candles, putting oil in the lamps and presenting specific offerings anymore. All that was fulfilled in Christ.
We have a Christian Sabbath: on this day we celebrate the new life in the risen Lord Jesus Christ.
The New Testament calls it the Day of the Lord. They gathered on the first day of the week for worship. On this day we gather too for the same reason. We come together in corporate worship, we listen to the declared Word of God fulfilled in Christ Jesus, we fellowship, pray, sing in the Name of Christ and encourage one another in our faith-walk. The principle of the Old Testament remains the same: one in seven days belongs to the special worship of God by his church family. The main point is the celebration of Christ victory over death.
The Jews, on the other hand, had a lot of things they abstained from eating. As a golden rule, we need to understand that all the foods Israel were forbidden to eat were scavengers: they lived off what was dead. And this was important in the Old Testament because God is the holy God of the living. Approaching Him after even touching the dead was forbidden, let alone eating the food of things which lived on dead things. But the curse on death was overcome in and through Jesus Christ. Through his perfect sacrifice, what kept us from God, was defeated, so now in his Name, we come to God. So, if people of other faiths try to ridicule Christians for the law against eating prawns, they just don’t understand the power of the cross of Jesus Christ.
The effect of all of this is that we are not bound by the dietary laws of the Old Testament anymore. There is no theological reason as to why we cannot eat pork or prawns now. But let’s remember this principle:
… if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (1 Corinthians 8:13, NIV)
Eating or not eating has nothing to do with being saved or not. Faith in the righteousness of Jesus Christ only is what saves the sinner. The apostle says:
But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. (1 Corinthians 8:8, NIV)
My dear friend, what saves is faith in the living Saviour who came to seek and save the lost. It’s Him and Him only. We cannot say that baptism, or any other initiation right, save anyone; similarly, no moralistic or legalistic of being right, or doing our best, will save anyone.
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. (Colossians 2:23, NKJV)
I found this illustration:
When interviewing Dr A. J. Gordon as a prospective pastor of a Boston church, the pulpit committee asked: “If you are called to the pastorate of our church will you preach against the cards, the theatre, and dancing?” “I will,” solemnly affirmed Dr Gordon. He was called.
Months passed and he didn’t say a word against the cards, the theatre, and dancing. The official board of the church said, “Almost a year has gone by and you have said nothing against cards, the theatre, and dancing. We wonder why.”
Dr Gordon replied essentially as follows: “Gentlemen, it is true that I have said nothing against these things, but I have preached Christ who is the only Saviour from all evils. When He comes into one’s heart all evil things vanish from the life like the mist before the hot breath of the noonday sun.”
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 30 September 2018