All Roads Lead To Jesus - Colossians

Colossians - Jesus is Supreme Over All Creation
Reading: Colossians 2:15-23

Religious people love rules. Rules put us in control and into the driver’s seat of our destiny. Rules make us feel comfortable about our eternal destiny. Religion boasts that if we can manage to follow rules, we will please the gods and walk in their good graces. Eventually, we will be rewarded for our obedience and good character. Some religions teach that we will have multiple chances to get things right until we are accepted by the gods or the universe. Other religions teach that we only have one shot to appease the gods. But they all have this in common – we are the masters of our destiny. Whether by karma or some other spiritual mystery we get to choose if we will obey the rules or if we will break the rules.

The Church has had many rules throughout its storied and sometimes troubled history. There were times that common people were not allowed to read the Bible for themselves. At other points in history, the church required payments from the living to help their dead relatives out of purgatory. The Puritans were known for their rules about worship, clothing, and character. Many of you grew up with rules if you were raised in the church. No smoking. No drinking. No rock and roll. No dancing. Wear your Sunday-best. Attend programs. Go to Bible study. Sing the songs. Pray the prayer. I am sure you could add your own rules to the list. Many of the rules are well-intentioned and even biblical but they do not save us. Many other rules were born from opinions and personal legalisms rather than truly Scriptural convictions. All of them, if believed to offer salvation, are religious and religion does not save us.

Religion is not new. The church in Colossae had to wrestle with the implications of religion. There were those in the ancient church that taught that truly religious people would not only trust in Jesus for salvation, but that they would continue to follow the customs of Israel whether it be circumcision or observing certain days of the week, eating certain foods, wearing certain clothes, or observing festivals. Paul had no patience for such teachings and spent no little time dismantling these religious groups. He said,

“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.  Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

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—  “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”  (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—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.”

Why was Paul so adamant in teaching against religious rules? Paul taught that Jesus is supreme over all of Creation. When religious people try to add rules to the person of Jesus, they are placing the created thing over the Creator. Religious rules are not usually intended for evil purposes. That is why Paul says that the rules have an “appearance of wisdom”. But in the end, rules cannot stop us from sinning. They can only remind us that we need someone greater than ourselves to save us from ourselves.

Paul had taught the church that Jesus was not just another religious leader. Jesus broke all of the rules of human-invented religions. He taught that salvation was only available by the grace of God through His Son, Jesus. Our standing before God had never depended on whether or not we could keep an ancient set of rules. Instead, our relationship to Jesus, the Son of God determined our eternal destiny. The work of Jesus, not our own work, is the basis of whether or not we will have eternal life or suffer eternal death.  

How can we have a relationship with Jesus? By faith. Faith in what? Faith that Jesus is who the Bible says that he is and that his life and death have something to do with us. What do his life and death have to do with us? The life he lived was perfect as He kept all of God’s law perfectly. He fulfilled all of God’s requirements for eternal life. We are incapable of living a perfect life. By faith, the work of Jesus’ obedience is credited to our account. We are also united to Jesus in his death by faith. His death was what we deserved. And so, his cross becomes our cross by faith. When we come to faith in Jesus, we are united to him in his life and death. The resurrection proved that God accepted the life and death of Jesus as sufficient on our behalf. If God has accepted the life and death of Jesus as sufficient work, and we are united to Jesus then God also accepts us as righteous in his sight – apart from any of our works and solely on the basis of Jesus’ work.

There is no need to add any created thing to the work of the one who is supreme over all creation. That is why Paul begins his letter to the church in Colossae with these words and this basis for everything that is to follow,

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven…”

Now, some of us may take this whole idea of bad religion and run with it in a direction that Paul does not intend. If we are not saved by rules, and only by grace, then why not just live life however we want?

Paul says to the church to fix their eyes on the supremacy of Christ and not only earthly things. We must be careful not to fall into the trap of sinning so that grace may increase. It is just as deadly a trap as depending on our own ability to follow rules to please God. We must not put our trust in created things, but rather Jesus who is Supreme above all creation.

Paul argues that if we are finding our fulfillment in Jesus then rules won’t be a problem either way. We will not depend on them for salvation, and we will not break them as an excuse to live life according to our sinful desires. Instead, we will pursue Jesus who is of greater worth than any earthly pleasure and we will live in obedience out of gratitude. Our duty will no longer be a burden but an act of worship.

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