We all know the lawyer jokes. From the one with three lawyers in a sinking ship, to God teeing off against a dead lawyer in heaven, they always have a punch line that puts the lawyer on an equal footing with sharks.
However, our legal system, cumbersome as it is, is what maintains the basis of our society. Someone slander us? There are laws for clearing our name. Identity theft? We put 1-800-LAWYERS on our speed dial to begin the road to restitution.
Yet, laws can sometimes be tricky to navigate. Just look at the American tax code. The legal wrangling that keeps corporations on good terms with Uncle Sam can require a legal team hundreds of lawyers strong.
Laws dictate how we live our lives. From gated neighborhoods where we are told what color to paint our garage doors to wetland protections that drown landowners in restrictive restoration, we dance to stay within the strict statutes that define our American way of life.
At the time of Christ, the religious world of the Jews was the same. Laws dictated the tricky trails that led to the pearly gates. Wear this garment on this day; eat this food only at certain times; and be humble, even if false humility was considered better than no humility at all. The requirements were cumbersome, stealing people’s identities, and the only recourse was to call 1-800-PRIESTS.
It was the temple hotline, and the only one available.
In Colossians 2:11-23, Paul gave the church at Colosse a better way. Christ’s way. Mosaic Law, or “Temple Law,” was well and good in its day. The children of Israel had lived four centuries under the dominion of their Egyptian overlords, and they needed a handbook for following God. However, they never got past using the handbook. They never learned the real lessons of how to incorporate the message of God into their lives, to make God so intrinsic to their very being that they wanted to live for him every day, rather than simply following the primer that God had given them centuries before.
Jesus was Mosaic Law, Volume 2.
What was the opening precept in Jesus’ book? Jesus came to fulfill the law, and in doing so, he set the law aside. Why? The law was ineffectual in reaching its desired end. It had not created a spiritual nation. It had created a legalistic nation.
Jesus’ presence on earth was about the spirit, not legalistic wrangling simply to keep the temple priests happy. If, as Christians, we establish a set of rules that converts must follow, and the rules become more important than our relationship with Christ, then we have missed the mark. We will stand tall, and the world will applaud our success, and the angels in heaven will weep in despair over our delusions.
What did Paul tell the body at Colosse? Legalism is not the path to salvation. Christ is. Paul even listed those laws that the believers should cast aside as no more than legalistic burdens, laws designed for the time before Christ, but now put aside by Christ’s death on the cross.
Legalistic Burden #1 – Circumcision
In Genesis 17 God made a covenant with Abraham. Abraham was given new life; brought from childlessness to a new birth; and given a new lease on life. Circumcision was to be a daily reminder of that covenant.
Yet, Paul says that Jesus nailed the requirements of circumcision to the cross. Our new life is not a physical one. Rather, it is a spiritual one. Our old man was buried with Christ, and our new man arose with him from the dead, into triumph. Christ has cut away the dead flesh, and he is our covenant, residing with us every day.
Legalistic Burden #2 – Food and Drink
Leviticus 11 gives a whole smorgasbord of food restrictions for the Jewish people. Pork; most seafood; insects; scavenger birds. Food sacrificed to idols was also a big issue in the 1st century church.
Part of the problem came from culture and heritage. Those of Jewish background could not change embedded teachings in so short a time, and the gentiles were being pushed to follow suit. However, Paul made it clear that the principles of “Do not touch; do not taste; do not handle” no longer applied.
Legalistic Burden #3 – Festivals and Sabbaths
Jewish culture was steeped in history. To remember who they were and why they worshipped one god, the Jews observed a litany of holidays and festivals: Purim; Passover; Shavuot; Rosh Hashanah; Yom Kippur; and more.
The cross and the redemption we receive is the finished work of Christ. The observances of the Jewish faith were no more than a shadow of the Christ to come. When we have the real thing, why do we need shadows and dreams?
Legalistic Burden #4 – False Humility
Public humiliation was often considered a penance for sin. Self-abasement, especially long and pious prayers, was one way of raising one’s standing among those of the Jewish faith. However, when our prayers and self-abasement are for our own benefit, then they are of no benefit at all.
This was especially apropos to those in the Colossian body. Teachers, bearing false humility and false doctrine, were pushing the teachings of Christ aside. Rather, Paul suggests, our humility must come from Christ, alone, and not from the desire to elevate ourselves before others.
Legalistic Burden #5 – Worship of Angels
Gnostic teachings had begun to infiltrate the church at Colosse. This belief said that Jesus was not our direct line to God. Rather, there were layers of angel intermediaries that we must traverse first. Some even taught that Jesus attained divinity through works and taught his disciples to do the same.
The truth is that there is no way to God except through the cross. If we attempt to find God through our own means, we will fail. We must trust in Jesus and his finished work on the cross.
Paul wraps up this passage, reminding us that the regulations of this world may have an appearance of wisdom, but they will perish. Whether we turn to self-imposed religion, false humility, or self-abasement, these things cannot bring us closer to God. When Christ died, he arose a new man. When we die in Christ, the basic principles of the world no longer apply to us. We are new creatures in him, part of the body of Christ, and we only grow when we are planted in him.
When times get rough, our hotline is 1-800-GOJESUS. It is the only number we need to call.
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