Rev. Martin L. Dawson
Let us pray.......We thank thee, Father, for the word by the Spirit of Christ who moved men to record it and for the providence of God who, in the singular manner, has watched over and preserved that word for us, so that we have before us the very word of God. O Lord, illumine us now we pray by the Holy Ghost that we might understand and embrace this apostolic teaching, through Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.
Freedom in Christ from the doctrines and commandments of men was promised of course by our Lord himself. He said to the Pharisees that they through their human traditions made of none effect the law of God. It's that principle the Apostle Paul is addressing here, that the religious additions to the true faith are faulty. St. Paul to the Galatians said, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free and be ye not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." He was addressing this self same problem, that Satan has always managed to impose on the people of God.
Now, I want to emphasize that this is a problem of the Church. The Apostle Paul is not talking here to the heathen. He's not talking about secularists. He's talking about what Satan does in the Church which he did through the Pharisees of Old Testament time, through the Judaizers in the apostolic church, and which he did in the Middle Ages, when the Roman church added so many gentile superstitions to the faith. And which he does even down to the present day in the Protestant church.
Now, the Devil does this always in the name of religion. In fact, it's in the name of improving religion and making people even more holy than Scripture commands. Why should the Devil be so interested in doing that? Why should he be interested in adding to religion? Isn't he opposed to religion? Well, actually no, he's not the Devil is only opposed to true religion. He understands very well that if he can add anything to the true religion, he may be able to find an audience among the people of God. If he comes to people like us, he's not going to be very successful in taking away anything from the true religion. Most Bible-believing Christians immediately see that when one tries to say, "Don't believe this part of the Bible," we know that's wrong. But when he wants to add something to true religion, he may have an audience even among the people of God.
This then is the problem which the Apostle addresses, not only in this epistle to the Colossians, but in most of his epistles. This continual battle in his day with the Judaizers, and he introduces this portion of the argument by saying, "You're complete in Christ. Why should you listen to these people and their doctrines of men and their additions? You are complete in Christ. He is the one made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification and redemption. He's the beginning and the end of your salvation." So he says in verse 8 of this chapter, "Lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit after the traditions of men and not after Christ." Paul's message is that pardon, and peace and eternal life all come from Christ Jesus alone, by grace alone, through faith alone. The other things are only actually a way of making him more unavailable.
And so, in this portion of Scripture, I want to speak this morning of the three freedoms that we have in Christ that the apostle also speaks of. How they apply in our present time in the visible Church. The first is the freedom from the Jewish ceremonial law; the second is freedom from Romish superstitions; and the third is freedom from man-made laws of Protestant legalism.
In the first place the Apostle says that Christ has made us free from the Jewish ceremonial law. The old testament laws were of three kinds: there was the moral law (It was never said that we were free from the moral law, i.e. the Ten Commandments. The moral law can't change because God's morality doesn't change, it does not evolve because His morality was right in the first place. The Ten Commandments are eternally true. While we're free from the curse of having broken them, we are not free from having them as the index of our morality.
The second kind of law in the Old testament was the civil law. The law for Israel as a nation, as a body politic. As the Westminster Confession says, those laws expired when that nation expired; however, the general equity of them continues, meaning that the principles which they had though we are not organized as they were those principles given by God are still in effect. The people on death row up in Trenton do not have to be stoned to fulfill God's law, you can use lethal injection to fulfill it, but the general equity is that they be executed, and that is unchangeable.
The third kind of law is the ceremonial law which was intended to prepare the Old Testament people of God for the coming of Christ. These were shadows and types and pictures of Christ and the gospel. That's the law which the apostle is here addressing and with good reason because it was a point of continual contention between the apostles and the Judaizers who were people within the Church. These were not those saying you should not be a Christian; they were Jews who at least said they were Christians, that Jesus of Nazareth is my Messiah, "I am a Christian and a part of the church. But for a Christian to be saved, he must not only believe in Christ as Messiah, he must embrace all the ceremonial laws of Moses, the Levitical dietary laws about meat and drink. He must embrace the seventh day Jewish Sabbath; the holy days and new moons of the Jewish calendar; and circumcision, or in fact, he cannot be saved.
The Apostle went everywhere teaching against this, saying, "You're complete in Christ Jesus. These things are but a shadow." Calvin remarks, "Only a madman would try to evaluate another person who's standing right in front of him by looking at his shadow." The Old Testament people only had a shadow of Christ and that was fine for them but Paul is saying that now that Christ is come and made all these things clear; we clearly see who the Son of God is. And how He accomplishes our salvation, why do we then have to go back to these Jewish shadows? These do not bring us closer to Christ but, in fact, remove Him farther away.
So, Paul says, "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day," this is all Jewish meats, e.g. you can't have bacon, oysters or lobster tail. Now under the New Testament, Paul says, "Don't let anyone do that to you. And don't let anyone say that you have to keep a seventh day Jewish Sabbath, when the apostles themselves changed it to the Lord's Day, the Christian Sabbath on Sunday when our Lord rose, bringing the new creation, when the Holy Ghost came from heaven, bringing the kingdom of God with power, the apostles changed from the Jewish Sabbath to the Christian Sabbath. It is not a minor matter whether we acknowledge these things. Paul says, "Don't let anybody judge you in this."
There was a revelation given to St. Peter about the dietary laws, saying that God had fulfilled them in Christ. That they represented the fact that the Jews were separate from all the other people, for one reason only-that they had a relationship with the true God and all the other nations did not. So the dietary laws were to make the Jews separate from their neighbors but now that the gospel is going to every nation and all the nations are part of the Israel of God, there is no longer this separation between Jew and gentile, all are in Christ Jesus where there is neither Jew nor Greek.
Jewish holy days, new moons, and Sabbaths were all pictures of good things to come which we have now. Now under the New Testament, we celebrate Passover with the Lord's Supper, and we celebrate circumcision with baptism. In Colossians 2, Paul speaks of this very principle when he says that you're circumcised by Christ spiritually and the symbol of that is water baptism. Why go back to this shadow or listen to those who insist that this is part of the gospel of salvation?
We should be very thankful that God did not permit these Judaizers to win. They were marginalized in the apostolic church but they're still around, even today. But they have always remained on the periphery of the visible church. You may be aware of a Seventh Day Adventist church where they do everything which Paul here is forbidding. Paul says to forget about the Jewish dietary laws, but they say you must keep them. Paul says to forget the seventh day Sabbath, they say you must keep the seventh day Sabbath. If you drive by such a church on a Saturday, you'll discover the parking lot filled with cars because they are doing exactly what the Apostle here has forbidden.
Incidentally, it is an interesting religion, being one that has spread all over the world. Now, I am not saying that Adventists cannot be saved; although they may say that of us. That, by the way, is always an earmark of heresy when they curse others for not being exactly like them. The Judaizers did the same; what did they say? Except ye be circumcised, ye cannot be saved. They didn't just say that it was important to keep up this Jewish ceremony; they said you're not saved unless you believe as I believe on this matter. The Adventists say the same thing, concerning their religion which came in a vision to a "prophetess," Ellen G. White. They have taught historically that the "mark of the beast" is worshiping on Sunday, thus cursing about 99% of the people of God throughout all history. That is always the mark of a heretic.
Did you know that Calvin taught that a Roman priest could be saved and go to heaven? Even in the Roman church, because the Holy Trinity was taught there. They weren't saved by all the nonsensical additions of the Roman church but in spite of them! Because there was enough truth there. Calvinists would never say the Anabaptists couldn't be saved, even though they would say that Calvinists couldn't. We would say that an Adventist could be saved in spite of his error but they're going to say we're all going to hell, if you ever ate a pork chop or you worship on Sunday. So, the first freedom the apostle speaks of here is freedom from the Jewish ceremonial law.
Secondly, the Apostle teaches our freedom from Romish superstition. "Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshiping of angels . . ." It is one of the cardinal errors of the Roman church that they believe in the "cult of saints." This is an addition of mediators between the believer and the Savior. In St.. Paul's day this error was already invading the church and, thus, he's writing here in response not to the Judaizers but to the Gentiles who in their heathen religions were used to a whole pantheon of mediators, of worshiping the dead, and having all sorts of male and female gods, such as found in Greek mythology.
This problem was coming in Paul's day of their believing that you can't go directly to Christ, you have to have some sort of mediator. The explanation is false humility. You know, Christ is the great King of the Universe who's coming to judge the whole world. Who am I, that I might come before Christ? Paul calls that a vain humility, not the humility which the Holy Ghost gives us but a humility which the fleshly mind gives. The old nature gives a kind of pride in disguise. It's a show. St. Augustine spoke rather strongly against this doctrine of angelic mediators in his day.
What's fascinating to me is that Jesus spoke the same of the Pharisees "who build the temples of the prophets but they would stone them if they were actually around." It's true also of the Roman Church and the blessed Augustine who taught predestination and they cursed predestination. He taught against angelic mediation, and they build churches and cathedrals to his name but they despise what he taught.
St. Paul traces all this to nothing but pride; it's a show of humility. I think the worst cases of spiritual pride are seen among Christians. I know this is true. It's been with those who have actually believed that they're humble. They were convinced they were humble an there is some conspicuous show of humility with them, but they were the most proud, unteachable, and stubborn Christians I've ever met. You know, if the Holy Ghost is really working in you, you'll say, "I know pride and sin lurk within. I hate it; I wish I didn't have it; but I confess that it's there."
A show of humility is the way to be led of Satan by the nose into all sorts of damnable heresies. As it is true here of these with this, a false show of humility has imposed mediators between man and God. Now, why would the Devil want us to do this? Well, obviously, it's just one more thing to keep people farther from Christ. Once again, what's ironic (and this is a pattern with Satan)what he promises, he can be sure to deliver the opposite. You will be happy if you depart from God's law- you actually will be miserable. What does he promise through the angelic mediators or the compassion of Mary, but a drawing closer to Christ, when what he actually has done is to erect a wall between man and the Savior. I believe this to be one of the most dangerous things spiritually in the Roman church for two reasons. One, the one to whom you pray is the one in whom you have faith and if it's not Christ then you can't be saved. The other problem, I believe is this: intruding into those things which he hath not seen the unseen world around us is filled with all sorts of beings that you really don't want to commune with. Beings who commune very frequently, the Apostle says, in religious garb-demons who come as angels of light to give revelations to Christians. I received a letter about a month ago from a local man, informing me and other area ministers that while he was fasting in his van (in which he was evidently also, living) that Christ appeared to him and told him that he was the high priest of the church of Jesus Christ in all the world. We ministers were henceforth to give him tithes. Well, I wasn't persuaded but I did write him a letter which said, "My dear friend, If indeed you did have a vision, you can be sure it wasn't Christ, but an angel of light from Satan who has deceived you and, I fear for the damnation of your soul if God has allowed this to happen to you." I then told him how to repent and be saved.
Mediators, we don't need. Jesus said, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Jesus said, "He that cometh unto me, I will in no wise cast out."
Let us then look briefly in the third place. There's a freedom we have in Christ from the Protestant legalism which is rooted in the commandments and doctrines of men. The apostle says, "Wherefore, if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why as though living in the world are ye subject to ordinances? Touch not, taste not, handle not . . ." When men are left to their own imaginations the number of taboos they can come up with is innumerable. The Pharisees were well known for doing this. The ordinary and hygienic practice of washing your hands when coming home from the market, washing your hands before a meal- very good hygiene. But it doesn't do one thing for your soul, yet they made it a religious rite. That, you see, is what Jesus objected to and that is what Paul is objecting to here, and that is what Protestants do today. The kingdom of God isn't meat and drink; it's righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost. And so he says here, why are you subject to these man-made ordinances?
I dare say that some of the worst offenders have been believers in the Protestant church. Speaking from personal experience I remember coming back to college in my mid-30s to finish the college work that I had begun quite a while before, preparing for the ministry. I had been in Europe almost six years and had become accustomed to having a glass of wine with dinner- still am. I was in my mid-30s, the husband of one wife, the father of two children, a veteran but I had two strikes against me because I had a beard and I had wine with dinner. Before I could enroll in this college, I was "required" to give up both. So, I had to shave my beard and give up wine for two years, which I did, but it seems to me that one needn't be a great theologian to understand that a Christian institution which the Lord Jesus Christ would not be admitted to for having a beard and drinking wine, or even making it, is probably missing something when it comes to being subject to the word of God alone.
Calvin says men construct endless labyrinths of their own rules which in the end ensnare and strangle them. The law of God is our only rule of faith and life and he is not flattered with additions. Furthermore, just as mediators do not make men closer to Christ but farther away, so it is with this artificial holiness which does not make men more holy, but often less. I have known people who were literally proud of keeping all sorts of man-made rules and taboos. That was their idea of holiness, and these same people were just full of things which God hates. Debate, deceit, envy, gossip, judgmentalism, hostility- their holiness was all in Pharisaical rules, and this was in the Protestant church. The reason we have to be aware of it, and beware it ourselves.
And so, in conclusion, the Apostle Paul speaks here of three freedoms which we have in Christ from man-imposed religious additions. First, we are free from Jewish customs and ceremonial law. Second, we're free from Roman mediators between man and God. Third, we're free from that artificial Protestant holiness which assumes that God neglected to add their prejudices to His law. No, the Apostle says, these are all a wall between man and Christ. Ye are complete in Him. The gospel is that we have nothing between ourselves and Christ. He is all our faith, His Word is all our religion, and He says to all who are humble and repentant, "Come unto me and I will give you rest."
Let us pray.......What a marvelous invitation, Lord Jesus, that we may come unto Thee. And in Thee find rest unto our souls. That we can come unto Thee without the shadows of the ceremonial law, without angels and saints to mediate and stand between us, without legalistic additions that lay heavy burdens upon men. We can come to Thee, Jesus, by faith alone. O Lord, grant that, having been invited to come to Thee, we may eagerly seek thee and thy presence, and, having found commune with Christ, show Him to others in this present evil world. Amen.
Copyright © 2000 by Stratford
Orthodox Presbyterian Church. All rights reserved.
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