Sunday, 31 October 2021

Freedom in Christ - Colossians 2:16 - 23

Paul has written to the Colossians about their faith in Jesus. He prays for them, and then talks about Jesus being fully God and fully man. He talks of a 'mystery revealed', which is Jesus coming so that through faith we can live in Christ and have Christ in us. Yet at the end of chapter 2 he writes things that shake things up. Words that challenge long held assumptions.

He says that religious festivals, even the weekly 'Sabbath' (which we could translate to our Sunday church patterns) can be 'discarded'. He says not to worry about them, and certainly don't worry about what others think of you concerning whether you keep them or not! He basically says that all rules, regulations, and laws have all had their day and can be discarded - they are no use!

Lets get straight to a summary of his thinking: All forms of 'religion', be it certain things you do, practices you believe you should keep, or rules you live by ... cannot and will not save you. For us that could translate to concept of "going to church" (an erroneous phrase ...!), or the belief "I was born a Christian, christened as an infant, and always been ...". Paul really is saying that none of this cuts it.

That is because for Paul none of this is the same as your own genuine by faith connection with Jesus - your faith in Him, putting your life in Christ, and Christ being in you.

So Paul uses food laws as an example - condensing them down to "don't touch this, don't eat that", he says they appear to be religious and proper, but actually no use at all. He writes them off as 'merely elemental' stuff of this world! Note at the other end of the spectrum (the 'super spiritual') Paul fires a shot too. Those that highlight certain experiences, making them the sole focus, using them as a kind of 'scorecard' to rate people ... Paul reckons they also have 'lost connection with the head', that is Jesus, which is no good.

How do we make sense of this, in light of Paul's own strong Jewish background and knowledge of Old Testament Law? Paul is clear that having met with Christ he now understood that OT Law has many benefits, but it can never create the spiritual connection between you and God. Instead OT Law was all about setting God's people apart from the rest of the world. It marked clear boundaries (e.g. between what is 'holy' and what is not), of how to live in contrast to other peoples ... but in itself it could never connect you with God. Only faith can do that.

Another way to understand the Law is as a 'safety net' or 'guard' against behaviours that destruct. The Law (10 commandments) bluntly states "Do not commit adultery". That is not God drawing arbitrary lines - we know that such behaviour will ruin relationships, undermine families, trash trust and leave no winners.

Now remember that Jesus used this command as an example: "You have heard it said ...", and went on to say 'even looking with lust and you've already committed in your heart". In other words simply putting a guard around you will never be enough - what is needed is full life & heart transformation! Jesus didn't abolish the Law, he fulfilled it, showing a life transforming way that goes above and beyond the elemental, against which the fences & guards fall away.

Paul is saying the same: don't just live by rules / guards ... instead know Christ and be transformed, taking you beyond the elemental to a new way of living in Christ.

For us we might look at our Sabbath principle and attending church gatherings as a case study. After all the pandemic massively shook things up, and within it we adopted different rhythms. Drilling further consider how families with teenagers have to wrestle with the dilemma: do they coming along willingly, or are they dragged along, or do they stay at home?

Let us be reminded that in Christ there is no law that says 'you must attend every Sunday'. Even taking the Sabbath principles seriously there is still no such law in Christ! During the pandemic we were reminded that our gathering is important, but it sits alongside personal discipleship and our mission endeavour.

Having said that we can also say that there are really good & positive reasons to gather (actually gathering physically in recent weeks has been a blessing), and that the sabbath principle is built into creation for really good reason. We can also remember that our teenagers are not yet adults, they are still under our care as parents, and so there are still wise & positive decisions to be made for them (as an example, consider school homework: do we leave our teenagers deciding to never do homework completely unchallenged?).

Of course each family is different and has their own circumstances. A suggestion might be to set within your own rhythm of gathering an underlying baseline (say once per month) where you declare 'this is what we will do together as a whole family, because it is important for us as a family' (just as a frequency of sitting together to eat as a family is important too). Back this up by having it sit not in isolation, but alongside discipleship together as a family at home, and the mission aspects & initiatives that you talk about together.

Here at Countess Free Church we talk about rhythms & diet, and habits to take up, rather than prescribe rules to enforce for everybody - because we live following Christ by faith in a grace environment, not law. Of course the pandemic disrupted and shook things up for us all, hence our new key question:

Key Qn: [IN] Has the shaking of the last 18 months led to a deeper faith in Christ?

Challenge: Identify the good habits and support structures for your walk with Jesus

As followers of Jesus we could treat ourselves harshly - evaluating our faith by how well we stick to all kinds of rules imposed on ourselves ... or we can learn to trust in Jesus. Yet we could also adopt an 'anything goes' approach, which leaves us to drift and float from one thing to another, probably making big mistakes, and not ever growing ... or we can learn what it means to live that genuine connection with Christ through the bustle of each day, through the highs, and through the lows.

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