16 So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.18 Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, 19 and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.
20 You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, 21 “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? 22 Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. 23 These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. NLT
“Where is it written?” That’s the question that will keep you aligned with Jesus when you are faced with any new teaching, rule, principle, idea or ideal. People are very good at making up their own rules and traditions to try and appease God and/or themselves. So never stop asking yourself: What has God actually said about this? That’s why it’s so important for you to read the Bible, so that you can renew your thinking, gain God’s perspective and be fully prepared when your convictions are challenged.
Have you ever wondered why Jesus so vehemently opposed the religious leaders? What were they doing that was so wrong? Jesus was furious with them because they had taken his Father’s commands and added hundreds of their own traditions. They had good intentions. They thought these traditions would help people obey God’s commands. But they grossly misapplied God’s Word by adding to it. They ended up putting more emphasis on the rules they created than on God’s clear commands. That’s why Jesus so passionately opposed them, using the most condemning and degrading words possible in warning his listeners not to follow the rules of their religious leaders. (Matthew 23)
The idea that obeying rules and regulations to keep someone in good standing with God is rightly labeled “legalism”. Legalism is the idea that a person must do certain things, or never do the forbidden things, in order to remain (menó) in God’s good graces. Legalism is precisely what Jesus condemned. To add anything to your faith in Christ is a most dangerous sin because it replaces his atoning sacrifice with your personal efforts. God’s grace through Jesus’ sacrifice is what separates your faith from every other religion. All religions have their unique traditions that were created for the purpose of satisfying God. Instead of purifying the person from sin within, obeying traditions and rules produces pride, which God hates (Proverbs 6:17-19).
My family and I lived in a Muslim country for a number of years. The Muslims I knew were deeply dedicated and religious people. But they based their right standing before God solely on their own ability to carry out the traditions of Islam. A faithful Muslim is as dedicated as they come. Praying five times a day, constantly reciting the creed and the name of Allah, fingering prayer beads throughout the day and fasting during the month of Ramadan are all practices that have the potential of making a person feel very self-righteous. But as the Bible warns in today’s passage, none of these actions can change a person’s heart. And the core problem with every person on the planet is the condition of their heart. Religion is about keeping rules. Jesus came to give you a relationship with his Father by dealing with the problem of your evil heart.
That is why it is so important for you to continually remind yourself of the warning in vs20-21: You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. Why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’ taste! Don’t touch!”? Isn’t that a great gut-check question? The freedom from having to try and obey commands and rules in order to be righteous was purchased for you because Jesus obeyed all of God’s laws. He then took on the punishment for your disobedience so that you would never have to face God in your own guilt.
If you have come to believe in Jesus and realize that your freedom from God’s judgment is in Christ alone, you still have a proclivity to slip back into a performance mentality. Keeping a list of rules will never combat the evil desires that are still part of your physical body, your mind and your heart. No rule can cure the human heart.
Later in this letter, the apostle Paul will teach you how God's people are to live. But it isn’t based on keeping rules, it comes from having a new heart. Jesus’ transformation process is always from the inside out. He gave you a new heart and is now working on your transformation; the renewing of your thinking and feeling so that your actions and attitudes line up with your new heart. When you first believed in Jesus, a renewal process began by God’s Spirit filling your heart and mind with his words and ways. You must be careful to live according to his presence and his power as you work together to align your thinking with his.
The history of the Church, especially in the U.S., has been severely tainted by man’s rules. Every denomination, sad to say, has created spoken and unspoken traditions that are not founded in God’s Word. Our current culture is also saturated with liberal rules and values that are far from the kingdom of God. Although they seem good to many people, they are rational lies from the dark domain. Spend some time thinking about this passage by asking yourself what rules, principles, traditions or ideals do you believe and are they truly from God. Where is it written in his Word?
Be very careful that you don’t buy into half-truths. The dark kingdom loves to spin God’s words by adding a little lie to his truth to make it sound legitimate. Be wary of rational lies. The human mind can rationalize just about anything. Make sure you confirm and affirm what you believe so that your convictions are in complete alignment with Jesus’ teachings. Your freedom is based solely on your identification with Christ, in him and him alone.
The highest societal ideals today are tolerance and inclusion. But if an ideal means that sinful choices are tolerated and accepted as normal, that ideal is far from the will of God. Keep asking yourself: “Where is it written?”
- Identify a legalistic teaching or concept that you previously believed. Make sure you have it clear in your mind why forgiveness can never be earned. Why is it based solely on Jesus' atoning sacrifice?
- Instead of rules ruling you, you need Jesus to inhabit your heart. Therefore, pray according to Ephesians 3:16-19. “Father, I ask that from your glorious, unlimited resources, you will empower me with inner strength through your Spirit in the depths of my heart so that Lord Jesus, you will be more and more at home in my heart, and I’ll be rooted and grounded in your love, so I will have the strength to understand the vastness of your love and be filled with all of your fullness.”