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Hold Fast to Jesus Christ (Col. 2:16-19)

Let No Man Judge You (vv. 16-17)


Clean in Christ and Brought Near by Him


Even in the days of the apostles, the gospel of Jesus Christ came under violent assault. We are complete in his person and work, but some were saying that more is required than Jesus Christ. In Galatia, being circumcised and a cultural Jew were necessary for justification (Acts 15:1). In Colosse, the issue was more about holiness and subduing the flesh (2:23). Some were saying that the way to holiness was to keep the basic elements of Jewish ceremonialism: food and drink, festivals, and the related Sabbaths. The items Paul mentions show a clear Jewish referent and are frequently found together as part of the ceremonial requirements for acceptable participation in temple worship (1 Chron. 23:31; 2 Chron. 2:4; 31:3; Neh. 10:33; Isa. 1:13; 1 Macc. 10:34). Sadly, this insistence went beyond words to judging those who did not see the necessity of these observances. The issue was divisive, rather than allowing liberty of conscience to some degree without at all considering these observances necessary for holiness. But do we not often make our personal preferences obligatory upon others? We forget that our preferences are by no means requirements for others, unless commanded by God in his word. 

It seems odd that Gentile believers were urging these as holiness duties, but fellowship with God and drawing near to him were important then and now. Why did God command these observances in the old covenant? To make a difference between clean and unclean; only the clean could draw near to him. Thus, in a Gentile context, the idea must have been that only by continuing to observe these could there be a separation from paganism and its ritual uncleanness. Perhaps, then, the motive was quasi-good – how can we draw near to God acceptably? But the answer was extra-Christ, beyond his finished work, and therefore very dangerous. We are clean in Christ and draw near to God as his living temple by faith in him. God dwells with us not because of any ritual cleanness we obtain by our diet, traditions, or ritual practices but because the veil of the temple has been torn down by the person and work of Jesus Christ.  We are clean by faith in union with Christ, drawing from him the righteousness we must have to stand approved before God. In union and communion with the Lord Jesus, we enjoy his strengthening and satisfying fellowship so that we can live as his children in this dark world.


Shadow Religion Impotent; Christ the Reality


The issue with continuing these observances in the new covenant era is that they were shadows of Christ. The dietary laws taught the people to make a distinction between clean and unclean, as God’s people, so that they did not corrupt themselves with sin and the practices of the surrounding culture. Now that Christ has come, we have his completed word and the Spirit to guide and to teach us the right way to maintain separation from the world (2 Cor. 6:14-7:1). Diet differences and feast days served their temporary purpose for the church underage, before Christ came. He is the reality that has made the old observances obsolete (Heb. 7:19). The former ways of God’s revealing himself have now been done away (Heb. 1:1-2). We have arrived at the fullness that is in Jesus Christ. We do not need to live by a religious calendar to force our attention upon holy things, which they had no power to do. We have the Holy Spirit and God’s complete word from Jesus Christ. We have the weekly Sabbath, as the apostle teaches in Hebrews 4:9, but the 8th day Sabbaths under the old covenant pointed to Jesus Christ and his day. The 4th commandment Sabbath long predates the ceremonial system given under Moses and is a creation ordinance, binding upon all men for all times. We always need this Sabbath for worship and rest. We no longer need the ceremonies, for we have the reality that is in Christ Jesus.

This is the issue with judging others. The judges are the weaker brother of Romans 14. They do not yet understand or have sufficient faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ. He is the “body,” here meaning the substance or reality. All those typical observances – clean and unclean foods, feast days, and new moon Sabbaths – were pointing believers to Christ’s better day of salvation, the day in which we are now blessed to live! Now that he has come, we have our cleanness in Jesus Christ, and in him alone. Whether you eat certain foods or refrain from them is completely irrelevant to your cleanness in Christ. If you want to observe a fast or feast day, like our Thanksgiving, do so unto the Lord in faith, but do not bind the consciences of others or look down upon them if they do not observe such days. But all Christians must have the reality, who is Jesus Christ. And he is not better possessed because of meat and drink, days and feasts (Rom. 14:17). He is possessed and enjoyed by faith alone, and whatever else someone tries to impose upon our consciences, as wicked men did throughout the heyday of papal and Romanist anti-Christianity, leads us away from Jesus Christ.


Let No Man Cheat You of Your Reward (v. 18)


Three Marks of Not Hold Fasting to Christ


There was another strand of holiness teaching in Colosse. It had three general elements that led the church away from the fullness of Christ and our completion in his person and work as our Mediator. First, it had a pretense of humility, in that it claimed insights and deference to the higher spiritual or angelic powers, but it was a false humility. It was really pride masquerading as humility. This is pride’s favorite mask – to insist upon religious observances that God has never or no longer commands. Never willingly place yourself under such false humility. It is never humble to do anything, have any emphasis, or to insist upon any practice that does not lead us directly to Jesus Christ. Second, some were worshipping angels, which should not seem bizarre to us, for men are still worshipping angels, inquiring into their number and order, activities in the world, and looking to them for mediatorial help with their false notions of God. This is not humility but arrogance. Angels are fellow-creatures, guardians under God over us, and one day to be judged by believers. They are not to be worshipped and refuse our worship, as one high angel once told John (Rev. 19:10). Angel worship leads us not to, but away from Jesus Christ as our Lord and our God, our wisdom and our strength, our life and our peace with God.


Pride the Root of All Non-Commanded Religion


The third mark given here of not holding fast to Christ is a vain mind that claims to have knowledge of the angels, even of the created order. Past and present, there have been those carried away with their speculations, but there is really nothing solid except the knowledge of Jesus Christ revealed in the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit. Beyond Scripture, knowledge of the invisible world is not accessible to us, except, possibly, by means that it would be sinful to utilize and dangerous to possess. The Holy Spirit classifies this as vain pride – intruding into the unseen world. It is to have a “puffed up” head, like bellows swollen with too much air. All non-commanded religion has this disease – too much reliance upon man rather than meekness to know nothing outside of Christ, nothing beyond his word, nothing beyond the fullness that is in his unsearchable riches. This is a hearty rebuke to speculative theology, angelology, esoterica, and all the rest that deceives us that we are holier, cleaner, better than others, and fitter for communion with God when we possess such knowledge. True and useful knowledge of God always humbles, always leads us to greater love for our Lord, and always produces unity and love among the body of Christ. A true and saving knowledge of Jesus Christ never divides but unites us around our Lord, sitting at his feet, wanting only to learn of him. Let us make this excellent choice, as Mary did, to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified (Luke 10:41-42; 1 Cor. 2:2).


Hold Fast to Christ (v. 19)


He is the Head; All We Need


The pressures of this life are so great that we lose hold of the single most important truth in time and in eternity – that we are redeemed by the Son of God incarnate, who is our Head. This life stealthily suffocates our affections and its troubles prey upon our fears. We are wretched in our sinfulness, divided in our affections, proud in our minds, and stubborn in our wills. And thus, the Holy Spirit never tires of telling us the number one error in all competing schemes for holiness, all false religions that masquerade as truth – they do not hold fast to Jesus Christ. By holding fast is not meant to give him some lip service and formal honor. To hold fast to Christ means that we give up our own thoughts about what is important and what is truth and come as children to be taught by Jesus Christ in his word. To hold fast to Christ means that we distrust any thoughts or philosophies that do not bring us to the feet of Jesus Christ, like blind men and lepers, looking to him to heal us – and not just once, but constantly. To hold fast to Jesus Christ means that we consider nothing valuable and nothing solid and nothing worth having or knowing, including other people, unless they in some way help us to hold fast to him and to come to him more. He is all we need. No conversation is as meaningful as it could be unless he is the center. No social or political movement will produce lasting fruits unless it bows the knee to him and seeks its life in him. Every philosophical, educational, and scientific theory that seeks truth and insight without submission to his word is the devil’s worldview and bound to harm any Christian that spends too much time considering it. Christ is our Head. We cannot live if someone cuts off our head. We cannot live if we are cut off from Jesus Christ, our Head and Life.


His Life in the Body; Do Your Part


And his life is lived out in the body. One reason we take a vow to support the worship and work of the church is we share Christ’s life as our Head in his body, the church. We must be at worship on the Lord’s Day when the elders call us. We must be in subjection to those whom he has placed over us, or we are in rebellion against Jesus Christ. We must love one another and pursue peace, or we are tearing Christ asunder. If the Lord Jesus has given a gift, it must be used for the whole body. There must be no separatism or elitism in the body of Christ. Each “joint and band” has something to contribute to the body. It is not ours to judge the contribution, only to make our willing contribution, which is Christ’s grace in us. All we have comes from him. He is the one who nourishes, and we in turn nourish one another. Thus, “if we bite and devour one another,” become radicalized by the world’s radicalism, or live suspiciously, then we are living against our Head, Jesus Christ. We must repent. We must use what he has given, respect how he governs, and listen to what he provides. And if we are to do our part, we must each seek to live in the closest possible fellowship with the Lord Jesus, for he alone gives grace and life. He is the fountain of our holiness and the pledge of God’s grace down through our generations. This is God’s covenant with us – I will dwell with you and walk with you. By faith in Christ alone we are God’s temple – it is not man’s cleanliness rules and rituals that make us fit for fellowship with God, but it is the work of Jesus Christ in us by his Spirit.


He Gives Increase to Love and Edification (Eph. 4:16)


When the Lord Jesus nourishes us, we grow. He is living and powerful. We bear “fruit in our season,” which means that not every season will be equally fruitful, but we may depend upon fruitfulness in union with Christ. He is Head and Vine (John 15:1), the source of all life for us. When we abide in his word, we will grow. Ephesians 4:16 is a beautiful parallel that says the increase will be so that the body is filled with love and edifies itself. To edify is to build up. All increase from Christ results in love, which is the Spirit’s first fruit. Love is “bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things.” Love is “preferring others to ourselves, tenderhearted, kind, and forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven us.” Without love, there can be no other fruits – perhaps flowering weeds, but not fruit – nothing useful, nothing eternal, nothing of Christ. And love always builds up – unlike suspicious attitudes, hateful words, self-oriented demands, whispering and gossip, murmurings and complaining. These tear down the body. The world has plenty of these works of the flesh, and in Christ we can put them to death so that love rules us and the body is thus built up in faith and hope, gifts and graces, for the praise of the glory of our Father’s grace. No ritual, calendar, ascetic self-denial, or diet can produce such wondrous fruit – only our Lord Jesus Christ is able to make the desert blossom like a rose.


Holiness in Christ


How carefully we must treat one another! “To our own Master we will stand or fall” (Rom. 14:4). Especially we must not judge in matters where there is liberty of conscience, such as food and drink. We are not under the ceremonial system of the old covenant. The way we draw near to God is not by ritual cleanness. This was but a shadow of the reality. We are clean by the person and work of Jesus Christ. Real holiness is thus on a foundation that crushes man’s pride and infatuation with do-it-yourself religion. Real holiness never leaves the shadow of Calvary. It seeks no higher wisdom than the cross, no more purity than the sinless Lamb of God crucified for us, and no other cleansing than his precious blood. All the fullness is in him – not in what we do or do not do. This is glorious but hard for us to believe! We want to do it ourselves. But to be clean and fit for God’s fellowship is beyond us. It is in Christ’s grace and by his intercession that we draw near. It is by his grace within us by the Spirit that we grow in holiness. You must be in the word, professing disciple. There is no other way for holiness. You must be praying without ceasing, for there is no other strength and grace than what Jesus Christ gives. Anything that takes you away from sitting at his feet and from the throne of grace where he intercedes is not from him. If someone laughs or snickers at your praying, beware of them. At best, they are asleep in Gethsemane. If someone says we need something more than the Bible, that the old ways are worn out and old, you know this is man’s puffed-up mind leading you away from the Lord. Hear the Lord – “What does Scripture say?” Watch him – casting himself on the ground to pray. Follow him – denying self, obeying his Father, loving his enemies, dying on the cross, enduring injury patiently. Hold fast to him. He has everything you need for living and dying, warfare and peace, marriage and singleness, holiness and purity, this life and the next. Soon, we shall see his glory and joyfully rest in his fullness.

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