Colossians 2:20-23 (the message)
So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves by bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important.
If you let it, this scripture can make you sit down and be quiet!
In the first two chapters of Colossians, Paul really highlights and hammers home that Christ is the substance of our faith. Everything was created by Him, through Him and for Him. As the new believers in Colosse continue to put down roots in Christ, they bump up against the bully of religion. For them, it was the law of the old testament which gave very specific and strict directives for pretty much everything in life. This was God’s will and for His purposes, but with Jesus came the dispensation of Grace. Ah, yes…there it is again…Grace.
So, it’s fitting and I’m grateful to run head-long into these verses today. I myself have struggled this week with performance and grace. And as I have found myself quite confused because I long to please God but am unsure of how to do that in a certain situation, He leads me to this scripture. How do we evaluate our efforts…how do we know if we are trying to please God or man? I believe one answer is found in Paul’s address to the Colossians above and it’s a question of motives. See, God had not told these new believers to get in line with old testament laws of circumcision and abstaining from certain foods or discriminating between “clean” and “unclean” animals, etc. The people had been changed and were rooted in God’s love through Jesus, not ritual. Yet, they found themselves bullied by a religious spirit.
We can have hearts that long to know God and along the way get mixed up in ritual that is for the sake of illusion. The illusion of being super-spiritual or important. We may, even today and I’d say especially today, find ourselves battling the bully of religious performance. Now, there are many things that are healthy and right to do and be involved in as a believer. And many times the bully we face is found in ourselves…the battle rages between our need to maintain or provide an illusion and our desire to be real and once again just exhale in Grace. How do we know if our efforts in prayer, bible-study, worship, fasting, giving or volunteering are pure in heart for pleasing God or if we are being bullied by a “religious” and performance based spirit?
Motives. The heart of why I starting writing this blog…the reality of our “mixed motives.” I still catch myself cowering beneath that bully of religion now and then. And I’m learning, even today, that if I can sit down and be real about my motives…whether or not I have peace in what I’m trying to do…if I can look at what it’s producing…God will show me what I need to see. I have been consistently getting up to spend time with Jesus for many months now (more than ever before in my life!) and the reason I keep going is because of what I have seen it produce in my life. And I know it produces wonderful results because I want to come. I love Him. So, there is no internal pressure for me to seek Him because it’s from a right motive, a needy heart and a love-affair I am addicted to now. Every time I have tried to perform for the bully of religion and illusion it becomes a burden and condemnation comes quickly at its heels. Oh…I’m learning…step by step.
What I know today? I love, love, love Jesus. I am so grateful to live everyday with God leading me and helping me and dealing with me. I know that if He calls me to do something He will enable me to do it and when I find myself truly struggling, gritting my teeth and feeling “bad” about my progress or attempts at spiritual goals then I begin to question my own motives. Am I performing? Am I attempting to meet a standard God didn’t set for me? Then, as I get still with Him, Jesus whispers to my heart…”I’ll tell you what I want you to do and when I want you to do it…” and I know that any efforts apart from that are futile.
I love Paul’s reminder… Religious performance did not set me free and heal me. It was Jesus who did that.