Gospel Imposters: Religion and Legalism

Dr. Jon Morrissette - 10/7/2018

The Christian life is captured in Colossians 2:6-7. “So then, just as you have received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, being rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude”.

We’ve been given such an incredible salvation. Somebody cared enough to share Jesus with you. When you accepted Jesus: You invited the Maker of the Universe… to remake you; the Sustainer…to sustain you. You accepted God’s invitation to die to self, that Christ might be your life. Like a tree being planted by streams of living water, you are being deeply rooted in Jesus. Like living stones, Christ Jesus is building us to be a people in whom he dwells by His Spirit and manifests his glory. Like a son or daughter, Christ Jesus is establishing you to be the beneficiary of every spiritual blessing in heaven.

Because of your faith in Christ Jesus you have full assurance, that you can stand before the Father without fear, without any blemish, spot, or stain… resurrection body and all… fully forgiven, fully redeemed… filled with God’s Holy Spirit, “filled with the full measure of all the fullness of Christ…” fully loved, fully alive, fully transformed! Once you grasp this great mystery, (Christ in you, the hope of glory), nobody has to tell you to be overflowing with gratitude. Gratitude is the single most instinctive, authentic, responses we can have to good news. We of all people ought to be delirious with joy!

Whenever you see evidence of authentic gratitude, praise the Lord, because there you’ll find the Spirit of God at work. Colossians 1:3-6, “We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love you have for all the saints because of the hope reserved for you in heaven… the gospel… is bearing fruit and growing all over the world, just as it has among you since the day you heard it and came to truly appreciate God’s grace!” Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude. The Father has reconciled you to Himself through His Son Jesus. God is transforming you by his Holy Spirit. And he’s doing this all over world!

Chapter 2 of Colossians is about all the subtle ways our faith, hope and love can be stolen. I like to think of these things as “gospel imposters.” The first imposter is Philosophy. [Show Colossians 2:8] Paul says, “Be careful that no one takes you captive through hollow philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elementary forces of the world, and not based on Christ.”

There is Revelation (which comes from God); but then there is Philosophy (which comes from men). Revelation makes the case that (1) there is a God who is really there… (2) that all things visible/invisible have been made by Jesus, for Jesus, and through Jesus… (3) that God’s crowning achievement was the special creation of man, whom he fashioned in his own image…

But Revelation also makes the case that (4) all things have been made abnormal by sinful man, who because of his sin, now stands guilty and condemned and subject to God’s wrath. (5) But despite man’s sin, and because of his own great love and mercy, God sent his Son to pay the penalty of sin on man’s behalf, shedding his blood on that cross, becoming a curse, taking upon himself the fury of God’s wrath, that we might now live by faith.

Revelation makes the case man’s chief problem is moral. All the dysfunction of creation can be linked back to Adam’s sin, Adam’s guilt, man’s character. And for sin there is no other solution but our Savior Jesus, who must forgive us take his rightful reign over our lives as Lord. In Christ alone can we move from despair to hope, fear to faith, and self-centered cruelty to a Spirit-led life of love. But this can only happen if instead of rebelling against the God of the Universe, we would now bow to Christ Jesus as Lord, that might justify us once and for all. That Christ’s blood might cover us, that our sins would no longer be counted against us, that God would fill us with His Holy Spirit, and begin to sanctify us, and would one day soon, glorify us into his presence.

In contrast, Philosophy speculates that there cannot be a God who is really there. You haven’t been created by anything, through anything, or for anything. History, time (past-present-future), has no overarching purpose. Your life only means whatever meaning you can salvage from this otherwise cold, dead existence you’ve been given by blind fate. Philosophy would say there is no good and evil, and therefore there is no real sin or guilt, and therefore there no real accountability or judgment, and that there can be no real moral outrage or wrath because hey… you’re just being human being doing the best you can do with the cards you’ve been dealt.

If you do have any purpose, it’s jungle rules, survival of the fittest. In the jungle your only hope is the raw grab for power. Economic power. Military power. Financial Power. Political power. Technological power. Judicial power. Gender power. Racial power. Personal power. The powerful survive; the weak get swallowed up.

Our culture has been taken captive by hollow, deceptive philosophy. As Christian’s we cannot be afraid. In 2 Corinthians 10:5 Paul says, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” For some time, we’ve let the last two-three generations be taken captive by Philosophy. It’s because whenever these generations are getting their ears/eyeballs filled with deceptive things, we sit in silence, often in the next room. We don’t preach. We don’t teach. We don’t speak of Jesus in a compelling way. We don’t live like Jesus, love like Jesus. So little effort is made to captivate this next generation with the wondrous mystery of this great gospel, “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”

If you trust Christ, your salvation is secure. But if on the last day you’re standing alone, not presenting a single other soul perfect in Christ, it’s going to be bittersweet. Do you really want to be saved alone without anyone else you’ve known in this world? Philosophy is stealing souls. Do you think maybe you should learn to preach?

The second gospel imposter Paul mentions in Colossians 2 is “Religion”—but more specifically “Legalism.” Our gospel teaches that there is absolutely nothing we can do about our own sin and guilt. We cannot justify ourselves—we’re condemned. We cannot sanctify ourselves—no matter whatever programs we may devise. We certainly cannot glorify ourselves—whenever we try to shine like stars our glory is our shame.

But in Christ Jesus, God has done something about our sin/guilt—and it gets visually reenacted every time someone gets baptized by immersion. In Colossians 2:9-17 Paul says, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, 10 and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority. 11 In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self, ruled by the flesh was put off when you were circumcised by Christ, 12 having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. 13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

When Christ’s blood covers you, no charges can stand against you! Not because you didn’t have real sin/guilt… but because Christ’s blood really covers whatever sin/guilt you have! Baptism declares Christ’s power to wash, redeem, and raise you.

This past week the people in Washington have been quite a spectacle. It all evolves around whether a man is guilty or not guilty. One gender says he is innocent. The other guilty. One party says innocent, the other guilty. It isn’t just a man who is on trial, it’s justice itself that is on trial. The collective wrath of male/female, red/blue hinges on whether there can be true justice in this world.

But allow me to suggest an even greater spectacle has occurred—the cross. You sinned. You’re guilty. You violated the written code of the Almighty God. You broke the law. You offended God. You were taken captive by those powers/authorities that have stood opposed to Christ from the beginning. You are under a curse—"cursed is everyone who does not obey everything in the Law.” You are legally in indebted. You stand accused, charged, and condemned to die. You deserve a cross. Satan was calling for your blood. Satan was gloating about your defeat, your demise. The cameras were chasing you, to humiliate you!

But in Christ Jesus God took everything the Devil had against you, that list of sins, all those accusations and charges, and he nailed it all to the cross. Through the power of his Holy Spirit, God make a spectacle of all the power/authorities that held you captive to fear, Jesus triumphed over them by the cross!

Please listen to Colossians 1:15-23, “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. 21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of[g] your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”

God Almighty! Whose overflowing with joy this morning? Whose delirious with joy? “Yes. Baptize me. God wash me. Forgive me. I’ll gladly die that I might be raised! Take this crushing sin/guilt off my back! Savior Jesus, thank you for nailing my sin to the cross, instead of me. I believe. I repent. Lord Jesus, God of the Universe, I humbly bow.”

But along comes religion. We’ve been given fulness in Christ (2:6). But in Colossians 2:16-17 Paul warns “. . . do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.”

Just how might religion steal our soul? Religion tempts us to rely upon things other than Jesus for salvation. Let me give you three examples. There are three words that capture the nature of salvation.

The first word is justification. Justification simply refers to whatever basis we think we’ll have to stand before a Holy God. Revelation teaches that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. On our own we stand condemned, without excuse, without justification. The only way we could ever stand before a holy God is if somehow our messy lives could be hidden. And this is exactly what Jesus does for us! Two things happen in salvation (see Colossians 3:3-4): You die, and your life becomes hidden with Christ in God.” And then Christ becomes your very life. This is justification.

But along comes religion, and religion shifts our basis for confidence. Instead of trusting Jesus for justification, I establish some other basis for justification. “Boy, I’m such good person. I do all these religious things. Other people are so evil… those men, women, republicans, democrats.” When it comes to justification, some people believe there are “degrees” of justification. That maybe one person needs far more justification than another. But justification is binary. There are just two states. Yes/no; True/false; Saved/unsaved. In Christ/or outside; Clothed in Righteousness/Naked; Forgiven/condemned;

The second word is sanctification. Sanctification has everything to do with the extent to which Christ is now your life… the extent to which you’re walking in the Spirit. Now there are definitely “degrees” of sanctification. Some are far more holy surrendered to the indwelling presence/power/guidance of the Holy Spirit than others.

But here is the danger. Just whose work is sanctification? Is becoming our work or the Spirit’s? After receiving the Holy Spirit, how quickly we turn back to the flesh to achieve our goal. We say, “I’ll just try harder. I’ll wash myself. I’ll clean up my own life, thank you very much. I’ll follow these rules, I’ll do this and that. I’ll better myself.”

The third word is glorification. Glorification is the culmination, the completion, of God’s work in our life. In Philippians 3:20-21, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Instead of trusting God the Father for glorification, we so often try to glorify ourselves. Philippians 3 describes how for many their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Is Christ your hope of glory, or are you your own hope for glory?

We cannot be reminded of our great salvation enough! Philippians 1:21-23, “21 Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. 22 But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation— 23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and you do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has proclaimed to every creature under heaven…” Justification/Sanctification/Glorification are yours, “if” trust!

It’s at this point, you must nail down your faith with brass tacks. Who in this room, is trusting Jesus for justification? Who is in this room, is trusting God’s Holy Spirit for sanctification? Who in this room, is trusting the Father for glorification?

Who is trusting that God will bring the work he has begun in your life to full completion on the day of Christ Jesus? Who is ready to die, that their life might be hidden in Christ? Who is eager that Christ might become your very life? Who trusts that just as Christ was raised, you too will be raised, and given a resurrection body?

Who has yet to repent and believe? To bow before God of Universe, Christ Jesus? Who has yet to confess and be saved? Who has yet to be baptized, in the name of Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit and be washed, and be forgiven? What are you waiting for? All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit. Why would you not want God to also do great work in you?


Scripture Verses

Colossians 2:9-17

Study Questions

  1. Read Colossians 2:9-17. What position does Paul tell us Jesus holds in 2:9-10? How does this relate to other descriptions of Jesus we have already studied in this letter?
  2. What is the circumcision mentioned in vs. 11 that is done without human hands? How were we "circumcised in Christ"? How is it similar/different from physical circumcision? (See Genesis 17:1-14; Romans 4:9-12; Philippians 3:2-3.)
  3. What is the relationship between baptism and faith in God's work? What was our condition before baptism, and what does God do to solve the problem? Explain the terms "dead" and "alive" as used here. Compare Ephesians 2.
  4. The Jews in the church at Colossae had long kept festivals, new moons, and sabbaths. What was the benefit of these for the Old Testament Jews? Why didn't the Gentiles need to keep these and the ceremonial law? (See Hebrews 10:1-18.)
  5. According to verse 14, your certificate of death has been erased. Do you constantly feel guilt for your sin and failures even though Christ has already canceled our debt and forgiven all of our sin once and for all? If so, why?