Christ is Enough: A Warning Against Legalism
Look at Colossians 2:16-18 as we continue to look at the sufficiency of Christ. And here in these verses we see the following truth as we build upon the sufficiency of Christ: Our standing before God, and the fullness and completeness of our faith, are not to be judged or regulated by externals, but rather a love for and trust in the completeness of Christ and His work at the cross for our forgiveness and righteousness and standing before God.
This is another one of those verses where it is important here to understand the context, because people can use this as a proof text to do whatever we want to do and demand people mind their own business. This is not what this passage is saying. This passage does not point to the freedom to live however you want.
Paul is addressing false teaching here. And it is connected directly with what we just saw regarding the fullness of the work of Christ and its sufficiency and supremacy and source of our standing before God.
The false teachers were attacking the supremacy and sufficiency of Christ by insisting upon externals and adherence to externals in order for our standing before God to be complete. The context is regarding salvation, standing before God, and what is the basis for that standing before God.
The word judge here literally means “to condemn”. The false teachers were coming at the Gentile believers in Colossae and condemning them, saying that their standing before God was not complete in the work of Christ alone, but rather thru Christ plus the adherence to certain rituals or external practices. What Paul is saying to the Colossians is do not let anyone judge or condemn you based upon externals and in this case Jewish practices, saying that you are not complete in Christ thru faith in His work alone, if you do not participate in the Jewish customs listed here.
That is the issue – do Gentiles have to submit to Jewish customs, externals, in order to be saved and have a right standing before God? Was and always was the issue, and Paul is very consistent to say no to this. Salvation is by grace thru faith in Christ’s work alone. This battle has raged forever right here.
Paul is warning the Colossians not to fall into this trap. In the case of our text and the specific battle that Paul was up against, he addresses the trap that we call legalism. And Paul’s warning is just as needed today for you and me.
If we are honest, most, if not all of us in here have a tendency to fall prey to what Paul is speaking to here. That is, finding our standing before God based upon our external works rather than the completed work of Christ, looking to what we do or do not do for our standing before God rather than looking towards the completed work of Christ for our standing before God. Having a resume of works that we show off versus a total trust in the work of Christ.
Christians have probably tolerated no sin as much as they have tolerated legalism. Some of us would be surprised that it would be called a sin and are surprised at how big a deal Paul makes against it. Over-zealous? Yes. Super-spiritual? Maybe. But legalists as sinners? Many, especially in southern Baptist churches, would not tend to view legalism as a big deal, as sin.
The entire book of Galatians, which we studied, railed against legalism. 1 Timothy 4:1-5 stands against the enemy of legalism as well. Legalism is a common enemy and means of attack of Satan. When we stand before God seeking entrance into His kingdom, the only thing on our resume is the work of Christ and our faith in that. If anything is on your resume other than or in addition to the work of Christ, then you have fallen into legalism and are undermining the work of Christ. And you are trusting in a false gospel, guilty of idolatry. Doing something or not doing something and thinking it merits favor or standing before God, even good things, that is legalism.
Fight this. Christ is enough. Christ is enough. Sufficient. We need not add anything nor take anything away from the sufficiency of Christ’s offering. Trust this. Rest in this.
That will be enough for today. We will look later at what legalism is and is not and further at the danger of this …