Why Religion is Dangerous
Colossians 2: 11-23
Proposition: The spirit of man apart from Christ is not sick, it’s dead and the desire of that deadness is to come to God on man’s terms…that’s the danger of religion it promotes that approach to righteousness.
Introduction: So how religious would other people say you are? You don’t swear, you do read your Bible; you don’t drink, you do pray; you don’t wear revealing clothing, you do dress modestly; you don’t put just spare change in the offering, you do tithe 10%; you don’t read horoscopes, you do read prophesy; you don’t watch sports on Sunday, you do come to church; you don’t smoke, you do communion; you don’t watch pornography, you do watch 100 Huntley Street. I think that sometimes people use these kinds of comparisons to describe what it means to be religious. The great danger behind all religion is that it misses two important things: 1. It misses the fact that the spirit of man apart from faith in Jesus Christ is not just sick, it’s dead. That means that I can only see things through my understanding of good and evil, right and wrong… I can’t see what God sees, especially the depth and danger of my own sin nature. 2. It misses the fact that because I can’t see what God sees I am drawn to make up my own rules as to what it takes to be a good person, I create my own standard and methods to being righteous before God. The great danger of religion for Christians is that it blurs what Christ did with what I do or don’t do. It mistakes the way of salvation with the way of sanctification. In other words it mistakes the way that you became a Christian with what I need to do now to grow as a Christian. Have a look at this short You tube that helps to amplify this same thought: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAhDGYlpqY
So when Paul is writing to the Colossians this is exactly what he has in mind, Religion is dangerous, Christ isn’t. Christ saves, Religion doesn’t. Have a look at Colossians 2:11-23.
I. What I Needed to Do For God vs. What God Needed to Do For Me.
No longer was surgical circumcision the mark of the spiritual man, now it is the mark of a heart set on Jesus, a life that has cut off (circumcised) the excess of self glory. He calls it “putting off the body of the sins of the flesh”. That “body of the sins of the flesh” I’m thinking is rather huge in each of us. How do we change once we become Christians, how much can we try to follow the path of religion? It can be so daunting that some people realize that if they do become Christians then what they will have to give up will be too great, so they resist Christ. What they are looking at are all the demands of religion, all the things they will need to do for God. Here’s the kicker, what accomplishes that change in us is called, “the circumcision of Christ”, it’s not what I needed to do for God but what God needed to do for me. God, and only God, can make a dead spirit in us come to life. God, only God, can cause His Holy Spirit to come inside our being and make us spiritually alive. I see for the first time that sin exists in me and that it infects every area of my thinking and actions. Now I see that Jesus came and died on the cross and rose again that not only would I see the existence of my sin but that I would also see the barrier it creates between me and God. I see for the first time that Jesus asked God to place the barrier of the sin upon Him and that the right standing He had with the Father would be endowed upon me. All this is what God needed to do for me because I could never get there by myself. So Paul now says that in essence Baptism has replaced Circumcision as the mark of a person whose heart now belongs to God. It’s baptism that acknowledges the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It personalizes it by saying the old sin nature in me has been put to death by Christ, it no longer has rule over me. I have been buried with Him, meaning my old life is done. There’s a new life to begin. I have been raised up with Him, the very power of God that over came death in Jesus is now active in me enabling me to overcome to the point of new life. So did religion accomplish all this? Not at all, it was never about what I could do for God, it was always about what God needed to do for me if I was ever to be alive in Christ. That’s what Paul wanted the Colossian church to see, it’s Christ that saves, not religion.
II. What I Am Entitled To vs. What I Deserve.
A recent magazine article held an interesting observation. It said that your sense of entitlement affects how you perceive the passage of time. If you’re standing in a grocery line up at the store and the clerk is slow, the feeling of being entitled to better service makes the time seem even longer than it is. Alternatively, if you were waiting to see the Premier of Alberta and she kept you waiting for ten minutes that wouldn’t feel as long because there was this sense that her seeing you was a special occasion, something you were not entitled to. The bottom line seems to be that there are times when we all feel we are entitled to something, when we have a right to expect it. I wonder if sometimes religion has a way of generating that sense of entitlement. We are entitled to good worship or stirring sermons or great child care as part of what it means to attend a church. What if we turn the dial up and consider what the entitlements are when it comes to God. For instance are there times when you would accuse God of not being fair? God’s not fair because you didn’t get what you’d expected, it’s what you were entitled to.
Consider what Paul says in Col 2:13, “And you, being dead in your trespasses and the un-circumcision of your flesh…”. He’s saying that because of our sin nature and dead spirit we overstepped the boundary, we trespassed against God. It would be like we went into His backyard and used His BBQ, went into His house and used His clothes, we took His wife and violated her and then we killed His Son. We trespassed in the deepest way because of sin and then scoffed at the judge. Metaphorically speaking that is where we were before we came to Christ. Entitlement enticed me to expect a free lunch but what I deserved was death.
I deserve death because of sin, it’s hard to even say that isn’t it. But in response to that truth Paul says that God applies grace, magnificent grace and He does so in three ways:
1. He forgives me for all my trespasses. The Father does that by applying the debt of my trespass to Christ. It’s not that He just says, “Oh let bygones be bygones”, that’s not justice. Forgiveness requires justice, Jesus paid for all my trespasses in His flesh and with His life.
2. He nails the requirements of the Law to the cross, “having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” Religion is all about Law, it’s why when we see it in an extreme form we call it “legalism”. If you can satisfy all the requirements then you will be found just, but the problem is we can’t because of our sin nature. We can’t justify ourselves. The penalty for breaking God’s Law, was the forfeiting of life. Without the shedding of blood there was no forgiveness of sin. Jesus came to forfeit His life, a sinless life, for us. We no longer need to try to measure up, Jesus measures up and we are with Him, in Him. All the demands of the Law are met in Christ, hence the Law has no condemnation for us.
3. He disarms my accusers. It was at the cross and ascension of Jesus that all powers and principalities were broken. Ephesians 1:20, 21 talks about how Jesus was seated at the right hand of the Father after the ascension and how He was recognized as above all principality and power. John 12:31 speaks of this same defeat of Satan’s rule. What this means is the accuser has been disarmed at the cross and even dismissed from heaven at the ascension of Christ.
By grace we are forgiven our debt of sin, released from the condemnation of the Law and freed from the grip of our oppressor. All this we have received as a gift in Christ. None of this have we earned.
In Christ we are good enough in every way to God because Jesus is Enough! It’s why Paul now says don’t let anyone try to judge you by what food you eat or drink, festivals or Sabbaths you keep or don’t keep. It’s not what you do as a Christian or how well you do it that counts as far as salvation is concerned, it’s Christ and your relationship to Him. If that’s in place all other aspects of Christian growth will begin to evidence themselves. Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating a cheap grace that means once you are saved you now get to do what ever you want because you have ‘fire insurance’. Not at all, God has a very real and just expectation that we would grow in grace. In the next two chapters Paul gets very specific in who we ought to be as people who want to grow in Christ. His main point, Christ saves, religion kills, because it trys to remind me I am not good enough. In Christ, you are more than that, you are the very family of God.