Our relationship with God is dependent on one thing, Jesus. The work that Jesus did on the cross to reconcile us to God is the only thing we need.
Anyone who tries to tell you that your relationship with God is dependent on what you eat or drink or experience or do is full of it, and if you believe them, you’re settling for less than the freedom that is found in following Jesus.
Have you ever settled for something less than the best and then regretted it later?
Have a volunteer read Colossians 2:6-8.
In this passage Paul warns us against trusting things other than Jesus as the foundation of our lives. The idea is that Jesus’ work on the cross and his message of love and reconciliation is the only thing that we can count on if we want an abundant life.
The abundant life is not about material wealth or freedom from pain but rather experiencing the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control—in every situation, even the difficult ones.
All of us struggle with keeping Jesus at the center. We have an inborn tendency to base our lives on something other than Jesus or perhaps on Jesus + something. What else are you tempted to base your life on?
Have a volunteer read Colossians 2:16-23.
In this passage Paul expounds on some of the things beside Jesus that people rely on, and they’re remarkably similar to things that people rely on today.
The first thing Paul mentions is the special diet plan. He says do not let people judge you by what you eat or drink. And we still do this, don’t we? Vegetarians look at meat eaters with disdain,and meat eaters look at vegetarians with disdain. Those who drink alcohol call those who don’t prudes, and those who don’t drink call those who do sinners.
Do you judge others based on their choices about what to eat and drink? Or have you ever been judged because of these choices? Why do you think people judge others in this way?
Next Paul talks about religious holidays and festivals. People used to—and still do—judge others’ faith by when they worship God. Some think religious activity has to happen on a particular day of the week.
And people often judged—and still judge—others’ faith by how they worship and pursue God. They insist on one form of prayer, style of music, type of preaching, method of Bible study, type of church service, etc.
Traditions can help point us towards God. There’s something powerful about repeating a creed or singing a song that Christians have used for centuries.
But when a tradition moves from being something that helps point us towards God to a non-negotiable that we use to rank others’ faith or to bring division, now we’ve lost the freedom we found in Christ because we’ve started basing our faith on Jesus + something else.
And lest we in a more modern church think we’re beyond this, remember that it’s no better for people who prefer modern forms of worship to judge those who prefer traditional ones than it is for the traditionalists to judge the moderns. It’s possible to be just as stuck in new rituals and traditions as it is to be stuck in old ones.
If you grew up going to church, were there any traditions that had ceased being helpful in pointing people towards God?
Are there any traditions that you have found beneficial to your faith?
Do you ever find yourself judging others based on their preferred methods of pursuing God?
Paul then tackles supernatural experiences, and make no mistake, supernatural experiences are very real things. A God that is limited to the ordinary is no God at all.
A supernatural experience can be everything from feeling a prompting from the Holy Spirit to hearing God speak to being visited by an angel or having a vision. These experiences are meant to serve to encourage, exhort, war, build up, instruct, or enhance our faith. They’re not meant to be a source of pride or boasting or superiority.
Have you ever had a supernatural experience? Do you have an idea of why you might have had it?
Have you ever encountered someone who used a spiritual experience (whether real or imagined) to elevate themselves above others or perhaps even control them?
And finally, Paul addresses legalism, the idea that Jesus + following rules is the foundation for our faith.
Gene humorously described a legalist as a person who is afraid that someone, somewhere, somehow is having a good time.
Legalists are the spiritual descendants of the Pharisees, a group of well-meaning people who knew the Scriptures better than anyone else but whose hearts became hard. They made following the rules they had made up more important than loving others.
Maybe you’ve experienced legalism. It might have even been the thing that kept you out of church for awhile. You know legalism: no drinking, no dancing, no gambling, no rock music, no R-rated movies, and heaven forbid that you skipped church to get ready for a super bowl party. That could send you straight to hell!
Have you ever known someone who was legalistic? You might even be a recovering legalist yourself. What impact did legalism have on that person? How did it impact those around them?
Take some time to make a list of the things that you find yourself relying on other than Jesus. Maybe some of them we’ve talked about here: food and drink, religious traditions, supernatural experiences, or legalism. Or maybe you place your faith in your job, your financial state, or even the place you serve at church.
Once you’ve identified those things that you add to Jesus, ask God to help you rely on Jesus instead of them, and make a plan to begin rooting them out of your life.
Finally, share your plan with a close friend so that they can help you on this journey.