Don’t let anyone fool you by acting like an umpire and trying to disqualify you for not looking holy enough. Such people will go on and on about the visions they’ve had; their sinful minds have made them proud, and they are not connected with Jesus Christ, the Source of Life, whose very breath and blood flow through us. He is the Head and we are the body. We can grow up healthy in God only as he nourishes us.
I’m an American citizen by birth, but I was born in Canada. I get my American citizenship through my mother, who lived most of her early life in North Carolina. I’ve technically been an American for as long as I’ve been alive, even though I only bothered to get a social security number and a passport about five years ago when my family and I moved stateside.
I’m an American citizen, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
Thing is, because I was born in another country, I often get advice about what it means to be truly American. Don’t get me wrong, this advice isn’t mean-spirited or nasty or anything, but the assumption is if I was a real American I’d do some things differently.
Real Americans hang a flag off their front porch. Real Americans own, if not wear, at least two articles of red, white, and blue clothing (though, anything depicting a ferocious eagle – typically on a trucker hat or sleeveless shirt…and possibly Bermuda shorts – can act as an acceptable substitute). Real Americans don’t really criticize the government, or the school system, or the economy. They might be critical, but they would never “cross the line.” Real Americans aren’t interested in socialized medicine or education, because all that stuff is for Scandinavians and communists. It’s weird. I love the States. Right now, with our President sending over 100,000 troops to help in a Haitian Earthquake relief effort, I’m truly proud of our country and what we stand for. I’ve been all over the world, and I can tell you honestly that Americans are the most hospitable, unpretentious, honest people on the face of the earth. I’m proud of that too. Unlike other nationalities, Americans genuinely take an interest in where you’re from and what you like. That’s cool. I think we’ve got a pretty darn good country, and I chose to live here because of it.
But for some folks, I’ll never really be American until I put on my six shooter and ride a tumbleweed into Hazard county.
When Paul wrote this letter to the church in Colosse there were a lot of people telling the Christians there that they weren’t real Christians unless they followed the Old Testament Laws as well as Jesus Christ. These jokers, presumably to try and earn extra credit with God, decided that real Christians should go one step further than Christ requires us to and observe the best of both Covenants.
At first, this sounds admirable. After all, why wouldn’t God want people to try super-duper-extra hard to live good lives?
Well, I imagine the way it feels to God is sort of like Him giving you a present and then you going out and buying the same present for yourself, just to show Him you don’t want to take His gift for granted.
It sounds cool, but that would really irritate someone don’t you think? Even worse, it’s kind of like the time my wife bought me a shirt for my birthday. I’d seen it at the store and told her I liked it. When my birthday came, it was neatly wrapped. I wore it to the store the next day to buy it in two other colors. That angered her.
Of course these silly little examples don’t do justice to the fact that these people were undermining the very means of our salvation and the very meaning of Christ’s sacrificial death. They thought they could improve upon God’s plan.
Paul warns the Colossians about this, telling them not to let others disqualify their salvation. The word he uses here is the Greek word katabrabeuo, which was used in the Grecian games when someone who clearly won a match was not awarded the prize because of deceit, trickery, or fraud.
Paul thinks the people who try to follow extra laws in addition to following Christ are tricksters, liars, and frauds. If you let others tell you about all the stuff you’re supposed to do that’s not in the Bible, then you’re a fool and have been duped by a bunch of holy-posturing hucksters.
Anyway, the group at Colosse were advocating the observance of the Old Testament Law. The Law is a term for the Ten Commandments (cf. Exodus 20), the Pentateuch (first five books of the Bible), and the legal code spelled out in chapters 5-30 of Deuteronomy and in the whole book of Leviticus. The Law told God’s people how He wanted them to live, which separated them from the way their neighboring countries lived. Paul, however, has instructed the Christians that they are no longer under the Law – no longer responsible for following that old legal code. He graphically describes the Law as being nailed to the cross with Christ and being put to death (cf. Colossians 2.14).
Instead of the Law, Christians now find life and joy and salvation in the free gift of God’s grace – the open invitation to the world to be (re)united with God through Christ Jesus. This grace comes only through Jesus (1 Corinthians 1.4; 2 Timothy 1.9), and it is sufficient to undo all the effects of sin (2 Corinthians 12.9) demonstrated by the “redemption through his blood” and “forgiveness of sins” (Ephesians 1.7). It is this grace by which we are justified (Titus 3.7) and saved (Ephesians 2.8).
Because God’s grace is a free gift, those who try and earn it – or, worse, improve upon it – shouldn’t be congratulated for their holiness. They should be ashamed of their pride. Ironically, by trying to earn their salvation and diminish the power of sin in their lives through their own efforts, they have instead increased the power of sin – the sin of pride, of self-righteousness, of self-sufficiency, of placing themselves and their values above God and God’s plan to restore a broken humanity – through their own busy-body-ness.
To bring the Colossian church back to ground zero, so to speak, Paul reminds them that the only thing that matters is Christ – “He is the Head and we are the body…we can grow up healthy in God only as he nourishes us” (Colossians 2.19).
Christ not only saves us from the just punishment of our sins, but he also ennobles and enables us to live lives of righteousness.
If you are really a Christian, you’ve really got to know this.
Dr. David McDonald is the teaching pastor at Westwinds Community Church in Jackson, MI. The church, widely considered among the most innovative in America, has been featured on CNN.com and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Time Magazine. David weaves deep theological truths with sharp social analysis and peculiar observations on pop culture. He lives in Jackson with his wife, Carmel, and their two kids. Follow him on twitter (@fossores) or online at fossores.com