Why Christianity isn’t about what you do

Do you sometimes think and act as if God is only concerned about whether you keep rules? In this article you’ll learn why Christianity isn’t concerned about what you do or do not do, and what it is concerned about instead. Listen to this message below.

Often when people become Christians, they demonstrate a simplicity in the way they live and in their actions. Over time, however, most Christians revert to an externally religious life. We tend to live lives that resembles those we spend time with, and go to church with. In other words, it is easy to get stuck conforming to external expectations and unwritten or semi-sanctioned rules.

In Colossians 2:20-3:2, Paul is trying to tell the Colossians that this approach to religion is worthless. He does this by contrasting the way these rules work with the way a Christian is to live. Scholars continue to discuss where these religious ideas had come from and how they got into Colossae, but Paul isn’t focused on their origin as much as their principle.

Recently, I preached on this passage (listen to the sermon below). As I prepared, I focused on four realities of Christian living.

The reality of having died to the world

Paul assumes that the Colossian believers died with Christ. The identification of the believer with Christ in His death is both an objective truth – something God did to us, in which the death Christ died, we also share in regardless of our experiences. On the other hand it is something that we are also to subjectively recognize and live out. This is Paul’s point here – that if they died with Christ, then the fullness of this death means that they are dead to the world and its rules and expectations.

It is easy to get stuck conforming to external expectations and unwritten or semi-sanctioned rules. Such rules are only good for empty religion. Click To Tweet

The difficulty of living in the world

The problem is, that we still live in the world, and therefore, we easily succumb to the influence the world and its mandates. These mandates and expectations are not merely “out there,” they are embedded into every social community we’re involved in, including the family, society at large, the workplace and even the church. By recognizing that these social groups influence us, we are able to see that it is difficult to live in this world without being influenced in some way by these societies.

The futility of living like the world

In Colossians 2:22-23, Paul makes his main point. The world’s religion deals with externals.

At this point, I suggested a different translation than what is found in most English translations. If you’re interested in the reasons behind my translation see below, but a smooth version of the translation reads:

“all of which assumes corruption by usage.”

The problem with a rules based externally oriented religion is that it rests on faulty assumptions about the world we live in.

The assumption of worldly religion

Worldly religion tends to assume:

  • Man is basically good – i.e. there is something good in man that we need to protect from corruption
  • Corruption comes from outside of us – i.e. the world, engaging in the world, etc
  • Restraining ourselves from evil is a means of acceptance with God – i.e. if don’t do bad things, we will go to heaven

For example, some Christians say we shouldn’t watch movies or read books. Such ideas are not entirely wrong, but they are simplistic and they fall into the trap above. These things come from other corrupted people, hence there is corruption inherent in them. However, we share in that corruption. Our own corruption is what draws us to evil, and corrupts us further.

What our rules really say about us

The trap is that by focusing on what we do or do not do, we are assuming corruption comes from outside us. But the Bible teaches clearly that corruption comes from the heart (Mark 7:21-23). Paul Affirms that such rules appear to be wise or reasonable, but that they are pointless when it comes to restraining the flesh. In other words, they look good (to others in the same trap), but don’t help us grow.

Some Christians say we shouldn't watch movies or read books. Such ideas are not entirely wrong, but they are simplistic and they fall into a worldview trap Click To Tweet

The simplicity of living in Christ

In Colossians 3:1-2, Paul contrasts this with the life we are to live “if you have been raised with Christ.” He is working from the position that in Christ we are new creatures and function on the basis of a new principle. He isn’t against something to guide us (i.e. he isn’t suggesting antinomianism is the answer). Instead he’s pointing the Colossians and us back to the work of Christ within us, mediated by the Holy Spirit.

As we are conformed to His character, we will enjoy increasing freedom from rules, and from sin. Click To Tweet

How Christ in us helps

In believers, we have the desires of the Spirit. These desires should drive us to seek what is above. In other words, Paul is directing the Colossians to consider what they really want and then to seek it. The things above are what he assumes they want, and what all Christians want. By this he means the reign of Christ on earth, the rule of God over our hearts, and submission to God as rightful king so that He is glorified.

He also instructions them to think the things above. By this, He doesn’t mean thinking about the things above. He is more concerned with the way they think. Christians are to think the way God calls them to think. Believing what He says, considering the world the way His word considers it and allowing right thinking to change the rest of us (Rom 12:2).

Conclusion

We are not to focus on the expectations and rules (unspoken or not) of others to determine what we do. We are to be led by the Holy Spirit and grow in our understanding of His desires through His Word. As we work with the Holy Spirit to become conformed to His character, we will enjoy increasing freedom from rules, and from sin.

Listen to the Sermon

Listen to the sermon I preached on this passage, and from which I’ve drawn this outline below.

Do you think Christians are free from rules? Leave a comment below.

3 Reasons for my different translation in 2:22

If you’re interested in the reasons for my translation of verse 22 as “all of which assume corruption by usage,” here is my reasoning. The parts of my translation I don’t explain here (e.g. the instrumental use of τῇ ἀποχρήσει – by usage) are well attested by commentators. My main reasons are:

  • Of the 8 times we find the Greek word φθορά, “perish,” it almost always has the meaning of corruption or deterioration. See Rom 8:21, 1 Cor 15:42, 50, Gal 6:8, 2 Peter 1:4, 2 Peter 2:19. The only possible exception is the first usage of 2 Peter 2:12.
  • The word φθορά is a noun and not a verb, so to translate it as a verb form is incorrect. Hence “to perish” or even “to corrupt” is a verbal form, rather than a noun form.
  • Third, several translations (e.g. NASB) translate the preposition εἰς, instrumentally as a goal. However, there is no reason why we should not translate this as a reference, as the ESV takes it.

This leaves us with a wooden translation of “which is all in reference to corruption by usage.” Smoothing out the εἰς preposition, we get something like “all of which assumes (or infers) corruption by usage.”