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Spiritual Bullies (Colossians 2:16-17)

February 7, 2010

We find perfect Christian balance in Jesus Christ himself.  We are complete in Him, because in Him all fulness dwells (Col 2:9-10).  In Jesus we are holy.  In Him we will be holy and live holy.  We will be changed and different.  We will obey His Word.  We won’t be ruled by the flesh any more.  But we also are free.  We are free from the religion of human achievement.  We don’t attain spirituality by keeping lists of rules.  With live righteous lives in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free.

A group of false teachers in the Colossae region went around making people feel guilty because they didn’t keep a list of rules not found in Scripture.   To them, even if you had received Christ, you weren’t saved if you didn’t keep their pet menu of rituals and regulations and routines.  External standards are always tempting.  Unconverted phonies can conform to them, so they don’t provide a suitable basis to judge someone’s conversion.  Salvation is by grace through faith, but spiritual bullies desire to coerce others into their own criteria for spirituality, causing confusion and doubt to a church.

So Paul tells these churches at Colossae and Laodecia not to restrict themselves solely because of these false teachers that want them to cramp their lifestyles to earn their way to righteousness (v. 16).  This contradicted the sufficiency they had in Christ (vv. 9, 10).  He wasn’t, by the way, saying to them that they could do whatever they wanted.  Colossians 2 isn’t the only passage in the Bible on liberty.  There are huge chunks of text on this in Romans, 1 Corinthians, and Galatians as well.  For instance, he wasn’t requiring them to jump through the salvation hoops of the Essenes, but in other passages he does tell the church to look out for the welfare of the weaker brother.  They didn’t have liberty to sin, to be worldly, to be a stumbling block, to be a bad testimony, to let their good be evil spoken of, to disobey church leadership, or to cause disunity in the church.  But he didn’t want them to be bullied by the onerous self-serving dicta of genuine legalists.

You aren’t a Christian because you show up for church work day, men’s prayer time, and for both times of door-to-door evangelism.  You aren’t a Christian because you are a regular kneeler at the front during invitations and you shout “amen” louder than anyone else in the church.  You aren’t a Christian because you don’t go to the movie theater, don’t subscribe to Sports Illustrated, your hair doesn’t touch your ears, you don’t have a Christmas tree, and you’ve never read a Tolkien novel.  You’re a Christian only because of Jesus Christ, because of His work on Calvary, because of His resurrection, because He intercedes for you on the right hand of the Father, and because of the righteousness with which you are robed in Him.  That will all look like good works and holiness and love for God and others.  However, nothing that we can do will add anything to the fulness that is in Christ.

The problem represented by Paul’s warning in Colossians 2:16-17 can raise its ugly head in any church, but I know it to be a particular one for separatist churches.  The churches often have high, scriptural standards of holiness.  People in those churches can replace actual salvation and spirituality with the rules of the church.  Those rules don’t even exist, but they do in the minds of some.  Some church members might live a double life buoyed by their ability both to wear the Christian uniform and nitpick others who don’t wear it like they do.  Inside they hold evil thoughts and an ugly spirit.  They’ve really developed their own religious system separate from the Bible and true godliness.   This kind of culture can spread, either causing major difficulties in a church or verging on taking over.  Paul says don’t let it happen.

Don’t let spiritual bullies have their way in a church.  I know they latch hold of one thing that I say in a sermon.  I might say that I don’t eat at some restaurant because of the prominent bar and they take that as “anyone who goes there isn’t saved.”  They themselves aren’t devoted to God but they won’t go to a restaurant that maybe they don’t go to anyway, and they’ll condemn anyone  else that goes there because they haven’t kept the rules of the church.  I’ve found that they do very little to help anyone else.  They will even bully the pastor into regulating himself for fear of the campaign they might start due to his inability to keep their ways.  And yet they expect to be thought highly of because they know how to look and they keep all the regulations they know are important.  Some of those standards might be helpful, but they don’t exist as a bar for measuring spirituality.

The Lord Jesus set us free from bondage through His death.   Jesus delivered you from the captivity of Satan and his demons.  Let’s not be bullied into another type of subtle, insidious imprisonment after all that the Lord has done.

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  1. February 11, 2010 at 2:45 pm

    I have noticed the same things that you are pointing out here. The spirit of superiority afflicts separatist churches more than any other. You pointed out that those who set the superior standards often look askance at those who break that rule, saying “anyone who does x isn’t saved.” I only wish that they made it about salvation — that would be easy enough to answer. But the truth is, they most often make it about sanctification. Anyone who does x isn’t right with God. That, to me is a bigger (and more frequent) offense.

  2. preachers wife
    April 19, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    I have seen this, too, and watched as this attitude tears churches apart. The real pity is that it serves to drive people away. We have the truth, but we are to speak the truth in love. Why is that so difficult for God’s people to understand? I agree with the brother above in that it is usually not about salvation, but about sanctification. Just last week, a “dear sister” informed me that her daughter didn’t want to be with my daughter because, “our standards are higher than yours.” This family has never, not even once, entered our home and knows absolutely nothing about our standards! Of course my teen daughter was mortified and really hurt by this comment.

  3. Maggie & Ken
    October 15, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    What do you mean by a Separatist Church? A Fundamentalist Church?

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