Pastor David B. Curtis


Media #291a MP3 Audio File

Guard Your Freedom - Part 1

Colossians 2:16-17


Freedom is very important to me. I'm sure it is to you also. We defend our freedoms in many ways. If someone were to intrude upon our personal freedom in some way, we would let that person know that they were intruding and ask them to back off. If the behavior persisted, we may take stronger action, even to the point of using our legal system to assist us in guaranteeing our personal freedoms.

If someone were to physically attack our family or us, we would respond strongly, perhaps even with violent force in order to protect ourselves and the ones we love. We value our freedoms, and I believe that many of us would die to protect them.

Right now we are engaged militarily to defend our freedom as a country and to defend the rights of the world to live in freedom from the assault of terrorism.

Just as we value, defend, and guard our personal freedoms, we should guard our spiritual freedoms in Christ. The good news of the Gospel message is that we have been set free to live by the power of Christ. We have been set free from the law of sin and death and given a new life to be lived by faith through His glorious grace.

Sadly, far too many Christians are unaware of the extent of this freedom in Christ. Many live as though they were still under the Old Covenant. In our text today, Paul points to our freedom in Christ and commands us to guard it:

Colossians 2:16-17 (NKJV) So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

Have you noticed that within Christianity there is sometimes a judgmental spirit? Far too often you'll encounter a Christian who is that way. You feel like they are always looking at you and scrutinizing your behavior, comparing it to some standard that they have for you to live up to. Sometimes you hear Christians talking about other people in a very negative way, putting them down for something they did or failed to do. Sometimes you'll find an entire church like this.

This is called legalism. Legalism can be defined as a strict adherence to the law. Specifically, as it relates to faith, a legalist is one who believes that performance is the way to gain favor with God. Legalism is the human attempt to gain salvation or prove our spirituality by outward conformity to a list of religious "do's" and "don'ts." It's often disguised in Christian terms and behavior.
When Christians or churches become legalistic in their approach, they will always become judgmental in their attitude. And it is so easy for people to adopt a legalistic approach. Most of us can fall into legalism without trying to do so. Let me illustrate. Let's say that you discover a discipline that really aids you in your daily walk with Christ. It helps you so much that soon you begin to wonder why others weren't doing what you were doing. From here you begin to feel smug, because you were doing what everyone else should be doing. Do you see how subtle and sneaky legalism is? Your discipline is a good thing, but it can easily become the standard by which you judge other people's spirituality. In short, if we're not careful, we'll default to a performance-based discipleship.

Last week we had a pharisee visit BBC. Most of you didn't see him, because he came in near the end of our prayer time and left before our service started. He was here just long enough to make some condemning comments and grab a cup of coffee. He said that one of our teens was dressed inappropriately, because he had on a shirt with a design that looked like flames. After about three of four negative condemning comments, he left. Often you'll find Christians judging other Christians, because those Christians are not living up to certain standards they believe the Bible teaches. This is what Paul had in mind in our text:

Colossians 2:16 (NASB) Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day­

"Let no one act as your judge" (tis humas krineto¯) is a present active imperative forbidding us to allow others to judge us in areas of Christian liberty. Who is this command to? The Colossian believers, but secondarily to all believers. So, how do we "let no one act as our judge"? How do we stop people from acting as our judge? I think we do this by ignoring their judgement. If I allow what they say, their judgement, to affect my life, I'm allowing them to act as my judge. But on the other hand, if their judgement has no effect on me, I'm not allowing them to act as my judge. I think the only way to truly ignore those who are condemning us is to know that they are wrong. If we think they may be right or if we are uncertain, we will be affected by their judgement. But if we know they are wrong, we'll not allow their judgment to affect us. So, in order to obey this command, we must understand the truth of who we are in Christ, which takes us back to Colossians 2:9-15. Jesus put it this way:

John 8:32 (NKJV) "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."

Understanding and walking in the truth is the only way to be free.

Last summer I was on the beach at Pungo talking to a police officer about the water skiing laws. He was telling me that you had to have a spotter in order to ski. I was telling him that Virginia law states that you do not need a spotter if the person skiing has on a PFD. I had just read the Virginia laws the past week while taking a boating course. Because of this knowledge, I didn't allow this officer to put me under bondage in an area of freedom. I could pull a skier with no spotter and do it confidently. I did not let him judge me on areas of liberty.

The best defense against legalism is to remember our legal standing before God. We are complete, alive, forgiven, the law against us has been wiped out and our enemies have been destroyed:

Colossians 2:16 (NKJV) So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths,

"So" here has the idea of "therefore" as rendered by the NASB. Whenever you see the word "therefore" in the Bible, you should always ask what it's there for. This word sends us back to verse fourteen. Jesus wiped out the ordinances against us on the cross. Old Testament ritual, restrictions, and regulations were abolished on the cross, yet many Christians today hang onto them. They do not realize that Jesus met all the demands of the law on the cross.

When a legalistic person observes a Christian operating on grace, he judges him as operating on license. Spiritual bullies use the standard of self to measure others. To defend his position of legalism, he must attack those who operate on grace. The bond woman (law) always persecutes the free woman (grace; Gal. 4). Legalism always criticizes grace (Rom. 14:4). He wants to superimpose his system upon the grace believer.

The five items mentioned in verse 16 were all part of Judaism. Therefore, it is very probable that the legalistic false teachers were to some extent Jewish (i.e., advocating obedience to the Law of Moses for justification and sanctification).

Many ancient religions encouraged asceticism, so Paul is probably looking wider to all ascetic teaching. Paul's point is not to condemn abstention but to condemn it as being seen as a "requirement" or as making men somehow super-holy. If men wish to do it to honor the Lord, and find it helpful, it is up to them, as long as they do not pass judgment on others or deceive themselves by thinking that somehow it makes them superior.

The first two categories that we are not to let others judge us in are:

"food or in drink" - That food was a major consideration under the Old Covenant is clear from even a superficial reading of Leviticus, chapter 11. But, even though Leviticus, chapter 11 is regarded as the "food laws", regulations do occur here about drinks which were considered to be unclean.

So, there were certain laws in the Old Testament that God had given relative to eating and drinking. The purpose of those laws was either to create a unique situation, or to keep the people from eating something that would be harmful to them nutritionally. But the primary issue in the Old Testament was that God wanted a peculiar people. God wanted His people set apart in certain ways and from certain things. By virtue of the kind of diet God had prescribed, Israel had a hard time having relations with the peoples of the country in which they lived, because they couldn't eat together. God wanted it that way; He didn't want them to intermingle.

Christians are free from the legalistic requirements about food:

Romans 14:1-4 (NKJV) Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. 4 Who are you to judge another's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.

Notice the end of verse 3, "...for God has received him." Who is this speaking of? The believer with liberty. Of course God has received them both, but here He is speaking of the believer with liberty. Paul understands how you and I think. In our minds it seems so much more difficult for God to receive the person with so much liberty than to receive the person who is very scrupulous, strict, and regimented. This is because we are so works oriented. We have a hard time understanding grace. We look at the narrow man who is burdened with scruples, and we find it very easy to understand that God accepts him. But our text says that it is the person who enjoys his liberty that God has received. God has received them, and we are not to condemn what God has received.

1 Corinthians 8:8 (NKJV) But food does not commend us to God; for neither if we eat are we the better, nor if we do not eat are we the worse.

Do you know any believers who follow restrictions on food and drink? It has not been very long since the Catholic church relented on its restriction against eating meat on Fridays. That was an example of a diet restriction, designed to impart a religious value to life. Many Protestants give up pleasurable activities during Lent, the forty-day period preceding Easter, because they think that will improve their relationship with God. How many believers do you know that condemn the drinking of alcohol? Paul says, "Let no one act as your judge."

The second group of words that Paul uses is rendered by the NKJV as:

"...or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths."

Representing, respectively, annual, monthly, and weekly celebrations that were tied in with the Mosaic Law. This phrase is indicative of all the appointed festivals of Israel (see Leviticus 23) and is used as such in at least three different places in the Old Testament. The order is reversed in Galatians and in:

1 Chronicles 23:31 (NKJV) and at every presentation of a burnt offering to the LORD on the Sabbaths and on the New Moons and on the set feasts, by number according to the ordinance governing them, regularly before the LORD;

In Galatians 4 Paul says to the fellowships of Galatia:

Galatians 4:9-10 (NKJV) But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years.

So, obviously the observance of "days and months and season" was bondage. Paul did not want them to enter that bondage, so he exhorts them to:

Galatians 5:1 (NKJV) Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.

Let's look at these individually -"or regarding a festival" - Israel had seven feasts, three of them required all males to come to Jerusalem: Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. The first and last days of these feasts were holy days. In those days, they did no work.

Under the New Covenant era, we observe no feasts. Religious days such as Christmas, Easter, Lent, Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday are inventions of men. The Bible does not give the day the Lord Jesus was born. We commemorate the resurrection every Sunday, not just one day a year. There are always those who pay their annual respect to God on Easter. For one day a year, they get dressed up and go to Church as if this impresses God. God, nowhere in the Bible, presents this as a standard of Christianity.

"or a new moon" - For Israel the new moon was a time for special observance by offering special sacrifices. On each new moon, besides the regular burnt offering, nine other animals were offered for burnt offerings, with meat-offerings for each, besides a sin-offering. This day was celebrated by blowing trumpets, feasting, and religious instruction. There is evidence that the Gnosticism of the Lycus Valley had its systems of new moon worship as well.

Now I don't know any believers who observe the feasts, most believers don't even know what they are. Although I did run into a couple at a conference in Florida who had been involved in Armstrong's, World wide church of God, and they told me that that movement observes the feasts. I also haven't met any believers who observe the new moon celebrations. But we probably all know someone who observes the Sabbath.

"or Sabbaths" - The Bible uses "Sabbath" most commonly of the seventh day of the week - Saturday. "Sabbath" is used more broadly in the sense of a "holy convocations," or solemn assemblies. They were special Sabbaths in addition to the weekly Sabbaths.

All commentators that I read agree that the feasts and new moons are not to be observed by Christians. But when it comes to the Sabbath, there is great disagreement.

In the early part of the last century, hardly any Christians who were evangelicals would travel on a Sunday, because they were taught that Sunday was a carry-over of the Jewish Sabbath, and that it was wrong to work or travel on that day. Those of you who saw the movie "Chariots of Fire" know how strongly that view was held.

In their commentary on Colossians, JFB has this to say:

Sabbath - Omit "THE," which is not in the Greek (compare Note, see on Ga 4:10). "SABBATHS" (not "the Sabbaths") of the day of atonement and feast of tabernacles have come to an end with the Jewish services to which they belonged (Le 23:32,37-39). The weekly Sabbath rests on a more permanent foundation, having been instituted in Paradise to commemorate the completion of creation in six days.... therefore the fullness is still needed and is therefore still linked with the other nine commandments, as obligatory in the spirit...

So, according to JFB, we are still under the mandate to keep the Sabbath.

Albert Barns has this to say:

The word Sabbath in the Old Testament is applied not only to the seventh day, but to all the days of holy rest that were observed by the Hebrews, and particularly to the beginning and close of their great festivals. There is, doubtless, reference to those days in this place, since the word is used in the plural number, and the apostle does not refer particularly to the Sabbath properly so called. There is no evidence from this passage that he would teach that there was no obligation to observe any holy time, for there is not the slightest reason to believe that he meant to teach that one of the ten commandments had ceased to be binding on mankind. If he had used the word in the singular number--"the Sabbath," it would then, of course, have been clear that he meant to teach that that commandment had ceased to be binding, and that a Sabbath was no longer to be observed. But the use of the term in the plural number, and the connection, show that he had his eye on the great number of days which were observed by the Hebrews as festivals, as a part of their ceremonial and typical law, and not to the moral law, or the Ten Commandments. No part of the moral law--no one of the ten commandments could be spoken of as "a shadow of good things to come." These commandments are, from the nature of moral law, of perpetual and universal obligation.

What do you think about that? Are we bound to keep the Sabbath?

Exodus 20:9-10 (NKJV) Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the LORD your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.

You do know that the Sabbath is from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday, don't you? It's the seventh day! Sunday is the first day of the week. The law was very strict in its requirement of Sabbath observance. No fire was to be kindled and no cooking done. Violation of the Sabbath was punishable by death:

Numbers 15:32-35 (NKJV) Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. 33 And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. 34 They put him under guard, because it had not been explained what should be done to him. 35 Then the LORD said to Moses, "The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp."

How many of you did some work on Saturday? If JFB and Barns are right, you're in sin and should be put to death.

Those who say that we must observe the Sabbath today say that the Sabbath was pre-Mosaic in its origin and observance. I would tend to disagree. Not one text in all the Bible enjoins the observance of the Sabbath upon any man before the exodus, nor since Pentecost. Its first recorded observance was at the time of the giving of the manna:

Exodus 16:23 (NKJV) Then he said to them, "This is what the LORD has said: 'Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.'"

People object to this position on the ground of:

Genesis 2:3 (NKJV) Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.

But we need to remember that this text was written, not at creation, but by Moses after the Sabbath was commanded to Israel at Sinai. When God wanted to set apart a day each week for himself, he chose the seventh. "And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made." Notice that the sanctifying of the day was subsequent to the resting - "He had rested." God's resting was at creation; the setting apart of the day for men's observance was at least twenty-five hundred years after man's creation - after the exodus. This is positively stated in Deuteronomy 5:2 - 3, 12 and in:

Nehemiah 9:13-14 (NKJV) "You came down also on Mount Sinai, And spoke with them from heaven, And gave them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments. 14 You made known to them Your holy Sabbath, And commanded them precepts, statutes and laws, By the hand of Moses Your servant.

Its purpose was for a memorial or a sign to national Israel:

Exodus 31:17 (NKJV) 'It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.'"

A sign of their deliverance from Egypt and that they were the special people of God:

Deuteronomy 5:15 (NKJV) And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

It was observed in commemoration of the beginning of their nation at the exodus, as Americans observe the fourth of July for a similar purpose. It was a weekly reminder of their peculiar relation to Jehovah. When the father failed to go to the field to work on the Sabbath, he answered his little son's inquiry of, "Why?" with the explanation that it was in commemoration of God's mighty deliverance of their fathers from Egypt. Thus it always had great value as a memorial besides the physical benefit that results from resting from work on one day of the week.

The Sabbath was a type, one of the shadows of good things. It was a type or shadow of a body or substance which we obtain in Christ. The main idea of the Sabbath was physical rest. That physical rest, therefore, must have been typical of some higher rest to be found by the Christian. The strict observance of the Sabbath which God required of the Israelites, like the requirement of strict adherence to the divine pattern for the tabernacle, was because it was to typify a perfect spiritual -rest of the Christian.

Centuries before Moses, the patriarch Jacob predicted Christ's coming under the name "Shiloh," or Rest-giver (Genesis 49:10). Jesus himself said:

Matthew 11:28 (NKJV) "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

He is the rest-giver, and the rest he gives from the burden and bondage of sin is the Christian's Sabbath foreshadowed by that ancient Mosaic Sabbath. It was predicted that "his rest shall be glorious," and it truly is. That this is the true Sabbath-keeping is argued by the inspired writer to the Hebrews (4:3-11). He who ceases from his own works to obtain righteousness and trusts in the mercy of God for pardon of sin has entered the true Sabbath. The Sabbath, like the other ceremonial requirements of the law of Moses, is abolished, but the blessed spiritual-rest it prefigured remains for the people of God.

The root for "Sabbaths" means: "to cease, desist". The word came to mean a complete cessation. The idea is not relaxation or refreshment but cessation from activity. For six days God created, and on the seventh he rested. The seventh day is a commemoration of grace - God did the doing. We rest in that.

For the first three centuries of Christianity, "Sabbaths" were never confounded with the first day of the week. Those who place Christians under legalism make an artificial separation between the ceremonial and moral law. They say that the fullness has not been annulled. But it is annulled, because it was fulfilled by Christ. He is our Sabbath rest.

The Sabbath is the only one of the Ten Commands not repeated in the New Testament. Was that just an oversight by God, or do you think He meant to leave it out? The first century Christians met on Sunday, not Saturday (Acts 20:7; I Cor. 16:2).

If we were still to live under the observance of the Sabbath would Paul have said:

Romans 14:5-6 (NKJV) One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.

Believer, I repeat Paul's command, "Therefore let no one act as your judge in regard to ... a Sabbath day." Guard your freedom and enjoy your Saturdays as you see fit.

Now notice, carefully, what Paul says about these Old Testament regulations:

Colossians 2:17 (NKJV) which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

The whole Levitical system was a shadow of Christ, illustrating His person and work that was to come. Jesus Himself testified to the fact that the Old Testament pointed to Him in:

John 5:39-40 (NKJV) "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 "But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.

What we need to realize is that the Old Testament Law is a shadow (that is, a "type" or an "illustration") of who the Christ was to be and what His death, burial, resurrection and ascension were to achieve for all mankind. It's not that the Law was a dreamed up series of statutes that were cunningly put together to project an image that the Israelites wanted to see, but that the Law was given, as the Scriptures say, to a real people to be observed but, also, that they were given by God Himself to shadow the life and work of the One who was to come. The animal sacrifices were an illustration of his sacrificial death. They were not the reality of his death. Shadow, however, always reveals that there is reality somewhere.

When I was in the Navy, I was returning from a cruise which lasted several months. Cathy was there to meet me and pick me up. As I walked off the gang way, I saw Cathy coming towards me with the sun shining brightly behind her. As she got closer to me, she began running and extending her arms towards me. I prepared myself to receive her, but much to my surprise, she ran right past me. She threw herself down on the ground and began kissing and hugging my shadow. Now Cathy would obviously be out of her mind to do something like that, but sadly there are many who do exactly that when it comes to Christ!

Notice what he says, the law is a "shadow of the good things to come" - the word "come" is from the Greek word mello, which means: (in the infinitive) "to be about to", and "be on the point of". The "good things", which refers to the full consummation of the New Covenant, were "about to" come. They were "about to come" at A.D. 70, but at the point of this writing, they had not yet come.

Hebrews 8:13 (NKJV) In that He says, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

Notice that the text says, " becoming obsolete .. ready to vanish away." Is that speaking to us? NO! This is written to the first century Hebrew believers. As of A.D. 65, the Old Covenant had not yet become obsolete, but it was about to.

Most people reading the New Testament violate the basic hermeneutical principle of audience relevance, which seeks to discover what the original readers understood a passage to mean. The concern of the evangelical interpreter is to understand the passage in light of the historical circumstances and context of the original audience. The good things were "about to come" - they had not yet been consummated. What was future to them is 2000 year old history to us.

Colossians 2:17 (NKJV) which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

Paul closes this verse by saying, "but the substance is of Christ." There may be a deliberate play upon words to not only state that the reality of the shadows belong to Christ, but that the reality is found in the Church, the body of Christ. The Greek word used here for "substance" is soma, which is the regular word for "body." All the ceremony of the Old Testament, the legalistic system, the Aaronic priesthood, the tabernacle with its furnishings and ritual all pointed forward to Christ. They were pictures and parables of Christ.

It is very difficult to get the message of grace through to religious people. They feel they must make a contribution to their salvation. To come to grips with the fact that only Jesus can satisfy an absolutely holy God is a humbling experience. Before we can accept what God does for us, we have to stop doing the doing:

Romans 4:5 (NKJV) But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,

It is imperative to turn from good works, the law, morality, religion, the Ten Commandments to become a Christian. God provides all that we need for salvation in the death of Christ. When we believe that promise, we become a Christian.

The Pharisees are alive and well today, and if they can they will judge your every action. They will judge your spirituality by what you do externally. You'll hear them say things like, "I don't believe those people are Christians. They don't come to prayer meetings. The true church prays." Or you may hear them say, "How can he be a Christian, he smokes?" "I don't know if he is a Christian, I saw him with a can of beer." The problem with that kind of evaluation is this: Somebody who isn't a Christian can live up to their standards. Paul says, "Look, spirituality is not a matter of external ritual, but a matter of an internal relationship with Jesus Christ. Don't let anybody intimidate you based on what you do or don't do in order to determine if you are spiritual or not."

We live now by the New Covenant, which means we live by an utter dependence upon our relationship to Christ, not upon rules and regulations. We have been set free to live for Christ.

Many Christians don't understand that. They are still trying to live by the rules and regulations. And some people get pretty upset when you preach that we are not to live by rules and regulations because they think, if you do, people are going to go out and live like the devil. They think that you have to put laws on people to restrain them. But here we are talking about a relationship that is spiritual in nature and enables us to live by a higher principle of life. We've been set free to live for Christ. We are free to do anything and everything that we can do in Christ. So, don't let the Pharisee spirit of some judge you by their so-called righteousness. We have been set free from the judgmental spirit of legalism. Therefore, let no man act as your judge.

Continue the Series

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