Christ will not pressurise you

Are you trying to be a better person today?

It is exhausting isn’t it?!

People near to you can pressure you to work hard at your image and your lifestyle. They want you to be a certain person for your own good, for society, for them!

Some of those things that they ask you to do may not be bad in themselves. But the reason why you agree to them is very important.

This is the Colossians problem.

The Apostle writes, “Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.” (Colossians 2 v 20-22)

Man’s religious rules and expectations for your life may appear that they are to make you a better person and that is why many become trapped by them.

However, ask yourself, is this bringing me nearer to Christ?

Is this making me look more like Christ?

When I died with Christ I gave up the need to prove myself to anyone, so why start now?

The asceticism that focuses on what we are giving up (Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch) rather than why or who we are giving them up for, is pointless.

Paul is not saying religious rules are wrong. We do need disciplines. But he is saying that if it is not flowing out of our relationship with Christ then they are useless.

Those who set such rules know nothing of what it means to die with Christ and to have laid down all our feeble efforts in this life to be someone and achieve something.

So before you agree to a DO NOT ask yourself WHY NOT?

Christ is enough

( )

Before I begin, I do believe in humility but not so that it gives an inaccurate view of the person’s ability (whether that be over or underestimated).

I do believe in angels but not so that I occupy myself thinking about them and wondering if they will be involved with my life today.

I do believe in the experience of seeing things that others haven’t in terms of visions but not so that others will think of the one having visions as someone special and to be adorned with fame or money.

The Apostle is into the nitty gritty of the Colossian problem. Is Christ enough?

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. (Colossians 2 v 18-19)

During this pandemic when Christians have not gathered in their buildings it has exposed something which we have held to as very important: the experience.

  • Before the pandemic one minister told me how a member met him at the door to say goodbye and said “we are not feeling God in this place anymore.”
  • Many years ago a member in my Church would stand with her hands in the air lost in wonder and praise and then without moving the position of her hands would look around the congregation (I still don’t know whether she was being nosy or wanting people to look at her).
  • When members of my church began to be ‘slain in the Spirit’ (an uncomfortable term!) others would come forward for prayer asking not for anything else except that all blockage be removed so that they could also be slain and experience what their friends were having.
  • In the 90’s I was privileged to attend a conference in Toronto and experience the Toronto Blessing. Afterwards in comparing notes with friends who were with me or had been before the big question was did the Arnotts pray for you (these were the Pastors).I remember feeling the pressure to say yes in order to fit in. I didn’t. I told them of a very small grandmother figure who prayed for me but that I did indeed meet with God.

Why do I mention all this? It is because during this pandemic what has been dented in Church the most is not the finances, the attendance figures, the fellowship but the supernatural experience/feelings of God, especially if that was an important part of going to Church prior to this.

I am not saying we should not have them. Of course not!

But as we have been told many times for many years: it is His face not His hands we seek. Who He is and not what He gives are more important than anything.

The Church has been and stripped back and maybe that is a good thing.

For Paul he could see the dangers, “they are puffed up”.

The Church doesn’t need to declare how good it is or build their ministries. A Church who is trying to attract people (especially Christians) by an experience or some supernatural activity has lost its mission. The Church needs to reach the lost.

And importantly: the Church needs to keep connected to Christ by faith. There is nothing else whether some activity or experience that will bring the necessary growth and discipleship than basing our whole lives on a walk with Jesus Christ. He is enough.

Christ’s rules

A friend once told me how he and his wife were celebrating their anniversary in a hotel they had booked for one night. They were enjoying their meal in the restaurant which involved a very nice wine. They were not big drinkers by any stretch of the imagination but nevertheless they were secret drinkers for the vast majority of their friends were teetotal and viewed alcohol as demon-drink. The couple were enjoying their evening when all of a sudden my friend spotted 2 couples that they knew come into the same hotel restaurant. They only had a split second to decide what to do so my friend said to his wife to do what he did and follow him. He gulped down all the wine and hid the bottle out of sight. They then very quietly tip-toed and walked down the side of the bar and out of the restaurant back to their room. No one saw them. However, because he stood up so quickly and was rushing, the wine seemed to have had a bit of an effect and instead of walking past the bar he had to rest his arm on it to stop the dizziness and slid the whole length creating quite a comical scene! The picture he had created was far worse than the scene if his friends had seen him have a glass of wine in his hands. However, for him, it was worth the risk rather than face the wrath of the judging panel.

Do you fear what people think of you?

After telling the Colossian Church who Christ is and what He has done for them he then brings application and gives us a little insight into their challenges.

“Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” Colossians 2 v 16-17)

Clearly Paul is saying don’t let the opinions of people disturb you or threaten you.

The first century Christians were Jews who started to leave behind some of the Jewish religious laws to do with what was clean and unclean to eat and drink.

Paul is not afraid to help the Church in these matters and in 1 Corinthians 8 spends quite a lot of time explaining that Christians are free from these rules but they must be careful to try not to offend others.

The Colossian challenge seemingly was that false-teachers were impacting the Church with demands that the Christians not only watched what they ate and drank but at the special festivals and the Sabbath that they do not appear joyful and celebratory.

Joy-killers are in every generation!

The Apostle in many places is keen to stress self-discipline and control. To enter a period of fasting is good for the body and our spirit. However, Paul tells them not to listen to those who want to deny and forbid you so that you can be seen to be a more righteous person. These rules that they have known are a shadow of what they have now in Christ. The fullness of Christ is theirs. They don’t need to prove to anyone through ascetic practices that they belong. So don’t fear the opinion of others.

Christ’s benefits

Paul has been speaking of their relationship with Christ: continue to live your lives in him,” (v6); “built up in him” (v7); “For in Christ” (v9); “and in Christ” (v10); “In him” (v11); “having been buried with him” (v12).

Being ‘in love’ doesn’t mean you have stopped being who you are. But you are united with that person in a way like no other relationship you have. It is so deep and so powerful that they occupy your mind continually and everything you do is filtered through your thoughts of them.

Even more so with regards our relationship with Christ.

Paul’s ‘in Christ’ and ‘in him’ reveal the benefits of Christ’s life and death flow into our lives. How does that impact our lives? Here is what he says:

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Colossians 2:13-15)

We are forgiven and we are free.

The fact that we are forgiven means we do not owe God. We don’t have to work hard to please Him. We don’t have to prove we are good enough. Neither do we have to pretend. We do not have to listen to those who want to give us their rules in order to be accepted.

We are in Christ and we are forgiven.

The fact that we are freed means we no longer live defeated. A successful life is not based on what we can achieve but to live in the victory that Christ has already won. It is to live knowing the cross was powerful enough to strip away every ‘power’ that held us back.

We are in Christ and we are free.

People are going in to their day today with a variety of battles. Nigeria is in the news for the battles on the streets. Yesterday at our denominations conference I prayed for the spouses of our ministers who have died this year and how they face their daily battles of loss and adjustment. I have a friend who is going to hospital today for an operation, it is her battle. Many people will face battles. Friends will part company today and face battles of loneliness.

But there is another battle. The battle of being in union with Christ.

It is very easy to feel overwhelmed by past failures. Regrets and wanting to turn the clock back are torture for the mind. It is very easy to be held captive to other people’s demands because of insignificance and lack of ability to be the person you want to be.

When it all becomes too much lift up your eyes to Christ. See what He has done. Know the intimacy of your love relationship with Him. Declare and hold on to the victory that He has gained. Be forgiven and be free.

Christ’s Circumcision

There is nothing you can do to cause you to be saved, not one thing, it is total grace. Not one performance, not one sin-free day, not one commandment or act of purity or sacrificial giving, nothing. Get rid of the whole notion.

The Apostle begins to reveal what the problem was with the Colossian Church. They were being threatened with the devaluing of who Christ is and what He has done.

In our next couple of verses Paul writes, In him you were also circumcised with a circumcision not performed by human hands. Your whole self ruled by the fleshwas put off when you were circumcised by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through your faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.” (Colossians 2: 11-12)

Circumcision is so important to the Jew. In fact it is the rite of passage. It is easy to imagine Jewish teachers imposing this requirement on a fledgling Church of new believers.

In short Paul is saying, “You were once spiritually dead but now you have been made alive by Christ who has performed a circumcision without hands on your hearts which were sinful. That has happened through the passage of your faith in Him and it is expressed through baptism to the world.”

Baptism hasn’t replaced circumcision. It is not the outward sign of belonging to God nor is the Lord’s Supper or witnessing or church attendance etc. These are never enough. There is always more things that are needed. Don’t be friends with Pharisees because you will lose the one thing that is of all importance, grace.

Moses called for people to circumcise their hearts. Jeremiah called for people to circumcise their hearts before the Lord. Paul would later say that circumcision is one done by the Spirit (Romans 2).

I have found the cut of my heart continually happen throughout my life and so have you. Sometimes the pain of circumstances are used to make the cut and sometimes it is the pain of conviction.

It will mark a new day, a new journey, a new direction, this is a moment of change, you will never be the same again and all that sounds wonderfully exciting, but it begins with a cut. It hurts.

I don’t have to do one thing to prove to anyone what Christ has done for me or who I am in Him. He has my heart and He continues to circumcise it.

Christ in focus

There are many mornings when I don’t jump out of bed with a spring in my step ready to face the world. I get my coffee, shuffle to my desk and am a perfect illustration of a rainy day. I open the Bible and I hope something is going to change in me before the day truly begins.

The battle can begin even before I have met anyone. The battle inside me.

I remember Rick Warren’s 4 setbacks that can cause discouragement: Fatigue caused by things taking longer to happen; Frustration caused by things being more complex than you first thought; Failure caused by doubting who I am; Fear caused by what is opposing you. When all the F’s collide then you know it’s going to be a bad day!

That is my testimony this morning. I share it because it might help someone. Here is what I then discovered as I continue to blog through Colossians.

“For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” (Colossians 2 v 9-10)

The letter to the Colossians is one of helping them stand against heresy. In the verses we will read in the coming days we will see more of these heresies. Though it is difficult to know fully who these heretical infiltrators were what we do know is that they were not trying to pull them away from church. They were not denying the existence of Christ but they were denying the adequacy of Christ. Christians needed more to be saved than what Christ has done and given.

I must remember who Christ is.

The battle in our lives is lost when my eyes are on me.

I must remember who Jesus is. That is where I win the battle.

God is not in Christ. Christ doesn’t just look like God. Christ isn’t God’s agent on earth.

Christ is God. Deity in humanity. In utter completeness. With total authority over anything.

I don’t need to go anyway else than to Christ for anything that I need in life.

I can know that everything I face and whatever causes it comes underneath the authority of Christ.

I must remember who I am.

I have been brought to fullness. The Message says “When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too.”

That’s my position. I am complete in Him! I can relax in that truth instead of being disturbed by feelings.

This is the central truth: I don’t need anything more, I am complete in Christ!

I don’t need to go through a mediator I go straight to Him.

He gives me everything I need. His Word, the opportunity of praying to Him and the desire to be like Him in laying my life down for my friend.

Christ and Philosophy

The love of wisdom (philosophy) may not be the thing you first think about on a Monday morning! The study of knowledge; questions on how we live and how we think; the essential natures of things; how we exist and why we do what we do; pursuing truth if that is possible. Some insist that Christians should not study philosophy and they use what the Apostle said to the Colossians to back up their argument, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.” (Colossians 2 v 8)

I read an article by a Christian preacher who stated that ‘Christians should stay away from philosophy’. The whole of the article was centred on his many arguments to back up his statement and therefore reasoning philosophically against what he was against!

Was Paul really attacking philosophy?

In his writings Paul seems to use philosophical vocabulary and concepts to further the gospel quoting Stoic writers in Acts 17: 28 “For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’.” He is not against philosophy but he uses it.

The reason why I don’t think Paul was attacking philosophy was in the second part of the verse.

The Colossian problem was not philosophy. It was based on ‘human traditions’ of which when we get to it from verse 16 onwards we will see Paul speak against. Things including the Sabbath, angelology, visions and abstinence. The key few words are, “rather than on Christ.” It is key because though there is nothing wrong in studying the wisdom of this world in fact it helps us as we engage with our world’s views but we must make sure our eyes remain on Christ.

The problem was the Colossians were under threat from believing and following religious rules that were undermining Christ and the gospel Paul preached.

Today make sure nothing waters down Christ whether in your thinking or your speaking. He is enough. Paul will continue to tell us. The centre of your life is Christ and who He is. Make sure that stays that way.

Christ and surviving as a Disciple

Have you ever returned to a Church that several years ago you used to be a member of?

Do you know the feeling of looking around and not recognising anyone? You want to know where the familiar faces are. Did they die? Have they left and joined another Church? Did they leave Christ?

The Apostle has complimented the Colossians on their firm faith and now, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2: 6-7) He knows they are being tempted away from the truth of Christ that they received to some other satisfaction that is being offered to them by false teachers.

This pandemic is a purifying season. When we fully return to our buildings we will look around and wonder where such a person may be? They left during Covid-19 and they are not coming back. Decisions are being made in this season. Seasoned disciples are walking away from their pulpits and from the pews. Church may well look very different in 2021.

So is there anything we can do? Paul says there is.

“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him…”

Paul is saying focus your lives right now on Christ Jesus as Lord. He is Christ, the Messiah, the Chosen One of God. He is Jesus our salvation for that is His name and there is no other name. He is Lord, supreme and therefore has total authority over our lives in all we do. If Christians did this daily then even if they changed churches they would not change their Christ for some other lifestyle choice.

The Apostle then says, “rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

We are to be rooted. We are the planting of the Lord for Him. We can withstand the storms of life. We are dependent on Christ not because we are immature but because we are mature disciples. Discipleship doesn’t lead us to being able to stand on our own in this life. It leads to more dependence on Jesus. We never grow out of a discipleship class.

We are to be built up. We are part of a building programme for Him. Not one of those buildings that doesn’t get built and stands by the side of the road with no development at all. It can be seen. I was lost and now am found etc.

We are to be strengthened in the faith. We are not flaky disciples pushed from one idea to the next. We are confident in the promises of God.

We are to be overflowing with thanks. We are to be looking to Him with praise. This is our responsibility not Christ’s. We choose to be a grateful person. May Christ’s disciples survive the storms of life. May they not leave Him or His Church. 

Christ and the routine of Discipleship.

We are about to see why Paul has been struggling in prayer as he is suffering for the Church, preparing his messages to pass on for Tychicus and Onesimus to deliver. “I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.” (Colossians 2: 4-5)

“Fine-sounding arguments” have the appeal to cause people to believe and follow them but for the Apostle they will lead to false teaching.

In contrast Paul encourages them because of their discipline and their firm faith.

Firmness of faith would perhaps suggest a lack of pizzazz and flavour. The x factor, the WOW moment and the exciting experience of Church stand in contrast to order, discipline, habit and obedience.

But maybe the Colossians had something that the Church needs today?

Lives based around Scripture.

Daily prayers.

Living out our lives which reveal Christ is dwelling in us.

Being obedient to the doctrines of the faith.

Reliable and resilient so that the Church may grow.

Not self-centred and not given to self-promotion.

Not swayed by persecution or pandemics.

Firmness of faith.

A disciple has a routine of the above. It is why discipleship is the number 1 need for the Church today. It is not to get the Church back into their buildings but it is to get the Church rooted and mature in Christ.

Christ’s connectivity with His Church

In the late 90’s Christian TV programmes started broadcasting and made available in the UK. I remember one member of my church who was hooked on these programmes so much so that it was all he watched on television. His attendance at church was sporadic, he didn’t need it because he was being ‘fed’ by the Christian channels. I am not being critical of the Christian programmes as I am fully aware of those who have for many years been housebound who have relied so much on them. They are a blessing to so many.

But I do remember preaching and saying that Christian TV can only help you in a certain way. It cannot replace the fellowship of the Church, of being together with others with the benefits of such.

I say all this because the one task the Church has had to face during this pandemic is connectivity. It will continue to be so even as next year (we pray!) we come out of the pandemic and the Church continues its digital presence.

But why is connectivity so important? Is it because we get lonely? Is it because there is nothing quite like gathered worship? Is it because we have empty buildings? Those things and more are genuine reasons.

Look what the Apostle says, “I want you to know how hard I am contending for you and for those at Laodicea, and for all who have not met me personally. My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2 v 1-3)

Paul is working hard but he is in prison so he is not going anywhere. It must be that he is struggling in prayer for the Colossians and the Laodiceans. He must be struggling with processing his thoughts and preparing Tychicus and Onesimus (4:7-9) as they get ready to represent him.

But he is keen for them to connect together. Why?

If you want guidance for your life.

If you want to gain understanding of a situation.

If you want to know Christ who knows everything there is to know about anything!

Then be united in love with other believers. Be knitted together is what it means. Don’t be absent from Church. Be in it. Be known and know. Don’t go it alone. The digital presence in your life of a Christian programme from your Church is not the same as being present yourself. Whether this be a gathered service or a small group of believers journeying together or both. Of course, the point Paul is making is not just to turn up and be with others but far more than that. You can be the most faithful member and be the most complaining negative member the Church has ever had, perhaps you should be a digital member! But Paul says if you want to know Christ then be united in love.

The Church needs to continue to find its connectivity with one another in love in order to find and truly know Christ.