Freedom from Religious Rules

Good morning and welcome to Journey Church. My name is Phil Human and I’m the Lead Pastor. It’s a pleasure to worship with you today.

It’s an interesting place, this church. It’s filled with people from just about every religious background you can imagine. We run the gamut in this place. We have people in here who have been going to church since they were babies – and they don’t ever remember not going to church. And then on the other side we have people who don’t ever remember going to any church when they were young.

We have every imaginable background of religion here – Baptists, Lutherans, Catholics, Mennonites, seventh day Adventists, we have a very broad spectrum. And in many of these cases people from these backgrounds are re-starting their spiritual journey. Many of you are pressing the reset on your faith and you are starting over.

Interestingly, although there is a wide variety of spiritual backgrounds, it’s not difficult to find a common thread. I often hear from people as they describe their background with words like, “restrictive”, maybe even “oppressive”, “legalistic”. I hear words like ‘controlling’, or maybe ‘judgmental’.

A couple of years ago the owner of the billboard at the corner of 370 and 31 offered us free use of the sign for a time, and so we had a billboard made up that said, “Faith is a Journey, not a guilt trip.” And so this person saw our billboard and asked me – she said, Can I ask you a question, are you trying to reach… her faith background… with that billboard? You can fill it in with whatever church background you come from. Are you trying to reach us? Because I have to tell you that I can’t imagine faith without guilt. I feel guilty every day. What would life look like apart from that?

Now I assured her I wasn’t trying to steal anyone’s parishioners. But I was trying to reach people like you all – many of whom left church because you constantly made to feel guilty. That you aren’t doing everything you need to do to measure up around here let alone to God.

And our intention was to help people be free from the control of religion, and be freed into a kingdom where Jesus gently and wisely governs our life. And contrary to what many believe it is not a faith filled with a long list of rules to trip us up.

And so today I am going to try my best to free anyone who is trapped by religiousity. To free those enslaved by rules. I intend to show you the utter bankruptcy of rules based living for God.

The big idea for the day is simply – A religion based on rules will ruin you.
Rules will ruin your relationship with God. It’ll ruin your faith. A religion of rules will ruin you.

Jesus did not come to bring a new set of rules. He didn’t come to substitute one set of rules, Moses’ – for a harder set of rules – Jesus’. He did not come to earth to bind us up with more religious rules. He came in fact to set us free from religious rules that have an appearance of wisdom and an appearance of godliness. And that’s because a religion based on rules will ruin you.

Christianity is not a rules based religion.

But most people don’t believe me. And so they treat Christianity as a game we play with God. And we aren’t quite sure if we know all the rules. And so we live with this constant sense of dread that maybe I broke a rule I didn’t understand.

In the game of football if you break a rule and the ref sees it the ref will throw a flag. Blow the whistle – Penalty!

Many people live their lives believing God is the great referee in the sky waiting to throw the flag at us. And when we do that we turn our faith into a game. Because the rule book is pretty big.

When we make Christianity a rules based religion, it ruins us. It makes us afraid to move. Fearful and worried, and – more importantly, it misses the point entirely.

The truth is that Jesus has come so we can trade in – our old religion based on rules, and – and in it’s place we receive Jesus. Just Him. All of Him. If we allow him he will show us the better way of doing life. He will turn us into a different kind of human.

Let’s turn to the book of Colossians chapter 2:16-23. And before we read the verses, let me give you some background.

One of the keys to understanding this letter,, or any of the 22 letters that were written in the New Testament – is to ask ourselves WHY the author is writing in the first place? What is the occasion that prompted the apostle Paul to sit down and write this letter to the followers of Jesus who lived in the city of Colosse?

To be honest – this can be really challenging. Because – although these letters have been very carefully preserved and passed down through the church history, the original letters were not included. And so we read a book like Colossians but it’s like listening to a one sided conversation.

We’ve mentioned in weeks past that Paul was writing in order to assure them and encourage them. Which is true. But there is also an issue brewing that they need help figuring out. And so, as an authority figure – he writes to instruct them exactly how to think about certain situations.

And so, for instance, in the first letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians, and you can read about this issue in 1 Corinthians chapter 8 Paul says, “Now concerning meat sacrificed to Idols”.

Paul is clearly responding to a question that someone wrote him – and he is going to instruct the, about how to proceed. Apparently some felt that as Christians they shouldn’t eat meat that was previously sacrificed to Idols. And so Paul writes, okay – here’s how we are going to deal with it – it’s okay – those idols were just made of stone – they aren’t real – no reason we should be all bound up with the issue.

However, he says, if you have a brother or sister who feel very strongly that it would be wrong to eat meat that was offered to these false gods, then fine – be considerate. There is no need to flaunt your liberty in Christ when you are with them. That’s an unloving thing to do. And he establishes a principle – Love trumps Christian liberty.

Now as we read through Colossians, there is an issue going on – and Paul addresses it in this section. And – again since it’s a one sided conversation, there is some debate about all the particulars of their problem – but it appears that the problem is coming from the Jewish community in Colossae.

We have to remember that Christianity is very young – and it was birthed from Judaism. And so for a long time there is confusion – is Christianity something new – or is it a sect of Judaism.

And that confusion is evident in Colossae. Even the Colossians weren’t sure. And so it appears the Jews in the community we coming to the Christians and putting pressure on them to follow the well established rules of Judaism.

That means following all the Jewish customs regarding things like the kind of food they are and aren’t allowed to eat, and circumcision, and what holidays they need to celebrate and perhaps most important to a Jew was obeying all the rules regarding the Sabbath.

In short – they were putting pressure on these Christians because they aren’t following all the rules of Judaism.

So with that background – let’s read Colossians 2…

Colossians 2:16 So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink,

Well Judaism was marked by strict dietary rules of what is clean and what is not clean. It still is. By the way, this is one of those areas where people who don’t understand the Bible will accuse us Christians of cherry picking verses from the Bible. They will say, well the Bible also says that you shouldn’t eat shrimp. Do you eat Shrimp? Well, then you are a hypocrite. You can’t say you take the bible literally – because you eat shrimp.

And I can understand why they think that but they are failing to understand that Jesus put an end to all of those dietary restrictions. Those restrictions belong to Judaism, not Christianity. And where do we get that info from? From Jesus himself. Who Mark records as saying…

“Can’t you see that the food you put into your body cannot defile you? Food doesn’t go into your heart, but only passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer.” (By saying this, he declared that every kind of food is acceptable in God’s eyes.) -Mark 7:18

Jesus has a great way of putting things. How can food defile your soul? The progression is chew, swallow and flush. It never touches your soul.

And so Jesus is making a very important announcement. He doesn’t care if you wash your hands. He wants to address the things of the heart. He wants to clean up what’s going on behind the scenes – in the depths of our soul.

And then he added, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.” -Col 2:20-23

So everything that Paul is writing to the Colossians was first taught by Jesus. And what is Jesus teaching here? He hasn’t come to ramp up the rules regarding theft, for instance. He’s come to deal with the source of thievery – a heart that doesn’t believe God will provide for them.

Back to Colossians.

So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. (Again, all very Jewish things here, especially the Sabbath) For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. -Col 2:16-17

So let’s have a quick discussion about the liberty that we have as Christians. We are no longer to be condemned for not following these rules and regulations regarding eating certain kinds of food. But neither are we to condemn someone else who has a personal conviction that they are to stay away from something, even something that has no restrictions.

You know the difference between a biblical standard and a conviction? A standard is something that is true for all believers. When Paul says that we should not lie – that’s a standard for all followers – a description of a person of integrity.

Biblical Standards apply to all followers of Jesus. But a conviction might be something I think God wants me to do or not do – and it’s something for me – not everyone.

Some have a conviction regarding certain food items are, to them, off limits. And for them they feel it would be wrong to break their conviction.

Let’s apply this to a recent day – Halloween. Some followers of Christ choose not to celebrate it. It is a matter of their personal conviction. Although they know that October 31st is the day the Lord has made – and although they would certainly not willingly cede even one day to the enemy – they have a personal conviction that the day resembles too much like some kind of celebration of darkness and evil. Okay.

I don’t share that conviction. But, according to this passage, I may not condemn them for following their convictions. What they are doing is not sinful. And neither is it sinful for me to sit on my porch and pass out candy.

Christian liberty means that we hold these things loosely, with the understanding that – always – love trumps our Christian liberty. So if I’m staying at a friends home on Halloween and they have a conviction against celebrating it – I’m certainly not going to belittle them. And if they are at my house, they aren’t going to make me shutter my house. They might decide to stay inside and read a book. Totally cool with that. Right? Liberty and love.

Now back to the Colossians issues – they were being pressured by the Jewish community to conform to the rules of their religion.

Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it. You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. -Col 2:18-23

So again – just like Jesus – Paul is trying to help people understand that just because you follow the rules, doesn’t mean your heart is right. You can follow all the rules and still have a heart filled with evil desires.

So the issue to Paul, is not following the rules of a religion. Don’t play the religious rules game. Because breaking down your religion into rules, will ruin you. Your faith is not a game. And so don’t try to boil it down into rules.

And the temptation is ALWAYS there. Even for you. It’s more prevalent than you think. The Rules monster is always lurking to chew up and shred your faith. Beware.

Because – I think you love rules. We all love rules. It’s part of the broken operating system within us. We love rules.

Let me give you an example. Let’s talk about drinking. The bible says that we are not to become drunk with wine. Okay – well how do we play games with that?

Well, it says with wine – is beer wine? I mean, is there some technicality? The bible doesn’t say anything about weed, right? I mean, technically, if I were in Colorado I could get high – what may I do…

And when the bible says not to get drunk, does that mean that the Blood Alcohol content in Nebraska is .08 – so am I sinning when I get to .08 – and I have a Commercial drivers license so mine is .04, but I don’t feel drunk – how much can i drink before I am sinning. Is a buzz the same as drunk? I don’t think so… we need a rules clarification please?

What have I done? Turned my faith into a game – I’m going to push the boundaries as far as I can without the ref throwing a flag on me. See how my religious rules are ruining me? It’s all a game.

Jesus didn’t come to establish a new set of rules. Check this out – in my bible the editors like to place little titles over sections – and here in Colossians 3 – this is the heading for that section – maybe your translation says the same thing. It says Rules for Holy Living.

Oh, I guess Jesus came to just swap out one set of rules for another. So the old rules said no Shrimp, what do the new rules say? Well one of them says no filthy language from my lips.

Okay, well, what’s the definition of filthy, exactly? Shall I use the FCC’s list of naughty words we’re not allowed to use on TV, or should I use my Grandma’s list of words that she considers naughty? Jesus would you please send me a PDF of all the words you consider filthy? I don’t want to get a flag tossed at me.

Well, how about this – instead of calling someone a Bleeping Bleeping bleeper – I’m just going to call someone a stupid moron. Or a worthless loser. That’s not filthy, right? So we’re all good, right ref? Jesus, we’re good right? You okay with me calling that person a worthless piece of garbage? That’s not filthy.

See this is the point. If I refrain from calling you a filthy word, have I satisfied the requirements for what constitutes Holy Living?

If we turn our relationship into a rule book then we are in trouble. It’ll ruin us. Because our tendency is to look for work-arounds and loopholes – so that we can technically keep the law while at the same time do whatever we want to do.

If you set up a religious rule, we will naturally seek a work-around. We will seek a loop-hole.

Did you know right now in the Muslim world it is religiously prohibited to be with a prostitute. Okay. Well, the work-around? Well, they have something called temporary marriage. You temporarily set up a marriage for a short amount of time. the marriage ends in divorce at an agreed upon time. You marry your prostitute and an hour later you are divorced. Wha-la. That person feels that they have kept the law. Technicality! No flag.

When religion gets turned into rules and laws, it just ruins us. Listen there are plenty of “Christians” who are no better. They know the rules – if I confess my sins God is faithful and just to forgive my sins – okay so I can do this knowing it is wrong but at the end I can just turn around and ask God to forgive me and he has to! I found a technicality in the rules!

Loop holes. Technicalities. Work-arounds. I can keep the rule and do whatever I want to do. Rule-book religion ruins us.

We want to be able to stand before God and make a case – I followed your rules, and you’ve got nothing on me, Lord.

At least I hope so – but what if I missed a rule somewhere and messed up and don’t know it? Perhaps I’ve done something wrong that I didn’t know was wrong? Am I in trouble? Should I fret and worry that perhaps God is upset with me and I don’t know what I did?

I remember saying to somebody when I was younger and just starting out following Jesus – I told them a story they didn’t believe and I said, “I swear to God I’m telling you the truth.” And they threw the penalty flag on me! Tweet! You broke rule number 35 – Jesus said let your yes be yes – don’t ever make an oath – it’s evil.

Wait – are you serious? That’s a rule? I said, “God, How many of these rules am I breaking?” Tweet! Another penalty – using the name of the Lord in Vain! That’s a big one – one of the ten commandments! 15 yard penalty. God can’t stand you.

Reducing God to a rule book ruins us. It’s demeaning to both us and God. And it doesn’t get to the real heart of the issue. And in that case the heart of the issue is that we should be people who always tell the truth. We shouldn’t have to be the kind of people who say, Yes normally I lie, but in this case – where’s a bible – I swear I’m not lying.

We love rules – we love to know that we aren’t breaking them. We want workarounds and loopholes and technicalities because we really do want to live a penalty free game with God.

So we operate on this assumption that Not doing wrong ≠ rightness with God.

So one last example – on the sermon on the mount Jesus says, you heard it said that you should not murder. And seated around Jesus are all these people who are like, that’s right Jesus. I never murdered anyone. Nope. No penalty flag here. I’m following the rules.

But what does Jesus do? He pushes the matter into the heart. Jesus says, you haven’t murdered anyone but you detest that person and wish they were dead. Well I’m not doing anything wrong, so therefore I’m right. That’s the rules Jesus. Are you changing the rules?

Jesus says, let’s get rid of the rule book and instead begin to imagine being the kind of person who can love people – even people who detest us. Imagine being able to trust God enough that we aren’t all tied up with hatred and contempt for people who refuse to comply with my wishes.

Jesus’ didn’t come to create a new rule book.

So how should we view our faith, if not as a set of rules to follow?

Instead of looking at faith as a set of rules to be observed. He invites us to look at faith as a walk.

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.

-Col 2:6, NASB

Jesus set us free from religious rules that ruin us and he invites us to simply walk with him.

And as he walks he is talking to us – he’s saying – Let’s show the world what a person who is living in the kingdom looks like. Let’s show the world a different way.

A different way to live – imagine living a life where anger doesn’t control us. Jesus wants to walk alongside us and teach us how we can respond to people who are angry with us in a way that doesn’t degrade them or devalue them as human beings.

We walk with Jesus and he teaches is the value of other human beings. Human beings are precious to Jesus. Even sinful humans. Even humans who think Jesus is a figment of someone’s imagination – even humans who hammer nails in his hands- Jesus is able to treat even them with love and dignity.

Instead of a rule book we are invited to walk with Jesus. He walks with us. And he says – let’s show the world what it looks like to trust God with your days. With your decisions.

Let’s show the world love. Not penalties. Not rules. Let’s demonstrate to the world what a relationship with God looks like.

How can I respond to people in love? How can I demonstrate that Glory of the love of God that comes from a character that has been transformed to the point where we would say to ourselves – why would I want to curse that person – flawed as they may be they are a incredibly valued by God, loved by Him. They are a soul created and loved by God with an eternal destiny at stake.

Am I going to be the kind of person who values that person or devalues them, degrades them. Turns them into an object of hatred or lust.

Instead of arranging workarounds to be technically not wrong, we instead give ourselves to becoming the kind of person that reflects the love and the greatness and the glory of God.

And revel in the truth that you are valued you are by God.

He has not come to bust you for breaking rules you may or may not know about. Instead he has come to rescue you and redeem you and walk with you as he turns you into the kind of person who treats others the way Jesus treated you.

There is no rule book. There is Jesus. And when we surrender our lives to him he will create within us a new kind of human.

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