For an introduction to this series, click here.
It looks like I bit off a little bit more than I could chew yesterday. Yesterday morning was kind of strange. Anyway, we will finish chapter 2, going back to part of the section we tried to finish up on yesterday.
"Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God." (2:16-19)
This passage and the passage that follows are quite liberating. Legalism, the adding of extrabiblical rules to the Christian life, takes many forms. It would be easy for me to dump on some fundamentalists, because that is what I know. But you can find examples of this attitude in a lot of places. Most of the time, these ideas start with the best of intentions. Somebody comes to the conclusion that for them, it would be wrong to do a certain thing, and so they don't do it. Then they tell others about it, and before long either the person who started it or their followers or admirers begin to teach the rule as a Biblical fact. But Paul says this attitude of asceticism is wrong. God has given us many good things in life to enjoy, and it seems in our time we have more and more good things. It is not wrong to enjoy these things; the Lord wants us to be happy.
Notice at the beginning of the passage Paul mentions "food and drink." Now there may be something I am not aware of, but as far as I know the only drink that there has been a long-time controversy about is alcohol. Clearly the Bible condemns drunkenness. Now there are verses about not being deceived by alcohol in Proverbs, but there are also verses in Proverbs where the writer says it is good to drink wine. You will not find one instance in Scripture that absolutely forbids the drinking of alcohol, yet you will find lots of preachers and Christians who believe that it does. 100 years ago, of course, there were enough Christians who believed that to get the sale of alcohol banned in the U.S. for 14 years.
"If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— "Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch" (referring to things that all perish as they are used)— according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh." (2:20-23, ESV)
Christ has made us free from these things. It is interesting to note that Paul's argument here is that we are dead to these things, so why are we concerned with them? As Christians, we are not to place any value in the things of the world. We are supposed to be indifferent to them. Paul says that those whose emphasis is on following man-made rules are carnally minded. They should be more concerned about fostering true spiritual growth in the lives of those who follow them than about adherence to this sort of nonsense. It's easy to get sidetracked, because spiritual growth is a frustrating process sometimes. It is easier for us to judge someone based on externals, since we cannot see a person's heart.
At the beginning of the next chapter, we will see what we should be doing "if we are risen with Christ" instead of following man-made rules.