20 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— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 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.
During my college years, I came to realize that my Christianity was lived out almost entirely in what I now call the “don’t zone.” Don’t join the hook-up culture, don’t start drinking, don’t start doing drugs. It was as if I measured spiritual success by my ability to avoid doing many of the things I saw my peers doing. By sheer force of will, I didn’t engage in those things. But here’s the problem…I wanted to. In fact, by my junior year of college, I found myself thinking, “God, what if I just go off the deep end for like six months? I’ll get it out of my system, and then I’ll repent.” I never did “go off the deep end,” and yet I look back now and realize how far I had drifted. My performance was nearly flawless, and yet my heart was far from God.
Paul told the Colossians that although living in the don’t zone has the “appearance of wisdom” because it promotes self-discipline, ultimately it does nothing to kill our sinful desires. It’s not wrong to say “no” to something; in fact, there are certain things that we definitely should say “no” to because of our faith in Christ. The problem comes when we begin to trust in any system of rules and regulations for our salvation and sanctification rather than in Christ. We have this desire to measure our progress in faith. It’s easier to measure how many boxes I’ve checked in my little system than it is to measure the depth of my walk with Christ.
Paul is clear, however, in his rebuke to the Colossians. Trusting in this system of do’s and don’ts is dangerous to our faith because it’s not the gospel. The gospel tells us that in Christ we have found freedom from our former life and ways of living. This includes both our sin and our belief that we can save ourselves from that sin. Should we be transformed in our behavior? Absolutely. But should our faith focus on the mundane and the temporary instead of the spiritual and eternal? Absolutely not. God cares more about your character, your integrity, and your love for others more than he does your flawless record of never drinking or cussing. God wants you to love him with your heart, your soul, your mind and your strength. He wants you to focus on Him, not on rules and regulations that you think will get you closer to Him.
So, this week ask yourself this question: “When it comes to my faith, am I consistently wracked by guilt because I’m enslaved to a system of do’s and don’ts, or am I consistently finding joy and freedom in the grace I’ve received from Jesus Christ?” Reject man-made religion, stick to the gospel, and rest in Christ this week and always.