Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that's not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don't need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything.
Entering into this fullness is not something you figure out or achieve. It's not a matter of being circumcised or keeping a long list of laws. No, you're already in—insiders—not through some secretive initiation rite but rather through what Christ has already gone through for you, destroying the power of sin. If it's an initiation ritual you're after, you've already been through it by submitting to baptism. Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as he did Christ. When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive—right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ's Cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets.
So don't put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.
Don't tolerate people who try to run your life, ordering you to bow and scrape, insisting that you join their obsession with angels and that you seek out visions. They're a lot of hot air, that's all they are. They're completely out of touch with the source of life, Christ, who puts us together in one piece, whose very breath and blood flow through us. He is the Head and we are the body. We can grow up healthy in God only as he nourishes us.
So, then, if with Christ you've put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? "Don't touch this! Don't taste that! Don't go near this!" Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic. But they're just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important.
Some mornings I read these passages and my mind floods with faces. So many faces of image bearers who I’ve hurt and wounded by demanding that they embrace shadows. If you’re one of those people, forgive me.
I also see the faces of so many friends now who have been hurt and wounded by others who have demanded that they embrace shadows. On behalf of those people, please forgive us.
The “illusion of being pious and humble and ascetic” as a means to “showing off, making yourselves look important” is so spot on for so much of what passes as American Christianity. I have spent a lot of time thinking about, reading, learning about spiritual harm. It is rampant in American Evangelicalism. I have perpetrated it. I know what it looks like. I had convinced myself that I was simply helping people be more faithful to God. But, the reality is that I was simply trying to exert control and power over others. I think I was just immature. Paul told Timothy not to give immature believers power in the community of believers. It makes all the sense in the world to me now. Back then, not so much. I thought I had it all figured out. I would love to go back to “Young Dan” and give him some wisdom.
What wisdom do you ask?
Well, for starters I would want Young Dan to read through this passage in the Message translation and ask himself some real hard questions.
Watch out for people dragging you off into endless arguments… How many did I start? Good grief. I cared way more about my tradition than I did Christ. If I’m real honest with myself people who didn’t fully hold to my tradition were sub-Christian at best. Ugh. It’s ugly fam.
“Entering into this fullness is not something you figure out or achieve. It's not a matter of being circumcised or keeping a long list of laws.” How many people did I try to convince my list of laws? The laws that I thought were necessary for following Jesus? Goodness…how much of that am I doing even now?
“So don't put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.” I added so much to grace. The shadows that I forced people to embrace as though they were substance weigh on me to this day.
“Don't tolerate people who try to run your life…” As I think back on much of my “discipleship” it was a lot of seeking to control others. My identity was wrapped up in seeing people do what I tried to convince them to do. Blech.
“So, then, if with Christ you've put all that pretentious and infantile religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it?” I was a spiritual bully and I suppose in some ways I am today, too.
It is so easy for me to identify with the people that Paul is writing to. However, it’s when I put myself in the shoes of the people that Paul is writing about that I see my own shadows, my own failures, my own lack of love and grace.
As I become aware of these things and identify them in my own life, I am able to experience grace more fully. I can be more aware of them and seek to love well instead of falling back into these old ways. It is hard. I desperately want to command and control all the things. But, when I look into the face of Christ I am reminded that, “All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.”
It’s another reminder to be basic. To hold fast to the simplicity that is Christ.