There are many things that can wreck our walk. From the sin that so easily entangles us to the enemy who is prowling around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. But there is another distraction within most churches that I believe is just as dangerous to our faith, the legalist. You see there is a tendency in our walk of faith to seek to discover a clearer, less difficult path to travel instead of daily taking up our cross and following Jesus. We can be easily convinced that if we just follow a certain set of rules that we will find the life that is truly life. Unfortunately, legalism doesn't lead to life at all. Legalism actually prohibits us from living life; we begin to live a set of rules and regulations that are man-made, instead of following Jesus. Legalism often shows up in one of two forms. First, it shows up as a path to finding true life through observing a set of rules and regulations in order to find favor with God through one's own power apart from Christ. This form of legalism starts out with a right motive (pleasing God), but makes the fatal error that it can be done in our own power apart from Christ. This form of legalism is dangerous, but not as dangerous as the second way that legalism shows up. It means of exclusion of those who chose not to follow this set of rules and regulations that are beyond the teaching of Scripture from participation in the body of Christ. This exclusion doesn't necessarily mean the physical removal of these individuals from the church, although that happens, but is more of a relational removal. Simply put, legalism seeks to make oneself and others holy through our own power. The reality is that we can't make ourselves holy and we definitely can't make others holy, only God can do that through the life changing power of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Early on in my walk with Christ, I was swept up into this legalistic way of thinking. I grew up in a church where dancing, drinking, and going to movies were all seen as taboo regardless of the context or content. I was taught that you should swear off anything that might cause you to sin, not just things that are sin themselves. Sound familiar? When Satan went to tempt Eve in the garden, she had already set up a legalistic regulation that wasn't from God. God said do not eat, but she added do not touch. All of us can, including Eve, can easily be tricked into thinking that if we just set up enough boundaries that we will avoid temptation and never sin. That sounds very wise, but it is very dangerous way of thinking. The reality is that sin will find its way to our door and legalism has no power to stop it from wrecking our lives, it is a distraction. This same legalism that we try to place on ourselves is easily placed on others as well. We can easily convince ourselves that the way to help people to become more like Jesus is to get them obeying a set of rules and regulations. I've fallen in this trap as well. Ultimately, one's spiritual life rests of a relationship not on rules. It is Christ alone that can transform one's heart and mind.
Legalism is a major part of the flawed philosophy that Paul was writing to warn the Colossians to avoid. Paul understood that there are many things that can wreck our walk and he didn't want the Colossians to get distracted from simply following Jesus. The challenge for them and for us today is, Don't get distracted. Paul has spent nearly two chapters setting up his defense against this error that was being promoted to the Colossian church. His defense is simple yet profound, Jesus Christ. If we don't want to get distracted from following Jesus, then we must keep our focus on Him and not on some set of human rules and regulations. Let's take a look at what Paul has to say in Colossians 2:16-23 about this false teaching that was creeping its way into the Colossian church.