We said last week that forgiveness is the foundation of our resistance to all lies, half truths, and empty philosophies. This is because guilt is what makes us vulnerable. Guilt is what makes us captive to every tyranny. It doesn’t allow us to see clearly. But the flip side of this truth is therefore that forgiveness is what sets men free. It gives us eyes to see.
Summary of the Text: Paul’s “therefore” is directly related to the fact of forgiveness just unpacked (2:13-15). Other peoples’ opinions are powerful, but Paul says when it comes to food and drink and holidays and feasts, we must not be bound (2:16). This is fundamentally because all the regulations of the Old Covenant were shadows of Jesus who is the reality (2:17). If we are held captive by those who are into fasting, worshiping angels, or mystical visions we will lose our reward in Jesus because His power is made manifest in simple weakness not our fleshly schemes (2:18, cf. 1 Cor. 1:25-31). The central problem is that these traditions fail to cling to Jesus, our Head, which is where we receive our nourishment, find unity, and grow up into Him (2:19). This freedom has everything to do with having already died (cf. 2:11-13) because if they have already died with Christ then it makes no sense to live as though they haven’t (2:20). On one level, the Jewish laws make no sense after Jesus has brought us into His new world, and on another level, those kinds of traditions don’t make any sense when we have already died (2:21-22, cf. Acts 17:30-31). What makes these kinds of things attractive is the fact that they have an appearance of wisdom, humility, neglect of the body, but they are actually worthless when it comes to restraining our flesh (2:23). And this is because when we find our safety and security in made up rules, we’re actually indulging our fleshly minds (2:18), instead of restraining the flesh.
If you’ve worshiped here over the last few years you know that we’ve done a lot of teaching and talking about what we do or don’t mean by the season of Lent. One of the reasons for that is this passage. Paul says that holy days, neglect of the body, and asceticism have an appearance of wisdom in fighting sin but actually aren’t helpful (2:23). And in fact, it can have the exact opposite effect (e.g. 2:18). This is because religious people have a bad habit of hiding from God in religious stuff (e.g. Jn. 5:39, 2 Tim. 3:5). One of the great dangers of Lent is that lots of people hear the word and immediately import piles of wrongheaded ideas. The point of Lent isn’t fasting or giving stuff up. You are freed in Jesus to fast or not fast, to use your time and resources however you want within the confines of the law of God. Fasting is a bodily posture, and it is a bodily posture that ought to be a normal part of Christian life (like kneeling in prayer, standing with reverence before God, raising hands in adoration, clapping with joy, crying out in our sorrow, and shouting praises in triumph). But everything has to do with what you do with the posture. A posture is not automatically good or holy or beneficial. You may kneel when you pray, but did you kneel in your heart? And did you actually talk to God? Or did you talk to yourself (Lk. 18:11). And Paul says watch out here. Our response should not be to dismiss Paul and say that’s not a danger for us. Or our response should not be to dismiss the concerns raised from our brothers in other churches who prefer not to celebrate Lent. Our response should be a sober recognition that we need to be careful here. So why should we do it? Is it even worth doing? The point of Lent is to remember the faithfulness, obedience, and sacrifice of Jesus for us, and this done rightly, ought to drive us to grateful, joyful self-examination, service, and proclamation. The point is Jesus, and Jesus sets you free from the opinions of men, stupid traditions, and most importantly your sin.
A Politics of Freedom
Sometimes people think that if all we preach is Jesus crucified, buried, and raised from the dead, if all we proclaim is the forgiveness of sin, we are only talking about a private, retreating religion that leaves the world unchanged. But this is impossible because Jesus is God and the King of Universe (Col. 1:15-20, 2:9-10). The blood of Passover proclaimed the forgiveness of Israel and their freedom and judgment on Egypt: how much more so the blood of the everlasting covenant in Jesus (e.g. 2:13-15)? When we proclaim Jesus crucified and raised from the dead and the forgiveness of every sin, we are proclaiming freedom and the only basis for true freedom in every area of life (politics, economics, business, education, healthcare, etc.). In a world in bondage to sin, one of the ways our gullibility is manifest is by the way laws multiply as sin multiplies, but in a world forgiven, sin is being fought and the best laws are shadows of Christ but everything else is tyranny (Col. 2:16-17). We live in a nation infested with lies and confusion and millions of competing voices. And the reason these lies are considered so seriously is because we are a guilt-ridden nation. And guilt always leads to tyranny. We need a reformation in this land, but the center of it must be the blood of Christ shed for the forgiveness of sins. Christians, of all people, are all for freedom, but we must insist that there is no freedom apart from the cross of Jesus. God is reconciling all things through the cross of Jesus. There is no other reconciliation. There is no other peace. The forgiveness of Jesus means you are safe. The forgiveness of Jesus means you are invincible. You are not captive to selfish greed, ambition, lies, or flashy shows of wisdom or power.
Jesus says in the gospel that whoever sins is a slave of sin, and slaves are eventually evicted from the house (Jn. 8:34-35). But sons have a place in their fathers’ house forever. And this is why if Jesus, the Son, makes us free, we are free indeed (Jn. 8:36). True freedom includes open possibilities, but those possibilities exist because we don’t have to worry anymore. And the central reason we aren’t afraid is because by His death, Jesus has destroyed him who had the power of death, the devil. This world was created by our Older Brother, His Father, and their Spirit. We once were lost, but now we’re found. We once were slaves, but now we’re free. We once were blind, but now we see. We have heard the Truth, and the Truth has set us free.
Jesus is enough freedom.
Parish Group Questions
- How can human opinions be enslaving (2:16)? How can fear or worry become petty tyrants? We don’t have many judgmental Jews anymore, but where are you tempted to let other people judge you for what you eat or drink or how you spend your days or other things? How do you resist those temptations? How do you balance the fear of man with the gift of wise counsel?
- How are forgiveness and freedom related? If the Passover was a big act of “forgiveness,” how is forgiveness “cosmic” and “political” and not just a private transaction? How is the gospel a public reality, and why can’t it just be a private experience?
- What does the season of Lent mean to you and your family? How have you sought to focus on the life and death of Jesus for you? How have you avoided foolish traditions? Why can fasting and giving things up not only be useless but actually dangerous (2:23, 2:18)? What’s the proper way of fasting (e.g. Is. 58)?
- What is the “reward” that we shouldn’t want to lose in clinging to Jesus alone for our security (2:18-19)? Could it be related to why Paul rejoices in his sufferings and the “mystery” of the gospel (1:24-27)?