Legalism Exposed
Colossians 2:16-23
Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:…

The apostle, having shown in the last section how much Christ is to the believer, proceeds in the verses now before us to expose the false use of ceremonies, or, in modern phraseology, ritualism. The false teachers were anxious to entangle the Gentile converts in a tedious round of ceremonies - to make them, in fact, Old Testament ritualists. They could even adduce what seemed to them philosophic reasons for such practice. But Paul scatters their false philosophy to the winds by the magic power of his Redeemer's cross.

I. LEGALISM ANCIENT OR MODERN IS THE PRACTICE OF CEREMONIES WITHOUT THEIR TRUE MEANING BEING APPRECIATED. (Ver. 16.) The Judaizers insisted on the Gentiles entering into the scrupulosity of the Jews about meat and drink, about holy days and new moons, and about the seventh-day sabbath, for the word is singular as the Revised Version has it, and not plural as in the Authorized Version. Now, it was quite possible for Jews and Gentiles to enter upon the keeping of these ceremonies without ever considering their signification. A ceremony may be kept just to be able to congratulate ourselves upon the keeping of it; that is to say, a ceremony may be kept in a self righteous spirit instead of intelligently. When ceremonies minister to self righteousness, when they lead to pride, when they are entertained in order to furnish a fancied claim, they are mere superstitions. It is to be feared that no other rationale can be given of a large proportion of modern ceremonial. It is a mere blind and leads souls away from Christ to self righteousness. It may, indeed, have the appearance of great humility. There may be apparent awe and regard for the angels, and the visible may seem to so impress the soul as to secure deepest humiliation; but when the issue of the ritual is self congratulation and a fancied independence of Christ's merits for acceptance, the whole process is simply a deceptive superstition. It matters not how aesthetic the ritual may seem: the Jew of the apostolic age could have pleaded aestheticism like his modern counterpart; but the true analysis of the whole process is that it is self righteousness cultivating superstition.

II. THE LORD JESUS CHRIST MUST TEST THE MEANING OF ALL CEREMONIES, AS THE SUBSTANCE DETERMINES THE SHADOW. (Ver. 17.) If ceremonies cease to lead souls to Jesus, then they are meaningless and condemned. The ceremonial laws of Moses were so constructed as to lead the thoughtful worshipper on to the promised Messiah. Meat must be bloodless, because blood was to be the atonement for sin, when Messiah came. The blood was forbidden, because the blood of Jesus Christ was to be shed in due season. The regulations about drink and holy clays and new moons pointed, as may easily be shown, in some way or other to Christ. The seventh-day sabbath was the type of the spiritual rest to which Jesus conducts us (Hebrews 4:9-12). Christ is the Substance, and these ceremonies simply shadowed forth some aspect of his mission. But when men kept the ceremonies without ever thinking of their relation to Christ, when they kept them and made saviours of them instead of seeing in Jesus their only Saviour, they became not only meaningless but prejudicial to the interests of souls. Let Christ, then, be our test forvery ceremony to which men summon us, If it is a substitute for Christ, or if it has no relation to Christ, then we are bound to dismiss it flora our thoughts as simple superstition.

III. FELLOWSHIP WITH CHRIST IN CRUCIFIXION MAKES MEN FREE FROM THE OBLIGATION OF THE OLD TESTAMENT CEREMONIES. (Vers. 20-23.) When Jesus died upon the cross every ceremony was fulfilled. The ceremonial Law had no further claim upon him. In the same way, when the Gentile converts so appreciated the Crucifixion that they were able to say they were "crucified with Christ" and so "dead with Christ," then the ceremonies of circumcision and the like were no longer obligatory upon them. They had fulfilled them in their Substitute and so were free from them. It was this liberty for which Paul so earnestly contended.

IV. ARE BELIEVERS IN CONSEQUENCE TO RENOUNCE ALL CEREMONY AND TURN CHRISTIANITY INTO QUAKERISM? Certainly not. The Gentile converts were not encouraged by the apostles to set all ceremony at defiance. Though taught that the ceremonies of Judaism were fulfilled in Christ, they were directed not to eat blood, not to eat things strangled; they were directed to celebrate baptism and the Lord's Supper, and to keep the Lord's day. But what kept them right in these ceremonies was what will keep us right in ceremonies - the simple determination whether or no they foster reverence for and deepen our interest in the atoning work of our blessed Lord. What really conducts the soul to Jesus is safe; but what only nominally does so and really ministers to self righteousness is dangerous and deadly error. Let Jesus be our test continually, and we shall be kept safe. - R.M.E.

Parallel Verses
KJV: Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

WEB: Let no one therefore judge you in eating, or in drinking, or with respect to a feast day or a new moon or a Sabbath day,

Condemnation of Ritualistic Observances and Ascetic Severities
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