The Freedom in Christ
September 22nd, 1957 @ 7:30 PM
THE FREEDOM IN CHRIST
Dr. W. A. Criswell
9-22-57 7:30 p.m.
Now we turn together to the second chapter of the Book of Colossians; Colossians the second chapter. This Sunday morning we left off at the fifteenth verse. Tonight we begin at the sixteenth verse, preaching to the end of the chapter. You share your Bible with your neighbor, and we shall read the text together, Colossians 2:16-23; the second chapter of Colossians, beginning at the sixteenth verse, reading to the end of the chapter. And the message is all of those passages. Now, do we have it? Colossians 2:16 to the end; let us all read it together:
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:
Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.
Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshiping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,
And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.
Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
(Touch not; taste not; handle not;
Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
Which things have indeed a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body; not in any honor to the satisfying of the flesh.
So Paul addresses this little band of Christians in Colosse upon whose faith great assault is made: “Let no man therefore judge you [Colossians 2:16]. Let no man beguile you” [Colossians 2:18].
Isn’t that a strange turn of fortune? You would think now that these people are Christians, they are at ease, they are at rest; nothing to trouble, nothing to bother, fighting over, fears over, doubts over, conflicts over. “I’m a Christian now, everything is to be peaceful, and rosy, and beautiful, and sweet, and felicitous. I have settled all of the problems of life. I’m a Christian.”
Bless your heart; you have just fallen into the fire! You’ve just enrolled to fight! You’ve just begun to know what real conflict is. And I tell you, some of the discouragements that overwhelm God’s people, and particularly those of us who have given our lives to this whole ministry, some of those discouragements are almost beyond what you could describe. Why, I have come to the place many times when I felt that the whole world and everything in it was against me, and I was so miserable and unhappy and alone I felt like singing that song:
Everybody hates me,
And nobody loves me,
I’m going to eat some worms.
Great big slimy ones,
Little bitty tiny ones,
And oh, how they squirm!
Well, that’s the Christian life. You haven’t come into that peace and ease that belongs to heaven. Brother, you’re in a world where the flesh, and the devil, and the outside, and the inside, and everything around you is like a civil war.
Now, if you read this Book carefully, you will find that Paul and these holy men of God do not seek to hide away from us the tension and the conflict that characterizes this Christian warfare. How many times will Paul use references to the agonizing and the strenuousness of the athletic games?
He does here in the eighteenth [verse]: “Let no man beguile you of your reward” [Colossians 2:18], referring to the prize of those Olympic Games. In the ninth chapter of the first Corinthian letter, he uses a tremendous succession of alliterations, and references, and similes referring to boxing, and wrestling, and running—the strenuousness of the Christian life [1 Corinthians 9:19-27].
It was no different from the revelation in Christ. He said: “Strive to enter in the strait gate” [Luke 13:24]. He said again: “The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by storm” [Matthew 11:12]. He said: “I have not come to send peace on this earth, but a sword” [Matthew 10:34].
The whole presentation of the Christian life in the Bible is one of agony, and warfare, and conflict, and strenuousness. Now, that’s what you find in the text here tonight: an assault upon your faith and it will be swift and immediate when you confess it. It will start in childhood. It will continue in youth and manhood, and I suppose down to old age and to death.
So he mentions some of the things here. “Let no man therefore judge you: meat, drink, holydays, the new moon, or the Sabbath days” [Colossians 2:16], referring there to the works of the law. And he especially mentions Sabbath days.
Out of the blue of the sky—when I came here to this church thirteen years ago—out of the blue of the sky, with no warning, with no premonition, with no experience of such a thing—out of the blue of the sky, I say, there came up to me the wife of one of the deacons, one of the sweetest women you ever knew in your life. And she sat down by my side and had a conference with me, and said to me, “You’re going to be damned. You’re going to be lost if you don’t keep Saturday as the Sabbath day.”
I thought, “What kind of a church have I become heir to?” So I called her husband, a deacon here in this church.
And he said, “That’s just about what I have come to believe.”
I said, “My soul! You’ve come to believe what?”
“I’ve come to believe,” he says, “you can’t be saved if you don’t keep Saturday as the Sabbath day!”
Well, the story is, he and his wife went out here and joined the Seventh Day Adventists and were baptized out there. And he works for a big corporation, the leadership of which I know. And I went with the head executive there to his office building, he opened the door on Sunday, it was the Lord’s Day, and he opened the door with his key. We walked in together, passed by one of the offices, I looked on the inside, and there was my former deacon, working on the books all day Sunday.
And I said to the employer, the executive, “Isn’t that a strange sight?”
He said, “That’s a strange sight. He wouldn’t dare come down here and work on Saturday. But Sunday is his working day, so he has his own private key to the building, and he comes here and works all day long every Sunday.” What about that?
First, you have a clear and a plain interdiction of keeping the Sabbath by the inspired Word of the Lord: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat”—can’t eat pork, can’t eat something else—“or in drink” [Colossians 2:16]. A man who’s a Christian is free to drink anything. The only reason we don’t drink liquor is because of the effects that it has on us and others. “Or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath” [Colossians 2:16].
Now, you listen to me. It is a sheer juggling of words. It’s a casuistry to say that the word “Sabbath” there refers to the holy, ritualistic days of the Jews that had no divine institution, for two reasons. First, he mentions “holydays” there in the text: “Let no man therefore judge you in respect of an holyday” [Colossians 2:16]. He mentions those days. And second, because of the plain and simple, exegetical, foundational rule, which is this: that when a man says a thing, we take it for granted he means what he says. And Paul here says “Sabbath days” [Colossians 2:16]. And I take it, therefore, that he meant Sabbath days.
Well, why don’t we observe the Sabbath day, Saturday? For a plain and simple reason: the Sabbath was given in the thirty-first chapter of the Book of Exodus. The Sabbath was given to Israel as a sign of the covenant between God and Israel. In Exodus 31:
And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, Verily, My Sabbaths ye shall keep: for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations.
Wherefore the children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to observe the Sabbath throughout their generations, for a perpetual covenant.
It is a sign between Me and children of Israel for ever.
The first time a Sabbath is ordained is by the hand of Moses. There is no record of any Sabbath day until the ordination of Moses. It’s not mentioned in the Noachian covenant. It’s not mentioned anywhere until God gave it to Moses as a sign between Him and the children of Israel [Exodus 31:12-13]. And the reason the Sabbath was chosen—Saturday was chosen, the seventh day was chosen—was because on that day, God had rested from the works of His creation [Genesis 2:2]; that day, instead of the sixth or the eighth. There is never any commandment to a Gentile, ever—either as an individual or as a people or as a nation—there is never any commandment for the Gentiles to observe the Sabbath days. That is a sign between God and the children of Israel [Exodus 31:12-13].
The reason we observe Sunday is because on that day Jesus was raised from the dead [Matthew 28:1-7]. Every Sunday is an Easter to us. And God’s people, who love Christ, voluntarily gather together on the Lord’s Day to sing praises, and to worship, and to preach in the name of the Lord Jesus. These old Sabbaths, and their ordinances, and the rituals, and everything of that old law is blotted out. Everything was nailed to the cross [Colossians 2:14-15], and we are in perfect liberty in Jesus. We have no Sabbath. We have no ordination of God and commandment concerning these days [Colossians 2:16]. We keep the Lord’s Day because of our love for Jesus, that’s all; like we do everything else of our good works—not by commandment, but by love. Out of the appreciation to Jesus, and what He means, and what He has done for us, our hearts are filled with the overflowing affection and obedience [1 John 4:19].
And as in Solomon’s temple, the hammer was not heard [1 Kings 6:7], so in our souls, in the spirit of the Lord’s Day, the hammer of earthly, worldly things isn’t heard. We have given the day to God; the Lord’s Day. “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day” [Revelation 1:10]—not a Sabbath, but a rejoicing in the day of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. “Which are a shadow; but the body is of Christ” [Colossians 2:17]. We who have the substance, the body, no longer need the shadow. We have Christ Himself.
Now look again: the assault upon our faith, “Let no man beguile you in a voluntary humility” [Colossians 2:18]. Did you ever look at those words and think about them? “Let no man beguile you in a voluntary humility and worshiping of angels” [Colossians 2:18]. What a strange thing! And yet, as I look at that and the world around me, as it was in Paul’s day, so is it in our day. That same thing, “beguile.” Evidently, there are those who would beguile us. He mentions it, he says it. Beguile, in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels—angels, eons, emanations, anything representing God. Not the Creator, but the creature.
“Let [no man] beguile you in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels” [Colossians 2:18]. Well, what a strange come to pass! And how easily we fall into it—beguiled, voluntary humility, worshiping something else. For example, this man—holy man of God—he could have been, say, the husband of Mary, the mother of our Lord. Or he could have been, say, the author of one of the Gospels. Or he could have been, say, a great Athanasian Orthodox leader, great man of God. So you’re taught to give deference to his memory, a great, holy man of God. Then you’re taught to reverence his memory and his name. Then by and by you’re taught he watches over you and can protect you. Then by and upon a by, you’re taught to pray to him, and bow down, and ask his protection and keeping care, “Saint so and so and so,” and in great humility worshipping an angel, or a holy man, or a saint, beguiled into it, a development.
In the days of my vacation last August, I saw a most dramatic and effective play on the television set. And the chief character in the set was a world famous actress, and she is a marvelous, dramatic student and leader, and can present a story effectively. And in that story, so effectively done, she bowed down and prayed to St. Joseph. And St. Joseph miraculously answered her prayer. That program was advertised, and millions and millions in America saw it, bowing down and praying to St. Joseph.
That is the identical and same sort of teaching as in communist Russia in the days of Stalin. They said to school children, “Now, you bow your head and pray to God that he give you candies and cookies.” So the little children bow down and pray to God to give them candy and cookies; and then, no candy and cookies. And then the teacher said, “Now you bow down and pray to Stalin to give you candy and cookies.” So they bow down and pray to Stalin to give them candy and cookies, and there is brought in a wealth of dainties for the children to eat and delight in. You had as well pray to Stalin as to St. Joseph! There is no difference! Beguiled in a voluntary humility and worshiping of angels, or saints, or men, or anything that isn’t God. Beguiled, enticed, led [Colossians 2:18].
“That is a sacred table, the Lord’s table. That is a holy Eucharist, and with great difference must we handle these elements.” “Nay, we must be careful lest a crumb should drop, or lest a drop of the wine should be spilt.” And finally, “We must reverence this holy, holy bread and this consecrated wafer and this wine that has become the blood.” And finally, “It must not be offered, this wine, to the people lest some of it be spilt.” So the minister drinks it all, and we must be very careful about this bread. And we must bow down and worship it. It becomes the “host.” It’s called the host from the Latin word hostia—the victim, the sacrifice. So they bow down and worship it, thrust themselves before it—a voluntary humility. “This is the body of Christ Himself. It’s His actual blood,” and to worship and bow down before it; how easy to beguile. “This is your minister; he’s a man of God. We must call him ‘Reverend.’ Nay, we shall call him ‘Father.’ Nay, we shall finally look upon him as the infallible “Vicar of Christ” Himself.”
“Let no man beguile you in a voluntary humility” [Colossians 2:18], bowing down and worshipping something that is not God. Look at the assault upon your faith. He mentions another; these who are “vainly puffed up by their fleshly minds” [Colossians 2:18]. Ah, if you just had time, and we will not take it; these who are “puffed up by their fleshly minds.”
People are funny. I know a man who makes about three hundred thousand dollars a year on that. People are funny. They are. These cruelest critters the Lord ever let walk on the earth, people are. You look to me—you listen to me. There are many, many, many people—many people who think if they cannot understand the minister’s sermon, he is a deep and learned and intellectual theologian. If he uses sentences that have no meaning and words that they can’t fathom, and if he makes speeches, calling them sermons, out of which they get nothing, then he is a very learned and deep and profound theologian.
And then, if by and by, he does say something that they can understand, immediately they seize upon it as being the words of a sage and of a great man of God, no matter what he says. Now, if that’s not screwball, I don’t know what nitwits “is.” “Smart: I can’t understand it.” “Deep: I can’t fathom what he’s talking about.” “Learned and intellectual: I have no idea what he’s saying.”
Men who purport to be smart, smarter than God, take the truths of the revelation of God and discount them as nothing. They know more; they’ve been taught better. It might have been good for Paul and Silas; but for this enlightened age, this new day, this twentieth century, we are smarter now. We know more now; and pouring out a volume of theology and language and words and sentences that leave the soul of man cold and dead, and without the quickening power of the Spirit of God.
We hasten to this final. He mentions another: these who are “turned aside by the commandments and doctrines of men? Which things in deed have a show of wisdom” [Colossians 2:22-23]. I would take it for granted that the apostle Paul is referring to men in their commandments and in their doctrine who are sincere, earnest.
There is a thing abroad in our land—and has been ever since I have been cognizant—there is a thing abroad in our land that if a man is sincere and if he’s earnest, it’s all right. He may be mistaken in his judgment, he may be mistaken in his doctrine, he may be mistaken in the direction that he gives, but if he’s sincere about it, if he’s earnest about it, it’s all right.
The doctrines and commandments of men, however they are earnest and however they are sincere, they will not save a man’s soul. Nothing can save a man but the truth of God, mediated in the blood, and in the resurrection, and in the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, and the coming of the Lord at Pentecost, who now lives and dwells in our hearts [Romans 8:9].
Without the atonement of Christ [1 John 2:2], and without the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit [Titus 3:5], no man shall ever see the face of God [Hebrews 12:14]—this according to His Word. And however earnest a man may be, and sincere, if he does not preach and teach the truth of the revelation of this Book, he misguides men, and they are lost by his own earnestness, and by his own misjudgment, by his own lack of preaching to the people the whole truth of the revelation of God. I wish earnestness would save a man. If a man is just earnest, if he’s just sincere, that’s all the requirement of God—but it isn’t. But it isn’t. But it isn’t.
When I was a youngster in the days when men preached—preached straight to your soul and your heart, didn’t camouflage with sweet, compromising words, but preached the truth of God, so help them God—when I was a youngster listening to those old preachers, I remember one thing one of them said about that thing of being earnest and sincere, but being wrong.
He said, on a train going through the great prairie land of Kansas, in the wintertime, in an awful blizzard, there was a mother with a baby in her arms. And when the conductor came by, she said she wanted to get off at Plainview Junction.
And the conductor said, “I will tell you when we get to Plainview Junction.”
So as the train went through that awful and howling blizzard, it stopped. And she said, “Is this Plainview Junction?”
And the conductor replied, “No, madam. I will tell you when you get to Plainview Junction.” And he went on his way.
After the conductor had left, there was a sweet, kindly man seated across the aisle from her, and he said, he said, “Little mother, don’t you worry about getting off at Plainview Junction. I have ridden on this line many times. I know where it is and when the time comes, I will tell you.”
So the train went on its way in that awful blizzard and came to a stop. And the kind, gracious man said to the little mother, “This is your place. This is Plainview Junction.”
So she wrapped her baby close to her heart and got off the train, and it went on its way. After a little while, the conductor came back and he looked up and down the aisle. He said, “Where is that little mother with the baby in her arms for Plainview Junction?”
And that kind, good man said to the conductor, he said, “She got off at her station, the last place where the train stopped.”
And the conductor said, “Then she got off to her death, for this coming stop is Plainview Junction! We had trouble back there and stopped on the main line.”
They went back and they found her in the snow by the railroad tracks with her baby pressed to her heart. And she was frozen in death and the little child frozen with her.
And the old-time preacher said, as he looked into our souls, “Earnestness and sincerity are not enough! We must be right! We must be right. We must show a man how God says we’re to enter heaven. We’re to preach the gospel.” We’re to be true to the Word. We’re not to be enticed away by false intellectualism, nor are we to be intimidated by those who would beguile us or even threaten us. But as the Word of the Lord doth speak, so we are a voice and an echo of the revelation of God in Christ Jesus [John 1:18, 20:31].
I must close. That’s our appeal to your heart tonight. Somebody you, not by the commandment of men, but by the ordinance of God: “Here I come, and here I am. I give my heart to Jesus. In the faith of Christ, I rest my soul. However the storm may beat, fears may possess, doubts may drive, I will look to Jesus. I will trust in Jesus.” Would you come and stand by me? A family of you, to put your life in the church, or one somebody you, however God in the Spirit shall lead the way, “Here I come.” Down this stairwell or into the aisle and by my side, “Preacher, I give you my hand. I’ve given my heart to God. Here we are, and here we come.” While we stand and while we sing.