A Clay Jar

Encouraging, comforting, and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. (1 Thess. 2:12 NIV)

The Futility of Legalism

Colossians 2:20-23

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It is common in some circles to have a set of rules that are used to regulate conduct and ensure that you are worthy. Many churches, and even more individual Christians, use the 10 Commandments, or other selected portions of the Old Testament Law as the basis for their “Code of Conduct”. Usually updating them a bit to handle more modern sins that need to be avoided. Most often these codes seem to take the form of “don’t do this”, “or this”, “or this other thing”. But do these legalistic codes actually accomplish anything? I believe the following passage has something to say about the futility of legalism.

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Colossians 2:20-23 NIV

What Does a Code of Conduct Accomplish?

Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch! Sure sounds like a code of conduct or a set of rules developed to ensure conformity to some standard. It seems like a reasonable approach if you want to be sure you stay in line with what God expects of you. It even sounds somewhat Old Testamenty. But it really has no value in helping you to maintain purity or to restrain sensual indulgence.

How many of us will really, and consistently, follow rules that tell us not to do something we really want to do. Especially when there is no near-term consequence of breaking the rule. Indeed there are some who do manage to have more self-control than I have. Who are able to follow rules that prevent them from doing something they really want to do. But they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.

My List

As a result, those who are compiling lists of rules for folks to keep, generally only include those rules that they can easily keep. My list might look something like this:

  • Do not drink coffee
  • Limit your TV viewing to NFL Football and NCIS
  • No alcohol, drugs or loud music.
  • Stay out of casinos, nightclubs, and dance halls
  • Don’t mess around with someone else’s wife
  • Don’t throw dog poo over your fence (I saw someone do this the other day, yuck)

I could go on and on, but you probably get the point by now.  Rules are only going to work for me if 1) I agree with them, or 2) there is some undesirable consequence for breaking them. But they will never change who I am. So is it hopeless; is there any way to actually control my sensual desires?  Stay tuned (or read on into the next chapter of Colossians)!

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Ed Jarrett

Just an old clay jar that God continues to see fit to use in his kingdom's work. I am retired, married with 2 children, and 4 grandchildren. I have followed Jesus for many years. And I love to share what He has given me from His word.

A Note to Readers

The views expressed here are solely mine and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person, group, or organization. While I believe they reflect the teachings of the Bible, I am a fallible human and subject to misunderstanding. Please feel free to leave any comments or questions about this post in the comments section below. I am always interested in your feedback.

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