Explore the Bible Study: The Gospel's Freedom

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As we approach Veterans Day, we sometimes forget the vets who endured captivity as Prisoners of War, especially during the Vietnam War. It’s hard for us to imagine what this kind of captivity is like. It’s equally hard to understand the adjustments one would have to make once released from captivity. Imagine how this compares to being set free from the condemnation of sin through Christ. Ways in which we have been conditioned to live and the chains of sinful habits and attitudes that once bound us are now gone. Yet many still struggle with casting the chains aside. This is the focus of LifeWay's Explore the Bible Study: The Gospel's Freedom.

The believers in Colossae and the surrounding regions had lived in captivity to sin their entire lives, not knowing anything about the freedom that comes through following Christ. They had been captive to sinful lifestyles and cultural practices for as long as they could remember, and were then set free by the power of Christ. Paul reminds them in Colossians 1:21-22 that once you were alienated and hostile in your minds as expressed in your evil actions. But now he has reconciled you by his physical body through his death, to present you holy, faultless, and blameless before him.

Can you imagine being set free from sin but then being told, “Wait a minute, there is something more you need to do in order retain your freedom? You need to do this or that or you aren’t completely free?" How would you feel? How do you feel when this is expressed by some today?

There were false teachers who were doing this very thing.  They tried to place these new young Christians back into captivity through deceptive beliefs that found their roots, not in grace, but in legalism. Paul continues to refute this false teaching in Colossians 2:16-23.

Paul reminds the young believers in Colossians 2:16-17 that the gospel frees us from viewing religious practices as a requirement for salvation.

The festivals and dietary restrictions in verse 16 were most likely Jewish observances from the Old Testament. Apparently, the false teachers among the Colossian believers were laying down rigid restrictions or requirements based upon these.

Can you identify religious practices or special celebrations that one might view as essential for salvation? How can equating certain religious activities and practices with salvation cause one to become captive again?

In their time and for their intended purpose, the special food laws and holy days were important. Paul expressed that importance by referring to them as a shadow of what was to come. The substance of which they were a shadow, was Christ. For the Colossians to listen to the false teachers amounted to embracing the shadow when they could be enjoying the substance to which the shadows pointed -- Jesus Christ. For Paul and for the Colossians, the things that were to come, had come!

Next, Paul reminds the young believers in Colossians 2:18-19 that the gospel frees us from thinking one needs special knowledge or mystical experiences in order to be fully saved.

Apparently, these false teachers sought to intimidate the new believers by suggesting that their experience in Christ was somehow lacking because they did not delight in some kind of special enlightenment or experience. They weren’t to be intimidated. Paul reminds his readers that they have been made complete in Christ.

Have you ever felt as if your salvation was somehow lacking because of something someone else has experienced? Have you ever felt intimidated by someone who says you need to do this or that in order to experience the fulness of your salvation? If you hear someone boasting about some mystical experience they have had, a “special word” God has given them, or a special “angel or saint” that has helped or spoken to them, how do you respond?

The false teachers were not holding exclusively on to Christ as the Head and, as a consequence, were really undernourished spiritually, all the while imagining themselves to be spiritual experts in a class all by themselves.

One who claims to have a greater connection to Christ because of some mystical experience or superstitious act is robbing himself of the freedom that comes from holding on to the head (Christ), from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and tendons, grows with growth from God. You don’t need another experience or superstitious act in order to validate your salvation. Hold on to knowing Christ and Christ alone!

Finally, Paul reminds the young believers in Colossians 2:20-23 that they were free to live without being captive to the fear of doing something wrong.

Paul became quite specific about the regulations the false teachers were urging upon the Colossian Christians: don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch. Paul saw right through the self-made religion, false humility, and severe treatment of the body espoused by the false teachers as practices masquerading as wisdom. To the eyes of the false teachers, these practices seemed to be expressions of deep devotion to God and humility. In fact, such an approach to the Christian life has no value in curbing self-indulgence. The result of basing spirituality on such outward matters tends to foster a better-than-thou attitude toward other members of the body of Christ and will ultimately fail in accomplishing what they claim to desire – salvation.

What About You?

Throughout the New Testament we are continually reminded of the freedom we have through Christ. Read these passages and consider what practices or beliefs might be holding you captive, and then consider who you are in Christ. (Remember to place your cursor over the passage and it will appear)

  • Hebrews 10:14 – Christ’s sacrifice took care of sin for all time. We don’t need continual sacrifices and festivals.
  • Romans 5:1 – We now are at peace with God and have access to God through the work of Christ.
  • 1 Timothy 2:5-6 – Christ is our mediator.
  • Hebrews 4:14-16 –Christ is our high priest.

If you have a personal relationship with Christ, you can freely approach God as a son or daughter because of your standing in Christ. Through Christ, you can put sin to death and find freedom from guilt and shame. You are free to express your faith without fear of condemnation because Christ has overcome the world.

Paul posed the rhetorical question in verse 20: 

If you died with Christ to the elements of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?  

Are you still living as if you are in prison—striving to add something more to your salvation because you felt that Christ alone was somehow inadequate? Or, consider the word, “If.” Have you received Christ as Savior? If you haven’t received Christ, then you should respond to the good news of the gospel so you can experience the freedom that comes from knowing Christ.

The downloadable teaching helps provide more details for this study along with some tools you can use in guiding a group Bible study. Be sure to use this as a supplement to your study of the Explore the Bible Study resources provided by LifeWay.

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