There is a story in the Bible I have always struggled with….it has to do with keeping “rules” and giving grace. You see, I have always struggled with the Prodigal Son parable Jesus tells in Luke 15. Now, don’t get me wrong, I LOVE how the father in the story responds to his son when his boy finally returns home. I love how he was eagerly looking and searching the horizon every day since his boy’s departure and runs to him when he is still in the distance. I love how the father lavishly embraces his long lost son, puts the best robe, a ring and sandals on his less than deserving boy’s feet.
I love how the father loves his son right where he is at….on the dirt road…dirty, hungry and broken.
But honestly, I can so relate to the older brother’s response when he hears the news of his brother’s return and sees the celebration, the forgiveness and the grace that is extended to the very brother who deserted him….the very brother who did not “earn” any of the gifts he was being given. I can feel the hurt and anger that begins to build in the older brother’s heart.
Like the older brother, sometimes I still struggle with feeling I need to “earn” my salvation, as if the sacrifice Christ paid on the cross wasn’t enough. I have been guilty in my own life of feeling like I needed to do A, B and C in order to “earn” God’s love. To be honest with you, I am still in the process of embracing God’s grace in my own life.
I bring this point up because some of the Christians in the church of Colossae were struggling with the concept of grace verses works too. They are told all they need is Jesus, yet there were some false teachers who were emphasizing “works”, man-made rules and other false teaching in the church….leading some Christians astray. These false teachers were handing out “Do & Don’t Do” lists, then watching and judging who was obeying their rules or not. Paul is writing to the church in Colossae refuting these false teachings.
“Man-made religions focus on human effort; Christianity focuses on Christ’s work….Our salvation does not depend on our own discipline and rule keeping, but on the power of Christ’s death and resurrection.”
“Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not touch!’?” Colossians 2:20
The older brothers’ heart was broken that day because he really didn’t understand his father’s heart. He thought, like I’ve been guilt of thinking in the past, that his father’s love depended on how “good” he was and how much he “served” his father.
You see a glimpse of this misunderstanding in verse 20 of Luke 15 “…Look! All these years I ‘ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders.”
“Slaving” for the father.
Obeying all the rules.
As the older son focused on following all the rules, he missed the heartbeat of his father’s heart.
The false teachers in the church in Colossae fed on people’s desire to earn their way to heaven too…..many false teachers today do the same, that’s why it’s so important to read and study God’s Word for yourself.
So how do you guard yourself against being influenced by man-made religions or rules?
Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind: (Life Application Study Bible , NIV)
- Does it stress man-made rules and taboos rather than God’s grace?
- Does it foster a critical spirit toward others, or does it exercise discipline discreetly and lovingly?
- Does it stress formulas, secret knowledge, or special visions more than the Word of God?
- Does it elevate self-righteousness, honoring those who keep the rules, rather than elevating Christ?
- Does it neglect Christ’s universal church, claiming to be an elite group?
- Does it teach humiliation of the body as a means to spiritual growth rather than focusing on the growth of the whole person?
- Does it disregard the family rather than holding it in high regard as the Bible does?
Like the older brother in the Prodigal Son parable, some of us can get caught up in following rules and missing the grace that our Father extends to us. You see, rules don’t change a person’s heart. Only God can do that.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9
Sometimes I think we get the rules/works verses grace mixed around. We can’t earn our salvation, that’s a free gift from our Lord, but we can honor Him with how we live our lives. Our “good works” should come out of our deep love for God and our desire to live a life that brings Him glory….not us.
Be like the father in the parable- be generous in the grace you extend.
Be like the younger son, receive the grace and love that the father lavishly gives.
Are you struggling with earning your way to heaven? Ask God to help you embrace the grace only He can provide.
Love God Greatly!
Colossians Memory Song Links:
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