Summary: Where does the Law cross the line into legalism? Paul told the Colossians the answer.
Colossians 2:11-17 Knocking Off the Training Wheels of Legalism
My bicycle never had training wheels. I came from the school that said, “Take the plunge!” and “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” When my dad put my bicycle together for me, I was six years old. I was eight before I learned to ride it. I guess the fact that it fell on me the first time I tried to ride it had a lot to do with my late age in learning to ride. Once I mastered it, though, I rode that bicycle for hours. It was the best thing going for entertainment and mobility.
Going back to training wheels, though, is another story. They are a great way to teach a child to ride a bicycle. They establish the feeling of being “up” without the danger of falling. Training wheels are much more prominent today than they were twenty years ago. But if a child never allows his parents to remove those training wheels at some point in time, they become a hindrance. I’ve yet to see a racing bike with training wheels. In the Tour de France race two weeks ago, I didn’t see a single rider with training wheels.
Training wheels are good for a start, but sooner or later, they have to come off. They are a natural part of the process, but they perform their function and are gone soon after. This is the way Paul felt about legalism. He said in Galatians 4:24, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” He was talking to Jewish believers who had come to Christ out of Judaism, and he was telling them that they were no longer bound to the ordinances and practices of the Jewish Law. Jesus himself said in Matthew 5:17, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.”
Today as we consider the vices and virtues of legalism, I believe we will see that Christ’s way is a way of grace. Salvation is aimed at our souls, with the outward results bearing fruit in our physical lives. Something has to take place inside us before we look for manifestations outside us. This is why it is important to “knock off” the training wheels of legalism. Otherwise, how shall we hope to effectively finish the course which has been set before us?
The practice of circumcision is traced in Scripture to Genesis 17, where Abraham is circumcised as he enters the covenant relationship with God. This ritual practice of consecration is obviously very personal in nature and therefore a serious consideration for those men who would convert to Judaism as adults. Furthermore, the Jews insured the propagation of their kind by performing circumcision on their male infants eight days after birth. It is also important to consider at this point that Judaism is not so much a religion as are the Jews a race of descendants of Abraham.
Paul tells the Colossians that their circumcision has not been made with hands in verse eleven. In fact, he carries the concept further by calling it the “circumcision of Christ” and alludes to the putting off of “the body of sins of the flesh.” Whatever can he mean by this? The answer is reasonably simple. When we consider that the nature with which we are born is self-centered and thereby self-serving, we realize the necessary penchant for sin in us. When we receive Christ as our Lord and Savior, he places in us a new nature, hence the term “born again” (John 3:3). The old nature must subsequently be put to death, as referenced by Jesus in Luke 9:23, “. . . take up his cross daily and follow me.”
As Abraham laid aside the flesh of his foreskin in physical circumcision, the Christian lays aside the flesh of his sinful nature in spiritual circumcision. His tendencies are made new. He loses carnal desires in exchange for spiritual desires. His feelings regarding sin are changed. Paul further explains this concept in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
The evidence of this spiritual circumcision is baptism. When the believer stands before the congregation and is baptized, he is telling them that he has left behind his old ways and is living as a follower of Jesus Christ. He bears witness to the saving power of God that lives in him. There is only one who has been raised from the dead and remains alive: Jesus Christ. When we receive him, we receive the hope that we will one day join him in the resurrection. Greater still, we have the promise of his Spirit, who dwells in us.