Gordon E. Johnson



Panoramic View


Paul's Prayer

Walk but Beware

Life in Union with a Risen Christ

Freedom In Christ

Victory: Real or Counterfeit

The Christ Life in an Alienated World

Holiness in the Home

Holiness in Our World at Large

Paul's Greetings to Fellow Workers


Living in Freedom and Holiness in Christ

Gordon E. Johnson
Rio Grande Bible Institute

Colossians 2:16-19 (NKJ)

Paul has expanded his positive teaching on our union with Christ in Colossians 2:10-15. Our true identity in Christ has been forever established and the trajectory is amazing. The  believer is complete in Him (v.10); circumcised or cut off from the old (v.11); buried in baptism or identified with him in his death to sin (v.12); made alive and forgiven fully (v.13); freed from the law's legal condemnation (v.14); cosmic powers behind all false teaching were disarmed at the Cross (v.15).  

What more can be as ours in Christ! The resounding answer is: No one or anything ever can be added to our sufficiency in Christ.  To suggest that we could ever add any merit whatsoever would be a tacit statement that Christ's work was a colossal mistake and that God misread the "how" of true righteousness.

Paul in Galatians 2:20 makes the classic affirmation of our sufficiency in union with Christ: "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son for God who loved me and a gave Himself for me." Paul quickly adds: "I do not set aside [nullify,  frustrate, declare not genuine] the grace of God." [Then he adds the unthinkable] If righteousness comes through the law [my best efforts to add anything], then Christ died in vain (v.21).Could God be mistaken? Never, never.

The Treachery of Legalism

There is a total incompatibility between faith and works/righteousness. "Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace . . ." (Roman 4:16). This truth is God's final dictum. Faith's empty, out-stretched hand takes God's offer of grace. "The just shall live by faith" and the glory of accomplishment remains God's and God's only.

In both the Galatian and Colossian church, Paul confronts squarely the legalism that would agree that there is value in Christ, but there are other requirements that ,if added or subtracted, would more fully round out the Christian life. Such is the subtlety of legalism and the heresy that is perpetuated, even today in a lesser degree in some Christian circles.

Now Paul faces the reality of the two fold Colossian error being circulated:

1.) an emphasis on externals that would appear to add to their standing before God;

2.) a superior and complex access to God though intermediaries, asceticism or other ways rather than through Christ Jesus alone.

The externals were the legalistic demands of the former dispensation, the Mosaic law: food, clean and unclean, drink not really addressed but added by the legalist, special religious festivals, monthly cycles of ritual and special "Sabbaths" (v.16). In essence this is "works/righteousness," never acceptable to God. Such religious actions minister to the subtlety of "spiritual" pride. The legalist can add his own criteria of holiness and so mark off his supposed "spirituality.''

Paul deals more fully with a legalism and the true course of action toward a weaker brother in Romans 14. "For the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). The writer to the Hebrews gives the same sane counsel: "Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines. For it is good that the heart be established by grace not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them" (Hebrews 13:9).

The error lay in that these external and ritualistic acts would add merit, acceptance or a higher level of spirituality. Paul roundly denies that anything material can ever add spiritual value or virtue to those already complete in Christ (2:10). Externals are as mere shadow to the substance which is Christ (v.17). Shadows may outline poorly an object, but they can never take the place of substance and reality as it adheres in Christ.

Cautions to True Freedom in Christ

Paul's direct command is: don't let anyone take you to task, put you under false condemnation (v.16).  Christ is our liberty, the liberty of grace, the liberty of true heart holiness. The issue here is biblical liberty, not license nor legalism. Jesus stated is clearly to the Pharisees: "'If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free . . . Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:31,32,36)

Today we do not face the identical externals of Paul's day, but a wide range of externals are often required for official standing in some circles.  It may be a special "experience," an exclusive holding of a particular truth, a certain position re Bible version, a unique life style, a manner of dress, a guarding of traditional customs.etc.

A unique Old Testament experience has its counterpart in this automatic response to truth as held by tradition. Under Jephthah‘s rule the Israelites had been oppressed by the Gileadites. When Ephramites attempted to cross the Jordan they were told to pronounce Shibboleth, but they could only say "Sibboleth." (Judges 12:4-6). Thus identified by wrote response they were killed. Too often there exists that kind of meaningless traditions.

There is nothing worse than a sense of superior "spiritual pride" based on some    externality. The Pharisees exemplified it and drew Jesus' strictures.  Hypocrisy often abounds in Christian circles based on such legalism. Well intentioned untaught believers may yield to such pressures putting themselves in bondage by external compliance, failing to find in Christ and in Christ alone the heart freedom to walk in true heart holiness. The belief that externals can add to Christ's favor and our standing before him is wrong.

The Dangers of the Extremes   License and Legalism

Let it never be said, however, that God is indifferent to a truly  holy walk. "Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity against God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4: 4). Liberty in Christ is never license to sin or to indulge the flesh. Paul in a parallel passage warns the Galatians: "For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another" (Galatians 5:13).

Neither license nor legalism is an alternative to the believer who holds the Head. What is the only alternative? Paul reveals it: "Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:17, 18),

Take note of some salient features: true liberty is liberty to not sin, not be caught up in the extremes of license or legalism but rather to yield in faith to the Spirit's working and   the ongoing process of the beholding of Christ's glory granted to us in grace. We see His glory as in a mirror that can only reflect the object seen. We have the unveiled face with immediate access to the Head. As the moon reflects the rays of the sun, so the believer reflects the rays of the Son.

Paul repeats his warning:"Let no one defraud, (rob or frustrate) you of your reward taking delight" in counterfeit humility and the intervention of angels (v.18). On the contrary, we have direct and equal access to our Head (v.19). These legalists or self appointed teachers claimed for themselves extravagant insights, sharing revelations and visions; Paul says beware of the "spectacular," the prophecies that pass for biblical authority, the appeal of the fraudulent televangelist, the cultic leader. Biblical wisdom is: "Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast to what is good."(1 Thessalonians. 5:19-21).

What is the test?  Do they hold the Head?  Is their sole confidence in a Crucified and Risen Christ?  Is it Christ and Christ alone who is available to us through the Cross, by grace through faith?  "Are they "holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase which is from God" (v.19).   

Paul describes in apt detail the fine tuned harmony of the head governing, guiding and protecting the diverse members of the body without respect to their function or beauty. In another prison epistle Paul expands on this marvel: "From whom the whole body, joined and knit together  by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:16).

Make me a captive, Lord, And then I shall be free;

Force me to render up my sword, And I shall conqueror be:

I sink in Life's alarms when by myself I stand,

Imprison me within Thine arms, And strong shall be my hand."

My will is not my own Till thou hast made it Thine;

If it would reach the monarch's throne It must its crown resign.

G. Matheson D.D.

Cautions to Observe

"All that glitters is not gold."  Can you name some current beliefs or external customs that claim a following among the superficial?


Is there any connection between "principalities and powers" (15) and the deception of  Christ plus, angel worship, visions and false humility?. ...................................................

Comment on the solid relationship with "holding the Head" and the security of life in the Body of Christ. ……………………………………………………………….

How do we "hold the Head"? ………………………………………………………..