This verse changes everything.
“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations…” Colossians 2:20
As if you were still alive in the world.
Last I checked, I thought I was. At least after a few cups of coffee, amiright?
But this verse dares to claim I am not.
Yes, it says, I might be still walking and working and laughing and crying on this earth, but the truest, deepest, most real part of myself is already alive in eternity. My soul has died with Christ to the power of temporary things — obstacles, pain, loss, even death — and it’s been raised to new life (Romans 6:4).
Outwardly, I might get hurt, rejected, weary, older. I’m wasting away.
Inwardly, though, I grow fresher, younger, healthier, better. God says I’m looking more like Jesus by the minute. I’m being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 3:18; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
So why, Paul continues, as if we were still centered here — as if here were what really counted in the end — do we submit to regulations — do not handle, do not taste, do not touch (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? (Colossians 2:20-22)
Why do we build our lives on rules that only serve to build up what is destined to die as it is used — including these temporary, earthly selves?
No, the world no longer owns us. Eternity is our permanent address, and that should shift all our perspectives on the precepts we submit to. The flimsy, fleeting rules of this place don’t apply:
Rule 1: You only live once.
Truth: My hope is in eternity with Christ. I am grateful for a good life on earth, with its many joys and blessings, and I enjoy them with thankfulness to the One who provided them. But if this life is meant to be my one chance — if eternity is not waiting for me and is not better, I should stop wasting my time following Jesus and get busy indulging myself in any way I can. A life lived for Christ only makes sense if I believe I am achieving an eternal glory that far outweighs anything happening here (2 Corinthians 4:17).
There are Christian-sounding versions of this, teaching us we can live our best life now. They stand in direct opposition to biblical truth. Our best life is scheduled for forever; promising our greatest life now is an insult to the sick and the poor and the dying — to missionaries and martyrs and all those living in hideous, daily persecution for their love for Jesus Christ.
Rule 2: You are enough.
Truth: This velvet phrase coats an impossible burden. It’s a cousin to the soul-crushing God won’t give you more than you can handle.
We will all walk through things we aren’t enough for — things that no one is enough for. We will fail people, they will fail us. We will hurt deeply and hurt others deeply. If we are enough, the burden is on our shoulders to prove it. If we are enough, we bear all the shame and the guilt.
Only Jesus is enough. He’s already proved it. He’s already borne it. (2 Corinthians 12:9; Isaiah 53:4)
The end of you are enough is self-destruction — fantasy, addiction, suicide. I won’t be able to cope with the ever-widening gulf between my belief about myself and the reality before me. I will escape my life or end it.
For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. 2 Corinthians 10:18 ESV
Rule 3: Just be yourself.
Truth: This rule is meant for the insecure — those who would admit that, deep inside, “I fret and worry I’m not good enough and pretend to be someone else.”
The problem, then, with “just being myself?” Myself, deep inside, is an insecure person who frets and worries I’m not good enough and pretends to be someone else.
We must not settle for just being ourselves — for self-affirmation — when we have been promised self-transformation. Christ has been good enough for me. And through Christ I am becoming so much more than I could be alone: a warrior, readied for battle, equipped to do every good work, being transformed into the image of the Son of God Himself. (2 Corinthians 10:2-4; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 3:18)
Jesus has seen my real self, and He loves me and promises to make me new. Just being myself is far less an adventure than the riches of grace and hope and acceptance I have been offered.
Rule 4: You are your greatest enemy.
Truth: You have a much greater Enemy — the Devil — deceiver and Father of Lies.
Ever wondered why you find yourself immediately doing more of what’s wrong right after you pledge to do what’s right? It’s not just your head you’re contending with out there. The Bible teaches that we are actively opposed in a spiritual battle, and spiritual war requires spiritual weapons, not physical willpower. Know your true enemy, and you’ll know which tools you must bring to the fight. (Ephesians 6:10-20)
Rule 5: What you do with your life is important.
Truth: What God does with your life is important. This distinction, lived out, is subtle (both still often look like hard work), but it is everything.
My life becomes a sacrifice, not a stage play. I serve out of overwhelming gratefulness for my rescue instead of as a slave to applause. The burden’s no longer on me to find or add meaning to what I do, because the meaning I can add is temporary anyway. The eternal God is the only One who adds eternal significance.
Here’s the real rule: If you’ve died to this world and been raised with Christ, He has redeemed you for one central purpose — to display His infinite glory (John 5:44, Colossians 1:27; Ephesians 1:11-14, Matthew 5:16, Romans 9:23).
Pursuing our own glory, then — which is the lie at the heart of all the world’s rules — leaves us striving against the very work God wants to do in us (John 7:17-18).
Pursuing His glory puts us right at the center of His heart, the place where He holds us close, refining and crafting and shining the part of us that lives forever.
One more post (I think!), and I’ll be halfway done with The Colossians Project. Going to share my thoughts on lessons learned from this experiment so far with my email subscribers after it’s posted; sign up below if you’re not already one of them.