Text: Colossians 2:16-23, Romans 14:1-23, Hebrews 8:1-6, Hebrews 10:1-10
I’ve heard it takes 21 days to make a new habit stick. In theory, after three weeks of going through the paces, whatever habit you’re trying to adopt will finally stick. The shadow of who you want to be, in 21 days, will have been fully eclipsed by a new, truer you—a sugar quitter, a regular exerciser, or one of those responsible individuals who skips the Netflix binge-watching and goes to bed early. In theory.
The tricky part—which anyone attempting such goals will tell you—is getting through those 21 days without quitting. Keep in mind, this is coming from the woman who has twice caved during 30-day sugar detoxes to cookie dough ice cream and peanut butter cups (days 8 and 11, respectively).
In an effort to maintain consistency, we easily-tempted humans utilize all sorts of “self-help” tools of various rules and rituals, not to mention accountability via hashtags online, social media check-ins, wellness apps, and maybe even real live community groups. While these things can be useful in getting us closer to our goal, we also run the risk of making them our sole and supreme focus.
Though Paul certainly isn’t referring to quitting sugar in these words to the Colossians, he is speaking to the danger of being so lost in religion and ritual and how-tos that we never truly taste the goodness of God. He is preaching against asceticism, a severe, man-imposed self-discipline that serves as self-serving checkmarks rather than true submission to God (Colossians 2:22-23).
Paul feared Christians in Colossae were becoming more occupied with these acts of “merit” than with the living Christ Himself.
Friends, don’t we do our own version of these empty acts today? Take my daughter, for example, making “breakfast” in her play kitchen and then gnawing on a plastic waffle. Are we tasting the real thing or just going through the paces? Are we doing spiritual things because they’re “good,” or are we doing them out of love for Christ?
These “virtuous” disciplines, as Paul writes, are simply a shadow. The substance is Jesus (Colossians 2:7). When we buy into these practices apart from the person of Christ, we undervalue God’s grace, presuming that He needs our righteousness. He doesn’t. Christ is perfectly righteous, and we can only find our fullness in Him. In love, He calls us to live in a way that is good and holy and right—not out of fear of losing our salvation, but out of our adoration of Him.
A full life in Jesus doesn’t mean 21 days of going through the paces, making a prideful display of spiritual acts we think will make us more holy. We can’t be satisfied with the shadow, not when we have the Savior. The gospel offers real fullness in Christ, freely given. And believe me, friends, nothing tastes sweeter (Psalm 119:103-104).