The Word of the Day (Tuesday, November 3)
The word of the day is “false.” In our reading of Colossians 2:20-3:3, St. Paul continues to warn against the false religiosity of teachers who are leading the congregation at Colossae away from the freedom of the Gospel. In today’s passage, we read Paul’s warning against them: “Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourself to regulations…”? (vs. 20).
In their ignorance of God, humans have devised all sorts of human-made religions. In Athens, for example, the Apostle noted an amazing diversity of altars to the gods. He commented that the Athenians seemed to be “very religious” (Acts 17:22). For Paul, the number of their idols proved that the Almighty created human persons so that they would seek Him. The Creator hoped that his creation would grope for Him and perhaps find Him…” (Acts 17:27).
Ways of Fumbling for God in the Dark
Indeed, throughout the ages, human societies have invented countless ways of “fumbling” for God. They have only succeeded in making gods in their own image. Or, like Paul’s opponents in Colossae, they have devised philosophies that suppose that cosmic forces control people’s lives. To get in touch with these celestial forces, human persons must obey rules of diet, conduct, and worship.
Paul proclaimed that Christ has freed believers from the Law of Moses. But he charged that his opponents’ regulations were a new divine Law that would enslave the believers once again. So it is with all religions and philosophies of human invention. All of them appear to be pious and wise. But like the false teachers in Colossae, they promote “self-imposed religion,” false humility,” and “neglect of the body” (vs. 22) that only incites “indulgence of the flesh” (vs. 23).
Rules That Tie Us Down to the Earth
Misleading religions are products of the human imagination meant to earn God’s favor even though He has already given us His grace in Christ. All of them promise to free us from our ties to this world. Yet their rules do the opposite. For example, their prescriptions of special drink and food make one concentrate even more on what one eats and drinks, not less. When religion is a matter of keeping the rules, we spend our lives making sure we “do not touch,” “do not taste,” “do not handle,” and so on (vs. 21).
What is the antidote to the potential obsessions of false religiosity? It is to live in freedom. St. Paul teaches this very thing in Galatians, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty with which Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage (Gal. 5:1). How do we do that? We set on minds on “things above” not on following rules concerning the things of this earth. Thus, Paul teaches us, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God (vs.3:1)
Human beings have an innate need for God. They strive to satisfy it with self-made religions. But St. Porphyrios teaches how we might fulfill this need for religiosity with the simple words, “What makes a person holy is love, the adoration of Christ” (Porphyrios 2005, 134).
Porphyrios, St. 2005. Wounded by Love: the Life and the Wisdom of Saint Porphrios. Translated by John Raffan. Limni, Evia, Greece: Denise Harvey, Publisher
Colossians 2:20, Human-made Rules, Human Religiosity, False Religion, Christian Liberty, Religions of Following the Rules