The Rules Of The Church
I was reading Colossians this morning and 2:20-23 really caught my attention. I've been studying Hinduism in preparation for a mission trip to India later this year. Hinduism is filled with rituals and other things you must do in order to please god (the gods). It is a religion with many requirements. Here is what Colossians says about the requirements religions impose on people:
"Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belong to it, do you submit to its rules: Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch! These are all destined to perish with us, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence."
Paul is not saying we should ignore the civil law. He is talking about religious "laws" that people create as requirements for salvation or pleasing god. These "laws" are usually justified as having "come from god" but in reality they are a creation of men. Paul is talking about Jewish laws in this case, but this equally applies to Hindus, Mormons, Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses. They all impose "must do" laws on people.
As Christians we know there is nothing we can do to save ourselves. No matter how good we are at following religious laws our most righteous deeds are like filthy rags to God. And as Christians we are not obligated to follow any of the laws God has given us. We are not obligated, but instead out of love we desire to live in obedience to God. Live in obedience to God not because of what we'll get in return, but because we recognize what God has done for us (He first loved us) and out of our love for God we desire to follow the example Jesus gave us and his obedience and love.
There is a big difference. Striving to live in obedience because of what you'll get in return (all religions except Christianity). This is self-centered. Or striving to live in obedience to God simply because you love God... you get nothing in return. This puts the focus on others.
This is one of the fundamental differences between Christianity and all other religions. Many of their activities (laws, requirements, etc.) are self-centered. They are about getting something for yourself from god.
In Christianity everything is done freely. Nothing is received in return from God other than what He has already given and is willing to freely give to us. God has already given us the greatest possible gift, salvation from the consequences of our sin. It is given as a free gift. There is nothing we can do to earn it. There is nothing we can do improve on it.