This morning I want to begin by showing you a commercial that I’ve seen on tv recently. Perhaps you’ve seen it too. It’s a commercial for the 2015 Chevy Cruz and I think it really sets the stage for us today. So let’s have a look.

I think the video makes a good point. The chevy spokesperson says “It is hard to stay focused.” And it really is. From your own cellphone to billboards to people walking on the sidewalk to wildlife. There are all kinds of distractions that can cause us to lose focus and potentially end up in a wreck.

Have anyone here been distracted while driving and gotten themselves into trouble?

I remember one time I pulled up behind a car at a red light in Innisfail. I don’t know what it was that distracted me, but I certainly wasn’t focus on what I was doing. Because the car in front of me pulled away and I followed it. It wasn’t until I was half-way through the intersection that I realize the light was still red! The guy had in front of my had gone through the red light, and I followed him! Its a good thing no one was coming from the other direction or I could have been in serious wreck!

You’ve got to stay focused. It only takes a minute of being distracted and you can end up in all kinds of trouble.

And I think that’s also true for us as followers of Christ. There are all kinds of things that can distract us. Things that steal our focus from what’s important. And if we’re not careful, our lives can end up in a wreck.

And I think that’s what was happening in the church in Colosse back in 60AD. If you haven’t been with us, we’ve been studying the book of Colossians for the last month or so – and this book is actually a letter that Paul wrote to the Church in Colosse – and the main purpose of this letter is to address some of these distractions that had been stealing the Colossians focus. These were false teachings that were either adding to or subtracting from the true message of the Gospel.

And we actually face several very similar distractions in our lives and our church (false teachings) even today, so I think it will be very valuable to us to learn from Paul how to recognize and deal with these distractions and stay focused on the truth.

We just finished going through chapter 1 where Paul basically lays out the truth of the Gospel for us – He tells us who Jesus is and what Jesus did for us – and now in chapter 2, Paul specifically addresses three of the key distractions that were stealing the focus of the Colossians. And so we’re going to look at those today. 

So let’s begin by reading through the passage, and it’s a bit longer than usual. We’re going to read Colossians 2 – starting at verse 1 going down to verse 23.

I want you to know how much I have agonized for you and for the church at Laodicea, and for many other believers who have never met me personally. 2 I want them to be encouraged and knit together by strong ties of love. I want them to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan, which is Christ himself. 3 In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

4 I am telling you this so no one will deceive you with well-crafted arguments. 5 For though I am far away from you, my heart is with you. And I rejoice that you are living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong.

6 And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. 7 Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness.

Let me interrupt for just a minute: These first seven verses sound pretty much like a recap of last week. Here we’ve got Paul working hard – struggling and agonizing for the church. He doesn’t want to see them just accepting Christ as their Lord – He wants to see them continuing to follow Him. He wants to see them growing and maturing – becoming more like Christ all the time. And we also hear again about God’s mysterious plan – which of course, is Christ Himself. That’s pretty much what we talked about last week.

Paul goes on to say in verse 8 – and here’s the first of the three distractions…

8 Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.

9 For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. 10 So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority.

11 When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.

13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.

16 So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. 18 Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, 19 and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. For he holds the whole body together with its joints and ligaments, and it grows as God nourishes it.

20 You have died with Christ, and he has set you free from the spiritual powers of this world. So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, 21 “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? 22 Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. 23 These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.

Now really, this flows right into chapter three, but already we’ve got information overload – so we’re going to stop here. If you tuned out half-way through all that, I don’t blame you. A lot of this chapter is directed specifically to the Colossians’ situation.  In what we just read, Paul addresses several issues that had come up and were threatening to derail the Church in Colosse – deceiving them and getting them off-track. And so because we don’t know all that was going on in the church in Colosse, it’s pretty tough for us to see how all this information fits together at first glance.

So this morning, we’re not going to look in detail at each particular issue facing the Colossians, (although that’s certainly something you may want to do in a Bible study context), but what I want to do today is to see how all of these things were distracting the Colossians – taking their focus off Jesus and directing it somewhere else. Because while we may not face the exact issues that these Colossians did, you can bet that we’ll be faced with similar types of distractions.

So here’s the first of the three distractions facing the Colossians:

#1. Empty Human Philosophies

“Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.” Colossians 2:8

Philosophy is basically the study of knowledge, reality, and existence. It asks the big questions of life – what’s the meaning of life? What is truth? Is there a God? What determines right and wrong? What happens when we die? All those big questions… And the answer to those questions really determine how we live our lives.

Philosophy is super important. We need to ask and answer those kinds of questions. Everything we do in life is really based on how we answer those questions. For example, if you believe that there is no god, you’re going to live much differently than if you believe there is a God. If you believe that God determines morality, then you’re going to live much differently than if you believe that morality is simply determined by popular vote. We have to ask and answer these questions. The problem comes when we look for those answers apart from Christ. And that’s what Paul was warning the Colossians about.

“Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ.” Colossians 2:8

If you’re coming up with your answers to the big questions of life simply from human thinking – you’re going to end up with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense.

Now we don’t know exactly what empty philosophies had started to creep into the church in Colosse, but clearly they were leading them away from the truth of Gospel. Paul says “Don’t get captured by them.” That’s probably a fair warning for us as well.

Think about all the different beliefs out there now about how the world started, and where humans came from and what determines right and wrong and what happens when we die. There are a lot of empty philosophies and and high-sounding nonsense out there.

We have to be careful not to get capture by those. I think sometimes we as Christians do a mix and match with our beliefs. We take the bulk of our beliefs from the Bible – but then we bring in some of these other philosophies as well – we add just a little bit of these other beliefs. That can be really dangerous. A little bit of lies mixed in with truth is like a little bit of poison mixed in with your water.

Many cults are heavily based on truth (many even use the Bible) – but it’s mixed with lies. We’ve got to be so vigilant to make sure that all our philosophy – all of our thinkings about the world, reality, God, life after death, and everything – is based on the truth.

In Romans 1, Paul expands on this concept a little bit and he spells out the dire consequences of what happens when we base our lives on human thinking. Romans 1:19…

They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.

21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. Romans 1:19-22

Don’t we see that today? The theory of evolution quickly comes to mind…. Man evolving from monkeys. When man tries to explain his universe and his existence apart from God, you end up with the most foolish results. Paul continues in Romans and explains the tragic consequences of this foolish thinking. Verse 28…

28 Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. 29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.

Romans 1:28-32

Isn’t that exactly what you see in our world today? No wonder Paul warns the Colossians against those who would take them captive by such empty philosophies. It is so destructive when we base our lives on human thinking, rather than on Christ.

So that was the first distraction that Paul warned the Colossians about. Don’t get captured by these empty philosophies that come from human thinking – rather than from God. If you do, you’re heading towards a wreck!

The second distraction facing the Colossians was legalism.

11 When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.

jump down to verse 16

16 So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality. Colossians 2:11-12, 16-17

Now in this context, the legalism here was the belief that Gentile believers (that is, non-Jewish believers) had to become like the Jews and follow the laws of Moses in addition to accepting Christ as their Saviour. Faith in Jesus wasn’t enough. They had to follow all the rules and regulations of the Jews as well.

That included things like circumcision, celebrating Sabbaths, following the all the dietary rules of the Jews…

But again, Paul says no no no! That’s just another distraction from the truth. You’re focusing on the wrong thing.

All those rules about circumcision and Sabbaths and such were all pointing towards Christ. They were like reminders to the Israelites of what Jesus was coming to do. Then when Jesus actually came, they didn’t need the reminders anymore.

You can think of them like photos. Photos of our friends and loved ones remind us of them when they aren’t with us. Lots of guys would take a photo of their sweet-hearts with them when they went to war. Today, you might have photos of your kids in your wallet or a photo of your spouse at work. It’s good to have those reminders.

But it would be kinda odd to focus on the photo when the person is right there with you. How would your wife feel if you spent all your time gazing at her photo, rather than actually spending time with her?

That’s kinda what was going on with this legalism. They were focusing on the photo of Christ (all those rules and regulations that point to Him) rather than focusing on Christ Himself. Paul kinda points that out in regards to circumcision:

When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. Colossians 2:11

They didn’t need the reminder of physical circumcision anymore – Jesus had come to do the real thing. He cut away their sinful nature when they trusted in Him. That’s what circumcision was all about in the first place.

So Paul was warning the Colossians – don’t get distracted by the photos of Christ when you have Christ Himself to focus on. Salvation isn’t about all obeying those rules and regulations – it’s about what Christ did for you! Its about God forgiving sinners – giving them new life.

Legalism is still a big issue for us today. It’s still very easy for us to get caught up worrying about trying to get everyone to follow all the rules. Even today we still find people focusing on the Sabbath and on what we eat or drink (particularly in our culture what we shouldn’t drink). I know as a kid, rock music was a big deal. Today some people get all worked up about tattoos or cigarettes or body piercings. The church has gotten a reputation for being very judgemental about those kinds of things.

And in addition to this, we can be very judgemental on ourselves for what we do or don’t do. We might feel guilty for missing church on Sunday. Or maybe we think we’re a lousy Christian because we don’t read our Bible for an hour every day. Or maybe we read about this amazing hero of the faith years ago who got up at 4:00am every morning to pray for three hours and we conclude that such a person was a much better Christian than us.

But Christianity isn’t about what we do or don’t do. Christianity is about what Christ has done for us. We will never be saved by what we do or don’t do. We’re saved simply through faith in Christ. And God’s love for us doesn’t change if get a tattoo or if we read seven books of the Bible each day. It’s not about us.

Now of course, that’s not a license to sin. We still will give an account of our actions to God and our actions do have consequences. But let’s not get so caught up on what we do that we forget about what Christ did. Let’s not lose focus on what’s important. Paul actually spends an entire chapter in Romans talking about this. I won’t read the whole chapter for the sake time time, but here’s just a bit of what he says. Romans 14:12…

Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. 13 So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

then verse 17…

For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. 19 So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.

Romans 14:12-13, 17-19

Don’t get caught up in legalism! Keep your focus on Christ and on what He did. Focus on serving Christ – living in such a way as to please Him and not causing other believers to fall.

So that was the second distraction facing the Colossians. First, empty philosophies. Second, legalism.

Then the final distraction that was facing the Colossians was what Paul summarizes as pride. Paul writes:

Don’t let anyone condemn you by insisting on pious self-denial or the worship of angels, saying they have had visions about these things. Their sinful minds have made them proud, and they are not connected to Christ, the head of the body. Colossians 2:18-19

Again, we don’t know exactly what was going on here, but the problem stemmed from pride. Essentially there were people who were claiming to be somehow better Christians than everyone else. That they were more devoted to God (as seen in their extravagant acts of self-denial) or that they were more enlightened (because of these special visions and new revelations about worshipping angels they had received) or whatever. But Paul says no! Don’t get distracted by all that stuff. He says these guys weren’t even connected to Christ. They were sinful and proud.

And pride is a huge distraction. Nothing distances us from God quicker than pride.

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

These guys had the appearance of being humble with their pious self-denial – but it was a false humility. It was actually pride. Let me give you an example:

When I was in Mexico City about four years ago visiting some missionary friends of ours, they took us to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It is the most visited Catholic shrine in the world. One of the things that stuck out to me was that as we were walking towards the Basilica, we saw several people crawling on their knees towards this shrine – even from quite a distance away. And our friends told us that many people would do that even from miles away – the further they crawled on their knees, the more devotion they were showing –  and their hope was that the virgin of Guadalupe would be see their devotion and answer their prayers.

And at first, you kinda admire their devotion and humility to crawl all that way, but really its a false humility. It’s actually pride. Its saying “Look how devoted I am – that I’ve crawled all this way! Look what I’ve done! My actions have earned me the right to have my prayers answers.”

And I think these people that Paul was warning the Colossians about had the same attitude. I don’t know if they were crawling around on their knees or doing some extreme fasting or sitting on top of a pole for days at a time… We don’t know exactly, but Paul boils it down to pride. In Christianity, there is no place for “Look what I’ve done.” Christianity is about saying, “Look what Jesus did.”

It so easy to become prideful. Quite often as Christians we fall into the same trap as the Pharisees – where we feel we’ve earned God’s acceptance somehow by our own righteousness. Jesus tells the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector who both went to the temple to pray. Luke 18:9

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14

Aren’t we so often like that Pharisee? Maybe we become proud because we sure know the Bible better than those other guys or we sure pray more often or more eloquently. Or we attended church every Sunday – we don’t skip church like those other guys. Man – it’s so easy to become proud.

And pride, just like legalism, and just like those empty human philosophies always puts the focus on me.

It’s my profound thinking – It’s my ability to follow all the rules – it’s my devotion and dedication. It’s all about me.

But Christianity is all about Christ. It’s not about me. There’s nothing that I can think of, no rules that I can follow, no great acts of self-denial that I perform that earns me anything in the Kingdom of God.

It’s all about what Christ has done for me! That’s why Paul says at the very beginning of this passage in verse 6:

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. 7 Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Colossians 2:6-7

We need to focus on Christ – and on Him alone.

All of our thinking and philosophy and understand of the world around us – must be based on Him – built on Him, rooted in Him.

We don’t need to worry about followings all the rules when we’re following Him.

And we certainly don’t need to do anything to earn God’s love – everything necessary was already accomplished by Him when died on the cross and rose again.

Our hope is in Him, our confidence is in Him, our worth is in Him. Everything we need is found in Him. Let’s not be distracted by anything else. Let’s keep our focus on Christ alone.

And that’s how I want to wrap up this morning. I imagine most of you know the song “In Christ Alone”. I want to play that for you this morning. It’s such a good reminder of the simple truth of the Gospel – In Christ alone my hope is found.

Like the video we saw at the beginning, there are so many things that will try to distract us from that simple truth. Satan would love to get us off track – to cause us to lose our focus – to focus on ourselves – to put our focus on anything but Jesus. But don’t let him. I don’t know what kind of things he’ll throw your way this week, – empty philosophies, legalistic accusations, or the temptations of pride – but don’t let him take your focus off Jesus. Let’s keep our focus on Christ alone.