Remember what Sam said a couple weeks ago?  He said digital media experts say that we are being bombarded with over 5,000 digital messages a day.  I want you to think about that.  With all those messages filling the real estate in our brains, how in the world can you hear God’s voice?  How can we know what is in God’s heart each day?   The answer is, we can’t.  Unless we are purposely pulling away from culture and unplugging from social media, we will struggle to hear His voice.  This is why one of the greatest ways to engage God is through reading and studying scripture.

I want to say something very important before we move on.  The truth is, one hour a week at church, or maybe 2 or 3 hours a month at church, cannot compete with hours on social media, music, movies, binging on Netflix, and hanging out with friends.  That’s why Sam shared what Jesus said.

“Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life – to God! – is vigorous and requires total attention.”  MSG Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14

The real question we have to deal with is, who is shaping how we live our life?  The answer to that question is, whatever we put into our brains, that is what is shaping our lives.  For you, is that our culture?  Or is it the voice of God through scripture?  Who has the greatest access to our brains?  The way to God is intentional.  It’s a choice.  It’s on purpose.

So, what is God saying to us through Colossians?  It’s a letter that explains how to put Jesus at the center of your life.  Let’s quickly recap where we have been.

Chapter 1:3-12 Paul prayed that they would have God’s glorious strength to have the character to do the hard work over a long period of time and overcome every challenge.  Why would Paul pray that?  Because living with character and doing what is right can feel very ordinary.

What does that mean to us?  We need to embrace and enjoy ordinariness because that is where you can find God.  If your Christian life feels ordinary, that doesn’t mean something is wrong, that can mean you are humble.

Chapter 1:13-14 Paul reminded them to remember that God had rescued them from a life of dead ends and placed them in the kingdom of light.

What does that mean to us?  We must remember our grace story – the day or time period God rescued us.  We must always focus on God’s reckless pursuit of us.  It’s a game changer.

Chapter 1:15-29 Paul takes the time to explain the supremacy of Jesus.  Everyone and everything got started in Jesus.  Everyone and everything finds its purpose in Jesus.  Everyone and everything finds its proper place in Jesus.

What does this mean to us?  Everything, everything, everything about life is found in Jesus.  As we walk through the challenges of life, we must focus on Jesus.

Chapter 2 opens with Paul saying, because of the supremacy of Jesus I talked about in Chapter 1, I pray that you experience Jesus every day.

What does this mean to us?  We said the way we experience Jesus is we give our lives back to God.  We learn how to disconnect from this the things of this world as we walk in this world.

Then last week Sam walked us through Chapter 2:6-7.  Paul gave us practical advice.  He said, just as you received Jesus, live in Him every day.  Sam explained how we drift away from the passion, the simplicity and pure heartedness of first following Jesus.  Why?  He said, this world pushes against us living out this life in Christ.  We experience so many distractions and we have so much clutter in our lives.  We also live difficult lives dealing with so much pain, so much adversity.  Add to that hurts and wounds to push through in life.  It’s discouraging at times, and it can drain away our energy and steal our focus.

What does this mean to us?  It means life is hard.  And as we walk through life you will naturally drift, but maturity is found when we focus on Jesus and His love for us.

Today we jump into Colossians 2:8-23.  Before I read it for you, remember, Paul is trying to get people to put Jesus at the center of their lives.  He explained that Jesus is supreme, focus on Jesus.

8-10 Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that’s not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything.

Paul explains, to put Jesus at the center of your life, don’t fall for people who try to impress you.  Don’t engage in endless arguments that lead to nowhere.  Don’t fall for religious traditions created by people, not God.  Focus only on Jesus, His power extends over every authority.

Paul continues.

11-15 Entering into this fullness is not something you figure out or achieve. It’s not a matter of being circumcised or keeping a long list of laws. No, you’re already in – insiders – not through some secretive initiation rite but rather through what Christ has already gone through for you, destroying the power of sin. If it’s an initiation ritual you’re after, you’ve already been through it by submitting to baptism. Going under the water was a burial of your old life; coming up out of it was a resurrection, God raising you from the dead as he did Christ. When you were stuck in your old sin-dead life, you were incapable of responding to God. God brought you alive – right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross. He stripped all the spiritual tyrants in the universe of their sham authority at the Cross and marched them naked through the streets.

Again, to put Jesus at the center of your life, quit thinking you are less and there is something you must achieve.  Being right with God isn’t about outward rule keeping like circumcision, it’s about the heart.  Why?  Because rules don’t change your heart, only Jesus can.  Jesus has done all the spiritual work for you to be needed to be right with God.  Jesus sacrificed His life for you: you couldn’t do that.  Jesus died for your sins: you couldn’t do that.  Jesus came back to life: you couldn’t do that.  Jesus destroyed the power of sin: you couldn’t do that.  Jesus destroyed the demonic hold on you: you couldn’t do that.

Please hear me, to be right with God, it’s not based on what you do – at all.  Jesus did what you could never do.  And if you are someone who is trying to muscle your way through your spiritual life and achieve some spiritual greatness, you don’t understand how Christianity works – at all.  You don’t understand the supremacy of Jesus.

Paul continues.

16-17 So don’t put up with anyone pressuring you in details of diet, worship services, or holy days. All those things are mere shadows cast before what was to come; the substance is Christ.

18-19 Don’t tolerate people who try to run your life, ordering you to bow and scrape, insisting that you join their obsession with angels and that you seek out visions. They’re a lot of hot air, that’s all they are. They’re completely out of touch with the source of life, Christ, who puts us together in one piece, whose very breath and blood flow through us. He is the Head and we are the body. We can grow up healthy in God only as he nourishes us.

20-23 So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that puffed-up and childish religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention? Such things sound impressive if said in a deep enough voice. They even give the illusion of being pious and humble and austere. But they’re just another way of showing off, making yourselves look important.

Paul just hammers religion.  Religion means, we are following all kinds of rules, regulations and man-made commands.  This way of living where we think our spiritual maturity is based on what we do, what we accomplish, what we achieve, and what we don’t do.  Paul basically boils religion down and says it’s a puffed up and childish understanding of Christianity.  Basically, it’s us showing off to others and making ourselves feel better.  We call that spiritual pride.

You are made right with God, not because of you, but because of Jesus.

If Jesus is supreme, it would be bizarre for us to fall under man-made rules, regulations and commands to somehow achieve spiritual maturity.  All the rules in the Old Testament law are done away with when Jesus came.  They weren’t bad, they are just unnecessary today.  They were just a shadow of things to come.  Now that Jesus is here, we don’t need that shadow anymore.  Everything is found in Jesus.

A great way to understand the difference between religion and relationship is this.  Religion is us trying to reach up to God by showing God how many rules we can live out.  It’s a defeating way to live because you can never be perfect.  It’s always a struggle.  God knew we couldn’t live out the rules, so He did it for us through Jesus.  God reaches down to us through Jesus.  Our role is accepting God’s invitation.  Accepting what Jesus did for us, that’s relationship.  It’s always life giving.

What does Colossians 2 mean to us today?  Actually, everything.  This should make us think through how we are living out our Christian faith.  You should ask yourself, am I living in religion or am I living in relationship?

If I am living in religion, I feel like I have to muscle through life.  Here’s a few characteristics.

Characteristic #1: I won’t be doing the, ‘The way to life – to God! – is vigorous and requires total attention’ thing.  I won’t be intentional.  I will be comfortable not going deeper with Jesus that leads to living off of other people’s spirituality.  I may feel scattered, fragmented, and uncentered.  I may feel physically, spirituality, and emotionally tired.  But I won’t do anything about it.  By not being intentional I make the choice to live in survival mode.

Characteristic #2: I will continue through life with no change in my habits.  I might know what scripture says but I always have an excuse why it doesn’t apply to me or why it doesn’t work for me.  Core heart issues like forgiveness of others, giving back to the church, how to love my spouse, sexual purity, living in gratitude, searching out healing for my wounded heart, overcoming fear, and I will not change.  I will stay stuck.  And at the same time, I will know how church should be run and I am comfortable talking about how other Christians should act even though I don’t.

Characteristic #3: When it comes to discussions about Jesus, a relationship with Jesus, prayer with Jesus, I will step back because I don’t feel qualified.  That’s for a pastor, not me.  Discussions about Jesus are like talking about a distant cousin who I don’t really know well – it’s awkward.  We don’t talk about Jesus as my Lord and Savior and someone who has transformed me.

Religion, in general, I believe in Jesus but I don’t see how fully surrendering my life to Jesus will help me get ahead.  So, I will hang around Jesus things, grit my teeth to do good things, but I will continue to do what I want, when I want, how I want.

Do you see how religion feels like a struggle?

If I am living in relationship, I feel free.  Couple characteristics.

Characteristic #1: I have made the decision to surrender my life and give it back to Jesus.  Before I do anything in the day, I realize my soul needs to be touched by God.  I start my day in prayer and in scripture.  I focus on how Jesus has pursued me to love me.  When issues pop up in my life, I go to God first before I talk to anyone.  He is my source of life.  I don’t expect people to be that source of life for me.

Characteristic #2: I read scripture and ask, ‘What is God saying to me?’  I look at the core issues of being a disciple of Jesus and make changes.  Forgiveness.  Giving.  Loving my spouse.  Sexual purity.  Gratitude.  Healing.  Overcoming fear.  I want my life to reflect Jesus more than me getting what I want.

Characteristic #3: I am becoming more and more comfortable describing my relationship with Jesus as real, like a deep friendship.  My source of energy is from my friendship with Jesus not from what others think of me.  I am comfortable being completely transparent about who I am, who I am not, and the things I struggle with.

Relationship, in general, Jesus has so transformed me, I want others around me to experience that same transformation.

Do you see how freeing and relaxing relationship is?

Do you see the difference between religion and relationship?  Religion is terrifying because it appears to be real but it will destroy us.  Relationship always leads to joy.

Do you see why Colossians 2 is so powerful?  Think about what Paul wrote.

…Entering into this fullness is not something you figure out or achieve.

…God brought you alive – right along with Christ! Think of it! All sins forgiven, the slate wiped clean, that old arrest warrant canceled and nailed to Christ’s cross.

…So, then, if with Christ you’ve put all that puffed-up and childish religion behind you, why do you let yourselves be bullied by it? “Don’t touch this! Don’t taste that! Don’t go near this!” Do you think things that are here today and gone tomorrow are worth that kind of attention?

Are you living in religion?  Are you muscling through life trying to make sure people like you?  Trying to keep the image up?  Trying to find someone to feed your ego?  And at the same time, feeling scattered, fragmented, and uncentered, physically tired, spirituality tired, and emotionally tired?

Or are you living in relationship?  Is Jesus redeeming your soul?