The Problem with Negative Religion

An old Baptist preacher (I am old and a Baptist preacher) said, “We don’t drink, smoke, cuss, chew, or go with those who do.”

Another preacher turned to him and said, “There’s a graveyard full of people like that!”

The question is whether religion is a list of what we are against, or whether it is something that gives life.

Paul had something to say about this argument between the two preachers.

Colossians 2.20-21 – If with Christ you died to the elemental principles of the world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world?

Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?

Elemental Principles

Superstition was rampant in the first century. “Elemental principles” were mysterious and fearsome entities believed to threaten life.

Christians knew that their baptism signified death to the old way of life and resurrection to the new.

Colossians 2.12You were buried with him in baptism, you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead.

Old superstitions are hard to give up. Like the notion of avoiding black cats, the sayings “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” (verse 21) continued to influence followers of Jesus.

I have no idea what not handling, tasting, or touching something referred to. I do know that negative religion is not life-giving.

Balance is needed. No doubt, there are some things that need to be avoided. In chapter 3, Paul addresses what needs to be eliminated from a Christian’s life.

That being said, the preacher is right. Graveyards are filled with people who don’t drink, smoke, cuss, chew, or go with those who do.

If we want to experience the life that Jesus intends for us, there must be more than a list of what not to do.

Problems with Negative Religion

A religion which is essentially a list of behaviors to avoid must be examined and balanced by the life-giving message of Jesus.

Colossians 2.22-23 – All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings.

These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.

(1) There are some commandments in the “don’t do this” category that comes from human traditions.

For example, I’m a non-drinking Baptist, but Jesus and his followers drank wine.

I’m glad that Baptists don’t dance because I don’t like dancing. However, King David joyfully danced before the ark of the Lord.

Some of the “don’ts” of our Baptist tradition serve us well, especially when following the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

However, we need to recognize the human origin of some of our teachings and not be critical of other denominations that don’t follow our rules.

(2) A key word in verse 23 is “appearance.” Some behavior appears to represent the Christian life, but it is “of no value in checking self-indulgence.”

Hypocrite is the word that describes a person who appears to be what they are not. Just because we fulfill a list of “don’ts,” doesn’t mean we eliminate self-indulgence from our behavior.

(3) There seem to be two quite different and destructive responses to negative religion.

If people conquer the list of “don’ts,” they may be filled with spiritual pride. People who fail may despair and feel worthless.

The spiritually proud person may focus on the sins that they don’t commit while neglecting the “more acceptable” sins that they indulge in.

The people who fail may so fixate on the one sin that they can’t overcome (such as alcoholism) and feel rejected by Christ.

A Positive Message

Today’s article seems to be filled with negative thoughts about negative religion. The positive message is that a friendship relationship with Jesus is transformational.

We carry the baggage of our old life into a relationship with Jesus. Like a good counselor, Jesus relates to us with unconditional love.

In the atmosphere of love and acceptance, Jesus will help us unpack the old baggage of our past life and remove what is harmful.

Like counseling, this is a process. The main thing is to stay with Jesus and experience his day-by-day transformation.

YouTube Video

Rudy Ross and I discuss this passage on YouTube today. Rudy adds a great perspective to the discussion. You can listen to the video on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel.

Please email your prayer request to or private message me on Facebook. The Maywood prayer team will pray for you.

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