The Difference Between Rules and Spiritual Disciplines

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:8, 20-23 ESV)

The moral philosophies and man-made religions of this world no longer apply to us because Jesus has become our Teacher and supreme authority. We are to follow him and obey his commandments so that we don’t get confused by any other teaching. Today, we are exposed to so many spiritual ideas that sometimes they cause us to question our faith.

But Paul warned the Colossians (and us) that this would happen, especially in the church. When people says that you are not a genuine Christian if you don’t do this or that, then we need to examine the reasons why they say that. Are their list of qualifiers based on works, or are they based on having faith in Jesus?

The reason God gave us the Ten Commandments is to reveal how sinful we really are; they serve as a mirror of our fallen state. If we break any of them, then we would have to atone for the violation (sin). He knew we couldn’t live up to them, which is why Jesus was his plan from the very beginning.

As believers, we are not to get caught up in following rituals and rules if they are not rooted in Jesus. They are empty practices and regulations that cannot save us from our sins; only the Lord can do that

There are however, spiritual disciplines that help us draw closer to God. Some examples are singing hymns, reading Scripture, prayer, and fasting. They are meant to strengthen our faith by helping us connect with Jesus and interact with him in a relational manner. The opposite of that is following rules, a works-based faith, where a checklist is used to measure the degree of our spiritual success. That type of faith is mechanical and legalistic, something that God actually despises because our hearts will most likely not be into it.

Spiritual disciplines, on the other hand, are our responses to God that come from faith. We don’t do them because God tells us to. We practice them because of all that he has already done for us. We are not forced to exercise these disciplines, but we run the risk of distancing ourselves from the Lord if we don’t.

We are as close to God as we want to be because he gives us free will. And whatever we choose will be rewarded with either blessings or curses. If we desire blessings and eternal life, then I would encourage all of us to walk the narrow path towards God. He created us to love us. So why not jump on this adventure with him?

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