Self-Imposed Religion 

By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)

When the Apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Colossians, he warned then of various false teachers.

Some of them were teachers who tried to combine Christianity with the Law of Moses (Colossians 2:12-17).

Others were more subtle, encouraging the Christians to combine the teachings of Christ with the practices of the pagans (Colossians 2:18 ff).

As Paul describes these false teachers and their pernicious ways, he tells us of some of their characteristics, one of which would be “self-imposed religion.”

He writes:

Colossians 2:23-These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.

The phrase used here, and translated as “self-imposed religion,” is very interesting.

Some other translations of the Bible render this phrase as “self-ordered worship” (BBE), “self-imposed worship” (MKJV), and “self-made religion” (ISV), and “will-worship” (KJV).

Two scholars of the Greek language provide excellent insights into the original meaning of this word:

“”‘will-worship’ (ethelo, ‘to will,’ threskeia, ‘worship’), occurs in Col. 2:23, voluntarily adopted ‘worship,’ whether unbidden or forbidden, not that which is imposed by others, but which one affects.” (W.E. Vine, Merrill Unger, William White, Jr., Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words, 62662-62668 (Kindle Edition); Nashville, TN; Thomas Nelson Publishers)

“Thayer-“1) voluntary, arbitrary worship; worship which one prescribes and devises for himself, contrary to the contents and nature of faith which ought to be directed to Christ.” (Joseph Henry Thayer, Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon, E-Sword edition)

From this, we learn several important facts about the subject of worship.

First, not all worship is acceptable to God. The worship here entailed is such that people themselves choose the form and pattern.

Will God accept such?

Not at all.

He rejected the worship of Cain which was not offered according to the pattern of God (Genesis 4:1-5; Hebrews 11:4).

He rejected the worship of Nadab and Abihu when they offered unauthorized or “strange” fire before Him (Leviticus 10:1-3).

He rejected the worship of the Pharisees which was offered according to the doctrines and traditions of man (Mark 7:1-7).

In the same way, He rejects “worship” which is offered according to the dictates of human fancy and devising.

Second, we are reminded here that the very existence of “will-worship” which God rejects also shows us that there is “true worship” which He accepts.

Jesus talked about this in John 4:23-24, and teaches us some very important things about worship. God-(Father, Son, and Holy Spirit-1 John 5:7) must be the Object of worship.

True worship must be offered in the right “spirit” (such as reverence, humility, and thankfulness-see Hebrews 12:28).

Further, true worship must be offered according to the Divine Pattern of truth, God’s Word (John 17:17).

The Apostles of Christ taught His pattern of worship to the church, and it consisted of five simple acts.

There was singing (Ephesians 5:18-19; Colossians 3:16-17), prayer (Acts 2:42; 1 Timothy 2:8), the Lord’s Supper (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17), preaching and teaching (Acts 20:7; 1 Timothy 4:16), and giving to the church treasury for the furtherance of the kingdom (1 Corinthians 16:1-2).

Third, we are reminded here of the dangers of unauthorized forms of worship.

Please notice that one of the tenants of self-imposed religion is a desire to engage in acts which are not Divinely authorized (“whether unbidden or forbidden”; “worship which one prescribes and describes for himself”).

When we begin to introduce acts of worship into the assembly which God has not authorized, we are engaging in this “self-imposed religion” which He has specifically renounced and condemned (examples would include instrumental music in worship, “holy dancing” so-called, sprinkling of water for baptism, etc.).

These Gnostics started with small unauthorized changes that led to bigger changes, so that as a result of Gnosticism, Roman Catholicism was eventually birthed.

We see in contemporary American society the result of the implementation of “self-imposed religion.”

Recently, during a Bible study in the Hazard area, a friend of mine described to me some of the things which happened in her former denomination. People running in circles, jumping over church pews, uttering in gibberish, falling over backwards, claiming to be “slain in the Spirit,” (something the Apostle Paul clearly shows is not truly of God-see 1 Corinthians 14:26-40), etc.

She has repeatedly told me how thankful she is that she has found her way out of denominationalism and into the New Testament church of Christ.

Finally, we see the solution to “will-worship” in at least two passages in Colossians.

Colossians 2:6-7-6 As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, 7 rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, as you have been taught, abounding in it with thanksgiving.

Paul encourages the Colossians to remain and abide in “the faith” (the Word of God-see Acts 13:7-8).

Notice that they needed to abide in “the faith” as they had “been taught” (i.e., by the Apostles and those in the first century who were faithfully preaching and teaching the Word).

Again, Paul tells us:

Colossians 3:16-17-16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

When Paul says that the Colossians need to let the Word of Christ dwell “in you,’ he has reference to “in the assembly.”

In fact, the Greek phrase that is used here (en humin) usually has this meaning in Paul’s writings (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10, 11; 2:2; 3:3, 16, 18; 5:11:18, 19, 30; 14:25; 15:12).

So, Paul commands that the Word of Christ have prominence in the assembly of the saints.

If people would return to the Bible, and if preachers would strive to focus on preaching the Word of God; if people would disavow their religious creeds, and traditions, councils, and return to the Bible, then we would see a truly great revival in America!

Yet notice also that Paul also specifies that whatever actions take place “in the assembly” must be “in the name of the Lord Jesus.” This phrase simply means “by the authority of” (cf. Acts 4:7).

So, the actions of worship that we enter into in the assembly of the saints must be authorized by the Word of God.

We noticed earlier the simple worship of the New Testament church that God’s Word has authorized: yet many in our day and age would rather have things THEIR way.

And what is the result of rejecting God’s Way?

Self-Imposed Religion, which God has said time after time that He will reject.

Do not be deceived friends: will-worship is simply another manifestation of “the flesh” which is so often and so powerfully condemned and which Christians are called to oppose (Galatians 5:16-17).

Churches of Christ continue to invite our religious friends and neighbors to return to the Word of God. Reject all the vestiges of self-imposed religion and worship; let’s return to the Bible.

The change starts with accepting the Gospel of Christ.

The Son of God loved us, and freely laid down His life on Calvary to save us from our sins. He was buried, and three days later, He arose (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).

God’s Word invites believers to repent and be baptized by the authority of Jesus Christ for the remission of their sins, that they may receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-38).

When they do this, God saves them and adds them to His church (Acts 2:41, 47).

Similarly, God calls upon baptized believers who left the Lord to return to Him in repentance and prayer (Acts 8;22; 1 John 1:9).

Why not accept His gracious invitation today?

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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