Taking Down Those Unwanted Habits

Colossians 2:16-23 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18 Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions. 19 He has lost connection with the Head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow. 20 Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21 “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22 These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23 Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

I have a nasty habit - a really bad one. I’ve been dealing with it for years. And I want it gone. I suppose you’d never notice it by looking at me, but nonetheless I’ve got it. I fight and sometimes win. Other times I fight and lose. Other people with this same habit don’t have that same experience. You know they have this habit when you look at them. Genetics and one of my good habits, running, keep my nasty little habit on the down low. You might have already guessed what it is. I’ve got a sweet tooth. It’s bad. It’s one for the ages.

Fortunately, Kitchen Safe thinks it has what it takes to save me. My twin texted me a link to it. (Maybe he wants to save me too!) Shark Tank - the show where you can pitch your business to venture capitalists for funding - had the owners of Kitchen Safe on and apparently they must’ve gotten funding because they have a huge banner on the site welcoming Shark Tank fans. Along with that banner are some pretty nice endorsements from organizations that reviewed the product. TIME Magazine said, “the Kitchen Safe is brilliant. This locking cookie jar has a timer to save you from yourself.” Mashable said, “It curbs more than food cravings. It’s also useful for credit card safekeeping or smartphone collection during dinner time.”

What does it suggest to you about us that the Kitchen Safe is selling like hotcakes all around the world? It suggests I’m not the only one with a sweet tooth. It tells us there are others out there like me. They know it’s not a good idea. They know that damage is done over time and yet they are so prone to self-destructive behaviors that they like me might benefit from a locking, timed cookie jar to save them from themselves. Do you think something like that would work for you? Apparently an awful lot of people are hopeful it will or they at least want to try it because they’re buying it. Maybe the people on Shark Tank are right. Maybe there is a legitimate market for this product.

I know. I know. It’s just a sweet tooth. What’s the big deal? I get why you might think that. At first this whole discussion sounds trite, small-minded, and unimportant. It sounds as simple and easy as denying that fourth cookie because you’ve already had three. It sounds as snap easy as limiting sugar intake to keep diabetes at bay. But when you look under the hood at the mechanics of what’s going on you understand the real issues. This is about where a person finds their delight. This is about where a person finds their satisfaction and their life. Do I eat to live or live to eat? Which one is it? And more than that, it’s about the human will, an important part of our souls. Can I own my own will or is a Kitchen Safe the only way to deal with life?

This has so many applications in our lives. This isn’t only about what we eat and how we eat. It’s about every bad habit. It’s about every negative thinking pattern. It’s about changing what shows up in your recent browsing history. It’s about dealing with that lifelong quick and hot temper. It’s about sticking to financial budgets that you set and meeting the goals you’re going after. It’s about making that prayer life that you want actually happen. It’s about learning to how to deal effectively with our hurts, our hang-ups, and our sins that get after us in daily life.

There were some among the Colossians who came from a certain school of thought. They said, “You want to deal with bad habits, sins, and hang ups? We’ll tell you how. You legislate.” It was rule on rule and law on law. We don’t get all the details on the legislation just a vague sense of them, but we know enough to know that they said, “This is what you are to eat. This is what you should drink. These are the religious festivals you need to celebrate and how to celebrate them.” There were even instructions on how to limit your lifestyle and how to properly worship angels.

And you can bet that the promoters of that legislation shouted and hammered it right into the souls of those Colossians. They said, “We want you to straighten out your lives.” Honestly, that’s how it was. If you would have showed up to that church in Colossae, I’m pretty sure that you have been treated to their favorite sermon series. It was called, “Do Not!” Week one would have been about the five things you shouldn’t handle. Week two would have been about the seven things you must not taste. And week three would have been the top three things you should not touch. Paul admitted something about all these ideas. He admitted, “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body.” (v. 23)

Do you see what he was admitting? He was admitting, “It looks wise. It looks right. It looks like if you want to control the body, just legislate it. Just master it and tell it what to do.” But Paul was also wise enough to see that none of it would stick. He went on to say, “They lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” (v. 23) Paul’s right. There’s a reason why we have a Whiskey Road in Aiken. Rules about drinking couldn’t stop people from drinking. There’s a reason why NASCAR exists today. I learned this when I moved down here. Apparently NASCAR exists because people started building fast enough cars to outrun the people who were trying to enforce Prohibition.

Rules can’t change hearts. People will only find more ingenious ways to get what their heart wants. If I want to have sweets, rest assured I’ll get them. Just ask my wife. You can lock up yesterdays brownies in the Kitchen Safe, but you know what? Kroger is still open. You can hide the ice cream deep in the freezer, but Dunkin’ Donuts will still happily take my cash. My will has been so distorted and hurt and turned in on itself that even educating it saying, “If you do this, you’re going to get diabetes and you’ll have to give yourself injections,” doesn’t stop the behavior. Sin is that damaging. It always leads us to self-destruction. And rules can’t change that.

There’s only one thing that can: Jesus by the power of his good news. My dog, Callie, is a great example of why this is true. We always say about her that she’s very persistent and she is. If our dog gets it in her head that she wants to get a hold of something, she won’t quit until she does. She will jump up onto counters. She will slink off into corners and wait until we’re not looking. She will patiently wait and lurk until she gets whatever she eyeballed. She will get what she wants. We know how to deal with her now. Change what she wants. That’s the key. Legislation can’t take away the desire or empower the will to resist what a person is eyeballing. The heart has to be moved to something altogether different.

I hope you’ve seen just how Paul has been using the gospel toward that goal here in Colossians. He’s been after that the whole time. He’s gushed about Jesus, both he is and what he’s accomplished for us to draw our hearts to him. That’s been the goal. That’s why he burst into Colossians saying that Jesus qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints. That’s why he wrote that Jesus is the one who cut the Grand Canyon, rose from the dead, sent demons packing, and all the while was still holding together everything that exists. That’s why he went on to talk about how that God - big G - entered our personal history to bury us and then raise us back to life to live for him and in him. Because the key to dealing with our hurts, hang ups, and sins isn’t to legislate. The key is to set the heart on something so much bigger and better: Christ himself.

And not to settle for anything less. There’s just one big threat. Paul knows that while legislation lacks the ability to save us, it does have the ability to pull us away from the one thing that can: Christ. Sometimes that can happen through something as simple as a theological misunderstanding of how God used rules in the Old Testament. It’s true. There was a time in world history when God asked his people to keep Saturdays holy, to keep the New Moon celebrations, to eat certain things, and not to eat other things. There was that time. And that time and those rules had important purposes. Paul said, “These are a shadow of the things that were to come.” (v. 17) The rules reminded people they needed a sacrifice. The rules reminded people they need to get cleaned. The rules reminded people that they needed a priest to intercede for them. And why? So that they could embrace the great and final sacrifice when it came. So that they could believe the great cleansing when they saw it. So that they could trust the Great High Priest to intercede for them when he arrived. That’s why Paul went on to say that, “The reality is found in Christ.” (v. 17)

A young man went off to fight in the Civil War determined to live to marry his bride. The day he left, she gave him her picture. He took it everywhere. He tucked it in his uniform when bullets were whizzing past. He pulled it out on cold winter nights when he was huddled with his buddies around the fire. He put it under his pillow so he could see her face first thing in the morning. He got out that picture so much that the image even began to fade. But you know what he did with that picture the minute he got home? He put it away and never got it out again. It had served its purpose for its time. It was no longer needed. Now he had his wife. He didn’t need to get out her picture on a cold night. He could hug her. He didn’t need to put the picture under his pillow anymore because he could actually give her a good morning kiss. The picture wasn’t any good anymore. Truthfully, the only possible role the picture - or shadow - could play is to take his attention away from the reality of his wife.

That’s what Paul is pointing out. That Old Testament legislation had a time and a place. That we grant. But it doesn’t anymore. The only possible role Old Testament legislation could play is to take our attention away from the reality we have in Christ. Frankly, that’s true of other kinds of legislation too. That’s why the Kitchen Safe isn’t coming to my house. I don’t need it. I don’t need a cookie jar to save me from myself. I just need my Savior and an understanding of how big a Savior he is for me. He’s the one who’s not only forgiven me my sins that can land me with a hypodermic needle pumping insulin into my veins. He’s also a Savior who changes my heart from one that wants to live to eat into a heart that wants to live for Jesus.

That’s the power we really need. Let me honest. When it comes to our hurts, sins, and bad habits, it’s often not a knowledge or a guidance issue. I’m well aware of my sweet tooth habit. Others know about their negative thinking patterns. They know they don’t want to foul up their recent browsing history. They know they want to lose that quick and hot temper, stick to financial budgets, and start a vibrant prayer life. Neither knowledge, nor guidance are the issues in play. Motivation is. We need a motivation so big, so winning, so compelling, and so central to our souls that it takes the place of whatever it is that has us hung up. Only Jesus can be that for us. Or to be more exact, only Jesus is that for us.

And he really is. One of my good friends is a testament to this. In his case, guilt was eating him up. Drinking, drugs, and a tortured conscience were only symptoms of a much deeper issue. He didn’t yet understand the fullness of the gospel. He didn’t yet know how accepted he was because of Christ’s cross. He didn’t yet know how free he was because of Christ’s resurrection. So when he had a guilty feeling he ran to a bottle. He self-medicated his way through life - anything to be done with guilt - at least for a while. That was his life until God got a hold of him with the truth of the gospel. And guess what. That’s when his self-medicating started heading for the hills. As for me - well - I’m not perfectly cured of my sweet tooth, but I am forgiven for it. More than that, I have real life, in-the-trenches power to spot that fourth cookie in the cookie jar and this time just leave it lying there. Amen.