“Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—”
Attendant to legalism is asceticism. Asceticism is the religion of self-denial. This is a system that seeks the favor of God by something man offers to God and rejects the cross as sufficient. The cross is not only the basis of our salvation, but it is also the basis for our transformation as believers.
“Therefore” (not in some manuscripts)
Every time we see a “therefore,” we should look to see what it is there for! The “therefore” is like a line drawn under a column of figures that we are about to add. Paul now draws conclusions about legalism, mysticism, and asceticism. He is attempting to make plain that the cross dealt radically with the rules of Judaism and Gnosticism (vv. 16-19).
Christianity is the antithesis of religion. Christianity is a relationship with God based on the finished work of Christ. Jesus did all the doing; we do none of it. Jesus completely satisfied God’s righteous demands by his death for our sins.
“if you died with Christ”
We can translate the word “if” as “since.” The Greek indicates that it is a reality that we are dead with Christ. It is not a potential; it is a fact. We call this “positional truth.” God poured out all the sins of the world upon Christ. At the moment, we believe God finally and forever forgives our sins by Christ’s death; our position before God is perfect forever.
Most of us do not know what God did for us when we became a Christian. We look at the cross and see one thing, and God sees another. When we look at the cross, we see Christ dying there. When God looks at the cross, he sees both Christ and the believer dying there. God sees every person who would ever believe dying there with Christ.
The word “died” is the most intensive word for death. It emphasizes separation from human rules, which the believer’s death with Christ produced. When Jesus died, we died (Gal. 2:20). Our life is forever hidden with Christ in God.
Our co-death with Christ teaches us that God will never again bring up our sins against us.
God forever removed our guilt when he forgave us by the death of Christ. This judicial act forever removed all accountability from the believer. It made it possible for him to stand before God completely cleansed. Because God put our sin upon Christ and identified us with him, he cleansed us forever of our sin. If we deny this, we deny the finished work of Christ.
Death in Christ is far more than cleansing from guilt; it is an identification with Christ in his death. We can now walk in newness of life with the risen Son of God.
God has not put us into a religious straitjacket. No amount of amassing religious brownie points with God impresses him. People believe that if they accumulate these points with God, this will go on their record. Biblically, this is a religious fairy tale.
Religion bankrupts our relation to Christ. It ignores the accomplishment of the cross. The finished work of Christ is the only thing that impresses an absolutely holy God. Jesus has done it all; all to him, I owe.