Let No One Disqualify You! (Colossians 2:16-23)
A truism in Christian life is when you really start living for Christ, the enemy will try to take you down. Satan is content to have you be a carnal Christian, but if you start to be on fire for the Lord, watch out! Jesus promised his disciples that they would face persecution for their faith (cf. John -19). This persecution can come in many forms, but usually comes in the form of people who either question your faith or try to lead you astray. This can be particularly devastating to new Christians.
Coming off the heels of arguing for the sufficiency of Christ, Paul draws four logical conclusions from that. Three of them appear in the form of warnings (cf. Colossians 2:8). Paul is concerned not only we know the sufficiency of Christ, but that we don’t let anyone come along to draw us away from that faith.
1. Let No One Disqualify You Through Legalism (vv. 16-17).
On way Satan tries to trip up believers is through legalism. We discussed this previously during our study of Galatians. Legalism is the addition of man-made rules to the commands of Scripture. Paul lists four examples of things legalists use to trap unsuspecting people. First is food and drink. This is a big thing, and continues to trip up believers. Some Christians still look down on others for what they eat and drink. Now, before I get accused of promoting license, I think there is wisdom in watching what you eat, and I think there is great wisdom in abstaining from alcohol. However, these are things each believer must have their own convictions about (cf. Romans ). As Christians, we are not to judge one another on the basis of food and drink.
The next two things Paul mentions (festivals and new moons) are things specific to Jewish ceremonial rituals. While they may mean little to us, they are not without modern day application. Some Christians get worked up about what holidays are celebrated (Easter, Christmas, New Year’s, etc.). The biggest controversies come up over whether or not Christians should engage in Halloween activities. Again, this is a decision that each Christian should come to a conviction about, but don’t judge others based on your convictions!
The fourth thing Paul mentions is Sabbaths. The modern day application for this would be the issue between Saturday or Sunday worship. I can’t believe the amount of hot air expended battling this issue. If you feel in your heart Sunday is the only day for a Christian to worship, great! If you feel Saturday is the only true Sabbath, great! Once again, this is not an issue in which to judge one’s spirituality. Why? Verse 17, “these are shadows of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Arguments on legalism are arguments of shadows, and they’re missing the substance of Christ!
2. Let No One Disqualify You Through Asceticism (v. 18a).
Paul next warns us to watch out for those who want to disqualify you through asceticism. Asceticism is the man-made attempt to produce holiness through self-denial. This is the road to holiness the medieval monks tried to travel. The monks thought they could become holy by denying the flesh, so they took three vows: A vow of celibacy (abstaining from all sexual activity); a vow of poverty (abstaining from owning any material wealth); and a vow of silence (abstaining from saying anything evil). There is some wisdom in denying the flesh (Romans ), but have you ever tried willing yourself not to sin? The more you think about not sinning, the more it becomes a matter of time before you do sin. You need more than your own will power.
3. Let No One Disqualify You Through Mysticism (vv. 18b-19).
Paul moves from asceticism to mysticism. In a nutshell, mysticism is the addition of mystical experiences (e.g., visions) to the finished work of Christ. Paul lists two broad categories of mysticism in v. 18b: Angel worship and visions. Angel worship was a big deal for the first century Jewish mind, but it doesn’t pose a problem for the modern day Christian…or does it? Roman Catholicism and the Eastern Orthodox Church still engage in the practice of praying to saints. One would pray to the patron saint of whatever it is they need at that time. This is not Biblical; I say this to point out the truth, not to disparage anyone’s religious tradition. In Revelation , the Apostle John fell down to worship an angel, and the angel rebuked him for doing so. In Acts 14:13-15, Paul and Barnabas had to rebuke the people of Lystra for trying to offer sacrifices to them. The Bible is clear; we are to worship God alone, not angels or men.
The second category of mysticism Paul points out is visions. This is a broad term that can be used to include all kinds of mystical experiences. You see this mostly in Charismatic or Pentecostal churches. There are teachers within the Charismatic movement who claim to have visions or to have received special revelation from God (none of which can be verified). Paul says this form of false teaching can lead to one being “puffed up without reason.” The error the Charismatic movement falls into by embracing mysticism is the creation of a spiritual underclass. Those who don’t receive special visions or speak in tongues have not received the “second blessing” of the Holy Spirit. The end result being with so many people having visions and revelations (many of which contradict each other) it leads people away from the “Head (Christ) from whom the whole body…grows with a growth that is from God” (v. 19).
4. Let No One Disqualify You…Christ is All You Need (vv. 20-23).
Paul closes this passage of Scripture with an argument whose logic is airtight. In our last study, Paul stated that Jesus Christ is sufficient for all our spiritual needs. In our current study, Paul has been warning us not to let anything rob us of our sufficiency in Christ. So Paul concludes with v. 20. The “if” in v. 20 is better understood as a “since.” Paul is arguing from the fact that his readers have already died “to the elementary spirits of the world.” What does it mean to be dead to the “elemental spirits of the world?” It’s a picture of our union with Christ. Jesus died to the things of the world when he died on the cross. The flesh now no longer influences him. Our identification with Christ also puts us in the position of being “dead” to the things of the world (cf. Romans 6:2). Paul’s argument is that since we’re dead to these “elemental spirits,” why are we allowing ourselves to be led astray by them? In other words, since Christ is all-sufficient, why are we messing around with legalism, asceticism, and mysticism, why are we adding to the finished work of Christ?
Paul goes on to say that all of these things are according to “human precepts and teachings” (vv. 21-22). This is the thing that always puzzled me. Why isn’t God’s word enough? So many so-called Christians think that they’re so sophisticated; they have grown beyond the Bible and its message as if their puny, finite minds can compare to God’s infinite mind. Either that, or they want to add more rules to God’s word, or they want to add their subjective visions to God’s word. As Paul says in v. 23, these things may appear wise, but all they do is promote “self-made religion.” And religion can never replace a relationship with God. Finally, these silly, human additions have “no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.”
Look back at v. 20; this is such an
important verse. The Bible pictures our
lives before Christ in several ways. One
really poignant picture is slavery.
Before Christ, we are slaves to our sin; we couldn’t help not
sinning—that was our default position.
Christ redeemed us from our slavery to sin and set us free! Paul’s argument is since we’ve been set free
from our slavery, why would anyone want to return to it? Can anyone think of a Biblical example that
reflects this? How about the Israelites
Moses led out of
Are you a legalist? Do you come to convictions about something, and then judge others based on your convictions? Are you an ascetic? Are you trying to pursue holiness by self-denial? Are you into mysticism? Do you have a puffed up mind because you have had visions or some other quasi-spiritual experience? I exhort you to return to the sufficiency Christ provides! Stop playing around in the shadow land and embrace the substance found in Christ Jesus.
“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…according to human precepts and teachings?” (Colossians 2:20)
Have a blessed day!