Colossians 2:16-23: How Not to Grow as a Christian
July 5, 2023
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Down through the years, many different theories have been suggested for “how to become more holy.” The Colossian Christians were dealing with a false teaching that was telling them that the way to get holy was through religious ceremonies and religious rules. Not so, says Paul! Holiness comes from Christ. In chapter 3, Paul will give particular instructions about how to grow in holiness. But now in these verses, he begins by telling the Colossians, and us, why it is that these religious ceremonies and rules are not able to make you holy at all.
First, they are a “shadow of things that were to come” but the “reality is found in Christ.” Many of the rules and ceremonies of the Old Testament are no longer practiced by Christians because their purpose has been fulfilled. Their purpose was to point people to Christ. Now that we have the reality, why would we need the “shadow”? It is easy for these religious rules and ceremonies to appear more sophisticated than simple and straightforward faith in Christ. But the truth is that these Old Testament rituals were designed to point us to Christ. Therefore, trust in Christ and you have the reality that the “shadow” foreshadowed!
Second, there is a “false humility” that comes from the person who is talking about what they have seen with regard to angels and the worship of angels. But really they are “puffed up” – they are not humble really at all – and their mind is filled with “idle notions” or silly ideas. Quite frequently the Christian world will hear of new teachings about angels or something that sounds very super-spiritual. And it can sound ever-so-humble to talk about such apparently spiritual matters. But really, says Paul, these ideas are “idle” (or foolish), and they are an expression of someone puffed up or proud about what they claim they have seen.
Third, all these religious rules and ceremonies miss the whole point about the way the body of Christ grows. The way to grow as a Christian is to maintain our connection with the head, that is with Christ! All other methods are bound to fail. God is the one who gives growth. We must keep our connection with the head of the body, Christ, and then “God causes [the body] to grow.”
Fourth, in Christ you who believe in Christ have already died to these “elemental spiritual forces of this world.” This may well be referring to some phrase that the Colossian false teachers used as they taught pseudo-spiritual religious nonsense. Paul says: you’ve died to all that already! Don’t pay any attention to it whatsoever!
Fifth, the commands of these religious rituals and rules are based merely on human teaching. It is characteristic of false teaching that it twists the Bible, gradually ignores the Bible, supplants the Bible with some other book or method or set of teachings. On the contrary, we are to keep our nose in the Bible at all times – hearing from God’s Word about what God requires of us.
Sixth, Paul then says that while the religious rules and ceremonies can appear wise, they actually lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. Anyone who has tried to be holy by following religious rules or ceremonies will know the practical truth of this statement – as the Colossians themselves were probably also discovering. There is no power in such rules and ceremonies. They do not work. His last argument then is the most practical: what the false teachers are teaching does not work!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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