A Study of Colossians 2:20-24 covers the submission to religious regulations, human precepts and teachings, and the attraction of self-made religion.
A study of Colossians 2:20-24. The submission to religious regulations
V.20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world…
Paul asks a rhetorical question because he already knows the answer. And it goes back to those “elemental spirits” (Greek = stŏichĕiŏn) he mentioned in 2:8. They were possibly the pagan gods from Greek culture the Colossians followed in their lives before Jesus Christ. He is presenting a challenge to them regarding their new faith. In Christ they have died to their former life. So why go back to it? Paul affirms this new life in 2 Corinthians 5:17.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
Why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations…
The Greek word for “regulations” is dogmatízō, which means to establish a decree and what seems to be right. In other words, why do you let things with no power over you, control you anyway, because they sound right?
It’s also a fair question for today. Are there extra regulations you follow because they sound right, but actually enslave you?
A study of Colossians 2:20-24. Human precepts and teachings
21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch”…
Paul doesn’t specifically mention the regulations, but points out their controlling features. And he does so in a sarcastic tone that increases in its level of exaggeration. Don’t handle, taste or even touch. In a modern context, he might add: perhaps you should wear a hazmat suit to avoid all contamination!
However, this was not a completely new teaching. Jesus addressed this subject with the Jewish religious leaders in Matthew 15:1-20 and Mark 7:1-23. Certainly, there are people, places, and things we should avoid. And practicing regular spiritual disciplines will promote a holy life. But following Jesus Christ is more than a list of “do’s and don’ts.” It’s a life meant to set us free, not weigh us down.
22 Referring to things that all perish as they are used—according to human precepts and teachings?
Paul disqualifies them for two reasons: First, they are temporal in nature. Food that disappears because it is either consumed, or eventually goes bad and is thrown out. Secondly, they are based on strictly human instructions. Here again, Jesus speaks on this matter.
This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. (ESV, Matthew 15:8-9)
The attraction of self-made religion
The self-help section of every bookstore tells a story. Humanity has an insatiable appetite for self-improvement, self-reliance, and self-sufficiency. Is it any wonder we also seek a self-made religion?
V.23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body…
The Greek word for “self-made religion” is ĕthĕlŏthrēskĕia, which means voluntary and unwarranted piety. In other words, false humility. We want to look good to other people. In physical attractiveness, perceived character, and moral uprightness. Although outward appearance doesn’t always reflect the condition of a person’s heart. But it’s God’s primary concern and how he sees us.
But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (ESV, 1 Samuel 16:7)
The futility of external controls
But they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
The Greek word for “indulgence” is plēsmŏnē, which means gratification and satisfying. In other words, external restraints don’t satisfy fleshly desires so they won’t control human passions. It is a battle all Christ-followers face in this life. Paul admits his own struggle in Romans 7:15-20.
But we are not powerless.
When tempted by Satan, Jesus answered by quoting scripture. It is our most effective defense too. In addition, since desires and passions take root in our mind, we should saturate our minds with scriptures. And rather than NOT think certain thoughts, purposefully guide them towards positive ones.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. (ESV, Philippians 4:8-9)