Colossians 2:16:23

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

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— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Understanding And Applying the Text

Paul continues from what he discussed in the previous passage about the Law of Moses. Paul switches from circumcision to meat, days, festivals, and various ceremonies. Christ abolished these through His death and resurrection.

Paul said, “Let no one pass judgment.” It appears some were passing judgment on others for not following the ceremonial law. Paul is clear. We are not bound to the law. We are no longer required to observe the ceremonies and special days. Some have asked, “Aren’t the Lord’s Supper and Baptism ceremonies too? Shouldn’t we abolish conducting them?” The practice of the sacraments, is not part of the ceremonial law?

Yes, many are guilty of observing the sacraments as simple ceremonies. In doing so they ignore the scripture. Augustine defined a sacrament as “a visible sign of a sacred thing” or as a “visible word” of God. The sacraments are the gospel in visual form. The sacraments seal the promises found in scripture. Christ gave the Lord’s Supper, to seal His promise. That those who partake of the bread and wine in faith partake of the body and blood of Christ. Calvin explains this as the believer’s mystical union with Christ. Baptism connects the believer’s initiation into union with Christ. The Lord’s Supper strengthens the believer’s ongoing union with Christ.

The Westminster Confession refers to the Lord’s Supper as; “the sealing all benefits thereof unto true believers, their spiritual nourishment and growth in Him, their further engagement in and to all duties which they owe unto Him; and, to be a bond and pledge of their communion with Him, and with each other, as members of His mystical body.” Baptism is “to be unto him a sign and seal of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life. Christ has established the sacraments to continue in His Church until the end of the world.”

Paul refers to the law. The law was only a shadow of reality. The sacraments are not ceremonies even though some have reduced them to that. The sacraments are a visible word of God. They are the gospel in visual form.

When Paul says, “Let no one disqualify” he does not mean that someone can take away what God has given you. Rather, do not let anyone deceive you. Do not let anyone convince you of asceticism. We are not to punish ourselves for our sins. Christ to our punishment for us. To practice asceticism is works-based righteousness. It is saying Christ’s work was not good enough. We must add to it.

I have heard asceticism justified in several different ways. The first is, “If you were truly repentant you would…” Meaning you must show or prove to God you have repented of your sins. As if He does not know. Another way I have heard this put is, “The flesh is sinful and you must bring your flesh under submission.” You cannot do anything for your salvation. It is wholly the work of Christ. Both of these expressions are blasphemous. They assert that the work of Christ was insufficient. We must complete Christ’s work. That is blasphemous.

Paul condemns the worship of angels or saints or Mary or anything other than God. This worship usually appears under the disguise of humility. Angels are much holier than us. They are closer to God than us. So too are saints. They are and were more righteous than us. An angel to Mary she had found favor with God. So they ought to be able to help us. They should be able to intercede to God for us. They are closer to Him. Praying to these to mediate to God for us denies what Christ has done and is doing for us. Christ intercedes for us. Why would these love us more than Jesus? He was the one who laid down his life for us. The Saints did not. Mary did not. The Angel did not. Christ did. “Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)” We do not need another intercessor we already have the best.

A case can be made for, ceremonies, observance of special days, and even asceticism. I can even make a case for reliance on those who are better than me or you. But to do so would be to deny Christ. It is Christ who is the head and provides the strength. It is Christ and Christ alone who causes us to grow with a growth that is from God.

Our righteousness comes from Christ. With Christ, we have died to the things of the world. Why then do we attempt to define our righteousness by the things of this world? “Don’t drink, smoke or chew or go with those who do,” is the type of thing we say. We define being a Christian by our behavior rather than His righteousness.

The scripture says drunkenness is a sin. So to avoid drunkenness we condemn even the touching or tasting of alcohol. We ignore the fact that Jesus, who was without sin, drank alcohol. It was this same Jesus who turned water into wine. It was wine that Jesus blessed in the Lord’s Supper. But we justify this extreme by claiming, if you abstain from alcohol you will never get drunk. Let’s test that line of reasoning. The scriptures condemn gluttony as a sin. Should we forbid eating to protect us from that sin? If we never eat we will never be gluttonous.  No, it is not the eating or drink, the touching or tasting. These are ideas from the meager minds of men.  This is enslavement to a law. There is freedom in Christ. We are to live according to His commands rather than something made up by men. These are nothing more than blasphemous rules. They are a way of claiming Christ’s sacrifice was insufficient to save and protect us.

It would be easy, but also incorrect, to conclude we are not to follow any rule. Christ preserves us in His grace. We contribute nothing to our salvation. Because of this great gift, we are no longer slaves to sin but slaves to love. It is because of His love for us we can love Him. That love causes us to seek ways to honor and glorify Him. We do that by keeping His commands. These are summed up in the words of Christ, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40

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