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.

Observation

  • No one was to be allowed to judge the Colossians in the areas of what they could eat or drink or how they observed or did not observe the Sabbath or other religious events or ceremonies.
  • Ceremonies are shadows of thing to come.
  • The substance of things to come is Christ.
  • We are not to practice asceticism i.e. trying to attain righteousness by self-denial and punishment
  • We are not to worship angels.
  • We are not to rely on visions.
  • We are not to be proud because we have no reason.
  • We are to rely on Christ who is the head.
  • The whole body is nourished and held together by Christ, the head of the body.
  • The body, i.e. the church, grows as a result of what God does.
  • We died with Christ to the spirits of the world.
  • We are not to live according to the regulations of this world.
  • The regulations Paul is referring to are those that state we are not to submit to, are not to handle, and are not to touch things that are consumed as they are used.
  • The idea of not being able to touch these things is according to human teaching.
  • The regulations of this world have the appearance of wisdom.
  • These acts of self-denial, involvement in ceremonies and avoiding certain items give an appearance of righteousness but are self-made religions.
  • Self-denial and severity to the body are no help in stopping the indulgences of the flesh.

Interpretation

Paul continues on from what he discussed in previous passage concerning the Law of Moses. Paul now switches from circumcision to differences in meats, and days, and festivals and various ceremonies. These are certain rites or ceremonies that Christ abolished through His death and resurrection.

In saying “let no one pass judgment” Paul is saying we are not bound to the law and its observance of ceremonies and special days. But do not the practice of the sacraments, the Lord’s Supper and baptism fall into this category of ceremonies to which Paul refers?

To be sure, many are guilty of observing even the sacraments as simply ceremonies and do so in contradiction to 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. The Lord’s Supper, more specifically, is given to seal the promise that those who partake of the bread and wine in faith truly partake of the body and blood of Christ. Calvin explains this in terms of the believer’s mystical union with Christ. Just as baptism is connected with 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.” Concerning baptism, 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. Which sacrament is, by Christ’s own appointment, to be continued in His Church until the end of the world.”

Paul is referring to the law, which was simply 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. That is you must punish yourself for your sins. This is a form of works based righteousness.

I have heard asceticism justified in several different ways. The first is, “If you were truly repentant you would…” Meaning you must demonstrate or prove to God you have repented of your sins. As if He does not know. Another way I have hear 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 because they assert that the work of Christ was insufficient and must be added to.

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. There are saints who are and were more righteous than us. Mary herself was told she had found favor with God. Therefore 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. “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 you and me to grow with a growth that is from God.

Application

Our righteousness comes from Christ. With Christ we have died to the things of the world, so 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 think we say. We define being a Christian not being made righteous in Him but by our behavior.

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 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 not something made up by men. These are nothing more than blasphemous rules that claim Christ’s sacrifice was insufficient save us and protect us.

It would be easy, but also incorrect, to conclude we are not to follow any rule. We have been forgiven by what Christ has done for us. 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 are able to love Him. That love causes us to seek ways to honor and glorify Him. We do that by keeping His commands, which 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 great 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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