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  • Writer's pictureRICHARD DEAN BROOKS

Freedom From Human Rules


16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

17These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. 18Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. 19They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

20Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules:21“ Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?

22These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.

23Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

2: 16-17   Paul told the Colossian Christians not to let others criticize their diet or their religious ceremonies. We are not to pay attention to or take to heart the restrictions or criticisms of legalistic people who insist on rules that go beyond what the Bible teaches. Instead of outward observance, believers should focus on faith in Christ alone. Our worship, traditions, and ceremonies can help bring us close to God, but we should never criticize fellow Christians whose traditions and ceremonies differ from ours. Don’t let anyone condemn you. You are accountable to Christ alone for your salvation.

2: 16  “ What you eat or drink” probably refers to the Jewish dietary laws. The festivals mentioned are Jewish holy days celebrated annually, monthly (New Moon celebrations), and weekly (the Sabbath). These rituals distinguished the Jews from their pagan neighbors. Failure to observe them could be easily noticed by those who were keeping track of what others did. Some of the Jews held these practices over the heads of others. Don’t allow yourself to be judged by the opinions of others, because Christ has set you free to follow him. You don’t have to follow human-made rules that try to tell you how to follow him. Christ himself has made it clear in his Word.

2: 17   Old Testament laws, holidays, and festivals pointed toward Christ. Paul calls them “a shadow” of the reality that was to come— Christ himself. When Christ came, he dispelled the shadow. If we are connected to Christ though faith, we have what we need to please God.

2: 18   The false teachers were claiming that God was far away and could be approached only through various levels of angels. They taught that people had to worship angels in order, eventually, to reach God. This is unscriptural; the Bible teaches that angels are God’s servants, and it forbids worshiping them (Exodus 20: 3-4; Revelation 22: 8-9). As you grow in your Christian faith, let God’s Word be your guide, not the opinions of other people.

2: 19   The fundamental problem with the false teachers was that they were not connected to Christ, the head of the body of believers. If they had been joined to him, they would not have taught false doctrine or lived immorally. Anyone who teaches about God without grounding their teaching in God and his Word should not be trusted.

2: 20-23   People should be able to see a difference between the way Christians and non-Christians live. Still, we should not expect instant maturity in new Christians. Christian growth is a lifelong process. Although we have a new nature, we don’t automatically think all good thoughts and have all pure attitudes when we become new people in Christ. But if we keep listening to God, we will be changing all the time. As you look over the last year, what changes for the better have you seen in your thoughts and attitudes? Change may be slow, but your life will change significantly as you trust God to change you.

2: 20-23   We cannot reach up to God by following rules of pious self-denial, by observing rituals, or by practicing disciplined restrictions. Paul isn’t saying all rules are bad (see the note on Galatians 2: 15-16). But keeping laws or rules will not earn salvation. The Good News is that God reaches down to human beings, and he asks for our response. Human-made religions focus on human effort; Christianity focuses on Christ’s work. Believers must put aside sinful desires, but doing so is the by-product of our new life in Christ, not the cause for our new life. Our salvation does not depend on our own discipline and rule keeping but on the power of Christ’s death and resurrection.

2: 20   The “elemental spiritual forces” stand behind the beliefs and practices of pagans. (For more on Paul’s view of non-Christian philosophy, see 2: 8.) 2: 20   How do we die with Christ, and how are we raised with him (3: 1)? When a person becomes a Christian, he or she receives new life through the power of the Holy Spirit. (For more on this, see the notes on 2: 11-12 and 2: 13-15.)

2: 22-23   We can guard against human-made religions by asking these questions about any religious group: (1)   Does it focus on human-made rules and taboos rather than God’s grace? (2)   Does it foster a critical spirit toward others instead of exercising discipline discreetly and lovingly? (3)   Does it stress formulas, secret knowledge, or special visions more than the Word of God? (4)   Does it elevate self-righteousness, honoring those who keep the rules, rather than elevating Christ? (5)   Does it neglect Christ’s universal church, claiming to be an elite group? (6)   Does it teach humiliation of the body as a means to spiritual growth rather than focusing on the growth of the whole person? (7)   Does it disregard the family rather than holding it in high regard as the Bible does?

2: 23   To the Colossians, the discipline demanded by the false teachers seemed good because humans often tend to think we have to earn something that we are given. Today, in the struggle against non-Christian culture and values, some people seek churches or communities that focus on strict adherence to dos and don’ts. Following a long list of religious rules requires strong self-discipline and can make a person appear wise and moral, but religious rules cannot change someone’s heart. Only the Holy Spirit can do that.Tyndale. NIV Life Application Study Bible


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