Colossians 2:20-23, “20 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— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 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.”
Ever since the fall, fear of evil spirits has plagued humanity. This fear has manifested itself in a variety of ways, superstitions, magical practices, and religious rites. All of these are designed to keep people safe from the plans of sinister beings, along with Voodoo, psychic readings, Ouija boards, shrines to Hindu gods. All of these things are attempts to find shelter from the malevolent forces in the universe.
The Bible never denies the reality of the powers of darkness. Instead, it affirms that their potency can never ward off evil. The Devil and his minions have a measure of authority over those not yet born again in our day, under the sovereignty of God. These choose to reject our good Creator and in doing so have turned themselves over to the Serpent, and grasp for a law unto themselves (Gen. 3; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4). While the Lord could have stopped all of this, including our turn from His Lordship to the lordship of the Devil, instead, He let us have exactly what we wanted (Romans 1:18-32). The self-rule we desire was not what the deceiver, Satan offered us in Eden. Instead, Satan tricked Adam and Eve into enslavement to him, including pain, sickness, and the evil desires of the flesh. All of this led to us being sinners by nature and choice, turning our backs on the loving Creator (John 8:31-47; Gal. 4:8).
When we are united to Christ by faith in Him alone, we are baptized into His death, along with His victory over sin, death, and the flesh (Col. 2:11-15). Since we are liars bent on destruction; the evil powers even now still attempt to trick God’s people into believing there are other avenues by which we can escape their evil rule. Much the same way as the Colossians, they created new religions and rules that appeared to ward off evil. All of these things serve only to strengthen the desire and power of sin over us, which is why Christians must never look to anyone but Christ alone for victory over the devil (Col. 2:20).
Since God loves His Beloved, He warns them of the dangers of legalism and false practices which may lead to hoping in rules, or other spiritualities that only give Satan and the flesh more influence. When we pursue the pure, undefiled religion revealed in the Scriptures—the gospel of Christ alone and treat others in love, we render the evil forces in the world powerless.
Biblical Christianity proclaims that God originally made creation very good (Genesis 1:31) and though creation does suffer the effects of the fall, there is nothing inherently good or evil about different foods, sex, and other material things (Mark 7:14-23; 1 Cor 7). Many professing Christians have a hard time accepting this truth, even during the period in which the New Testament was written.
We may misread the Old Testament as declaring certain foods are in themselves eternally unclean. For example, 1st century, Colossian false teachers promoted dietary regulations and other forms of ascetic withdrawal from the world as a means of holiness and freedom from evil spirits (Colossians 2:16-22; 21-22). Such practices deny that in Christ, Christians have died to the authority and control of Satan and his army because submitting to such rules as essential for true freedom caused them to return instead to the Enemy (v.20; Galatians 5:1).
In Colossians 2:20-23, the Apostle Paul focuses on a legalistic lifestyle that takes a few points from Judaism, paganism, and then mixes it in with Christianity. This is foolish because of rules about food and drink when those are seen in proper context as part of God’s people in infancy (Gal. 3:23-29), deal only with temporary things (Colossians 2:20-21). To invest in food laws and other matters with eternal value for real holiness is to treat temporary things as eternal and vice versa. Those who fail to do this fail to see “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). Dietary regulations were meant to show the Israelites how on their own they could not keep the easiest aspects of the law which was designed to manifest their separation from the world and to drive them to faith alone in Christ alone, who alone breaks the slavery of sin and makes God’s people holy.
What we eat may come and go but what is of the Lord Jesus lasts forever and always. It’s only in devotion to Christ alone who is the only way to eternal life and to being a new creation (John 14:6). In Colossians 2, Paul reminds us over and over again about our obedience to the law can do nothing to free us from evil. The Bible continues to instruct us again and again, helping us to see it’s truth through the illumination of God the Holy Spirit because we’re thick-headed and prone to attempt to make ourselves righteous through our efforts. Only Jesus can make people righteous. As Christians, we need to continue to grow in the grace of God through ongoing repentance of sin and daily utilize many of the means of His grace.
Despite the way certain circles misread Paul, the apostle is not against the concept of law itself, for he often delivers commandments to the church (Rom. 13; Galatians 6:2; 1 Tim. 5:1-2). This commandment-giving may seem inconsistent, as he forbids Christians to obligate themselves to at least some Old Testament laws (Colossians 2:16-22). Paul condemns the “worship of angels,” because of the Scriptures.
The law of God is good, but by itself, it cannot put the flesh to death. The problem runs deeper into the core of our very being since we are sinners by nature and by choice. We naturally do not desire to obey God apart from the grace He shows sinners in Christ Jesus. Even while Christians are redeemed, we don’t keep the commands in our own strength to advance in holiness; we do so only as we have an inward desire to please the Lord, which also comes when we are born again. We must continue to seek the Lord through the Word, and the means of grace, daily asking the Lord to increase our desire for purity and holiness before the Him.