Colossians 2:16-19, “16 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. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 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, 19 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 there is any doubt in our mind as to the extent of Jesus’ victory, Paul clears that up in Colossians 2:15, when talking about the evil powers being put to “open shame.” This alludes to the Roman practice of parading defeated foes in chains behind the emperor or a conquering general. During these parades, there was no doubt who was the victor in the parade. Christ’s resurrection and ascension display the victory of Christ in similar ways to this. The conquering nature of Jesus’ over His foes was like the parading of a defeated army. That is how decisive Jesus was in His campaign against them at Calvary (Ephesians 4:8).
Jesus’ victory alone qualifies Him to judge the earth (John 5:19-29; 1 Cor. 15:20-28), which is why no one else can judge God’s people regarding indifferent matters like the food we eat or the holidays we observe (Colossians 2:16). Colossians 2:16-19 begins a section that explains the errors in Colossae, indicating how false teachers there promoted a higher spirituality based in part on observing the Jewish dietary laws and festival calendar by condemning those who did not follow these regulations. Paul is neither defining these laws as wrong nor is he asserting there is no place for the Christian Sabbath. Instead, the issue is keeping such things as a mark of biblical spirituality. In Colossae, this was happening, and judgments about such things that should be indifferent continue even in our day. It’s important to note here, Christians are free to follow their consciences in these matters, since, Jesus Christ alone has the right to judge whether one’s motives in following or not following such rules are holy (Romans 14).
Binding consciences where they are free according to Paul is foolish, since, it is a way of turning back the clock to the old era. Whether it’s obedience to kosher laws or festival calendars, each of which has a place under the old covenant, these regulations ultimately pointed people to Christ (Galatians 3:15-29). While the Israelites saw the outline of the redemption offered by Christ, but not the full expression of it, much as one might see a shadow which gives us an overview of a person to make out certain details about them without seeing them wholly. Even so, we learn more about people when we see them face to face. Now, too, we know more about the salvation offered in Christ, because we see Christ in His life, death, burial, and resurrection through the Scriptures (Colossians 2:17).
We might think that since the Old Testament saints got to see great miracles like the great seas parted, manna falling from heaven and other mighty works of God they are amazing and we may even be envious of them. Yet, we must understand, we have a better covenant than they had, and can see and know more than they did because of all Christ has accomplished in His finished work. Rather than be envious of them or even of others for how God is using them, we should be thankful for Christ Himself and how He has opened our eyes to see, know, and serve Him wherever we are, for His glory.
After all, the Lord God Himself reveals Himself in the created order so unregenerate people might know He is not only separate but sovereign, present, and interactive with the creation, He made (Romans 1:18-32). Since we are born fallen, sinners by nature and by choice, our minds distort the Lord’s revelation of Himself in Christ alone. One example of this is Eastern religions which stress a non-biblical immanence of God teaching that since He is so wrapped up in His creation, He is absorbed into it. Eastern religions affirm monism, which is all is part and parcel of the divine. Islam stresses a non-biblical transcendence where the Lord is very far removed from His creation, so He is practically unknowable. These views often promote devotion to a god that is inaccessible to the people worshipping said, god.
Colossae had its share of people who looked to for example angels for help. These people claimed to be Christians even though they led people astray in the churches gathered there. Such a mixture of Christian teaching, pagan ideas, as well as, Jewish ritual piety (Colossians 2:16-17), also includes, the “worship of angels.” These false teachers also looked down on those who did not add laws and angels to faith in the Lord Jesus. Such people were puffed up with pride (Colossians 2:18). These are those who view the law of God as an end in and of itself, or who even follow manmade rules that supposedly proclaim true religion. Our fallen nature prefers to add things to salvation, to one-up others, cling to rules, instead of clinging to the One who alone can save in Jesus. The sad thing is, such things only make much of sin, which strengthens desires that go against the Lord’s revealed will (Matthew 23; Romans 7-7-12).
The Lord’s command is for His disciples to love one another (John 13:35). These false teachers glorified their “visions” as a demonstration of real godliness (Colossians 2:18). Along with angel worship, and asceticism, both of which go against godly thinking and living, also denied Jesus who alone, is sufficient for real godliness (Colossians 2:1-15).
It’s easy at this point to look down our noses at these people and even conclude they are heretics, teachers who thought that salvation needed to be more than grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Instead, they thought that salvation was grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone plus angel worship, asceticism, and so on. While it’s easy to point this error out, it’s harder for us to root out the same sin in ourselves. After all, the basis of our judgment of others may even be by sound doctrine. We may also think, we are better for example than other Christians in the eyes of God because we understand the doctrines of God’s grace and Reformed theology. And yet, understanding the doctrines of grace and other elements of Reformed theology should not lead us to be proud or haughty before the Lord. Instead, they ought to lead as Augustine and Calvin and Sproul, and many others have said to humility, humility, and humility.
It’s particularly easy as Reformed Christians to live life in our heads. The reality though is life is not possible without one’s headed attached. The head and brain regulate all the physical processes that keep you and me alive, including breathing, the heart, rate, and more. The brain is the physical means by which the mind has access to the world so we may communicate with one another. Despite, this fact, many people act as if they have no head at all. The truth is we would be dead without one.
The body of Christ, the church, exists under the covenant head, the Lord Jesus Christ. The false teachers in Colossae did not understand at all, what, I just described for you in the above paragraphs. Instead, they promoted a variety of legalistic practices, which are devoted to lesser spiritual beings as angels and mystical visions as the way of salvation (Colossians 2:16-18). The heart of the problem is explained in Colossians 2:19 namely they were 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” (v. 19). Instead of promoting the health of the church, they were doing the opposite, adding to what is required for biblical salvation, which resulted in them cutting themselves and their followers off from the Lord Jesus and his body (Galatians 5:2-4).
Maturity in the Christian faith according to Paul, comes ultimately from the Father through Christ alone. Christians grow through the means of grace, the Word, prayer, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and church discipline. Christians do not grow in grace through false worship, self-promoting rules, experiences, or proud asceticism. Christians are branches of the Vine, Jesus. All this to say salvation does not come through methods or practices, or beliefs not contained in the authoritative Word of God. Having these sorts of beliefs, methods, or practices cuts ourselves off from the Vine, Jesus who alone is the Truth and source of growth in grace (John 15:1-17).
Christians should focus ourselves on Christ alone, as He has offered Himself in the Word of God. Only by doing this, can God’s people stay connected to the only source of life which we now have in union with Christ and are to daily commune with Him so that we can be fed and nourished by the Vine and in turn proclaim Him to others.
The tendency described in this article may not be ready apparently in the heart and lives of Christians today as it was with the false teachers in Colossians. Even so, it may appear through legalism or division, perhaps also in focusing on being on the lookout for the perfect church, which there is none since there are no glorified Christians here on earth.
There is also a tendency to focus on our performance in life and ministry, or even to perhaps think that since we are saved by the grace of God, then we must do all we can do to please God. Since we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and do not even deserve this salvation; it’s impossible then to earn it because of merit. After all, we cannot obtain a salvation in Christ alone, we never deserved. Instead, we can only believe in Christ alone and entrust our lives to the Lord who alone justifies and adopts us into the family of God. Our good works are only useful in so far as they are done in the power of the Holy Spirit from a heart motivated by the glory of God. It was these works Paul speaks in Ephesians 2:10, works that are to be done for Him not for a pat on the back but to the glory of God. May we as God’s people enjoy more of our union with Christ alone and daily immerse ourselves more in communion with Christ through the Word of God. Only there in the Vine can we the branches, God’s people, bear fruit that honors God, glorifies the Son, Jesus, and brings glory to the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Dave Jenkins is happily married to his wife, Sarah. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, the Host and Producer of Equipping You in Grace Podcast, and is a contributor to and producer of Contending for the Word. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021), The Word Matters: Defending Biblical Authority Against the Spirit of the Age (G3 Press, 2022), and Contentment: The Journey of a Lifetime (Theology for Life, 2024). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.