Paul established the authority of Christ when he wrote, “He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18). You would think divergence from His doctrine would be easy to detect—we can compare His word with other philosophies and make the right choice. But the warnings of Colossians 2 remind us that we can be “deceived by persuasive words” if we are not “walking in Christ, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith” (Col. 2:4-6). This is why Paul writes, “So let no one judge you” (Col. 2:16). The teachers of what is called the “Colossian heresy” had taken a role that was not their right. Colossians 2:16-23 gives us insight into the nature of their teachings, but more importantly, the necessary focus to avoid following similar deceivers today.
Imagine you were invited to play for a basketball team but when you arrived the rules were strange. The referees used part of a basketball rule book, but also selected rules from baseball, football, and chess to impose on the players. The error that was circulating in Colossae must have been similarly confusing, containing elements of Judaism, Asceticism, and Mysticism mixed with Christianity. The solution glorifies Christ only, not every other way.
Let No One Judge You (Col. 2:16-17).
Paul describes the food, drink, festivals, new moons, and sabbaths of this hodgepodge religion as elements of Judaism that God intended to be only a “shadow of things to come.” They, along with the rest of the Law of Moses, had been nailed to the cross (Col. 2:14). The substance is of Christ. When the false teachers in Colossae enjoined these elements on Christians, they were serving “the copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Heb. 8:5). The elements of body of Christ (the church) were chosen before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4; Col. 1:18). It is the substance that existed in the mind of God before the law of Moses arrived and cast the shadows of festivals and sabbaths. “For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second” (Heb 8:7). While they could have turned to a “book, chapter, and verse” for these commandments, in a manner of speaking, they would have had to ignore the context to apply them so inappropriately to New Testament Christians. This was being done for the purpose of assuming power over the Lord’s people. Today we must handle the inspired text with great humility and give attention to studying the context so we do not bind where God has not bound.
Let No One Cheat You (Col. 2:18-19).
Like playing a game with the wrong rules, a Christian cannot achieve victory if they allow a false teacher to serve as an illegal umpire over them. This is the concept of the phrase, “Let no one cheat you of your reward.” These influencers were leading the way in the delight of false humility, an undue reverence toward angels, and claiming to have visions, cobbling together elements of mysticism with the worship of the one true God. Because angels have not actually delivered their own law or system of religion to the world, leaders of this movement would have the freedom to write their own rules while pretending to be submissive. They were delighting in the thoughts of their own minds when they should have been holding fast to Christ, the Head of the body. We must not be cheated out of our reward by being deceived that looking within for truth is better than looking to the word go Christ.
Do Not Subject Yourself to the Commandments and Doctrines of Men (Col. 2:20-23).
The choice set before the Colossians is the same we face today. We can follow the world’s wisdom or Christ (Col. 2:20-21). Paul preached Christ crucified, and spiritual things to spiritual people (1 Cor. 2:1-2, 13-15). There is no spiritual value to imposing ascetic regulations that do not originate in heaven, no matter how spiritual they make you feel (Matt. 15:8-9).
There are more “experts” than there used to be—anyone with a podcast or YouTube account can tell you the best diet, parenting style, mental health strategy, organization method, or workout routine. Everyone on Twitter and Facebook gets to change hats daily from medical doctor to foreign policy advisor and everything in between. Out of hunger for power and praise or a genuine desire to help, it seems like everyone wants to be the one to tell others what they should do. When it comes to religion, only the word of God has the authority to do that.