Colossians 2:16-23 True Religion.
‘So’ here is a powerful connecting word. So on the basis of Christ’s victory over sin, death, and all the spiritual forces in heaven and on earth, we ought not to let anyone judge us “in food or drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ” (vv. 16-17). These two verses may be two of the most significant verses of the new testament. This letter is one of contrasts and transitions. Judgment coming in regard to food or drink and festivals or a feast day or new moon or Sabbaths, is something which could and did come from both Judaizers and the pagans of the day (Cf. Rom. 14:3). However, the fact that Paul says that these “are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ,” suggests that what he has in view is the sacrificial system of the Old Testament, something which the Judaizers maintained was still binding. The writer to the Hebrews also refers to the activity of the temple as “a shadow of the heavenly things” (8:5 Cf. v. 2), or “copies” of the original or true (9:23-24).
“For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year after year, make those who approach perfect” (Heb. 10:1). As with Paul here in Colossians, the writer to the Hebrews is also referring to the law of sacrifices and the temple services, as that which could not by itself make people perfect. In referring to the priesthood in the order of Melchizedek, the author speaks of the ministry of the Aaronic order and temple services as that which “made nothing perfect” (7:19a). The earthly service of the tabernacle, and later the temple, was symbolic for the then present time, “in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience-concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings, and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation” (Heb. 9:9-10). The transition from old to new was the “time of reformation.”
Circumcision was part of the old covenant administration of the one covenant of grace, and with it there were other outward ceremonies and ordinances which accompanied this administration. Christ is the One who cast a shadow on this administration. With the dawn of His coming the brightness of this Son has displaced the shadows to reveal the pure light of His glory, the glory in which He has dwelt ever since His ascension to the right hand of the Father and which He had before His incarnation. One key transition was the change in the covenantal sign of circumcision to that of baptism. However, beyond the change in outward ordinances, Paul describes our reward as the eternal life that is ours through the justification we have by faith, a salvation which Christ Himself has procured for us. Just as Paul began this chapter with his discussion of competing worldviews, here he highlights the contrast of competing religions. There is a religion which is a false humility, since it ultimately focuses on the creature and not the Creator-the worship of angels and men with puffed up fleshly minds (v. 18).
This fleshly mind, or non-biblical worldview, evidences itself in idolatry, in this case specifically in the worship of angels. This was also a part of mystical Judaism. The key difference which Paul notes between the biblical worldview and religion and that of the Judaizers and paganism, is that the latter seek to intrude “into those things which he has not seen,” whereas the Christian looks to the revelation which God has given as that which was seen by the writers of the canon of holy scripture (v. 18). These man made rules and traditions, and even the previous regulations regarding the sacrificial system, inspired as it was, is surpassed by the redemption procured by Christ, and it was Paul’s mission, and must be ours, that “we may present every man perfect in Christ,” something the old system and pagan systems could not and cannot do (1:28). Baptism signifies that we have “died with Christ from the basic principles of the world” (v. 20 Cf. Rom. 6:2-5; Gal. 4:3, 9). Therefore, we are not to be entangled with the regulations, or “commandments, and judgments of men” (v. 22).
Our standard must be the scriptures, and our regulations, commandments and judgments must come from the word alone. As Paul notes, these man made rules have the appearance of wisdom in a self-imposed religion, because a self-imposed religion is just another way of saying a religion of works, where fallen man glories in his own effort and works, thinking that this can justify a person before God. For this reason it is a false humility, because man’s laws are made to accommodate his own sinful condition, which a self-made religion will not admit or accept (v. 23). Such religion sets up a false war of the flesh with the spirit, issuing in the neglect of the body, whereas the biblical religion recognizes the need to redeem the whole man from sin-body and soul. Beating and depriving one’s body will in no way curb the indulgence of the flesh. Only someone who is truly converted in body and soul will have that power that raised Christ from the dead working in them to complete the work which God also began at conversion, which is also a corporate activity in the body of Christ (v. 19 Cf. Eph. 4:15-16).