Colossians 2:20
If you have died with Christ to the spiritual forces of the world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its regulations:
Legalism ExposedR.M. Edgar Colossians 2:16-23
Three ErrorsR. Finlayson Colossians 2:16-23
A Warning Against AsceticismT. Croskery. Colossians 2:20-23
Religion Does not Consist, in Bodily NeglectR. Stevens.Colossians 2:20-23
Ritualism Described and CondemnedJ. Spence, D. D.Colossians 2:20-23
The Ceremonial in ReligionG. Barlow.Colossians 2:20-23
The Christian's Exemption from Bondage to OutwardnessU.R. Thomas Colossians 2:20-23
The Soul's True Freedom in Christ AloneC. Wadsworth, D. D.Colossians 2:20-23
The Worthlessness of Unauthorized CeremonialismE.S. Prout Colossians 2:20-23
Two Final Tests of the False TeachingA. Maclaren, D. D.Colossians 2:20-23

The apostle now proceeds to deduce the practical consequences of our fellowship in the death of Christ. "If ye died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, do ye subject yourselves to ordinances, Handle not, nor taste, nor touch (all which things are to perish with the using) after the precepts and doctrines of men?"


1. Fellowship in Christ's death. "We are buried with him by baptism unto death" (Romans 6:3-9). We are united with Christ in his death. Community in death involves community in life, and thus our death with Christ involves not only

(1) death to sin (Romans 6:2),

(2) death to self (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15); but

(3) death to the Law (Romans 7:6; Galatians 2:14),

(4) death to the world (Galatians 6:14), and

(5) death "from the rudiments of the world" (Colossians 2:20).

2. The inconsistency of this fellowship with a mere ritualistic religion.

(1) Such a religion is rudimentary, disciplinary, designed for the infancy of the Church, not for its period of adult experience and privilege. Christ by his death wiped out these rudiments which have their sphere in the visible life of the world. They are but "weak and beggarly elements," from which we are forever separated by the death of Christ. In him all things have become new. Christians cannot, therefore, live in that which Christ died to take away. Besides, Christians are living no longer in the world. "They are not of the world;" yet, if they submitted to its ordinances, they were "as though living in the world." They had been called out of the world to be of another body, of which Christ is the Head. Therefore they were not to be conformed to the fashion of the world (Romans 12:2).

(2) A ritualistic religion is usually negative rather than positive in its character, being strong in the clement of prohibition: "Handle not, nor taste, nor touch." The apostle repeats the prohibitions of the false teachers in their own words. They, believing that matter was essentially evil, resolved upon reducing our contact with it in its most familiar forms to a minimum. The prohibitions here referred to go far beyond the Levitical enactments, which had no ascetic tendency. The Essenes, who were forerunners of the Colossian errorists, shunned oil, wine, flesh, meat, and contact with a stranger. Mark how rigorous and precise these errorists were in their outward observances. They were like the Pharisees of old, who cared not for the weightier matters of the Law, but tithed mint and anise and cummin. They attributed an intrinsic value to things that were fleeting: "All which things perish in the using;" leaving no spiritual result: "For meat commendeth us not to God; for neither if we eat are we the better; neither if we eat not, are we the worse" (1 Corinthians 8:8). Our Lord himself said it was not that which "entereth the mouth which defileth a man "(Matthew 15:16, 17).

(3) A ritualistic religion is always marked by "the precepts and doctrines of men." Many of the Jewish ordinances were handed down by tradition and had no warrant in the written Word of God. Therefore our Lord said, "They teach for doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:9).

II. THE PRETENTIOUS WORTHLESSNESS OF THIS ASCETIC RITUALISM. "Which things, indeed, have a show of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and severity to the body, but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh."

1. Its reputation for wisdom. It had a show of wisdom without the reality, for it affected an air of extreme piety, of profound regard for God, and of deep knowledge in Divine things. All its ritualistic observances would be recommended by the plea that they tended to promote piety. The repute of wisdom was manifested in three things.

(1) Will worship, or service beyond what God requires - in a word, superstition. This is the origin of penances and pilgrimages and festivals in Romanism. They are supposed to promote piety, but they have "a mere show of wisdom." They charge God with folly, as if be did not know what was most conducive to piety, and they involve a tacit claim to amend God's ordinances. But God loves obedience better than sacrifice (1 Samuel 15:22), and may well ask such ritualists, "Who hath required this at your hands?" (Isaiah 1:12). Will worship has been the great corrupter of pure religion.

(2) Humility. It is a studied and affected humility, not resting on a basis of faith and love, but consciously cultivated, and therefore not inconsistent with spiritual pride. "Pride may be pampered while the flesh grows lean."

(3) Severity to the body.

(a) There seems a show of wisdom in this habit, because an apostle found it wise "to keep his body under" (1 Corinthians 9:27), and the Colossian ascetics might have pleaded that they could thus enhance their spiritual insight.

(b) But such severity to the body is expressly condemned.


) Religion belongs to the body as well as the soul. The body, "so fearfully and wonderfully made," becomes "a temple of the Holy Ghost" (1 Corinthians 6:19). Its members are to be "yielded as instruments of righteousness unto God" (Romans 6:13). We are to offer our bodies as "living sacrifices," not dead or mutilated or maimed sacrifices. There is, therefore, nothing religious in whipping the body, like the Flagellants, or in denying it necessary food, or in arraying it in dirty or ragged clothing. "The sacrifice of God is a broken spirit," not a macerated body. We must keep up our bodily vigour for the discharge of the duties of life, so that the body may serve the Spirit.


) There may be a corrupt heart under an ascetic habit of body. Spiritual pride may dwell there in power.

2. Its failure to accomplish its chief end. "But are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh."

(1) This ascetic rigour is designed as a check upon sensual indulgence. There seems "a show of wisdom" in such a method.

(2) But it is no check to such self indulgence, as the history of asceticism proves. The monastic life, while it seemed hostile to self indulgence, made way, as by a sort of back door, to all sorts of sensual extravagance. - T.C.

If ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world.

1. To Paul the Cross of Christ was the altar on which the oblation had been offered which took away his sin, and because of that the law of his own life, and the power which assimilated him to his Lord.(1) We talk of an old man being dead to youthful follies and passions and ambitions, and we mean that they have ceased to interest him, that he is separated from, and insensible to them. So if we have got hold of Christ as our Saviour, that will deaden us to all which was our life.(2) Strong emotion, too, makes us insensible to things around. Many a man amid the excitement of the battlefield "receives, but recks not of the wound." Absorption of thought and interest leads to "absence of mind" when surroundings are entirely unfelt. Higher tastes drive out lower ones, as some great stream turned into a new channel will sweep it clear of mud. So if we arc joined to Christ He will fill our souls with strong emotions and interests which will deaden our sensitiveness to things around.

2. To what shall we die if we are Christians?

(1)To sin (Romans 6:11).

(2)To self (2 Corinthians 5:14, 15).

(3)To the law (Romans 7:6).

(4)To the world (Galatians 6:14).Here it is to "the rudiments of the world" (ver. 8). Elementary precepts, fit for babes, moving in the region of the material. Why then, triumphantly asks Paul, do you subject yourselves to ordinances (ver. 4) such as "handle not, nor taste, nor touch," vehement reiterations of the ascetic teachers with an increasing intolerance — don't lay hold of, don't touch with the tip of your finger. So asceticism grows by indulgence. And, then, the whole thing is out of date, and a misapprehension of the genius of Christianity. Man's work in religion is ever to confine it to the surface. Christ's work is to focus it on the inner man of the heart, knowing that if that be right the visible will come right.

3. Paul goes on to show (ver. 22) that these meats and drinks, of which so much is said, are perishable. You cannot use them without using them up. Is it fitting for men who have died with Christ to this perishable world to make so much of its perishing things? But we may widen the thought so as to make it include sybaritic luxury as well as asceticism. Dives in his purple and the monk in his hair shirt, both make too much of "what they should put on." The one with his feasts and the other with his fasts, both think too much of what they shall eat and drink. The man who lives on high with his Lord puts all these things in their right place. There are things which do not perish with the using. All Christlike graces grow with exercise.

4. The final inconsistency between the Christian position and these practical errors is glanced at in "after the commandments of men," A quotation, used by our Lord, from Isaiah 29:13. It is not fitting for those in union with Christ to be under the authority of men. Here is the true democracy of the Christian society — "Ye were redeemed with a price; be not servants of men." We are bound to take our orders from one Master.


1. The apostle admits that it had a show of wisdom, and was very fascinating. It had the look —(1) Of devotion and zealous worship; but on closer examination it is the indulgence of the will and not surrender to God. They are not worshipping Him as He has appointed, and therefore not at all. Whether offered in a cathedral or a barn, in a cope or a fustian jacket, such service is not accepted.(2) Of humility. It looked very humble to say, We cannot suppose that such flesh-encompassed creatures can have fellowship with God; but it was a great deal more humble to take Him at His word and allow him to settle possibilities.(3) Of discipline. Any asceticism is a great deal more to men's taste than abandoning self. They will rather stick hooks in their backs than give up their sins or yield up their wills. Our poor human nature travesties Christ's solemn command to deny ourselves into doing something unpleasant to recommend ourselves to God.

2. The conclusive condemnation, however, lies in the fact that they "are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh" (see on ver. 18). This is one great end of all moral and spiritual discipline, and if practical regulations do not secure it they are worthless. By "flesh" is meant the entire unrenewed self which thinks, and feels, and wills apart from God. To indulge and satisfy it is to die, to slay and suppress it is to live. A man may be keeping the whole round of "ordinances" and seven devils may be in his heart. They distinctly tend to foster some of the "works of the flesh," such as self-righteousness and uncharitableness, and they as distinctly fail to subdue any of them. A man may stand on a pillar like Simon Stylites for years and be none the better. The world and the flesh are willing that Christianity should shrivel into a religion of prohibitions and ceremonials, because all manner of vices and meannesses may thrive and breed under them like scorpions under stones. There is only one thing that will put the collar on the neck of the animal within us, and that is the power of the indwelling Christ.

(A. Maclaren, D. D.)


1. Was to their position and profession as Christians. They had died with Christ, and, therefore, to that which was ful filled in His death.

2. Was based upon their Christian liberty. What had they to do with those things from which they were delivered by Christ's death — the mere material alphabet of religion? It was as ridiculous as if an educated man should go back to his spelling book; or a liberated slave fear his task master.

3. Described the character of the bondage of which they were in danger. "Touch not," etc., are not Paul's words, but the mottoes of the heretical teachers, and refer to distinctions in meats and drinks. True Christians ought to be far above the region of such carnal commandments, for to them all things are pure, and every creature of God good. Moreover, they perish in the using, and how then can they benefit the soul? (Romans 14:17; 1 Corinthians 8:8). And lastly they are based on human authority, whereas the Christian owes allegiance to none but Christ.


1. The ordinances are pretentious. They have a show of wisdom.(1) In will worship, or some mode of worship God has not required.(2) In humility. But it is an affectation of lowliness which cannot look up directly to God in Christ, but thinks it necessary to find some subordinate mediators. Such prevails now.(3) In neglecting the body. The fleshly tabernacle may indeed be weakened without the slightest effect in conquering any sinful tendency in the soul.(4) How these rudiments of the world had a show of wisdom is not difficult to see. To go beyond the Divine requirement in self-denial, and do works of supererogation has the appearance of magnanimity.

2. These ordinances are really worthless.(1) Negatively — "Not in any honour" — they are of no spiritual efficacy.(2) Positively — they gratify the flesh, and prop up the fleshly mind with notions of its self righteousness and sufficiency. Lessons:

1. The vanity and error of asceticism.

2. The sacredness of Christian liberty.

(J. Spence, D. D.)

I. IS SIMPLY ELEMENTARY. "The rudiments of the world." It is in its nature transitory and imperfect. It conveys knowledge but in part; and when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part is done away.

II. IS UNWORTHY THE SUBMISSION OF THE CHRISTIAN BELIEVER. The believer is liberated from the slavery of the ceremonial.


1. It is the same in its dictatorial prohibitions. "Touch not," etc.

2. It is the same in its undue exaltation of the external and the transitory, "Which perish," etc.

3. It is the same in its human origin. "After the commandments and doctrines of men." The ceremonial in religion is an accumulation of the commandments and doctrines of men. Depending on human authority, it has no value in itself; and when it is made obligatory in order to salvation, it is an insult to Christ, and an intolerable servitude to man.


1. It pretends to a wisdom it does not possess.(1) In self-imposed methods of worship. The enthusiast for the ceremonial argues that he who only does what God positively demands does only what is common; but he who goes beyond reaches a higher degree of saintliness.(2) In the affectation of a spurious humility. It is a pretence of wisdom to renounce all worldly splendour, and profess to live in poverty and seclusion.(3) In an unjustifiable indifference to bodily wants. The body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, and is to be honoured, and all its just wants satisfied, in order that its best powers may be employed in the service of God. But the abuse of the body in starvation and neglect is a folly and a sin.

2. It is of no value in preventing the indulgence of the flesh. "Not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh." The radical error of the ascetic lies in his belief that evil resides in matter. Not the body, but in the soul is the source of sin.

(G. Barlow.)

John Wesley, before his conversion, anxiously seeking rest for his soul, proposed to himself a solitary life in one of the Yorkshire dales. His wise mother interposed, admonishing him prophetically "that God had better work for him to do." He travelled some miles to consult "a serious man." "The Bible knows nothing of a solitary religion," says this good man, and Wesley turned about his face toward that great career which was to make his history a part of the history of his country and of the world.

(R. Stevens.)

Let me tell you again my old story of the eagle. For many months it pined and drooped in its cage, and seemed to have forgotten that it was of the lineage of the old plumed kings of the forest and the mountain; and its bright eye faded, and its strong wings drooped, and its kingly crest was bowed, and its plumes were torn and soiled amid the bars and dust of its prison-house. So, in pity of its forlorn life, we carried its cage out to the open air, and broke the iron wire and flung wide the lowly door; and slowly, falteringly, despondingly, it crept forth to the sultry air of that cloudy summer noon and looked listlessly about it. But just then, from a rift in an overhanging cloud, a golden sunbeam flashed upon the scene. And it was enough. Then it lifted its loyal crest, the dim eye blazed again, the soiled plumes unfolded and rustled, the strong wings moved themselves, with a rapturous cry it sprang heavenward. Higher, higher, in broader, braver circles it mounted toward the firmament, and we saw it no more as it rushed through the storm-clouds and soared to the sun. And would, O ye winged spirits! who dream and pine in this poor earthly bondage, that only one ray from the blessed Sun of Righteousness might fall on you this hour! for then would there be the flash of a glorious eye and a cry of rapture, and a sway of exulting wings, as another redeemed and risen spirit sprang heavenward unto God!

(C. Wadsworth, D. D.).

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